Genesis 35 contains 2 stories. The first relates to Jacob and his return and establishment in the covenant, the second to the deaths of Rachel and then Isaac. Let’s deal with each story in turn.
First, I see Jesus in Jacob’s words to his family,
“Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” (Genesis 35:2-3)
This is the call of God, it is the Law, which says, “the man who does these things will live by them.” If we can rid ourselves of our idols, purify ourselves and dress ourselves in righteousness, then we can be saved and can go up the mountain of the Lord to worship. But, and this is a big ‘but’, we are incapable of such actions.
We are sinners, whose every thought is evil and wicked. We are a long way off from our Lord, yet we are still commanded to go up and worship. But how? How can we go full of sin, covered in dirt and mud, filth and slime? The blood of Jesus, the blood of Jesus is how we can go. His blood purifies us, it changes us, it rids of of all that is offensive to God. He is our righteousness, our robes of sparkling white. His Spirit transforms us and makes us whole.
Jesus is the fulfillment of Jacob’s request of the family. Jesus is the means that all these things occurs. But Jesus is also the one who then leads his people to the House of God (Bethel means House of God). He is the one who builds the altar which is acceptable and sacrifices his life for ours, offering up his blood and pouring out his spirit. He is the fulfillment of Jacob’s hope – true, unhindered worship of the Lord Almighty. Jesus is the one God hears and answers; Jesus is the one whom God rescued in his distress. Jesus. It is all about Jesus. Oh let’s follow him to the house of the Lord.
We are established by Christ and called his body, the church. We are renamed to his brothers and his sisters and his friends, just as Jacob was renamed to Israel. We are given a new identity by God because of what Jesus has done. We are established in the covenant and promised the good land flowing with milk and honey. We are his people; we are called to be fruitful. Each of these is true because Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of all Jacob’s desires, all the Law’s requirements for total devotion to God. Yet again the Word testifies to Christ.
In the second story, Rachel dies while giving birth to Benjamin and Isaac also dies. Frankly I have struggled to see Jesus in this part of the story and am content to trust that in his time God will reveal Jesus to me in even this passage. But given the insights of the earlier passage, I have no reason to fret for God is very good, picturing Christ over and over again in the Old Testament. If you have any thoughts on either of these stories, please share them with me.