Genesis 35:1 God told Jacob to leave Shechem and return to Bethel and to build an altar. This is where Jacob spent his first night, fleeing from Esau, where he set up a pillar after his vision he dreamt of the ladder coming down from Heaven.
Genesis 35:2-4 These foreign gods probably came from the plunder of the city of Shechem. They also could have come from Rachel’s father, Laban. Jacob knew they had them, though nothing is said why he allowed them to keep the idols. Seeing that God called him to Bethel, he made sure to dispose of them before arriving in Bethel. They also purified themselves. Changing their garments was part of purification.
Notes: It is probably based on historians that the rings were on the ears of the idols (gods).
Genesis 35:5-8 To prevent the surrounding cities to exact revenge against Jacob for what his sons did in Shechem, God sent a terror into the hearts of men of the surrounding cities to fear Jacob and not pursue him. Upon arriving in Bethel, Jacob built the altar God commanded and then he renamed the place, El-bethel, which means, "God of Bethel". There, Rebekah’s nurse, Deborah (Who we never heard of until now) died and was buried under an oak.
Notes: Her presence with Jacob may suggest that Rebekah had sent her to him in fulfillment of her promise in 27:45
Genesis 35:9-15 The Lord again appeared to Jacob, stating again that he no longer will be called Jacob, but Israel. He repeated the promises that He gave to Abraham and Isaac, mentioning again that kings will come from his body. He also reminded Jacob that land he was on (Canaan) would be his and descendants forever. Jacob sets up again a pillar, pours out a drink offering and pours oil on it, reiterating the naming of Bethel.
Genesis 35:16-21 After leaving Bethel, possibly traveling to Hebron, Rachel is in hard labor with her second son as they approached near Ephrath (Bethlehem). Before she dies, Rachel calls the child, Ben-Oni, "son of my sorrow" or "son of my strength", but Jacob changed his name to Benjamin, "son of my right hand", thus assigning him a place of honor in the home. Jacob buried Rachel on the way to Bethlehem and set up a pillar on her tomb. They journeyed on and pitched their tent beyond the Tower of Eder, between Bethlehem and Hebron, which was likely a watchtower for shepherds, near Bethlehem.
Notes: Rachel’s prayer at the birth of her firstborn, Joseph, was answered (30:24). 24 And she called his name Joseph, saying, "May the Lord add to me another son!"
Genesis 35:22 Reuben, because he was the first born, did this disgraceful thing by lying with Bilhah, Rachel’s maidservant and mother of Jacob’s children, Dan and Naphtali, probably because he figured that everything Jacob had would one day be his anyway and why wait. Reuben may also have viewed his action as establishing his authority over his brothers. Jacob heard of it and would remember it when the time came to bless his children before his death. This act would cost Reuben the blessing of the first-born. Simeon and Levi also forfeited their right to get the blessing of the first born because of the men they killed at Shechem.
Genesis 35:23-26 Jacob’s 12 sons are here repeated:
Leah: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun
Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin
Bilhah: Dan and Naphtali
Zilpah: Gad and Asher
Genesis 35:27-29 Jacob’s arrives in Hebron where his father Isaac currently resided. Isaac dies at 180 years old. Jacob and Esau reunite to bury their father.
Notes: Jacob, back in the land before his father’s death, fulfilled yet another part of his Bethel vow 28:21 - "come again to my father’s house in peace"
Jacob moves by stages from Shechem to Bethel, eventually coming to Hebron, where his father Isaac is still alive. During this journey, a number of incidents occur that either bring to a close previous episodes or anticipate later developments in Genesis. Ending with the death of Isaac, this chapter marks the passing of one generation while preparing for the next. Transformed by the experiences of Bethel and Peniel, Jacob is now in a position to assume the mantle of his father as the one through whom the divine promises to Abraham will be continued.