If you remember where we left off, Jacob’s sons had just murdered an entire city. He was a bit concerned, but then had the following dream.
And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother. Then Jacob said unto his household,and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you,and be clean, and change your garments: And let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went.
And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem. And they journeyed: and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob.
Genesis 35:1-5 (KJV)
God wants him to go back to the place he hid when he cheated his brother and ran for his life. He told his family to hide all their idols and earrings under a tree, you know, where god can’t see them. They made their way in peace, as everyone in the area were scared of them, on account of all the genocide.
What’s up with earrings? Jewelry is mentioned various times in the bible in both a positive and a negative light. Earrings in ancient cultures often had magical properties. Although the word translated as earring here means literally earring, another word commonly translated as earring is lahash, which means “to murmur” or to “conjure.” This referred to the powerful protective spells that were cast on earrings and nose rings to protect the wearer. The “holes” in your head have always been viewed as a weakness that evil can exploit to come inside you, and various methods have grown to protect people.
In the next few verses, they build an altar at the same place god appeared before to him, Deborah died and was buried there, and God appeared again with the whole, “you are going to have many kids who are going to be kings” blah, blah, blah. This time, he changed the name of our current hero (Jacob)to Israel. He then gives the land that he gave to Abraham and Isaac to Israel,since it never seems to stick. This all happens around seven hundred years before the Kingdom of Israel enters the archaeological history.
As his father and his father before him, Jacob, err, I mean Israel hears he owns the land and immediately leaves. On the journey, His beloved wife Rachel dies giving birth to a son she called Benoni, but his dad called him Benjamin. He settled down near tower of Edar, which is believed to be near Bethlehem.
And it came to pass, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine: and Israel heard it.
Now the sons of Jacob were twelve: The sons of Leah; Reuben,Jacob’s firstborn, and Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Zebulun: The sons of Rachel; Joseph, and Benjamin: And the sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid; Dan, and Naphtali: And the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid: Gad, and Asher: these are the sons of Jacob, which were born to him in Padanaram. And Jacob came unto Isaac his father unto Mamre, unto the city of Arbah, which is Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac sojourned.
And the days of Isaac were an hundred and fourscore years.And Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people, being old and full of days: and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.
Genesis 35:22-29 (KJV)
So, a clean ending to the story. Jacob dies and they summarize his sons (who will become the twelve tribes of Israel) and…wait, what was that about Reuben and his dad’s sex slave/step-mom (and by some accounts,his step-aunt)? This is how the story ends? In a word, no. We get to revisit this branch of history’s most dysfunctional family in just a few more chapters. Stay tuned.
The number twelve has a symbolic nature throughout world history. There are twelve months in a year, twelves signs of the zodiac, twelve gods on Mount Olympus, etc. It was some mathematical basis in astronomical observation. Numerologist also point out that the divine number 3 (i.e. the holy trinity, the past, present, and future,the triple goddess of Wicca, the three ethical principles of Zoroastrianism, three primary colors, etc.) multiplied by the earthly number four (four cardinal directions, four elements, four phases of the moon, four seasons, etc.) equals twelve,the number of completions. This number occurs again and again in scriptures,from the twelve tribes, the twelve disciples, and the book of Revelation in positively overflowing with the number twelve, or a multiple thereof. Here’s a link to an interesting site that goes into detail on the numbers and meanings throughout history, covering beliefs both East and West. CLICK