Please turn to Genesis 35:1-29. This passage speaks of God's grace towards Jacob. But it is also a passage filled with great sorrow for him. In verse 8, we learn of Deborah's death. She was the maid to Rebekah, a beloved member of the family.

Then, in verses 16-20, we see the sad account of Rachel’s death, even as she is giving birth to their son, Benjamin. Finally, in verses 28-29, we learn that Jacob's father died. Thus, you can imagine that this was a very hard time in Jacob’s life even though he was experiencing a sweet and gracious communion with God. This passage can easily be divided into two parts. First, Jacob's journey to Bethel is discussed in verses 1-15. Then, his journey from and beyond Bethel is recorded in verses 16-29 as he makes his way to his father's homeland.   

I. God's grace is very evident in His dealings with Jacob.

In Genesis 35:1-15, Jacob finally completes his pilgrimage to Bethel. He had promised the Lord that he would go there. The Lord had called him in faithfulness to come to Bethel, but it was not until the Lord Himself speaks to Jacob that he begins to make the first steps. Even in the wake of the disaster at Shechem, it is not until the Lord speaks to Jacob that he begins to make his final path towards Bethel. A review of these verses reveals that God's grace is very evident in the way He deals with Jacob. 

There are six distinct scenes in the first fifteen verses of this passage. First, we see God's gracious address to Jacob in verse 1. Jacob had stumbled badly at Shechem and for God to come to Jacob and to call him graciously, gently, and patiently back to Bethel is really an act of grace. Secondly, Jacob senses the gravity of God’s call back to Bethel. Jacob's response to God's call in verses 2-3 is obedience. In relation, Jacob shows a greater sense of responsibility for his household spiritual well-being than he has ever shown as he calls his household to put away foreign gods and to purify themselves. Thirdly, God providentially protected Jacob and his family as they made their way to Bethel as revealed in verses 4-5. God honors Jacob’s faithfulness in his devotion by protecting him from his enemies. Fourthly, in verses 6-7, we read that they finally get to Bethel and the whole family gathers, and they worship the God of Bethel. Jacob calls the place and the pillar El-bethel, not just Bethel. The point of Bethel was not that it was a sacred place that could give Jacob grace. The point was it was the place where the God of Bethel had indeed met with him and shown him grace and faith. It was an instrument in the hands of the gracious God. Fifthly, in verse 8, we see the death of the faithful and beloved Deborah. We also learn that the name that is given to the oak where Deborah is buried is Allon-bacuth, which means the “oak of weeping.” Finally, in verses 9-15, God makes His final appearance to Jacob and He reiterates the promises that He had first made to Abraham. In fact, God goes all the way back to the words that He had spoken to Adam when the Lord says, “Be fruitful and multiply” in Genesis 1:28. God goes back to the creation covenant, and He repeats the responsibilities of the covenant. As such, God reminds Jacob of the grace of the covenant which He had established with Abraham and with Isaac.

There are two important lessons to learn from this passage. First, in His grace and in His very last meeting with Jacob, God calls him Israel. It was a name that was to separate him from his past. But Jacob did not live like Israel very often. Therefore, it is exceedingly precious that, in His very final meeting, God refuses to think of him as Jacob and thinks of him as Israel. It is in that act of God that we see the benefits of justification and God looking upon us not as we are in ourselves but as we are in Christ. Secondly, this visit of God and Jacob is sandwiched between the death of Deborah and the death of Rachel. How tender is God's concern for His people that He should choose this time to come and visit with His servant, Jacob. God comes to him precisely in the time of his greatest need for His final visit. 

II. God completes the number of the twelve tribes of Israel.

In Genesis 35:16-29, Jacob journeys on towards his father's house. You can imagine the experience of Bethel. It was bittersweet as the experience included the loss of Deborah, the sweetness of communion with God, the visit of God, and the worship of God. Now Jacob, with a very pregnant Rachel, begins to make his way towards his father's household. You can imagine the hopes of his heart. Perhaps Jacob thinks that he will be able to lay his youngest son on the bed of his aged father, and his father will be able to praise his wife, Rachel, and be able to hear faintly the cries of his son. 

There are four distinct scenes in the last fourteen verses of this passage. First, in verses 16-20, the death of Rachel in the birth of Benjamin is recorded. Jacob’s hopes have been built up, but now we can only image his heartache in the death of his wife. Secondly, in verses 21-22, Moses gives us a brief mention of Reuben’s sin and leaves us to imagine what a shocking breach developed in the family because of this sin. Thirdly, in verses 22-26, the sons of Jacob are now complete and these twelve sons will become a symbolic number representing the whole of Israel. Finally, in verses 27-29, Moses records the death of Isaac. Jacob’s father dies and he becomes the head of the covenant, but immediately, the focus shifts from Jacob to his sons. Jacob has waited his whole life to assume the official headship of the covenant, and when the time finally comes, the scene shifts away from him. 

This truth reminds us that sometimes God has a plan for our lives in which we are simply a smaller part of a greater purpose. Though we are preparing for one thing all our lives, it may be another thing for which God is planning to use us. It may be that in the things of grace that God is doing in our own hearts, He is doing in primary preparation for something He is going to use our children to do. We should never forget that lesson. It is an illustration that we draw from the life of Jacob as God completes the number of the twelve tribes and now turns our eyes to Joseph and what God is going to do through him.