Aftermath of Shechem's Fall; Reuben Loses His Birthright (Genesis 35:1-26)
Just as God protected Israel (Jacob) from the sword of Esau, He also protected Israel from the revenge of his neighbors in Canaan. By referring back to the deliverance from Esau (verse 1), God reminds Jacob that he does not need to be afraid now, that Israel should travel to Bethel, and that God will provide him protection once again. True to His word, terror is upon the cities of the land and the inhabitants do not pursue Jacob's family.
To show God the proper respect and praise for this promise of protection, Jacob makes sure to command his household to put away the foreign gods among them. These were most likely the idols Rachel had earlier stolen as well as household idols of some value that Simeon and Levi probably took in their plunder of Shechem described in the preceding verses (compare 34:29). Once Jacob reaches Bethel, he also builds an altar in honor of the true God to thank Him for His blessing. God seems pleased with Jacob's faith and obedience, as He reaffirms with Jacob the promises made to Abraham and Isaac. God even repeats His renaming of Jacob with the new name of Israel, having originally done so in chapter 32.
God gives again the promise of a line of kings (given before in Genesis 17:4-6). But in giving the promise of national blessing, God adds something mentioned for the first time in Scripturethe promise of a single nation and a company (or "group" in the Moffatt Translation) of nations. The Ferrar Fenton Translation says, "a Nation and an Assembly of Nations." The New International Version reads, "a nation and a community of nations." We will see more about this prophecy when we get to Genesis 48, where the birthright blessing passes on to Joseph's sons Ephraim and ManassehManasseh becoming the great single nation and Ephraim becoming the company or group of nations. (These prophesies are fully explained in our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy.)
We are also told in chapter 35 of the death of Rachel in giving birth to Benjamin and her burial at Bethlehem. This tragic event is followed by the shameful incident in which Reuben defiles his father's bed by sleeping with Bilhah, the mother of his brothers, Dan and Naphtali. Reuben was Jacob's firstborn by Leah, which bestowed on him the double-portion birthright inheritance. Yet as just mentioned, the birthright would actually pass to the sons of Joseph. According to 1 Chronicles 5:1-2, this sin of Reuben is what caused Israel to give the birthright to Joseph instead. So not only was this a sin of defilement and adultery, it had long-lasting consequences on future events, determining the ultimate recipients of the promises of wealth God made to Abraham.