Read Genesis 35:15-29. What other woes did Jacob face within his dysfunctional family?
As soon as Jacob leaves Bethel, three interrelated incidents mark the last step of his journey toward the Promised Land: Jacob’s last son was born; Rachel died; and Reuben, Jacob’s first son from Leah, slept with Jacob’s concubine. Though the text doesn’t say why the young man would do something so evil, it could have been that he wanted to somehow defile the birth of Jacob’s last son and to humiliate the memory of Rachel. We just don’t know.
The birth of Jacob’s last son is linked to Bethlehem (Genesis 35:19), which is within the confines of the Promised Land. This birth is, then, the first fulfillment of God’s promise for the future of Israel. The midwife, prophetically, addresses Rachel with the very words God used to reassure Abraham: “Do not fear” (Genesis 35:17, NKJV, compare with Genesis 15:1).
Significantly, Jacob changes the name that the dying Rachel had given to her son, Ben-Oni, meaning “son of my sorrow” to signify her pain, into Benjamin, meaning “son of the right hand,” perhaps implying the direction of the south in order to express his hope in the Promised Land and all that God said He would do for His people after they had settled there.
Yet during this time Reuben has sexual relations with Bilhah, his father’s concubine and Rachel’s maidservant (Genesis 35:25, Genesis 30:3). We just don’t know why he did this scandalous act, other than as another example of human depravity.
Amazingly, Jacob does not respond to this horrible violation, even though he is told about it (Genesis 35:22). Perhaps at this point in his life, Jacob trusts God that He will fulfill His word despite the sin and evil at times that goes on around him.
It is this precise lesson of faith that is implied in the list of Jacob’s 12 sons, who will be the ancestors of Israel (Genesis 35:22-26). Not the most savory and kindest of people, as we will see. Yet despite all the problems, all the dysfunction, even outright evil, such as Reuben with Bilhah, God’s will was going to be fulfilled through this family, no matter how messed up this family really was.
Even despite human error, God’s ultimate purposes will be fulfilled. Imagine what would happen if people cooperated, if they obeyed Him. How much easier; that is, with less human suffering and stress and delay, could God’s will then be accomplished?