Genesis 35:21–29

35  21 Israel journeyed onward and spread his tent beyond Migdal-Eder/Herd-Tower.
     22 When Israel was camped in that place, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah, his father’s concubine. And Israel heard.
     The sons of Jacob were twelve. 23 The sons of Leah were Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. 24 The sons of Rachel were Joseph and Benjamin. 25 The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s slavegirl, were Dan and Naphtali.26 The sons of Zilpah, Leah’s slavegirl, were Gad and Asher. These were Jacob’s sons born to him in Paddan-Aram.
     27 Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre, at the city of Arba that is now Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac had sojourned. 28 The days of Isaac were one hundred and eighty years. 29 Isaac breathed his last and died. He was buried with his kin, old and full of days. Esau and Jacob, his sons, buried him.

While Jacob was still in the early throes of grieving the death of his lovely Rachel, Reuben lost no time in taking advantage of an opportunity to claim his firstborn status.

Rachel was buried at Bethlehem. The family traveled on past the Tower-of-the-Flock (Migdal-Eder), which is also located within sight of Bethlehem.

In a sense, the night of the day Rachel is buried, Reuben sexually takes her slavegirl/Jacob’s concubine/the mother of his half-brothers Dan and Naphtali. Readers are left to distinguish between Shechem’s use of Dinah and Reuben’s use of Bilhah. One difference is adolescent lust and adult power. One similarity is the focus on getting what one wants in the quickest way possible.

Reuben’s act of conquest does two things—first, it makes Bilhah culturally taboo for Jacob; second, it lays claim to Israel’s authority as patriarch. Both results enhance Reuben at the expense of Israel.

As in the case of Dinah, Jacob/Israel is silent upon hearing of this violation.

There is a similarity between Jacob’s trickery of Esau and Isaac and Reuben’s taking the firstborn claim on succession. This connection brings readers to a second conclusion of Jacob’s/Israel’s story.

A mini-genealogy names Jacob’s twelve sons and the beginning of their eventual tribes. [Note: Benjamin was not born in Mesopotamia.]

In equally compressed fashion, Jacob comes to Mamre at Hebron that symbolizes all of Abraham’s journeys and Isaac’s holding place in Canaan. After 20 years of frailty and blindness, Isaac dies at 180 years old.

Esau and Jacob (not Israel) bury Isaac. Firstborn Esau is first named even as he no longer carries the blessing of firstborn.

In rapid fashion, Jacob’s story is mostly done with Rachel’s death, a struggle for dominance between brothers is introduced, and Isaac dies. It is time for a last major genealogy in Genesis and moving on to the story of the twelve sons.

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