The birth of Benjamin and the death of Rachel

Jacob and his family moved from Bethel. When they were still some distance from Ephrath (ancient Jerusalem), Rachel went into labor. She had great difficulty during labor but a midwife comforted her and said, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” As Rachel took her last breath, she named her son Ben-Oni, but Jacob named him Benjamin. Rachel was buried on the way to Ephrath. Over her tomb, Jacob set up a stone pillar.

The birth of Benjamin and the death of Rachel by Francesco FurinIsrael (Jacob) moved again, this time pitching his tent beyond Migdal Eder. While there, Reuben slept with Jacob’s concubine, Bilhah. Jacob heard of the affair.

Jacob had twelve sons.

From Leah he had:

  • Reuben
  • Simeon
  • Levi
  • Judah
  • Issachar
  • Zebulun.

From Rachel he had:

  • Joseph
  • Benjamin.

From Bilhah (Rachel’s servant) he had:

  • Dan
  • Naphtali.

From Zilpah (Leah’s servant) he had:

  • Gad
  • Asher.

Jacob went to the home of his father Isaac who lived in Mamre (near Kiriath Arba or Hebron). There he stayed. Isaac lived for 180 years. When he died, his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.

What the story means to us today

Jacob’s story tied up in preparation for Joseph’s saga

Much is covered in these verses. We see Jacob move from Bethel, where God had instructed him to go, to Ephrath and ultimately Mamre. Along the way, his beloved Rachel dies while giving birth to the son she so longed for.

We then see Reuben violating his father’s status by sleeping with Jacob’s concubine, Bilhah.

Finally, we are given a consolidated list of Jacob’s sons and receive news that Jacob moved yet again, likely to be with his aging father before his death.

The verses neatly tie up Jacob’s life and prepare us for the story of Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son, his first son by Rachel.

Additional thoughts and considerations

Jacob leaves Bethel

Although the verses tell us God directed Jacob to Bethel, we are not told why Jacob left Bethel and the time between his arrival and departure are not specified. His travels took him in a southerly direction, from Bethel to Ephrath (Bethlehem) and ultimately to Mamre (just outside Hebron) where his father Isaac lived. Jacob may have been slowly making his way to his elderly father.

Midwife tells Rachel to not worry – she has a son

Rachel’s midwife tells her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” At first sight, the verse seems misogynistic. But in earlier verses, after birthing Joseph, we saw Rachel pray for another son. Sons carried on the family name and served to protect the family as they grew and prospered. In these verses, we see God answer Rachel’s prayer – just before she takes her dying breath.

The irony in Rachel’s death

There is delicate irony in Rachel’s death. Earlier Rachel pleaded with Jacob, “Give me children or I’ll die.” In an ironic twist of fate, the granting of her wish results in her death.

Jacob changes the name Rachel gave Benjamin

As Rachel took her last breath, she named her newborn son Ben-Oni – then Jacob changed the name to Benjamin. Ben-Oni means “son of my trouble” or “son of my sorrow”, a fitting name given Rachel’s emotional state as she approached death. However, Oni can also mean “wealth” which could render the meaning “son of my wealth”. In naming Benjamin, Jacob uses the alternate meaning (i.e. wealth) and replaces “omin” with “vamin” to coax the meaning into a more appropriately positive phrase “son of my right hand”.

Reuben’s affair with Bilhah

The sudden mention of Reuben’s affair with Jacob’s concubine Bilhah, seems unusual to modern readers. Upon Rachel’s death, Bilhah’s status would have risen, possibly to the level of Jacob’s primary wife. Thus, Reuben’s violation of Bilhah ensured she would never replace Rachel. This could have been Reuben’s intent.

Furthermore, Reuben’s violation of Bilhah may have been an attempt to introduce his right as leader of the clan. If so, his ploy failed. We will later see Reuben forfeit his rights because of this indiscretion.

Isaac’s death

The Death of Rachel by Gustav Ferdinand Metz (1847)Isaac was 180-years-old when he died. Later verses confirm he was buried at the Cave of Machpelah, the site purchased by Abraham for a family burial site. Rebekah (Isaac’s wife), Sarah, Abraham, Leah, and ultimately Jacob will also be buried there. Oddly, the only major figure in Abraham’s line not buried there was his much-loved wife, Rachel.

Jacob and Esau bury Isaac – proof of a brotherly reconciliation

The last verse tells us Isaac’s sons Esau and Jacob buried him. We can take this to imply that the two brothers had reconciled their differences.

The science and history behind the story

Ephrath – the ancient name for Bethlehem

Ephrath (or Ephratah) is believed to be the ancient name of Bethlehem (or possibly a location slightly closer to Bethel). Not only is this the place of Rachel’s burial, but also the home of Naomi’s family, David, and of course, Jesus. Interestingly, the location of Rachel’s grave was known for quite some time after her death as evidenced by 1 Samuel 10:2 where Samuel tells Saul to look for the men “near Rachel’s tomb”.

The location of Migdal Eder

During his travels, Jacob moved from Ephrath to a location “beyond Migdal Eder”. The location of Migdal Eder is unknown but believed to be somewhere between Bethlehem and Hebron, possibly a large plain near Bethlehem (Migdal Eder means “tower of the flock”).

Bible Text

NIV

16 Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. 17 And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” 18 As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin.

19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20 Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb.

21 Israel moved on again and pitched his tent beyond Migdal Eder. 22 While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it.

Jacob had twelve sons:

23 The sons of Leah:

Reuben the firstborn of Jacob,

Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun.

24 The sons of Rachel:

Joseph and Benjamin.

25 The sons of Rachel’s servant Bilhah:

Dan and Naphtali.

26 The sons of Leah’s servant Zilpah:

Gad and Asher.

These were the sons of Jacob, who were born to him in Paddan Aram.

27 Jacob came home to his father Isaac in Mamre, near Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had stayed. 28 Isaac lived a hundred and eighty years. 29 Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.

Rachel's Tomb in the 1930's (northern entrance of Bethlehem)The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The Message

16–17 They left Bethel. They were still quite a ways from Ephrath when Rachel went into labor—hard, hard labor. When her labor pains were at their worst, the midwife said to her, “Don’t be afraid—you have another boy.”

18 With her last breath, for she was now dying, she named him Ben-oni (Son-of-My-Pain), but his father named him Ben-jamin (Son-of-Good-Fortune).

19–20 Rachel died and was buried on the road to Ephrath, that is, Bethlehem. Jacob set up a pillar to mark her grave. It is still there today, “Rachel’s Grave Stone.”

21–22 Israel kept on his way and set up camp at Migdal Eder. While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went and slept with his father’s concubine, Bilhah. And Israel heard of what he did.

22–26 There were twelve sons of Jacob.

The sons by Leah:

Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn

Simeon

Levi

Judah

Issachar

Zebulun.

The sons by Rachel:

Joseph

Ben-jamin.

The sons by Bilhah, Rachel’s maid:

Dan

Naphtali.

The sons by Zilpah, Leah’s maid:

Gad

Asher.

These were Jacob’s sons, born to him in Paddan Aram.

27–29 Finally, Jacob made it back home to his father Isaac at Mamre in Kiriath Arba, present-day Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac had lived. Isaac was now 180 years old. Isaac breathed his last and died—an old man full of years. He was buried with his family by his sons Esau and Jacob.

Students inside Rachel's Tomb (northern entrance of Bethlehem)Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

The NET Bible

35:16 They traveled on from Bethel, and when Ephrath was still some distance away, Rachel went into labor—and her labor was hard. 35:17 When her labor was at its hardest, the midwife said to her, “Don’t be afraid, for you are having another son.” 35:18 With her dying breath, she named him Ben-Oni. But his father called him Benjamin instead. 35:19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 35:20 Jacob set up a marker over her grave; it is the Marker of Rachel’s Grave to this day.

35:21 Then Israel traveled on and pitched his tent beyond Migdal Eder. 35:22 While Israel was living in that land, Reuben had sexual relations with Bilhah, his father’s concubine, and Israel heard about it.

Jacob had twelve sons:

35:23 The sons of Leah were Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, as well as Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun.

35:24 The sons of Rachel were Joseph and Benjamin.

35:25 The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s servant, were Dan and Naphtali.

35:26 The sons of Zilpah, Leah’s servant, were Gad and Asher.

These were the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan Aram.

35:27 So Jacob came back to his father Isaac in Mamre, to Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had stayed. 35:28 Isaac lived to be 180 years old. 35:29 Then Isaac breathed his last and joined his ancestors. He died an old man who had lived a full life. His sons Esau and Jacob buried him.

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

King James Version

16 And they journeyed from Beth-el; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labour. 17 And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also. 18 And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Ben-oni: but his father called him Benjamin. 19 And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Beth-lehem. 20 And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day. 21 And Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar. 22 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: 23 The sons of Leah; Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, and Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Zebulun: 24 The sons of Rachel; Joseph, and Benjamin: 25 And the sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid; Dan, and Naphtali: 26 And the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid; Gad, and Asher: these are the sons of Jacob, which were born to him in Padan-aram. 27 And Jacob came unto Isaac his father unto Mamre, unto the city of Arbah, which is Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac sojourned. 28 And the days of Isaac were an hundred and fourscore years. 29 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.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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