The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 19: The Return to Canaan
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Crossing the Jordan, "Jacob came in peace to the city of
Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan." Genesis 33:18,
R.V. Thus the patriarch's prayer at Bethel, that God would bring
him again in peace to his own land, had been granted. For a time
he dwelt in the vale of Shechem. It was here that Abraham, more
than a hundred years before, had made his first encampment and
erected his first altar in the Land of Promise. Here Jacob "bought
the parcel of ground where he had spread his tent, at the hand of
the children of Hamor, Shechem's father, for a hundred pieces of
money. And he erected there an altar, and called it El-elohe-Israel"
(verses 19, 20)—God, the God of Israel." Like Abraham,
Jacob set up beside his tent an altar unto the Lord, calling
the members of his household to the morning and the evening
sacrifice. It was here also that he dug the well to which,
seventeen centuries later, came Jacob's Son and Saviour, and beside
which, resting during the noontide heat, He told His wondering
hearers of that "well of water springing up into everlasting life."
The tarry of Jacob and his sons at Shechem ended in violence
and bloodshed. The one daughter of the household had been
brought to shame and sorrow, two brothers were involved in the
guilt of murder, a whole city had been given to ruin and slaughter,
in retaliation for the lawless deed of one rash youth. The
beginning that led to results so terrible was the act of Jacob's
daughter, who "went out to see the daughters of the land," thus
venturing into association with the ungodly. He who seeks pleasure
among those that fear not God is placing himself on Satan's
ground and inviting his temptations.
The treacherous cruelty of Simeon and Levi was not unprovoked;
yet in their course toward the Shechemites they committed
a grievous sin. They had carefully concealed from Jacob their [p. 205] intentions, and the tidings of their revenge filled him with horror.
Heartsick at the deceit and violence of his sons, he only said, "Ye
have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of
the land: . . . and I being few in number, they shall gather themselves
together against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed,
I and my house." But the grief and abhorrence with which he
regarded their bloody deed is shown by the words in which, nearly
fifty years later, he referred to it, as he lay upon his deathbed in
Egypt: Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty
are in their habitations. O my soul, come not thou into their
secret; unto their assembly, mine honor, be not thou united. . . .
Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it
was cruel." Genesis 49:5-7.
Jacob felt that there was cause for deep humiliation. Cruelty
and falsehood were manifest in the character of his sons. There
were false gods in the camp, and idolatry had to some extent
gained a foothold even in his household. Should the Lord deal
with them according to their deserts, would He not leave them to
the vengeance of the surrounding nations?
While Jacob was thus bowed down with trouble, the Lord
directed him to journey southward to Bethel. The thought of this
place reminded the patriarch not only of his vision of the angels
and of God's promises of mercy, but also of the vow which he
had made there, that the Lord should be his God. He determined
that before going to this sacred spot his household should be freed
from the defilement of idolatry. He therefore gave direction to
all in the encampment, "Put away the strange gods that are among
you, and be clean, and change your garments: and let us arise,
and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God,
who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me
in the way which I went."
With deep emotion Jacob repeated the story of his first visit to
Bethel, when he left his father's tent a lonely wanderer, fleeing
for his life, and how the Lord had appeared to him in the night
vision. As he reviewed the wonderful dealings of God with him,
his own heart was softened, his children also were touched by a
subduing power; he had taken the most effectual way to prepare
them to join in the worship of God when they should arrive at
Bethel. "And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which [p. 206] were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their
ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem."
God caused a fear to rest upon the inhabitants of the land, so
that they made no attempt to avenge the slaughter at Shechem.
The travelers reached Bethel unmolested. Here the Lord again
appeared to Jacob and renewed to him the covenant promise.
"And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He talked with him,
even a pillar of stone."
At Bethel, Jacob was called to mourn the loss of one who had
long been an honored member of his father's family—Rebekah's
nurse, Deborah, who had accompanied her mistress from Mesopotamia
to the land of Canaan. The presence of this aged woman
had been to Jacob a precious tie that bound him to his early life,
and especially to the mother whose love for him had been so
strong and tender. Deborah was buried with expressions of so
great sorrow that the oak under which her grave was made, was
called "the oak of weeping." It should not be passed unnoticed
that the memory of her life of faithful service and of the mourning
over this household friend has been accounted worthy to be
preserved in the word of God.
From Bethel it was only a two days' journey to Hebron, but
it brought to Jacob a heavy grief in the death of Rachel. Twice
seven years' service he had rendered for her sake, and his love
had made the toil but light. How deep and abiding that love had
been, was shown when long afterward, as Jacob in Egypt lay near
his death, Joseph came to visit his father, and the aged patriarch,
glancing back upon his own life, said, "As for me, when I came
from Padan, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan in the way,
when yet there was but a little way to come unto Ephrath: and I
buried her there in the way of Ephrath." Genesis 48:7. In the
family history of his long and troubled life the loss of Rachel was
Before her death Rachel gave birth to a second son. With her
parting breath she named the child Benoni, "son of my sorrow."
But his father called him Benjamin, "son of my right hand," or
"my strength." Rachel was buried where she died, and a pillar
was raised upon the spot to perpetuate her memory.
On the way to Ephrath another dark crime stained the family
of Jacob, causing Reuben, the first-born son, to be denied the
privileges and honors of the birthright. [p. 207]
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