The Pillar On Rachel’s Grave

Today I want us to do a study of Genesis 35.

It contains a section of the travels of Jacob in the land of Canaan after he came back from Padanaram where he acquired two wives, two concubines, eleven sons, one daughter, and many slaves and many sheep, and goats, and camels, and donkeys, and cows, and bulls, and so on. Jacob was a rich man. And there in Genesis 35:20 we find a very puzzling verse. Let us pick up in verse 19,

Genesis 35:19
And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem.

Genesis 35:20
And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day.

“That is the pillar on Rachel’s grave unto this day”.

In other words, Jacob erected a memorial on the grave of Rachel to remind all his descendants of the place where the wife that he loved so much, Rachel, was buried. Today as we celebrate another memorial, the Lord’s Supper, we want to take a good look at this memorial that Jacob has set up on Rachel’s grave.

Is there a connection here?

That is why the title of this article is, “The Pillar on Rachel’s Grave”.

Today you might know the answer to this question, if you pay attention, since this is not an easy article. And so, let us pick up the context beginning at verse 1. The first thing we see is that death is reigning in this chapter.

Deborah Died and Rachel Died (Genesis 35:1-20)

Genesis 35:1
And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.

Genesis 35:2
Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments:

Genesis 35:3
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.

Genesis 35:4
And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem.

Genesis 35:5
And they journeyed: and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob.

Genesis 35:6-7
So Jacob came to Luz, which is in the land of Canaan, that is, Bethel, he and all the people that were with him. And he built there an altar, and called the place Elbethel: because there God appeared unto him, when he fled from the face of his brother.

Genesis 35:8
But Deborah Rebekah’s nurse died, and she was buried beneath Bethel under an oak: and the name of it was called Allonbachuth.

Genesis 35:9
And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padanaram, and blessed him.

Genesis 35:10
And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel.

Genesis 35:11
And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins;

Genesis 35:12-13
And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land. And God went up from him in the place where he talked with him.

Genesis 35:14
And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him, even a pillar of stone: and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon.

Genesis 35:15
And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him, Bethel.

Genesis 35:16-17
And they journeyed from Bethel; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labour. 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.

Genesis 35:18
And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni (Son of my sorrow) but his father called him Benjamin (Son of the right hand).

Genesis 35:19
And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem.

Genesis 35:20
And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day.

“Rachel was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem”.

Historically this happened:

On the Way to Bethlehem (Genesis 35:16)

And Jacob set up a memorial on Rachel’s grave “Unto this Day”. When you see those words, “unto this day”, what does it mean?

It means that this memorial is still available today, and tomorrow, and next year, for if you read this text next year you still read it as “unto this day”.

God does not lie. The principle of this memorial applies until the end of time.

But does it now mean that today you can go to a place near Bethlehem and see this pillar that Jacob erected in the honor of Rachel?

Most likely you will be led to one of the tourist attractions that were set up primarily to rake in some money from tourists. Just think of the following odds. The children of Israel were in Egypt for 430 years. During that long period of time the Canaanites were in the land, and they cared less about a burial site that this family of nomads had left in the land. 430 years is a long time. Then the children of Israel came again in the land and they slowly conquered the land of Canaan one city at a time. But then the Babylonians overran the land in the year 587 BC. They totally devastated the land and left it to the Samaritans and to the wild beasts for about 50 years. The remnant of the people who returned was of a different generation who came primarily to establish Jerusalem and they might not remember where Rachel’s grave was.

But if they did, then in the year 70 AD the revolt of the Zealots triggered the wrath of the Roman Empire. The result was that Jerusalem was thoroughly destroyed and burned to the ground, the countryside was devastated, and the Jews were scattered throughout the Roman Empire. Then in about 500 AD the Arabs took over the land, and we do not know what they did to all the existing shrines. But one thing is certain: The makeshift pillar of stones that Jacob erected in one day on Rachel’s grave did not survive for 4000 years.

What we presently have as Rachel’s grave there in the land of Israel is an artifact and it was concocted by someone who wanted to make money from tourists. The same can be said of all the other artifacts that presently draw so many tourists. God does not preserve artifacts, because God knows that mankind would begin to worship these artifacts instead of God. But God does not lie. When God said that this memorial remains “unto this day”, it truly remains unto this day, regardless what happened to the heap of stones that Jacob made on Rachel’s grave.

We need to remember that God does preserve principles, which He laid down in the Bible. And thus, instead of looking for a heap of stones, we need to search for the principle of this memorial. Historically Jacob and his family and all his flocks and herds traveled from Shechem to Bethel. There in Bethel they stayed for some unknown period of time. Then they traveled from Bethel to Hebron where his blind father Isaac was, who was still alive. But on the way, when they were still a short distance from Bethlehem, Benjamin was born and Rachel died.

Why did they go to Bethel first?

And why did they not stay in Bethel until Rachel had given birth?

What business did Jacob have at Bethel?

For this we need a little background on the place called Bethel.

On the Way to Bethel (Genesis 28:16-22, 33:18-20, 35:1-2, Exodus 32:2, Proverbs 21:1)

When Jacob fled from his brother Esau, after he had stolen the birthright, he was on the way to a far country where he was going to buy himself a wife. And Jacob spent the night on an open place, took some stones for a pillow, and Jacob dreamed that a ladder was set up from where he was, which reached into heaven, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon that ladder. That ladder represents the Lord Jesus Christ, for there is no other mediator that can give us a way into heaven. Then God spoke to Jacob in that dream and God repeated the promises He had given earlier to his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham. Now let’s pick up the story in Genesis 28:16.

Genesis 28:16-17
And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful (How fearful) is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.

Genesis 28:18-19
And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first.

Genesis 28:20
And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on,

Genesis 28:21
So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God:

Genesis 28:22
And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.

This again is a memorial. Jacob set up a pillar in that place, and he called that place “Bethel”, which means “House of God”. And Jacob vowed a vow unto God. But 40 years later, when he returned from Padanaram, Jacob had forgotten his vow. We can see that in Genesis 33:18-20.

That is why Jacob dwelt in a land that is called Shechem, where he bought a parcel of a field and where he built an altar. Jacob really planned to stay there, and he planned to give his daughter Dinah in marriage to the prince of the land who is also named Shechem. Jacob did not know the murderous plans his sons had. Jacob did not know that God drove him away from Shechem. You can see the principle: God’s providence is working through the sins of man.

God always accomplishes the counsel of His will. Because of the murders his sons had committed Jacob had to flee from the land of Shechem.

Where could he go?

Then God reminded him in Genesis 35:1, “And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother”.

Not only had Jacob failed to go to Bethel, but also his household was defiled by idols. And from the words of Genesis 35:2 we see that Jacob was aware of the corrupt practices of his family. We can also see here an illustration of the awful spread of the leprosy of sin. At first the gods of his father in law Laban were hidden by Rachel, and no one in the family seems to have known of them. But now Jacob commanded “his household and all that were with him”, including all the slaves, to “put away the strange gods” which were among them.

And then we read in Genesis 35:4 that they gave Jacob not only all their strange gods, but also all their earrings.

Why their earrings?

It is because their golden earrings were things which were easily converted to idols. For example we read in Exodus 32:2 that Aaron made the golden calf from the earrings of the people.

Then Jacob buried all that gold and silver under an oak tree in the land of Shechem.

Why did Jacob bury them?

Jacob did not try to convert these into something more useful, for Jacob applied the principle that the things of Satan must not be employed in the service of God. And we can see the hand of God in the readiness of his household to obey his request to do away the strange gods.

In fact the power of God is evident at every point in this chapter. We can see it in the immediate effect of God’s word to Jacob to go to Bethel. We can see it in the unanimous response of his family. We can see it in the terror of God that fell upon the cities round about them, so that they did not try to avenge themselves upon Jacob and his company. And so we see here illustrated the sovereign control which God exercises upon men, even upon those who are not His people. Not a hand can be raised against the Lord’s people without His direct permission. This agrees with the word of God in Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will”.

Then Jacob came to the city of Luz. And then the change:

From Luz to Bethel (Genesis 35:6,8-9, 24:59, Hebrews 11:29-30)

Jacob came to the place where he had the dream. That place was near the city called Luz.

And what does Luz mean?

Luz means “Departure”. Jacob had departed from God, because during the 40 years that Jacob dwelt in Padanaram Jacob had not built an altar to the Lord His God. And only now does he return to God, to the “House of God” called Bethel, to the altar of his God. And in order to do this Jacob must retrace his steps and return to the place from which he has departed. And so it has to be with us. In our process of repentance we too must retrace our steps and start over at the point from where we have lost our first love.

Can we remember the days when we were enthusiastic about our new-found faith?

Can we remember the days when we did a profession of faith, and we were full of fire unto the Lord?

Can we remember that we bought a concordance with the intent to use it in our personal Bible studies?

Where are those days?

Have we lost our first love?

It means we must go from Luz to Bethel, from the point of Departure back to the House of God. We must retrace our steps and renew our commitment to the Lord, for salvation is not a waning experience, but a growing experience.

And if we do not grow, then is it possible we have not been saved to begin with?

Let us continue with the story of Jacob in Genesis 35. There at Bethel we read, “Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse died”.

Deborah was his mother’s nurse. The only reference we have is that Rebekah’s nurse traveled with Rebekah many years earlier when Rebekah left her father’s house to be married to Isaac, as we can read in Genesis 24:59. Rebekah had died long ago, and somehow Deborah became attached to Jacob’s household. Then Deborah died at a very old age and the oak under which she was buried was called Allonbachuth, which means “the Oak of Weeping”.

She was Jacob’s link to his old unregenerate life, but now she died and was buried at Bethel, the House of God, and immediately God appeared to Jacob again. These two verses, verses 8 and 9 are inseparably connected. The departure and the return of Jacob are linked together by the mention of Deborah, and that she died. Then God appeared unto Jacob again when he came out of Padanaram. God had appeared to Jacob just before he entered Padanaram, and God appeared again after he came out of Padanaram.

All the 40 years spent with his father in law were wasted time, for Jacob did not live by faith during those 40 years. We find another illustration of this same sad principle in Hebrews 11:29-30, where we read, “By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land”, and the next thing we read is, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down”.

The intermediate 40 years of wandering in the wilderness is passed over. Nothing of faith was found in that period of Israel’s history, and they died in the wilderness in unbelief. Those 40 years were wasted time. That was tragic for those who died in unbelief. And so, make sure that you know where you stand. But God had mercy on Jacob and thus God appeared to Jacob again at Bethel.

God’s Appearance to Jacob (Genesis 35:11-12, Galatians 3:16,29, 4:25, 6:16, Genesis 35:10)

Let us read carefully the words God left us as a heritage, here in Genesis 35:11-12,

“And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations (a congregation of nations) shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins;

“And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land”.

Literally “a company of nations” should have been translated “a congregation of nations”. In other words, not just two or three nations, but “a multitude of nations shall be of thee”.

How can this be if we recognize only the nations of Judah and of Israel?

Even if we count the remnant that came out of Babylon as a separate nation, and if we count the nation that presently occupies the land there east of the Mediterranean as a separate nation, we would still not be able to explain this prophecy.

What then is the solution?

The solution is found in the next verse where God repeated the promise He gave to Abraham and his seed.

But did God refer to the physical descendants of Abraham?


We must remain faithful to God’s reference to “Abraham and his seed” in the New Testament. We find a great deal of information about the seed of Abraham and about the Israel of God in the Epistles of Paul, and most of it is not complimentary to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For example we read in Galatians 4:25 about the present day Jewish state in Jerusalem, and there we read that “Jerusalem which now is, is in bondage with her children”.

In plain English it means that most of the present day Jews are still on the way to Hell. And here in Galatians 3:16 we read, “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ”.

In other words the promise is not to the physical descendants of Abraham, but to Christ, who is a descendant of Abraham, and thus He is called the Seed of Abraham. Consequently the promise is also to all those who are in Christ. And thus we read in Galatians 3:29, “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”.

These were the promises made to Abraham and to his seed way back in Genesis 12, and 13, and 15, and 16, and 17, and 18, and 22.

The promises are to those who have been saved by the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, which means these promises are for those who are called the remnant chosen by grace out of all nations and kindred and people and tongues.

Out of all those nations, including the nation of physical Jews, there is only a remnant chosen by grace. Since the Lord Jesus Christ is called Israel in the Bible, this remnant chosen by grace is also called Israel, the Israel of God.

In Genesis 35:10 God emphasized to Jacob that his name is not any more Jacob, but he is called Israel. We read, “And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel”.

And so, the only way in which a multitude of nations can be the descendants of Israel, according to verse 11, is if Israel is Christ, and all those who belong to Christ are called the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16).

Another Memorial (Genesis 35:14-20, Colossians 3:5)

Genesis 35:14
And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him, even a pillar of stone: and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon.

That Jacob was now fully restored to communion with God can be seen from the fact that he now, once more, set up a pillar in the place where he had talked with God, and Jacob poured oil on this pillar of stone.

What does this pillar signify?

A memorial.

And of what is it a memorial?

It is a transition from Luz to Bethel. It is departing from the old life and it is a return to a strengthened relationship with God in the House of God. It does not mean that Jacob lost his salvation while he was at Padanaram for 40 years, but it means that God has drawn Jacob closer to Himself. “And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him, Bethel”. That is the meaning of this memorial. Next we read in V 16,

Genesis 35:16
“And they journeyed from Bethel; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath”.

Ephrath is Bethlehem, and Bethlehem means, “House of Bread”. Spiritually the House of Bread refers to the Bible. And spiritually what we find in the House of Bread is Christ, who is the Bread of Life. Verse 16 says: It is only a short distance from Bethel to Bethlehem. The spiritual meaning of this verse is: It is only a short distance from the place where the soul is restored to communion with God to the place where the soul is nourished and fed with the Bread of life.

“And Rachel died” and she was buried in the way to Bethlehem. And thus the leading link of Jacob’s life at Padanaram was now cut off. Rachel was the primary reason why Jacob went to Padanaram, and why he stayed there for 40 years. The strange gods which Rachel brought from Padanaram were now buried under an oak. Deborah, who represented Jacob’s link to his old unregenerate life, had also been buried under an oak.

And now Rachel is buried. Death is written with large letters across this scene. We too must have the sentence of death written on our members, for we read in Colossians 3:5, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry”.

To mortify our members is painful, but it must occur. If we want to walk in full communion with God and dwell in the House of Bread, it is necessary that we depart from our old life (Luz) and be renewed in the House of God (Bethel).

It was painful for Jacob to bury His beloved wife. But the pillar which he set up on Rachel’s grave bears the same meaning as the pillar which he has set up in verse 14. It is a memorial to the departing of our previous life and a renewed commitment to a life dedicated to the Lord. I am sure that Jacob did not think all this out when he buried Rachel and set up a pillar upon her grave.

But we can see that God orchestrated this entire scene, and this entire chapter, to give us a picture of the process of our sanctification. And it is in this sense that we must understand why this entire scenario unfolded the way it did, because God designed it to be a spiritual picture. And is it not wonderful that from the dying Rachel there came forth Benjamin, the Son of the Right Hand. Let us now consider some other spiritual analogies between:

The Call of Jacob and the Call of Israel (Ephesians 2:3, Ezekiel 36:27, Genesis 35:10, Romans 9:6, Isaiah 9:6)

Jacob left Bethel, the House of God, to go to the land of his exile, Padanaram. Likewise we, the Israel of God, have left the house of God when Adam sinned, and we dwelt in our house of bondage, the world. “We all were by nature children of wrath, even as others” (Ephesians 2:3).

Just as God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel”, return to the place of Divine communion and privilege, even so has He called us, the Israel of God, to go up to Bethel, to the House of God.
The immediate effect of God’s call upon Jacob was to purge his house from idolatry and to change their garments, which reflects a change of their ways. The effect of God’s call upon us, the Israel of God, is that God will make us change our ways. God says in Ezekiel 36:27, “And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.”

Just as Jacob acknowledged that God has answered him in the day of his distress, so the Israel of God acknowledges that God responds to our cry for deliverance when we are in a tight spot.

Just as the terror of God fell upon the Shechemites, and they refrained from pursuing Jacob, even so God keeps our enemies at bay, for He protects us and guides us even before we were saved.

Just as Jacob returned to Bethel and built an altar there, so will we, the Israel of God, build a memorial for Him in our home and make our children bow down and worship the God of the Bible.

Just as now the link with Jacob’s past was cut by the death of Deborah, so will we, the Israel of God, die to our past life.

Just as God now appeared to Jacob “again”, so will He appear to us again in the Word of God.

Just as God said to Jacob, “thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name” (Genesis 35:10), even so does God call us Israel when He said in Romans 9:6, “They are not all Israel which are of Israel”.

Just as God for the first time revealed unto Jacob His name “Almighty”, so the Lord Jesus Christ revealed Himself to us as the wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God (Isaiah 9:6).

Just as prosperity was promised to Jacob, so shall spiritual prosperity continue to increase in anyone who belongs to God’s Israel.

Just as Jacob poured oil on the pillar he erected at Bethel, so God will pour the Holy Spirit upon all who are the Israel of God.

Just as Jacob found Bethel to be but a little way from Bethlehem, so shall we, the Israel of God, find the Bread of Life soon after we have arrived at the House of Bread, our Bethlehem.

Just as Benjamin took his place in Jacob’s household, so shall the Son of the Father’s right hand be among us when we will come into His Kingdom in the life hereafter.


By Alfred Chompff

One Comment on “The Pillar On Rachel’s Grave

  1. I was looking up the Voice of God and ended here? I believe in the providence of God in my life. I saw Rachel’s Stone; what to me was a vary large Rock, which I was told she was buried under. The guide said: IF any females have any reproductive or female problems it is said there is healing if you touch the stone. So all the women toched the stone including me. I did not have any female problems, just wanted to feel the anchient stone.

    I did not feel it was right as some of the women were praying as they were touching the stone. I know Jesus is my healer, but I said nothing, kept it in my heart.

    Truly it is the principels of God, not the objects left behind we are to focus on. This teaching touched my heart today, keeping me on track, fulfilling the Voice of God. I heard His Voice today and I live.

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