Verses 16-20 (Genesis 35:16-20)

We have here the story of the death of Rachel, the beloved wife of Jacob. 1. She fell in travail by the way, not able to reach to Bethlehem, the next town, though they were near it; so suddenly does pain sometimes come upon a woman in travail, which she cannot escape, or put off. We may suppose Jacob had soon a tent up, convenient enough for her reception. 2. Her pains were violent. She had hard labour, harder than usual: this was the effect of sin, Gen. 3:16. Note, Human life begins with sorrow, and the roses of its joy are surrounded with thorns. 3. The midwife encouraged her, Gen. 35:17. No doubt she had her midwife with her, ready at hand, yet that would not secure her. Rachel had said, when she bore Joseph, God shall add another son, which now the midwife remembers, and tells her her words were made good. Yet this did not avail to keep up her spirits; unless God command away fear, no one else can. He only says as one having authority, Fear not. We are apt, in extreme perils, to comfort ourselves and our friends with the hopes of a temporal deliverance, in which we may be disappointed; we had better found our comforts on that which cannot fail us, the hope of eternal life. 4. Her travail was to the life of the child, but to her own death. Note, Though the pains and perils of childbearing were introduced by sin, yet they have sometimes been fatal to very holy women, who, though not saved in childbearing, are saved through it with an everlasting salvation. Rachel had passionately said, Give me children, or else I die; and now that she had children (for this was her second) she died. Her dying is here called the departing of her soul. Note, The death of the body is but the departure of the soul to the world of spirits. 5. Her dying lips called her new-born son Ben-oni, The son of my sorrow. And many a son, not born in such hard labour, yet proves the son of his parent?s sorrow, and the heaviness of her that bore him. Children are enough the sorrow of their poor mothers in the breeding, bearing, and nursing of them; they should therefore, when they grow up, study to be their joy, and so, if possible, to make them some amends. But Jacob, because he would not renew the sorrowful remembrance of the mother?s death every time he called his son by his name, changed his name, and called him Benjamin, The son of my right hand; that is, ?very dear to me, set on my right hand for a blessing, the support of my age, like the staff in my right hand.? 6. Jacob buried her near the place where she died. As she died in child-bed, it was convenient to bury her quickly; and therefore he did not bring her to the burying-place of his family. If the soul be at rest after death, it matters little where the body lies. In the place where the tree falls, there let it be. No mention is made of the mourning that was at her death, because that might easily be taken for granted. Jacob, no doubt, was a true mourner. Note, Great afflictions sometimes befal us immediately after great comforts. Lest Jacob should be lifted up with the visions of the Almighty with which he was honoured, this was sent as a thorn in the flesh to humble him. Those that enjoy the favours peculiar to the children of God must yet expect the troubles that are common to the children of men. Deborah, who, had she lived, would have been a comfort to Rachel in her extremity, died but a little before. Note, When death comes into a family, it often strikes double. God by it speaks once, yea, twice. The Jewish writers say, ?The death of Deborah and Rachel was to expiate the murder of the Shechemites, occasioned by Dinah, a daughter of the family.? 7. Jacob set up a pillar upon her grave, so that it was known, long after, to be Rachel?s sepulchre (1 Sam. 10:2), and Providence so ordered it that this place afterwards fell in the lot of Benjamin. Jacob set up a pillar in remembrance of his joys (Gen. 35:14), and here he sets up one in remembrance of his sorrows; for, as it may be of use to ourselves to keep both in mind, so it may be of use to others to transmit the memorials of both: the church, long afterwards, owned that what God said to Jacob at Bethel, both by his word and by his rod, he intended for their instruction (Hos. 12:4), There he spoke with us.

- Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary