Genesis 31 through 33 - Jacob's Return

Jacob realizes he MUST go; the Elohist version of the speckled livestock story appears here. Rachel and Leah see the deception as a way of returning to them the “bride-price” Jacob paid for them, which Laban has “wasted.”  When they leave, Rachel takes the household idols and hides them in her things.  Laban catches up with Jacob and tries to make him feel guilty, telling him he would have sent him off royally, had he only known they were leaving; but his anger is tapped over the household idols, which they do not find; compare later the story of Benjamin being caught with the silver goblet (44:2) that Joseph plants in his bag. It's interesting that they are so similar.


Also interesting to note here is Jacob’s position here—caught between two angry men.  On the one side is Esau, angry about the deception Jacob practiced on him to get the blessing.  On the other is Laban, angry because of the deception Jacob is alleged to have perpetrated against him.  Each “wronged” man justifies his anger, but the reader knows that underneath both deceptions a deeper integrity and purpose lie, an integrity and purpose that grow out of God’s redemptive plan.


On the way home, Jacob’s anxiety grows greater and greater.  He camps in a place called Mahanaim (meaning Double-Camp according to Schocken) where he sends messengers ahead and learns that his brother Esau is coming to meet him with 400 men.  He is afraid for his children, especially for his favorite child and wife, so he divides his family and his possessions into two.


At Yabbok Crossing (on the east side of the Jordan) he wrestles with “some man”  [Schocken points out that Shakespeare several times uses the dream before battle motif—in Julius Caesar, Richard III and Macbeth] The man does not prevail against Jacob, and Jacob demands a blessing from him.  Jacob recognizes the match as having been with God – Peniel, the name he gives to the place where the encounter occurred means “face of God” (32:31). He carries a wound away—a hip socket that is injured.  He wakes with a more humble attitude.  He says he is “too small . . .for all the faithfulness and trust you [God] have shown your servant” (32:11).  He sends on part of his wealth as a peace offering to Esau.


Interesting to note are the sound plays on Y’KB (Yaakov); YBK (Yabbok) and Y’BK (wrestling). Schocken also points out that the name change from Yabov to Yisrael helps to bring Jacob out from under the “curse” he has suffered from Esau’s wrath against him.


Jacob divides his family in a protective way for Rachel, putting her last in the line of migrants approaching the feared brother, Esau.  But in the end he finds Esau not angry but forgiving (33:4).  Esau tries to refuse the gifts sent ahead, and it is interesting what Jacob says to him: “please accept this gift . . .since to come into your presence is for me like coming into the presence of God, now that you have received me so kindly” (33:10).  What he intended as gifts to assuage Esau’s wrath, he desires now to give as gifts of thanksgiving.  Esau’s face is like the face of God because it is the face of love and forgiveness.


Jacob passes back over into Canaan and buys land in Shechem from the children of Hamor.


Questions to Consider:

  • Jacob is caught between two angry men – one his brother and the other his father-in-law. What are your thoughts on his situation and how he deals with it?
  • What is the wrestling match with God about?

This will be the last post in this series until the end of July.


Views: 53

Comment by Forrest Curo on 7th mo. 2, 2011 at 10:37am

Ooops, it's too easy to miss posts the way this site works.


The household idols are not in Jacob's possession; the women brought them along. The "things" Rachel hides them with are under her skirt. Jacob has offered to let Laban kill whoever has taken the idols, but Rachel says she has her period, so Laban won't go there. Is this merely ancient superstition about her period?-- Or maybe Laban knows what he'd find if he looked, and would rather not have the situation out in the open, where he'd need to do something about it.


The position of women in these stories is interesting; the men theoretically have absolute domination, but the women have ways of leading men by the nose.


Jacob has been wrestling with his tricky propensities for a very long time, and losing, and he isn't happy with the situation they've gotten him into. He tries, as people do, to hold on to his old ways, to his old spirit, but when the sun comes up and he can see them clearly, he wins by letting go of them. Then he takes a new name, for he has "wrestled with God, and prevailed."


The people called "Israel" has kept that name ever since. And like the rest of us, they've won more times than was strictly good for them, because this is the sort of fight one can only win by losing.


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