A lot happens in this chapter. You find the journey of Jacob that takes place, and you see how God has blessed him and goes with him wherever he goes. You see that for a second time God changes his name. First, when Jacob was under duress wrestling with the “man” and now, a second time, when things seemed to have calmed down. But no sooner has God spoken to him again and changed his name, that his beloved wife, Rachel, dies in childbirth. The child, Benjamin, makes it and his role in the Israel story is fairly significant. But somehow I had forgotten that Rachel died while she gave birth to Benjamin.
Notice that Rachel’s naming of this son means Son of my sorrow. Jacob, or Israel rather, was quick to change that to Son of the right hand, or son of the south.
Also thrown in this chapter is Reuben’s act of sleeping with his father’s concubine. We don’t hear of any repercussions or how Jacob reacts to this, just that it, well, happened. Remember Reuben is the eldest of the sons. Now, we do see in other places of Scripture where it does seem that he pays a price. If you look at I Chronicles 5:1 you see that his birthright is given to the sons of Joseph because he defiled his father’s bed. So Joseph ends up with the birthright. We also see in Jacob/Israel’s blessing in Genesis 49:3-4 that Reuben is told that he will excel no longer because he mounted his father’s couch. So one little sentence in this chapter leads to a whole myriad of repercussions that come up later on.
I love how both Jacob and Esau were present to bury their father…together. What a great sign of reconciliation.
So when we get to Joseph we can’t lose sight of this story of Dinah and her brothers. Remember, Joseph was also one of her brothers, but he does not figure in at all in this story. Notice how Jacob gets so upset with his sons because they brought trouble upon their house because of their act of vengeance. We assume in the Joseph story when Joseph goes to find his brothers they seem to be pretty far away, and it could be because they were not well received at all locally.
So the story is one of rape. Even if the king’s son ends up falling in love with Dinah, the story is about rape. There is no getting around that, and Shechem and his father try to get around that, but they would not allow it to happen. It is interesting to track the reaction of Jacob, Dinah’s father, and the brothers of Dinah. We only hear a couple things about Jacob and his reaction to his daughter’s rape. He waits until his sons get home to try to figure out what to do next. By then Hamor had come to him to try to win his daughter away and somehow the brothers must have overheard that their sister was raped. We don’t hear anything more about Jacob until after the brothers have completely decimated the city and the king and his son. Now Jacob actually speaks and he is chastising the sons because he is worried that as a result of this conquest the nations around him will gang up on him and wipe him out. Didn’t I mention last chapter that Jacob was a bit of a coward? His sons answer by saying: Yeah, we know, but no one lays hands on our sister. We need to keep this in mind as Joseph is about to come into the picture. Remember Joseph’s brothers and their tendencies. In this story the leaders of this plot are Simeon and Levi. See if their names come up at all in the Joseph story.
The meeting between Esau and Israel/Jacob takes place. Now, you wouldn’t know it, but Jacob had his name changed last chapter to Israel, but he is still called Jacob in this chapter, and I’m not really sure why. So, the meeting takes place and as a result Esau has become one of my favorite characters of the Bible. Sometimes it just amazes me and makes me think that God chose the wrong person to lead his people. Esau has class. He greets Jacob and not only does he greet him without malice, but he hugs his neck and offers to leave his men to protect Jacob as he makes his way forward toward Shechem.
As a result of this meeting Jacob can move forward with his life without having to look over his shoulder any more. He doesn’t have to worry about any day his brother coming to look for him to get vengeance. This story is over, Esau has forgiven him, Jacob has given him a good bit of his property, and it seems like it does make up for both the birthright and the blessing. One of my favorite scenes from this story is Esau hugging the neck of Jacob. What a scene! Do you see Joseph in the foreground? This is by Rubens who is my favorite painter in depicting animals.
I just get the feeling that Jacob is a bit of a coward after reading this chapter. He is commanded by God to go back to his home country, but the problem is that his brother, Esau, the one whom he cheated out of his father’s inheritance, is in his home country. Jacob is extraordinarily wealthy and yet he knows that his wealth is not going to protect him. He knows that if his brother wants to take him out he can. So when he hears that his brother is coming with 400 men he doesn’t round up his troops to get ready for battle. Instead, he rounds up a portion of his property in order to send it ahead of him as a present for his brother so that it would appease his anger.
He also sends his family, his wives and children, ahead of him so that Esau would meet them first before he would see the brother who might be the object of his wrath. I don’t know, it just feels like Jacob is a bit of a coward and this is the person who then becomes Israel and carries out the promises of God to allow a progeny to be issued from him. So once we have established that Jacob is getting ready for his encounter with Esau, we then see his encounter with God.
There are two places in this chapter where Jacob experiences and encounters God. The first is one that is never lifted up, but it is a great find. Look at vs. 1-2 where we see that Jacob sees the angels of God and they meet him so he calls that place God’s camp. This is an encounter with God which is welcomed. The next one, not so much. We can start at vs.24 and we see that a “man” wrestled with Jacob, and we don’t know why, but we do know that even if Jacob is a coward he is an excellent wrestler. He wrestles with this man and doesn’t let him go, even when the man “cheats” and throws his hips out of place. But this is the place where Jacob has his name changed to Israel. This word Israel means the one who strives with God. Remember that the next time you hear this word. The one who strives with God, or God strives. Jacob limps out of that camp no longer Jacob, changed completely to Israel.
The set up for Jacob running away from his father-in-law is interesting. Do you notice that he calls out to Rachel and Leah and asks them to meet him in the fields? It was probably the only place where the three of them could meet privately without anyone else being able to hear them. I will never forget living in Russia in a US Embassy apartment and seeing outside of our window in our gated yard other diplomats walking around the oval in which was found the playground because they knew that people were listening to what they were saying in their apartment. It was like living in a novel. But it was real. The same was true here. Jacob was only able to speak to his wives privately if they were out in the field and no one else is around.
So he shares with them the jealousy he thinks that Laban is feeling toward him. Isn’t it interesting that all these livestock are being born in a way that benefits me. I guess he didn’t tell anyone else about the whole poplar rods and how they worked to get the animals to be born a certain way. He kept that to himself, didn’t even tell his wives, who may have felt somewhat loyal to their father and told him of his methods. So he shares with them that it is time to leave, and the Lord came to him in a dream and told him to leave. The wives agree and are on board.
But…, Rachel takes her dad’s household gods. It is a little disappointing that Laban still has household gods, but it is very disappointing that Rachel needed the house hold gods. So from here they race off and seven days later Laban catches up to them. He searches the family and and the goods and doesn’t find his missing gods, after upbraiding Jacob for leaving without saying a word. Well, now it is time for Jacob to upbraid Laban for not trusting him and for thinking that he was a family of thieves. As a result of their upbraiding each other they build a pillar to commemorate the event.
Remember taking a road trip with your brothers and drawing an imaginary line in the middle of the seat and saying: do not cross this line. This side is mine and that side is yours. That is exactly what happens in this Scripture. Laban and Jacob draw a line and agree to stick to their sides. Now it is time for Esau to show up.
There is a lot of trickery going on between wives and wives, Jacob and his father-in-law/uncle and just in general. We find Rachel and Leah both take on the practice of their grandmother-in-law Sarah by offering their slave women to their husband in order to produce children. The difference, though, is that these children who are produced are counted in as part of the twelve tribes of Israel. For me it is completely fascinating that we know that many of these women probably came from Egypt, which was a region then, as it is now, of people who have very dark skin compared to our European ancestry. So these children of Jacob would have been the color of the rainbow and it must have been a beautiful sight to see as they represented all the people of the world. But it also reminds us that the Jewish people represent not just those from European descent, but most of whom come from African descent.
The story of the mandrakes is one of my favorite non-sequitur events in all of Scripture, especially how Leah comes out to Jacob and explains it. So here is Jacob who has been hard at work all day and is coming home for his dinner when his wife comes out to him and states: “You must come in to me for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” It worked, he went in with her and lay with her, so I guess she won that round. But that is what is depicted, this competition between wives so that the husband would be more pleased with them than the other one.
Then we find the competition between Jacob and Laban. Laban is shifty, I told you liked him, and he takes away all of the livestock that were supposed to go to Jacob. But Jacob was not about to be outdone so he arranges it so that all of the livestock would become his. He especially arranged it so that the strongest and the best of the livestock would become his. He also ends up winning this round and becomes extraordinarily wealthy. We do not hear that it is at the expense of Laban, I think he also has become wealthy by then.
The stage is set for Jacob to leave.
What a great story! I love Laban, I really do. He is pretty shifty and was able to get both of his daughters married off to a man that he knew would become something. What is there not to like in someone whom God has blessed and promised progeny that boggles the mind and land further than can be seen? He knew that when Jacob came into town this guy was not leaving. So let’s see what happens in this story.
Jacob is on his journey and stops at the local bar…, I mean, well. There he finds Rachel, his first cousin. Rachel runs back home and tells her dad of her cousin who is in town, and gave her sheep water, and then kissed her, then wept aloud after he kissed her. It may have freaked her and creeped her out a bit, but Laban jumps up to greet Jacob and a happy reunion occurs. Jacob is at his destination point, it was where he wanted to end up. So he stays with his uncle for a month before his uncle says: Here you are and I am enjoying all of this free labor, but what can I pay for your time with me? I can’t let you serve me for nothing, or just for room and board. Jacob already has had an idea and so he responds, what if I work for you seven more years and then I get to marry your daughter, your youngest daughter, Rachel? The plan is set in motion.
When the wedding night comes Laban pulls the classic bait and switch. He puts his oldest daughter, Leah, in the wedding bed instead of Rachel. So, Jacob ends up marrying Leah instead of Rachel. That was a problem for Jacob and so he asks Laban who gives him some cultural excuses but says let your week of honeymoon pass then you can marry Rachel and then you can serve me for another seven years. What’s Jacob going to say? Jacob agrees.
Then the children start to come. You should start counting as you read about these children because pretty soon Jacob is going to change his name to Israel and do you remember how many tribes of Israel there are? That’s right, there are twelve, which means that Jacob between his wives should have twelve male children. So start counting. Rachel remains barren up to now and Leah enjoys the presence of her husband and wishes her husband would notice her more. It is obvious that Jacob loves Rachel more than Leah. There seems to be a constant theme in this family of playing favorites either with kids or with wives.
We find another blessing of Jacob by Isaac, now that it seems that the waters have calmed somewhat. Things are a bit more tranquil and maybe the Lord has spoken to both Rebekah and Isaac as to the role and the place that Jacob is going to take. Some see two different stories written by different authors here. I don’t, I see two different blessings, each one in its own unique context. Interesting how the major request that Isaac makes of his son is that he marry someone within the family. This is specifically in regards to religious background. We spoke to this point already earlier. Jacob does that, he heads towards his uncle’s house, Laban. Esau overheard this request and is probably sick of Isaac and Rebekah being really unhappy with his foreign wives, so he goes and marries someone at least within the extended family by going out to Ishmael’s kids. It works and it shows some penitence for the former marriages which were not pleasing at all to mom and pop.
In these Scriptures you find the classic tale of Jacob’s ladder.
It has traditionally been used as song for those who are persecuted in their society and culture. The approach is taken that Jacob is fleeing Esau and yet is a chosen one of the Lord. This attribute of being the chosen one, the chosen people, has been used throughout the generations. The earliest pilgrims saw themselves as the New Israel, the people of God who were driven from Europe to settle in the US as the chosen ones because of the persecution that they received back “home”. The whole black gospel genre came out of the understanding of a people chosen by God and blessed by God but who currently were in captivity but would soon be liberated. Their captivity did not diminish their choseness, actually in many ways it validated it. Jacob running from Esau, is a like to Jesus being persecuted by the religious leaders, and so would be a like to believers in the face of persecution and violence against them seeing themselves as the people of God.
Back to Jacob. He uses a rock as a pillow and has a dream of this ladder and the top of it reached into heaven and there were angels ascending and descending. It is in the midst of this dream that God reiterates Abraham’s promise to Jacob. I have given you this land. You will spread out from this land. Your family shall be blessed and all the families of the earth shall be blessed because of you. That’s pretty encompassing.
Jacob realizes that something pretty important has happened. Have you ever had something really important happen and you just kind of miss the meaning behind the message? Not so for Jacob here. In fact he says, God if you do all of this, then this very place will be the place for your temple. It will be a place where people will worship you for generations to come. He calls it Bethel which means house of God. This promise by Jacob is carried out.
We find ourselves at the climax of the story where Isaac is deceived into blessing his youngest son, Jacob. Remember, it is his wife, and the mother of both of these children, who really takes the lead on deceiving her husband so that the youngest son will get the blessing. One aspect of it which caught my attention this time is that when Jacob balks and says: I don’t really want to do this because if I am found out I may receive a curse instead of a blessing, mom jumps right in and says: don’t worry, the curse will be on me if that happens.
It doesn’t happen, everything goes as they planned it, Isaac blesses Jacob, Esau is distraught and as a result plans on killing his younger brother. Okay, that last part was not a part of the plan. It is important that we see that this is the stage where they leave each other. Esau is enraged and wants to kill Jacob. Jacob is told to leave the compound and runs away to his Uncle Laban’s house to get away from Esau who wants to kill him. Once we transition to focusing on Jacob, this part of the story will be important because we see another side of Esau come out. He hasn’t left just yet, and we see an interesting twist to the story in the next chapter before he leaves. The mother-in-law complains again to her husband about the daughters-in-law. I wonder if husband Isaac knows the role that wife played in the deception.
We see that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Isaac moves because of a famine and he tells the king of the land that his wife is in fact his sister. Why do they repeat this mistake? The king happens to see Isaac “fondling” Rebekah and so as a result discovers that she is his wife after all, and not his sister. As a result he commands that no one is to touch or to bring harm upon either Isaac or Rebekah. As a result of that they not only live in peace but they prosper. They prosper so much that they are seen as a threat so they are “asked” to move away.
They move away, and in the midst of this bringing us up to date we hear that after Abraham dies then those in the land had covered up his wells. This would have had a direct affect on Isaac. It is also interesting that while Abraham was exceedingly rich, we don’t read that about Isaac, until now when his crops grow 100 fold and he becomes wealthy. What happened to all of the wealth that his father had? I think the fact that we are told that all of his father’s wells were filled in tells us also that with Isaac things had started to go downhill.
We are introduced to Beer-Sheba and we see that this is where Isaac resides. We then catch a glimpse into the lives of the children post-selling of the birthright. Their eldest had married a wife or two with which they were not pleased. Parents not liking the wives that their children marry might be pretty common, but here it is just kind of tossed out there. As a result of this marriage we don’t hear that Esau’s life was miserable, but rather that Isaac and Rebekah’s lives were miserable.