Genesis 35:1-15

35 Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”

So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem. Then they set out, and the terror of God fell on the towns all around them so that no one pursued them.

Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel, because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother.

Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried under the oak outside Bethel. So it was named Allon Bakuth.

After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel.

11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” 13 Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him.

14 Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it.15 Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel.
(Genesis 35:1-15 NIV)

To quickly review, God called Jacob to return to Bethel, the land of his fathers.  Jacob got as far as Shechem, then settled down.  Jacob’s daughter is raped; Jacob’s sons kill the men of the village and loot it in revenge.  Jacob finds himself in a terrible quandary:

  • He can’t return to Laban and his wives’ family
  • He can’t leave Shechem due to the threat of revenge from the neighboring towns
  • He is paralyzed by fear, a prisoner in his own home

As we begin Chapter 35 today, God tells Jacob to return to Bethel (Genesis 31:13) where he made his vow to obey and serve the Lord (v. 1).  The Lord has done His part to protect and provide for Jacob; now it’s Jacob’s part to acknowledge God and serve Him.

Jacob obeys the Lord and has a personal revival in the process.  Jacob’s first action is to tell his family to gather up any and all idols so he can dispose of them.  Remember that Rachel had stolen some of her father’s household idols, without Jacob’s knowledge (Genesis 31:34-35).  Now Jacob knows that there are other idols in the family, and orders everyone to get rid of them.

Secondly, Jacob instructs his family to  clean up physically, which is symbolic of cleaning up spiritually, for they are about to embark on a journey to worship and honor God.

Jacob disposes of all the household idols by burying them – he does not try to sell them or redeem them in any way (v. 4).  Jacob’s actions are clear – the old life of sin and idol worship have to die and be buried if they are to move forward and worship God.

Jacob’s faith and boldness to obey the Lord returns, and his fears about the revenge from neighboring towns melt away as he leads his family to Bethel.  The Lord went ahead of Jacob, and the terror of the Lord Himself protected Jacob and his family (v. 5) during the journey.

When Jacob and his family arrived at Bethel, he immediately built an altar and worshiped the Lord there (vv. 6-7).  Jacob remembered how God had visited him in that place when he was fleeing from his brother Esau.

Verse 8 seems, at first, to be out of place, or at most, anecdotal in nature.  In actuality, it is an integral part of the story.  Just as Jacob buried the idols under the oak tree back in Shechem, Jacob also buries his mother’s nurse under the oak tree in Bethel.  There is no record of when Rebekah died; however, with this note about the death of Rebekah’s nurse, we can safely assume that Rebekah was already dead.

The recording of Deborah’s death (Rebekah’s nurse) and Jacob burying her represented Jacob burying his sinful past of treachery and tricks to gain advantage over his brother, rather than allowing God to lead and provide.  This was where Jacob came to the end of his namesake and his old ways.

Notice verses 9 – 10… Immediately after Jacob finishes burying his past (as represented by Deborah’s death and burial), God shows up.  The Lord blesses Jacob, then reiterates the new name that He gave him.  No longer would this man be known by his old ways, but by his new direction and name – Israel (one who strives with God).  Jacob and God are now linked forever by this new name – Israel.

In verses 11 – 13, the Lord reiterates His charge to Jacob to be fruitful and multiply, as well as His promise to Jacob, his father and grandfather for a permanent home, a land to call their own.

After Jacob has this encounter with God, he spends time worshiping the Lord, and reiterates the name of the place: Bethel (house of God).

There are so many applicable life lessons for us in today’s passage; where do we start?  Let’s begin by making a list of what Jacob experienced, in the form of questions for us:

  • What has God called me to do, that I need to finish?
    (like God calling Jacob back to Bethel, but Jacob settling in Shechem)
  • What am I afraid of?
    (like Jacob’s fear of everything, not able to venture out of his house in Shechem)
  • What are my idols?  Where am I “dirty” and need to cleanse myself (symbolically)?
    (like the idols and the changing of clothes and bathing)
  • What do I need to bury or die to in my old ways?
    (the idols under the oak tree; Rebekah’s nurse symbolizing Jacob’s old ways)
  • What new name is God giving to me?  How does that name link God and me?
    (like Jacob’s new name – Israel – “one who strives with God”)
  • What is my response?  Is it worship to the Lord?
    (like Jacob did after God visited him)

May today’s study not bring anxiety such as anger, shame, or fear.

Rather, may today’s study bring hope and renewed trust in the Lord, with the full realization that we are His beloved, that He provides abundantly, and that we can safely surrender power and control of our lives to Him.

Blessings,
~kevin

Genesis 34:18-31

18 Their proposal seemed good to Hamor and his son Shechem. 19 The young man, who was the most honored of all his father’s family, lost no time in doing what they said, because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter. 20 So Hamor and his son Shechem went to the gate of their city to speak to the men of their city. 21 “These men are friendly toward us,” they said. “Let them live in our land and trade in it; the land has plenty of room for them. We can marry their daughters and they can marry ours. 22 But the men will agree to live with us as one people only on the condition that our males be circumcised, as they themselves are.23 Won’t their livestock, their property and all their other animals become ours? So let us agree to their terms, and they will settle among us.”

24 All the men who went out of the city gate agreed with Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male in the city was circumcised.

25 Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male. 26 They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shechem’s house and left.27 The sons of Jacob came upon the dead bodies and looted the city where their sister had been defiled. 28 They seized their flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs in the city and out in the fields. 29 They carried off all their wealth and all their women and children, taking as plunder everything in the houses.

30 Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me obnoxious to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.”

31 But they replied, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?”
(Genesis 34:18-31 NIV)

Let’s take a moment to recall the back story that precedes today’s passage.

God called Jacob and his family to leave his father-in-law Laban and go back to Bethel, where Jacob had made a vow to the Lord.  Jacob left Laban, reconciled with his brother Esau, but then stopped short in Shechem, bought land, and settled down.

Jacob’s daughter Dinah went into the nearby town, where the local prince sees her, grabs her, and rapes her.  The prince then tells his father he wants to marry the girl.  Jacob finds out and does nothing; Dinah’s brothers find out, and are at the meeting where the prince and his father ask for Dinah’s hand in marriage.  Jacob’s sons answer the request deceitfully and require all the men of the town to be circumcised before they will consider the marriage proposal.

As we pick up the story today, the prince and his father accept the circumcision prerequisite and take the request to the town elders.  And with no surprise, we see the true nature of the prince and his father come through when they are with the town elders.  They see the tremendous wealth of Jacob and his sons, and want to intermarry with Jacob’s family so all of Jacob’s wealth will eventually be theirs (v. 23).

The city fathers agree, and all the men of the city are circumcised.  On the third day (two days after the men are circumcised), two of Jacob’s sons, Levi and Simeon, sneak into the city and kill all the males in retaliation for the prince raping their sister.  They grab their sister Dinah and leave the city.

Then the other brothers come into the city and loot it, taking the women, children, and livestock, even household goods.  Jacob finds out what his sons have done and accosts Simeon and Levi for their actions.  Jacob freaks out about what the people of the neighboring villages might do, and fears for his life.  Levi and Simeon ask their father if it was acceptable for the prince and his father to treat their sister like a prostitute.

Chapter 34 is such a low point in Jacob’s story:

  • Jacob’s disobedience to the Lord that led to this sad and painful episode
  • A daughter’s life shattered
  • Inaction and unwillingness on both parties to address the wrong of the rape
  • Deceit and treachery on the part of both groups
  • Revenge and needless loss of life
  • Living in fear from further escalation and revenge from locals
  • All these actions taking place and God is conspicuously left out of any discussions

So what do we make of all this?

Some scholars see this chapter as good, when Dinah’s brothers stick up for their sister.

Most scholars see this chapter as very bad, where Jacob and his family act according to the flesh, more like practicing atheists than a people with a vital relationship with God.

May we live out our obedience to the Lord in big and small things.

When hard times come (whether we bring them on ourselves through sin, or whether we must deal with life issues because of the brokenness of the world we live in), may we always walk with the Lord and consult Him first before responding in thought, word, or deed.

Blessings,
~kevin

Genesis 34:1-17

34 Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land. When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and raped her. His heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob; he loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her. And Shechem said to his father Hamor, “Get me this girl as my wife.”

When Jacob heard that his daughter Dinah had been defiled, his sons were in the fields with his livestock; so he did nothing about it until they came home.

Then Shechem’s father Hamor went out to talk with Jacob. Meanwhile, Jacob’s sons had come in from the fields as soon as they heard what had happened. They were shocked and furious, because Shechem had done an outrageous thing in Israel by sleeping with Jacob’s daughter—a thing that should not be done.

But Hamor said to them, “My son Shechem has his heart set on your daughter. Please give her to him as his wife. Intermarry with us; give us your daughters and take our daughters for yourselves. 10 You can settle among us; the land is open to you. Live in it, trade in it, and acquire property in it.”

11 Then Shechem said to Dinah’s father and brothers, “Let me find favor in your eyes, and I will give you whatever you ask. 12 Make the price for the bride and the gift I am to bring as great as you like, and I’ll pay whatever you ask me. Only give me the young woman as my wife.”

13 Because their sister Dinah had been defiled, Jacob’s sons replied deceitfully as they spoke to Shechem and his father Hamor. 14 They said to them, “We can’t do such a thing; we can’t give our sister to a man who is not circumcised. That would be a disgrace to us. 15 We will enter into an agreement with you on one condition only: that you become like us by circumcising all your males. 16 Then we will give you our daughters and take your daughters for ourselves. We’ll settle among you and become one people with you. 17 But if you will not agree to be circumcised, we’ll take our sister and go.”
(Genesis 34:1-17 NIV)

As we finished Chapter 33, we recalled that God had told Jacob to go back to Bethel, the place where Jacob had made his vow to follow God (Genesis 31:13).  Jacob has a one-on-one encounter with God and receives a new name, but he is still Jacob on the inside.  Jacob gets as far as Shechem, then stops, buys a piece of land, and settles down.

As we begin Chapter 34 today, we see the consequences of Jacob’s choices.

Jacob’s daughter Dinah goes out to meet some local women alone.   There is no mention of Dinah’s mother Leah, or a servant girl, or one of her brothers tagging along – she is on her own.

The prince, the son of the area ruler, sees Dinah, likes what he sees, so he takes her by force and rapes her.  After the prince forces himself on her, he decides he likes her and wants to marry her.

When the prince approaches his father about marrying Dinah, he does not even say her name – he demands, “Get me this girl as my wife.”  Did he know her name?  Did he care?

Somehow, Jacob finds out that Dinah had been raped, but does nothing.  He does not send for his sons, nor does he seem to show any emotion about this travesty.

While the ruler and his son were on the way to speak to Jacob about Dinah marrying the ruler’s son, Jacob’s sons find out and come in from the field to join the meeting.  Jacob’s sons are both shocked and furious over what has happened to their sister.

Let’s stop here for a moment and see the cultural differences between the way Jacob’s family treated women and the way the local ruler and his family treated women.  While life may not have been ideal for the women of Jacob’s household, there was an overall cultural norm that women were treated with respect.  There were healthy boundaries around women, especially in the area of sexuality.  Women were not property, to be used up and cast aside.  They were not simply objects of desire or passion, used to satisfy men.  The local ruler and his son, however, did not hold to this same moral code, and saw women as property, as objects to satisfy their fleshly desires.

When the ruler approached Jacob and his sons, there was no remorse or guilt over the ruler’s son violating Dinah – only a request for her hand in marriage, and an offer to settle in the land and intermarry.  The ruler’s son was smitten, and offered anything so he could marry “the young woman” (again, not even calling her by name).

Unfortunately, Jacob and his sons do not address the problem at hand – Dinah’s rape.  Instead, they answer deceitfully and focus on the external religious difference of circumcision, rather than the matter of the heart, and of the largest difference, the gods they worship.

When we disobey the Lord, nothing good comes out of it, and it affects others beside ourselves.

May we seek to honor and obey the Lord in all we do.

May we heed Jesus’ advice as we go out in the world, not in fear, but in wisdom:

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
(Matthew 10:16 NIV)

Paul’s advice is well-taken, also:

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
(Ephesians 5:15-16 NIV)

Blessings,
~kevin

Genesis 33:1-20

33 Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two female servants. He put the female servants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.

But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. “Who are these with you?” he asked.

Jacob answered, “They are the children God has graciously given your servant.”

Then the female servants and their children approached and bowed down. Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down. Last of all came Joseph and Rachel, and they too bowed down.

Esau asked, “What’s the meaning of all these flocks and herds I met?”

“To find favor in your eyes, my lord,” he said.

But Esau said, “I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.”

10 “No, please!” said Jacob. “If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably. 11 Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.” And because Jacob insisted, Esau accepted it.

12 Then Esau said, “Let us be on our way; I’ll accompany you.”

13 But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are tender and that I must care for the ewes and cows that are nursing their young. If they are driven hard just one day, all the animals will die. 14 So let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I move along slowly at the pace of the flocks and herds before me and the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.”

15 Esau said, “Then let me leave some of my men with you.”

“But why do that?” Jacob asked. “Just let me find favor in the eyes of my lord.”

16 So that day Esau started on his way back to Seir. 17 Jacob, however, went to Sukkoth, where he built a place for himself and made shelters for his livestock. That is why the place is called Sukkoth.

18 After Jacob came from Paddan Aram, he arrived safely at the city of Shechem in Canaan and camped within sight of the city. 19 For a hundred pieces of silver, he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent. 20 There he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel.
(Genesis 33:1-20 NIV)

In our last time together, we saw Jacob wrestling with God and receiving the blessing of God and a new name to indicate his new life.  Yes, he walked with a limp, but with a whole new perspective on life based on his encounter with God in those twilight morning hours.

As we move into Chapter 33 today, we see Jacob look up and see his brother Esau and 400 men coming his way.

What happens next is a bit of a puzzle, but reveals Jacob’s heart.

After having wrestled with God, having his life spared, and being blessed by God, one would think that Jacob would be a different man with great faith.  Instead, we see the old Jacob – the schemer, the manipulator, come out again.  Granted, he was much more humble now, but he was still Jacob, his old identify, and not Israel, the new identify God had given him.

Jacob arranged his family from least cherished in front to most cherished in back, then went on ahead to meet Esau.  Rather than trusting the Lord and facing Esau, Jacob resorted to cultural norms of showing respect – bowing multiple times as he approached his brother.

Moses makes a point in verse 4, beginning the sentence with “but”.  When Esau saw his brother, he quickly forgot all cultural norms and ran to meet his brother, give him a hug, and shed tears of joy.

What Jacob had feared the most about his encounter with Esau, God had already taken care of.  There was no more animosity in the part of Esau, only love.  Jacob’s fears were unfounded; his prayer had been answered.

After family introductions, Esau inquired about all the gifts that had been sent ahead.  Jacob replied that they were gifts to find favor with Esau.  Again, Moses makes a point to contrast Jacob’s fear with Esau’s reaction, beginning verse 9 with “but”.  Once more, God had gone before Jacob as He had promised and made Esau’s heart tender toward Jacob.

Esau told Jacob he didn’t need the gift, that he had plenty already.  Jacob insisted, which put Esau in an awkward place.  In their culture, to not accept a gift was to insult the giver and declare the giver an enemy.  So Esau reluctantly accepted the gift.

Then Esau offered to escort Jacob, his family, and all his possessions on their journey back to wherever Jacob was headed.  Jacob was traveling unarmed and unguarded, and this was wild country, with many dangers and unfriendly foes along the way.

Rather than trust the Lord and spend time with his brother, Jacob made an excuse to travel separately from Esau, blaming the slowness of their caravan on the children and the young livestock.  Esau even offered to leave some of his men with Jacob as armed escorts, but Jacob politely but firmly refused.  Jacob promised to stop in Seir where Esau lived as he made his journey back to his birthplace.

In verse 17, we see Jacob heading in a completely different direction, going off to Shechem instead of Seir, where Esau lived.  Jacob even bought a piece of land there, and made shelters for his animals.  In his fledgling new faith in God, Jacob did erect an alter and named it “El Elohe Isarael” (God, the God of Israel”).  Jacob did acknowledge God as his God, after he had safely returned to being in control of his own destiny again.

Was Jacob being obedient to the Lord?  Back in Genesis 31:13, God had told Jacob to go back to Bethel, where Jacob had made a vow to the Lord.  Stopping and buying land in Shechem and setting up residence was not what God told Jacob to do.

How often do we, after having a great encounter with the Lord, buckle under the pressure of a test or trial and resort to our old ways, living in fear or trying to be in control, rather than walking in new-found faith?

May we learn to walk in faith, through both our experienced times with the Lord as well as our journeys through times of testing and trials.

May we have the assurance as David did, that “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4 NIV)

Blessings,
~kevin

Genesis 32:22-32

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions.24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.
(Genesis 32:22-32 NIV)

In our last time together, Jacob sent a gift in three parts ahead of him to his brother Esau.  Jacob was still the schemer and the planner and manipulator, but this time it was from a point of humility and service, rather than to take advantage and gain superiority over his brother.

As we step into today’s text, Jacob now sends his wives, children, and possessions ahead of him in two groups, in two different directions as he had planned (vv. 7-8).

Now we find Jacob alone with his thoughts and fears; and yet he was not alone.  There was a contender, a man there that was wrestling with Jacob all night long.  After the fact, Jacob recognizes that this man he was wrestling was none other than God Himself.

Notice Jacob’s tenacity – he does not give up, he does not surrender.  This is every bit a battle of the wills as much as a battle of physical strength.  Jacob will not be defeated.

But then something happens – the man touches the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was dislocated.  Jacob’s fate was changed in an instant – Jacob went from contending with this man to clinging to this man.

Now that we know that Jacob was wrestling with God Himself, the question comes up – why didn’t God intervene earlier?  Why did it take so long for the Lord to get Jacob’s attention?  While no reason is given in the text, we know that God is long-suffering, patient, kind, and loving.  So this act of dislocating Jacob’s hip was not a punishment, but rather an act of kindness and love.

In that moment, Jacob went from contending to clinging to the Lord.  At that moment, Jacob knew that the man was not there to take his life, but rather, to teach him.  Knowing that he could not defeat this man, Jacob held on until the man blessed him.

The man asks Jacob’s name, then blesses him by changing his name to Israel.  the supplanter, the trickster is now the “one who strives with God”.

Jacob then asks the man’s name.  The man replies with a question, asking why Jacob wanted to know his name.  The man then blessed Jacob, then left, never giving his name.

We now see Jacob putting all the pieces together in his mind after the man left.  Jacob had been wrestling with God all night!  And yet, God had spared his life, even after Jacob had seen his face in the shadows of the early pre-dawn hours.  To commemorate the place where Jacob had wrestled with God, he gave the spot a name – Peniel.

Jacob started the night alone, and entered the next morning alone, but with an entirely different perspective and a limp as a reminder of God’s grace, mercy, and love.

So what can we learn from today’s text?  Many truths come to mind, but here are a few of the most significant:

  • In our natural, fleshly state, we want to control our destinies, and feel confident and self-sufficient to do so.  But God, in his patience, love, and mercy, allows us to come to the end of ourselves so that we will be dependent on Him and Him alone.
  • When we try to run our own lives, we run on our own strength, not the Lord’s, and we often end up contending with the Lord.  God, in His mercy, allows this to go on for a time, but then intervenes and humbles us, which like Jacob, causes us to go from contending with Him to clinging to Him as our only hope and strength.
  • As we cling to the Lord in our brokenness, He then blesses us and opens up the dawn of a new day for us to serve Him and depend on Him for everything.

 

May we find humility, hope, and peace in  of Jacob’s transformation to become Israel.

And may we learn to walk with a limp and a heart of gratitude.

Blessings,
~kevin

Genesis 32:1-21

32 Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim.

Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He instructed them: “This is what you are to say to my lord Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, male and female servants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.’”

When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”

In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.”

Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps.11 Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. 12 But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”

13 He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.”

17 He instructed the one in the lead: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘Who do you belong to, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ 18 then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.’”

19 He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: “You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. 20 And be sure to say, ‘Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.’” For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.” 21 So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp.
(Genesis 32:1-21 NIV)

In our last time together, Jacob parted ways with Laban and headed back to his homeland.  Jacob sought peace and reconciliation with Laban before he left, throwing a farewell dinner for the family.  Jacob was being obedient to the Lord and had learned a few hard life lessons in the twenty years he spent with Laban.

As we step into today’s text, Laban and Jacob had parted ways, and Jacob resumes his journey back to his homeland.  The first thing that happens is an unexpected meeting with God’s angels.  Scholars are not sure whether the meeting was in a dream, a vision, or in person.  Regardless of how they met, the angels’ presence was impactful.  Jacob named the place “Mahanaim” (translated, meaning “two camps” or “two companies”).

While there is no record of any words being exchanged between the angels and Jacob, their presence symbolized God’s protection from his past (any further retribution from his father-in-law Laban) and into his future (his anticipated meeting with his brother Esau).  God’s angels were there to welcome, encourage, and strengthen Jacob on his journey back home.

As Jacob prepares to meet his brother Esau, we see that Jacob had learned some hard lessons during the twenty years with Laban.  Listen to the tone of Jacob’s words as he specifically instructs his servants on what to say to Esau when they meet him:

  • Jacob addresses his brother Esau as “lord”, showing honor and respect to him as the older brother
  • Jacob refers to himself as “your servant” to Esau, taking the birth-order position as the younger brother and not claiming the birthright and blessing he had taken from Esau so many years earlier.
  • Jacob said he “remained” with Laban (“sojourned” in the NASB) – he was not claiming refuge or any further ties with Laban.  Jacob exposed his vulnerability before his brother – an act of humility and desire for reconciliation that would hopefully trigger mercy and grace in the heart of Esau.

The messengers did in fact return and told Jacob that they had found his brother Esau.  Esau was, in fact, heading toward Jacob to meet him, and he was bringing 400 men with him for that meeting!

If you were in Jacob’s shoes at that moment, what would you be feeling?  Jacob immediately feared the worst.  The text says Jacob experienced “great fear and distress”.  Esau’s last recorded words in Jacob’s mind were likely resurfacing – “he is going to kill me for the wrong I did to him so many years ago – he is going to get his revenge!”.

Jacob responded to the fear in three ways:

  • He took actions of self-protection and preservation, dividing his family and possessions into two groups, hoping that one group would survive
  • He prayed earnestly to the Lord, humbly throwing himself on God’s undeserved mercy and claiming God’s promises of protection, provision, and blessing through future generations from many years before
  • He sent a huge gift of animals in three separate herds ahead of him to Esau, along with a specific message, in order to soften his brother’s heart in hopes that the gift would result in Esau showing favor and acceptance to his brother

Jacob promised to meet his brother Esau but sent the gifts ahead of him as a symbol of his desire to reconcile with him.

When the Lord brings people with whom we have wronged or have differences back into our lives, may we remember to seek the Lord in prayer as Jacob did, humbly confessing that we don’t deserve God’s favor.

May we also remember to claim God’s promises to us in His Word, that He is bigger than our problems, that we can rest in the confidence of His sovereignty, and we can leave our fears at the foot of the Cross where Jesus conquered all, even death.

May we turn down the volume of our inner thoughts and turn up the volume of God’s Word and wrap ourselves in His love and truths.

Blessings,
~kevin

Genesis 31:22-55

22 On the third day Laban was told that Jacob had fled. 23 Taking his relatives with him, he pursued Jacob for seven days and caught up with him in the hill country of Gilead. 24 Then God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream at night and said to him, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.”

25 Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country of Gilead when Laban overtook him, and Laban and his relatives camped there too. 26 Then Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done? You’ve deceived me, and you’ve carried off my daughters like captives in war. 27 Why did you run off secretly and deceive me? Why didn’t you tell me, so I could send you away with joy and singing to the music of timbrels and harps? 28 You didn’t even let me kiss my grandchildren and my daughters goodbye.You have done a foolish thing. 29 I have the power to harm you; but last night the God of your father said to me, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’ 30 Now you have gone off because you longed to return to your father’s household. But why did you steal my gods?”

31 Jacob answered Laban, “I was afraid, because I thought you would take your daughters away from me by force. 32 But if you find anyone who has your gods, that person shall not live. In the presence of our relatives, see for yourself whether there is anything of yours here with me; and if so, take it.” Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the gods.

33 So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two female servants, but he found nothing. After he came out of Leah’s tent, he entered Rachel’s tent. 34 Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them inside her camel’s saddle and was sitting on them. Laban searched through everything in the tent but found nothing.

35 Rachel said to her father, “Don’t be angry, my lord, that I cannot stand up in your presence; I’m having my period.” So he searched but could not find the household gods.

36 Jacob was angry and took Laban to task. “What is my crime?” he asked Laban. “How have I wronged you that you hunt me down? 37 Now that you have searched through all my goods, what have you found that belongs to your household? Put it here in front of your relatives and mine, and let them judge between the two of us.

38 “I have been with you for twenty years now. Your sheep and goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten rams from your flocks. 39 I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself. And you demanded payment from me for whatever was stolen by day or night.40 This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes. 41 It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household. I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times. 42 If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you.”

43 Laban answered Jacob, “The women are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks. All you see is mine. Yet what can I do today about these daughters of mine, or about the children they have borne? 44 Come now, let’s make a covenant, you and I, and let it serve as a witness between us.”

45 So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46 He said to his relatives, “Gather some stones.” So they took stones and piled them in a heap, and they ate there by the heap. 47 Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha, and Jacob called it Galeed.

48 Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” That is why it was called Galeed. 49 It was also called Mizpah, because he said, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other. 50 If you mistreat my daughters or if you take any wives besides my daughters, even though no one is with us, remember that God is a witness between you and me.”

51 Laban also said to Jacob, “Here is this heap, and here is this pillar I have set up between you and me. 52 This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not go past this heap to your side to harm you and that you will not go past this heap and pillar to my side to harm me. 53 May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.”

So Jacob took an oath in the name of the Fear of his father Isaac. 54 He offered a sacrifice there in the hill country and invited his relatives to a meal. After they had eaten, they spent the night there.

55 Early the next morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then he left and returned home.
(Genesis 31:22-55 NIV)

In the first half of Chapter 31, the Lord had blessed Jacob, but the relationship between Jacob and Laban had changed.  The Lord informed Jacob that it was time to return to his homeland.  While Jacob obeyed the Lord, he did not transition or end well with Laban when he packed up and left without saying a word to Laban.

As we begin the second half of Chapter 31, we see the consequences of Jacob leaving without saying goodbye.  Laban was out of town and found out three days after Jacob and family had left.  Laban took some family members with him and caught up with Jacob a week after Jacob had left.

When Laban confronted Jacob, Jacob admitted that he had left in fear – afraid that Laban would send him away empty-handed, with no wives, no children, no animals, nothing.  Once again, Jacob had acted on his own, and fear was his motivating force.  While Laban had mentioned that he would have sent them away with a celebration, he also told Jacob that the women, children, and flocks belonged to him (Laban).  While Jacob’s fears may have had validity, Jacob gave no room for the Lord to intervene and change Laban’s heart and mind.

Speaking of change, why did Laban not follow through on his claim on the women, children, and flocks?    The Lord had in fact intervened and told Laban to not say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.  The Lord was holding up His promise to bless Jacob and prosper him as He sent him back to his homeland.

Laban also accused Jacob of stealing his household gods.  Jacob denied taking anything (not knowing that Rachel had indeed stolen them).  After Laban searched everywhere except Rachel’s saddle and found nothing, Jacob confronted Laban about his dishonesty and reminded Laban of the way he had treated Laban with integrity, hard work, and honesty, enduring hardship and taking the loss out of his own flock, not Laban’s.

What was Laban’s response?  A covenant between himself and Jacob.  This was not a peace accord; this was an “I don’t trust you, but I can’t watch over or control you, so may God hold you accountable and harm you if you step out of line” agreement.  Jacob agreed to the covenant and set up a pile of stones to commemorate the place.

While Jacob and Laban could have parted ways on a bad note, Jacob chose to reconcile with Laban before he and the other family member departed.  Jacob made a sacrifice to the Lord, then served a meal to everyone in attendance.  While it was certainly not the fanfare Laban had mentioned, it was at least a goodbye meal, and Laban did bless his daughters and grandchildren before he departed.

As I contemplate this passage, I am reminded of Paul’s words of wisdom regarding relationships, no matter what the current state:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
(Romans 12:18 NIV)

God chose to reconcile with us; He took the first steps toward us when we were His enemies.

How can we do anything less with those whom we might have a disagreement?

May we, as far as it depends on us, live at peace with those around us.

Blessings,
~kevin