Genesis 31-35

I am still looking forward to getting through the familiar stories of Genesis, although it has been interesting to see some details that are not frequently taught. After that, I will review some more chapters in Geisler – something I had needed to take a break from for a while. In my personal life, I’ve been reading a fair number of non-religious books, running again, and trying to get everything in the house organized with dubious success.

31: Jacob leaves Laban. Laban’s sons are angry that Jacob has taken the larger flock, and God tells Jacob to return to his birthplace. Jacob tells Rachel and Leah that their father Laban has changed his wages repeatedly, and that God told him in a dream that he was causing the spotted sheep to breed. Alter notes that some source critics consider the dream to be Elohist and the narrative in chapter 30 to be Yahwist. It’s not clear whether the sympathetic magic Jacob performs earlier is a ruse, or if he’s telling his wives a story that makes him seemed blessed by God, or if Jacob thought his own cleverness had caused his success and was later corrected by God. After all, Jacob isn’t overly encumbered by truthfulness.

Jacob’s wives tell him that Laban has sold them and consumed their money. They all take off together on camels. The commentary says that a proper marriage would involve a large part of the bride-price going to the bride. The wives allege that their father kept the money and sold them for profit as if they were slaves instead of daughters.

Early in the Bible, the authors appear to have mixed ideas about other gods. When Rachel steals Laban’s household gods, she is never condemned by either Jacob or the author for having other gods. She hides the gods under her seat and lies to Laban that she’s on her period and can’t get up. Like when the earlier patriarchs lie to the kings about their marriages, the matriarch is blessed and the one lied to is warned by god and loses out. Jacob reproaches Laban for the “false accusation” and also for his cheapness in the face of Jacob’s efforts as a shepherd. Jacob and Laban make a pact and Jacob swore by the Terror of his father Isaac.

32: Jacob wrestles an angel. This is a bit of a change from the normal way that a patriarch has a meeting and comes out ahead despite lying. Jacob leaves Laban and messengers of God accosted him. The story doesn’t say if these were angels or what they wanted with him. However, Jacob realizes that he is coming into Esau’s lands and he’s rightfully scared. Jacob grovels a bit, calling himself Esau’s servant, and his messengers tell him that Esau is coming to meet him with four hundred men. Jacob believes Esau will attack him, divides his camp, and begs God for mercy. He sends three gifts of livestock to Esau in waves, hoping that Esau will feel a little more kindly toward him with each gift.

Jacob in the second half of the chapter seems different in character. He wrestles with a man who touches Jacob’s hip and wrenches it. The man says that he has to leave because dawn is breaking. but Jacob won’t let him go until he blesses him. The man renames him Israel, because he has striven with God and men, and won out, but he won’t tell Jacob his own name. Nonetheless, Jacob says that he has seen God face to face and lived. This is such an excellent story that I hate to start discussing Christian interpretations. The text starts out by calling the person a man, but obviously he is more than that. Jacob calls him ‘Elohim. In Hosea, he is called a messenger, usually translated an angel. While I was always taught that this was a pre-incarnation form of Jesus, ‘Elohim can be translated as the plural word gods, so it’s not indisputable that Jacob was referring to YHWH, the god of his fathers, although ‘Elohim is also used to refer to that god.

33: Jacob meets Esau. After all the attempts to show Esau as being a person deserving of being deceived, he turns out to be forgiving and generous. Again, Jacob shows the difference in his regard for Rachel and Leah. He sends the rest of his family ahead of him and comes along scraping and bowing, but Esau runs to him, embraces and kisses him, says that he doesn’t need gifts. Jacob calls the gifts a tribute and oddly, says that he has seen Esau’s face as one might see God’s face. It seems that Jacob is still afraid though, because he makes excuses for Esau to go ahead without him, but then goes in the opposite direction.

Jacob settles in Shechem and builds an alter to El-Elohei-Israel. The commentary notes that Claus Westermann makes the argument that being in Canaan, Jacob claims the Canaanite god El as synonymous with his own god.

34: The rape of Dinah. This isn’t a story that’s taught a lot in Christian school. I had read it before, but I probably read the other stories of the patriarchs ten times more often. Dinah is Leah’s only daughter, sister of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. The prince of Shechem, also named Shechem took her and lay with her and abused her. It seems that he raped her, but then fell in love with her and he spoke to the young woman’s heart. It’s not clear by that last phrase the amount of consent involved. The text says as what might be taken as fact that he ought not to have slept with Jacob’s daughter. Shechem’s father asks for Dinah to be married to Shechem and to begin intermarrying freely at any bride-price and clan-gift.

The sons of Jacob, which turn out to be the full brothers of Dinah, tell them that they can intermarry if they will become circumcised, and Shechem and his father agree, largely because they hope to share Jacob’s livestock. Three days later while they are in pain from the circumcision, Simeon and Levi kill every man in the city, capture all their wives and children, take all their livestock, and loot everything in their houses. They bring Dinah home, perhaps an indication that she was not there by her own free will, as she might have been expected to come home while marriage negotiations were taking place. Jacob is angry that his sons have caused trouble in their new land, and the sons ask if their sister should be treated like a whore. The sons are both sympathetic in wanting to avenge their sister and repugnant in using her rape as an excuse to murder an entire town.

35: God renews the covenant with Jacob. God commands Jacob to make his alter in Bethel as he promised, and Jacob tells his household to put away their alien gods. Jacob takes the alien gods and earrings and buries them. The terror of God kept the towns from pursuing the sons of Jacob, apparently other tribes who had heard about the massacre at Shechem. An odd aside – Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse dies and is buried in Bethel. To be Rebekah’s nurse, she must have been extremely old.

God either repeats or affirms Jacob’s name change to Israel. He is described as ascending from Jacob, suggesting a visual manifestation. Rachel gives birth to the twelfth son Benjamin and dies. Reuben sleeps with Bilhah, Jacob’s concubine, an incident that doesn’t surface until the blessings. Possibly this is a way to take his father’s place as patriarch.

Finally Jacob returns to Isaac, who is a hundred and eighty years old. He lived over twenty years past the blessing. Apparently Jacob does see Esau again, because he is said to have helped bury his father Isaac. It appears that reconciliation happens at the death of a father, as Ishmael also helped Isaac bury Abraham.


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