March 2, 2015.
Daily Reading: Genesis 32-35.
Background: Genesis 28-31.
Concepts and Connections.
Facing fear: We saw in the previous chapter how the angel of the Lord had come to him in a dream and reminded him that God and been with him and it was time to rise and return to the land of his kindred (see 31:11-13). Because Laban was mightier than Jacob was, and because he had already been dealing deceitfully with Jacob, there was tension between the two. The command of the Lord to return to his kindred was not as simple as we might think it was. It was likely very frightening; thus why Jacob left without telling Laban (see chapter 31). However, this was not the only thing that was frightening about his return. Jacob had left the land of his father because his mother had overheard that his brother, Esau, planned to kill him since Jacob had taken the blessing that was allotted to Esau (see Genesis 27:41-45). Now he was retuning to this land that he had fled from so many years ago- retuning to meet his brother Esau whom he had not seen in twenty years. Jacob was very frightened about his return and what Esau would do to him.
Though he was afraid, Jacob did not allow this fear to stop him from following the call of God. We see in his prayer (v. 9-12) that Jacob expresses his fears to his Father, but then asserts his trust in Him, knowing that He will deliver him from the hand of Esau if it came down to it. Thus he prepared to meet his brother, setting aside gifts for him in effort to appease him and quell his anger. Moreover, we see the courage in Jacob as he wrestles with the stranger, which symbolically brings to a point all of the conflict that Jacob has been through during his life, whether it be from Esau, Laban or his wives, as though he had been struggling with God the whole time. In this physical struggle, a transformation is made in Jacob, changing his name from Jacob (which means “he takes by the heal” or “He cheats”) to Israel (which means “He strives with God”), a name that would belong to his children for generations to come, a name that is still present even today. His blessing would certainly come at a cost, as he would walk with a limp, but he called the place Peniel (which means “Face of God”), for he said “I have seen the face of God, and yet my life has been delivered.” Jacob had finally faced his fears head on, and he had over come. God was with him, and he was now ready to meet his brother Esau.
Humility: Prepared to meet his brother, Jacob divides his caravan into three parts, with his servants in front, Leah and her children next and Rachel and Joseph last of all (seemingly in order of importance to Jacob). But Jacob himself, as we have seen how he was now facing his fear head on from the last chapter, goes out in front of every, bowing himself seven times as he approaches Esau. In this chapter Jacob expresses extreme humility, ascribing all his success to God and calling Esau “lord.” Jacob did not want any sense of pride or arrogance to be portrayed as he met the brother he had essentially stolen the blessing from so long ago. Though Jacob did not know what Esau would do, he put his faith in the Lord and humbled himself before his brother. Probably much to Jacob’s surprise, Esau warmly embraced his brother whom he had not seen in twenty years with affection and tears. The Lord too had blessed Esau and given him enough, and it would seem that he was no longer angry at his brother Jacob. Sometimes Esau is depicted as an evil person, but there is much to be said about his character here. It would seem that time had healed some old wounds, and Esau had forgiven his brother. But Jacob’s humility did not stop after he experienced Esau’s forgiveness, but he then urged him to take the gift that he had prepared for Esau. When Esau finally accepted, Jacob knew that he had accepted him. Jacob’s humility is a good example for us to look to and follow, for we are called to be humble, just as Christ was humble (see Philippians 2:5-8).
Deception and vengeance: In this chapter, we experience an interesting story of rape, deception and revenge. Many might be surprised to find such a story in the bible. It is important to note that just because a story is in the bible does not necessarily mean that any of the actions are sanctioned by God. It is clear that rape was a heinous act (v. 7), but also that revenge had its undesired consequences (v. 30). Nevertheless, the story is recorded about Shechem the Hivite, a prince of the land in which Jacob dwelt, favored above all his brothers, defiles (rapes) Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah. After raping Dinah, she actually finds much favor in the eyes of Shechem, so much so that he longs to take her as a wife (this is the opposite of what happens to Ammon, the son of David, when he rapes Tamar his half sister, see II Samuel 13). When Jacob’s sons hear about what Shechem has done, they were obviously very angry. But they came up with a plan to deceive Shechem and his city once they heard that Hamor wanted to take Dinah as a wife. They told the men of Shechem that it was disgraceful for them to give their daughters to the men of an uncircumcised nation, and that if Hamor would have Dinah, he and the men of the city would need to be circumcised. This statement probably represented a bit of truth, as most deception and lies are grounded in some truth. However, once the men agreed and were circumcised, as they were recovering, Simeon and Levi went in and killed Hamor (Shechem’s father) and Shechem, and the sons of Jacob plundered the city. Thus they had their revenge on Shechem for the rape of their sister Dinah.
Purification and blessing: Perhaps in effort to get him out of the land where he now had enemies, or simply to return him to the place where Jacob had received the promise that God had given to Abraham and to Isaac (see Genesis 28:10-22), God tells Jacob to get up and return to Bethel (which means “house of God”), to build an alter to the Lord. Before Jacob travels to this land, however, notice what he does. He tells all his company to put away the false gods from among themselves, change their clothes and purify themselves. Jacob was making a statement that they were going to wholly follow the Lord, and to do so meant there must be a purification process. The false gods of the Canaanites really would constantly intrude on the worship of the One True God, the Holy one of Israel, throughout time as the children of Israel progress to become a great nation. Jacob was starting out the process on the right foot. Once this trust in the Lord, and the Lord only, was established, they journeyed on to Bethel, and the Lord put the fear of them in all the inhabitants along the way so that they would pass though safely. Then the Lord reaffirms the covenant He made with Abraham and with Isaac, passing the same blessing along through Jacob and his sons. If we are to follow the Lord, we are going to have to make a firm commitment to Him, and Him alone. We cannot serve God and any other idol, such as money, recreation or really whatever we devote large amounts of our time to. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me (see John 14:6).” He, and He alone, is who we should serve. Let us take the example of Jacob’s purification to heart.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Judges 17-21.
Be strong in the Lord.