THE PENTATEUCH PART I: GENESIS
LESSON 14: Genesis 30:25-33:17
Jacob's Journey from Refugee Son to Patriarch Part II

Almighty God,

With only a staff in his hand Jacob was sent on a journey that ultimately changed his life forever. Give us the will, Lord, to take up Your words in Sacred Scripture as our staff to lean upon on our life journey as Jacob leaned upon his. Let Your words recorded by Your inspired writers help us find the way on that narrow path to salvation as You sustain us on our journey with the Sacraments of our faith. And just as You took Jacob across the Jordan River back into the Promised Land of Canaan, take us Lord on our journey from this life across the great divide that separates life on earth from eternity in Your Promised Land of heaven. Lord, grant our prayer in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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"With only his staff he crossed the Jordan." It was a wondrous symbol Jacob held in his hand in anticipation of the sign of the cross of the great Prophet. He lifted up his feet on to the land of the people of the east, because it was from there "that a light shone out to the peoples." He reclined by the well that had a stone on its mouth that many men had not been able to life. Many shepherds had been unable to lift it and open up the well, until Jacob came and, through the power of the Shepherd who was hidden in his limbs, lifted up the stone and watered his sheep. Many prophets too had come without being able to unveil baptism, before the great Prophet came and opened it up by himself and was baptized in it, calling out and proclaiming in a gentle voice: "Let everyone who thirsts come to me and drink." St. Aphrahat of Persia (270-335 AD), On Prayer 6 (quoting from Gen 32:10/11; Lk 2:32; 29:8; Jn 4:13-14).

Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of realities that are unseen. It is for their faith that our ancestors are acknowledged.
Hebrews 11:1

The "few days" Rebekah believed she would be parted from her son (Gen 27:43-45) stretched out from months to twenty years before Jacob began the journey back to his home in Canaan (Gen 31:38, 41). His beloved mother was never able to send for him becuase the danger from Esau's wrath must have continued until Rebekah's death.

Before the events transpired that necessitated leaving for Haran, Jacob had protested to his mother that the penalty he could pay for deceiving his father into believing that he was Esau in order to receive his father's special blessing was that he could be cursed and exiled from the family. In reply Rebekah had assured Jacob that she was willing to take that curse upon herself (Gen 27:12-13). Ironically, even though they were successful in deceiving Isaac and securing the blessing, what they feared came to pass. Jacob was publically blessed by Isaac and sent away to Paddan-Aram, but he was not sent as a beloved son; he was sent as an exile without resources. As for Rebekah, her "curse" for deceiving her husband to advance the fortunes of her younger son was to never see her beloved son again. Rebekah is the only matriarch whose death is not recorded in Sacred Scripture. One cannot sin in the hopes of securing what is perceived as a greater good without paying a price.

Jacob labored for fourteen years as an unpaid indentured servant for his uncle Laban in payment for Leah, the bride he didn't want, and for Rachel, who he loved. Leah was blessed by God. She gave Jacob seven children (six sons and a daughter), and the slave girls of Leah and Rachel gave Jacob two sons each. But Rachel, Jacob's beloved, was barren. Scripture does not record that Jacob prayed to God to open Rachel's womb as Isaac had prayed for Rebekah, but God took pity on Rachel and gave her a son who she named Joseph (Yoshef), meaning "let him add," expressing her hope for more children (McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible, page 455).

This next part of the Genesis narrative concerns the six additional years Jacob worked for Laban beyond the agreed upon fourteen years and Jacob's dramatic and dangerous journey back to Canaan. He was not the same self-centered, ungrateful man he was when he first arrived in Haran. Jacob was humbled through his sufferings. He came to rely on God and to acknowledge the need for God in his life. The God of his fathers became his God.

Please read Genesis 30:25-36: Jacob asks Laban to Release Him and They Strike a Bargain
30:25When Rachel had given birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, 'Release me and let me go home to my own country. 26Give me my wives for whom I have worked for you, and my children, and let me go. You are well aware how long I have worked for you.' 27Laban replied, 'If I have done what pleases you... I have learnt by divination that Yahweh has blessed me because of you. 28So name your wages,' he added, 'and I will pay.' 29He replied, 'You know how hard I have worked for you, and how your stock has fared in my charge. 30The little you had before I came has increased enormously, and Yahweh has blessed you wherever I have been. When am I to provide for my own household too?' 31Laban said, 'How much am I to pay you?' Jacob replied, 'You need not pay me anything. I will change my mind and go on tending the flock, if you do this one thing for me. 32Go through your entire flock today and remove every black animal among the sheep, and every speckled or spotted one among the goats. These will be my wages, 33and my uprightness will answer for me later: when you come to check my wages, every goat I have that is not speckled or spotted, and every sheep that is not black will count as stolen my me.' 34Laban replied, 'Good, just as you say.' 35That same day he removed the striped and speckled he-goats and all the spotted and speckled she-goats, every one that had white on it, and all the black sheep, and entrusted these to his sons. 36Then he put a three day's journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob grazed the rest of Laban's flock.

The key word in the narrative concerning Jacob's association with Laban continues to be the Hebrew word translated "worked/ served/service," representing Jacob's life as a servant in exile in Haran. The root 'bd is repeated seven times in Genesis 29:15, 18, 20, 25, 27 (twice), and 30, and now it is repeated again three more times in Genesis 30:26 (twice), and 29. The same word will be repeated twice again in 31:6 and 41 for a total of 12 times (Interlinear Bible, pages 74, 75, 77-78). The social status of a hired shepherd was equal to the status of an indentured servant/slave; among a family's slaves the shepherd was the lowest ranking slave (Readings in World History, vol 2: The ancient Near East, pages 164-69).

Genesis 30:25: 30:25When Rachel had given birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, 'Release me and let me go home to my own country. As long as Rachel was childless Jacob ran the risk that Laban could refuse to release her to return with him to Canaan or Rachel refusing to leave her home in Upper Mesopotamia (Gen 24:57-58; 30:26). Now that she was bound to him through the child and his fourteen years of service were completed, Jacob determined that it was safe to ask Laban to let him return to his homeland with his wives, his concubines, and his children by the four Aramean women.

Question: Why did Jacob ask Laban to release his wives and children? Didn't his family belong to him? See Gen 31:43; Ex 21:2-6; Lev 25:35, 45-46; the lesson handout and endnote #2.
Answer: Jacob's family may not have belonged to him legally under Hurrian/Hittite law. Laban considered his daughters and their children as his property since Jacob seems to have accepted the status of an indentured servant who cannot legally leave without the permission of his master.

If Laban considered Jacob to be his slave/ indentured servant, it is possible that the woman and children were considered to be Laban's property (see lesson handout). The civil laws of the period of the patriarchs had different laws concerning the status of the wife and children of a slave/ indentured servant who married while in servitude to a master. The law code of Hammurabi stated that the free-born wife of a slave remained free along with her children. But Hurrian/Hittite law (governing the region of Haran) stated that a free-born wife of a slave and her children became the property of the slave's master (Readings in World History, vol 2: The Ancient Near East, pages 164-69). Centuries later, the law of the Sinai Covenant stated: If he came single, he will depart single; if he came married, his wife will depart with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children will belong to her master and he will depart alone (Ex 21:3-4). In the ancient Near East there was little if no difference between an indentured servant and a slave.(1)

Laban's wealth had increased significantly during the years Jacob worked for him. When Jacob first came to the family Rachel was tending Laban's flock (Gen 29:7, 9). Daughters only worked the very difficult job as herders if the father did not have sons or male slaves to tend his flock (see Gen 31:38-40). In the 2nd century AD herdsmen were listed among the "despised" trades (Mishnah: Kidd. 4:14; Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, page 305, 311).

Question: What did Laban determine was the reason for the increase in his wealth and how did he reach this conclusion?
Answer: Aware of how much he has prospered since Jacob came to work for him, Laban determined that Jacob received blessings from his God, Yahweh, and that Laban has prospered because he has benefited from Jacob's blessings. He determined this by divination.

Divination or "magic" was common among the pagans. The pagan gods were consulted and imparted knowledge, usually through the dissection and observation of the organs of a sacrificed animal. Many of the ancient documents from Mesopotamian archives were instructions on the practice of divination. This was a practice forbidden under the laws of the Sinai Covenant (Lev 19:26; Dt 18:10, 14) since divination presumes spiritual forces other than the works of God. Laban consulted a pagan priest in divining for him what should have been obvious - Jacob was blessed by Yahweh his God.

God has kept parts 1 and 2 of the conditions Jacob made at Bethel: to keep him safe and to provide for him materially. Laban's prosperity through Jacob is also a result of the original Abrahamic blessing which promised blessings those who blessed the heir of the Abrahamic covenant and curses on those who cursed God's elect (Gen 12:3a), just as other pagans were blessed through their association with Abraham and Isaac. Unlike Abraham's King Abimelech and Isaac's King Abimelech, Laban was not thankful for Jacob as the source of the material blessings he had inadvertently received. His response was only to greedily want to keep Jacob enslaved to continue accumulating material rewards (Gen 21:22; 26:28-29). Up to this point Laban was blessed during the years Jacob agreed to serve him under the conditional of Jacob's marriage contract, but as Laban schemed to take advantage of Jacob during the next six years, God will continue to bless Jacob but at Laban's expense: I shall bless those who bless you, and shall curse those who curse you (Gen 12:3a).

Genesis 30:30: 30:30The little you had before I came has increased enormously, and Yahweh has blessed you wherever I have been. When am I to provide for my own household too?'

Question: How did Jacob respond to Laban?
Answer: Jacob reminded his father-in-law of his original humble status when Jacob first arrived in Haran, and he told Laban that he has prospered only because Yahweh has blessed all of Jacob's labors.

Jacob's concern was how he could continue to provide for his own household and have the means to return to Canaan unless Laban gave him a share in what he has rightfully earned. Jacob had been serving Laban like a slave/ indentured servant and not like a kinsman/son-in-law. Under the laws of the Sinai Covenant a slave owner was required to send a freed slave or an indentured servant away with a portion of the livestock, with grain, and with wine to give him a reasonable start on his own (Dt 15:12-14). This law probably reflected the practice in most of the cultures of the Near East. If this was what was expected for a freed slave/indentured servant, what Jacob was asking Laban in verse 30 was essentially how much more should Laban be generous with a kinsman who was the husband of his daughters and the father of his grandchildren.

Laban, always the "material man," immediately asked Jacob what payment he wanted in order to stay; he repeated the question twice (verses 28 and 31).

Genesis 30: 31-33: 30:31Laban said, 'How much am I to pay you?' Jacob replied, 'You need not pay me anything. I will change my mind and go on tending the flock, if you do this one thing for me. 32Go through your entire flock today and remove every black animal among the sheep, and every speckled or spotted one among the goats. These will be my wages, 33and my uprightness will answer for me later: when you come to check my wages, every goat I have that is not speckled or spotted, and every sheep that is not black will count as stolen my me.'

According to Exodus 22:11 (12) for every animal a herdsman lost restitution had to be made to the owner. Jacob offered to give Laban another animal for every animal in his flock that was born with Laban's animal's coloring.

Question: What did Jacob ask for in payment for his years of service? Why does Jacob's response seem to be a sudden shift from the original request to return to his homeland?
Answer: When Laban refused to answer Jacob's request to leave he realized that his kinsman had no intention of letting him return to Canaan. Jacob knew that he needed to be as clever as Laban was greedy. He suggested that he has changed his mind and will go on tending Laban's flock if Laban will give him every black sheep and multi-colored goat as his wages while all the solid colored goats and white sheep that are born under his care will revert to Laban.

The flocks of sheep in the Near East are usually white and the goats are usually solid black or brown (SS 4:1-2; 6:5-6; Is 1:18; Dan 7:9). For his wages Jacob asked for the rare colored animals. Just as Laban had no intention of honoring the contract Jacob originally made in working off the bride-price for Rachel, he had no intention of honoring his agreement over the flock in which Laban was to keep all the white sheep and solid colored goats while Jacob was to be given the existing black sheep and multi-colored goats and every additional animal that was born with those colors.

Genesis 30: 34-36: 30:34Laban replied, 'Good, just as you say.' 35That same day he removed the striped and speckled he-goats and all the spotted and speckled she-goats, every one that had white on it, and all the black sheep, and entrusted these to his sons. 36Then he put a three day's journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob grazed the rest of Laban's flock.

Question: What evidence is there in the narrative that Laban did not intend to honor the agreement but planned to continue to exploit Jacob? See Genesis 30:35.
Answer: From the start Laban intervened to manipulate the outcome by taking away all the animals that should rightfully belonged to Jacob, leaving Jacob with only the animals upon which they have agreed Jacob will have no claim.

Shepherding agreements like Jacob's and Laban's were very common and would have been familiar to ancient readers of the biblical text. Numerous cuneiform documents of these ancient contracts have been discovered in Mesopotamia. Such contracts were part of a larger system of legal codes that regulated labor agreements in the ancient Near East (see the Code of Hammurabi, laws # 261-67 regulating shepherds and owners). The purpose of the contract was to provide legal protection for both the owner and the contracted shepherd. The shepherd was to provide for the care of the animals and as payment he was allowed to take ownership of any animals that were beyond the stipulated percentage of the growth of the flock. Such contracts were usually renewed yearly, usually coinciding with the annual shearing when the flocks would be turned over to the owner, sheared, counted, evaluated and redistributed back into the contracted shepherd's care (Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2009, "Jacob's Dubious Contract," Raymond Westerbrook, pages 52-55, 64). The time of the shearing will be the time when Jacob will make his escape in Genesis 31:17-21.

Laban agreed to Jacob's terms only because the sheep that are black and the goats that are speckled are in the minority, but to "stack the deck" in his favor Laban removed the animals that should have rightfully been Jacob's starting flock. Knowing that black sheep and speckled goats have a greater chance of producing offspring with the same coloring, Laban removed all the black sheep and speckled goats to ensure that Jacob was less likely to have any breeding stock which might produce the rarer colored animals. In addition, he gave those animals to his sons, separating those flocks from Jacob by a three day journey to ensure that there would be no intermingling and interbreeding with Jacob's solid colored animals and so Jacob would not realize how many animals should have been his. Jacob did not protest because he knew it would be useless, just as it was useless to protest Laban's deception in switching Rachel for Leah. Jacob had another plan, and the mention of the "three days" in verse 36 is a sign that God was to be involved in the outcome of these events.

Please read Genesis 30:37-43: Jacob's Plan to Become Wealthy
30:37Jacob then got fresh shoots from poplar, almond and plane trees, and peeled them in white strips, laying bare the white part of the shoots. 38He set up the shoots he had peeled in front of the animals, in the troughs, in the water-holes where the animals came to drink. Since they mated when they came to drink, 39the goats thus mated in front of the shoots and so the goats produced striped, spotted and speckled young. 40The ewes, on the other hand, Jacob kept apart and made these face whatever was striped or black in Laban's flocks. Thus he built up droves of his own which he did not put with Laban's flocks. 41Furthermore, whenever the studier animals were mating, Jacob put the shoots where the animals could see them, in the troughs, so that they would mate in front of the shoots. 42But when the animals were feeble, he did not put them there; so Laban got the feeble, and Jacob the sturdy. 43Thus the man grew extremely rich, and came to own large flocks, men and women slaves, camels and donkeys.

There is a word play between the "white" sheep, the "white" of the pealed tree branches and Laban's name, which in Hebrew means "white," just as there was a play on the Hebrew word for "red" and Esau's name (Gen 25:30).

Jacob established a plan of selective breeding that God blessed, but he may also have employed the same kind of superstitious magic that Rachel attempted to use with the mandrakes. If Jacob's use of the peeled tree branches was superstitious magic it can be compared to Catholics who bury a statue of St. Joseph upside down in their yards when they want to sell a house or those who wear a "lucky" golf or bowling shirt, or carry a rabbit's foot; which certainly wasn't "lucky" for the rabbit. It is prayer that is the remedy for success and not an object. However, it has also been suggested that each of these three trees (poplar, almond, and plane) have medicinal uses and that the water treated with these branches increased the estrus cycle and therefore the fertility of the animals (N. Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, page 212). In any event, Jacob's plan was successful because of God's sovereign grace to fulfill the promise to bless Jacob and to return him to the "promised land" (Gen 28:15)

Genesis 30:40: The ewes, on the other hand, Jacob kept apart and made these face whatever was striped or black in Laban's flocks. Thus he built up droves of his own which he did not put with Laban's flocks.

This verse seems confusing since Laban took all the black sheep and multi-colored goats from Jacob's original flock and sent them on a three day journey with his sons.

Question: How was it that some of the different colored sheep and goats that should have been Jacob's became part of Laban's flock? See Genesis 31:7-8.
Answer: Laban, visiting Jacob's flock periodically and making the count of the flock at shearing time, must have determined that Jacob was acquiring too many animals according to the original agreement and kept amending the contract (Jacob said more then ten times) with a portion Jacob's black sheep or speckled or stripped goats being required to be set aside for his flock. Jacob complied, giving Laban the weaker animals.

Nevertheless, despite Laban's continued manipulations, the result at the end of the additional six years of service was that Jacob became a very wealthy man.

Please read Genesis 31:1-13: Yahweh Tells Jacob to Return to Canaan
31:1Jacob learned that Laban's sons were saying, 'Jacob has taken everything that belonged to our father; it is at our father's expense that he has acquired all this wealth,' 2and Jacob also saw that Laban's manner towards him was not as it had been in the past. 3Yahweh said to Jacob, 'Go back to the land of your ancestors, where you were born, and I shall be with you.' 4So Jacob had Rachel and Leah called to the fields where his flocks were, 5and he said to them, 'I can see that your father's manner towards me is not as it was in the past, but the God of my father has been with me. 6You yourselves know that I have worked for your father with all my might, 7and that your father has tricked me, changing my wages ten times over, and yet God has not allowed him to harm me. 8Whenever he said, "The spotted ones will be your wages," all the animals produced spotted young; whenever he said, "The striped ones will be your wages," all the animals produced stripped young. 9Thus God has reclaimed your father's livestock and given it to me. 10Once, when the animals were on heat, I suddenly saw in a dream that the he-goats covering the females were striped or spotted or piebald. 11In the dream the angel of God called to me, "Jacob!" I said, "Here I am." 12He said, "Now take note (lift up your eyes*): all the he-goats covering the females are striped or spotted or piebald, for I too have noted all the things that Laban has been doing to you, 13I am the God who appeared to you at Bethel, where you poured oil on a pillar and made a vow to me. On your feet, then, leave this country and return to the land of your birth."'
* =
literal translation (Interlineal Bible, vol. I, pages 79-80).

Once again a patriarch's material blessings have generated envy (see Gen 21:25; 26:14), and Jacob began to fear his father-in-law and his brothers-in-law. God was blessing Jacob's efforts but Laban was no longer blessed by his association with Jacob. Laban was being cursed for his treatment of Jacob (Gen 12:3a).

The angel of God came to Jacob in a vision, giving him the message that the God who appeared to him at Bethel was with him and commanding him to return to his homeland. As far as we know this was the first time God communicated with Jacob since he arrived in Mesopotamia, hence the reference to the theophany at Bethel. Calling Rachel and Leah out into the field where they could not be overheard, he shared his reasons for wanting to leave Haran.

Question: What three reasons did Jacob give his wives for leaving?
Answer:

  1. Their father's attitude had changed toward him.
  2. Their father had continually cheated him.
  3. The God of his fathers had commanded him to return to his homeland.

Genesis 31:10-13: 10Once, when the animals were on heat, I suddenly saw in a dream that the he-goats covering the females were striped or spotted or piebald. 11In the dream the angel of God called to me, "Jacob!" I said, "Here I am." 12He said, "Now take note (lift up your eyes*): all the he-goats covering the females are striped or spotted or piebald, for I too have noted all the things that Laban has been doing to you, 13I am the God who appeared to you at Bethel, where you poured oil on a pillar and made a vow to me. On your feet, then, leave this country and return to the land of your birth."'

Jacob related to his wives the vision he received from the God who promised Jacob at their first rendezvous at Bethel that He would be with him. He told them that God had assured him that He had seen his unfair treatment at the hands of Laban and had taken compassion on his suffering by providing Jacob with the flock he deserved. Notice in the passage Jacob mentioned that God reminded him of his vow at Bethel before telling him to return home. "To return home" was the third part of Jacob's original "if" and "then" vow.

Please read Genesis 31:14-21: Rachel and Leah Agree to Leave Haran and the Family Began the Dangerous Journey to a New Life in Canaan
31:14In answer Rachel and Leah said to him, 'Are we still likely to inherit anything from our father's estate? 15Does he not think of us as outsiders now? For not only has he sold us, but he has completely swallowed up the money he got for us. 16All the wealth that God has reclaimed from our father belonged to us and our children in any case. So do whatever God has told you.' 17Forthwith, Jacob put his children and his wives on camels, 18and drove off all his livestock with all the possessions he had acquired, the livestock belonging to him which he had acquired in Paddan-Aram to go to his father Isaac in Canaan. 19Laban was away, shearing his sheep; Rachel in the meanwhile had appropriated (stole*) the household idols belonging to her father, 20and Jacob had outwitted (stole away the heart of*) Laban the Aramaean so that he would not be forewarned of his flight. 21Thus he got away with all he had. He was soon across the River and headed (set his face*) for Mount Gilead.
* = literal translation (Interlineal Bible, vol. I, page 81).

The key word in chapter 31 is the Hebrew verb "to steal," gnb, which is found seven times in the Hebrew translation in Genesis 31:19, 20, 26, 27, 30, 32, 39 along with its synonym "to take by force," gzl in Genesis 31:31; see the underlined words in the text passages above. To "steal away the heart" is a euphemism for "to deceive" (Interlineal Bible, pages 81-83; Brown-Driver-Briggs page 170; Waltke, Genesis, page 423).

Notice that in 31:4 and 14 Rachel was named before Leah as the dominant wife. Legally she is not the chief wife, but de facto she is dominant over Leah.

Question: Why do the women agree to leave? What three reasons do they give?
Answer:

  1. They are unlikely to inherit anything from their father.
  2. He treats his daughters like outsiders.
  3. He has cheated them out of the material wealth that is rightfully theirs.

Rachel and Leah are angry with their father because greedy Laban has kept for himself the part of the bride-price that each daughter was supposed to receive as her dowry. Jacob had no bride-price and had to work fourteen years to pay it. Laban should have set aside the equivalent of his wages as a dowry for his daughters. This money was meant to support the wife and any children from the marriage in the event that her husband predeceased her. That Laban has kept what was rightfully theirs has reduced them to the status of disinherited daughters. Laban offered no future economic security for the women and there was no reason for them to stay.

Question: How did Jacob plan their departure, deceiving the deceitful Laban?
Answer: He kept his plans secret, waited until Laban and his sons were busy in the fields sheering the sheep, and then fled with his household, servants, and animals.

There is another word play in this passage: verse 20 literally reads: "stole the heart of Laban the Aramean", which is repeated in verse 26. In Hebrew "heart" (leb/ lev) sounds like "Laban/Lavan" while the word "Aramaean," 'arami, sounds like the Hebrew word "deceive," rima (The Jewish Study Bible, page 64).

Question: What did Rachel take that belonged to her father?
Answer: She took his household gods.

Rachel took her father's household gods, in Hebrew terapim, the exact meaning of which is obscure but these objects are called "gods" elsewhere in Scripture (Gen 31:30, 32). Some have suggested that Rachel had not fully accepted the God of her husband and was still attached to the pagan gods of Upper Mesopotamia. However, the reason for her theft may lie in her denunciation of her father for denying her an inheritance and not treating her as a daughter; see verses 14-16. Household idols were small figures about the size of miniature dolls. They were either images of ancestors or of a family's patron god/s. These idols were believed to bring the owner prosperity and protection and were often kept in little household shrines. According to the documents discovered in the Mesopotamian city of Nuzi, a family's household gods were extremely important and were passed down to the principal heir. If the inheritance were disputed in a law court, possession of the family idols could be accepted as proof that the deceased had intended the possessor to be his principal heir.

Since Rachel felt she and her sister had been defrauded by their father, the theft of the household gods could have been out of spite, but it could also have been an attempt to secure a portion of her father's estate after his death. It is possible that since no sons of Laban were mentioned when Jacob married Laban's daughters that Jacob, at the time of the marriage, had become Laban's son by adoption. If Laban's sons were born in the interim of those 20 years it may account for Laban's daughters statement that they father no longer treated them as his daughters: 15 Does he not think of us as outsiders now? (Gen 31:15). The jealousy of Laban's sons may have originated from the fact that they were fearful for their share of the inheritance and considered Jacob a threat. Rachel may have been trying to secure their claim as heirs by taking the household gods.(3)

Genesis 31:21b: He was soon across the River and headed for Mount Gilead. Jacob's caravan crossed the Euphrates River and advanced toward Gilead, a fertile high plateau in the Transjordan (east side of the Jordan River) that was forested in Jacob's day (2 Sam; Jer 22:6). The etymology is in dispute but the word may mean "curly" (of hair), referring to the richly forested terrain. The region of the Gilead extends from the mountains just north of the Yarmuk River, which runs into the Jordan River just south of the Sea of Galilee, and extends southward along the Jordan River Valley to the northern shore of the Dead Sea (see Dt 2:36). It appears that Jacob was journeying down the well-traveled road of the Kings Highway, the route he traveled north 20 years earlier (Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 2, pages 1020-21).

Please read Genesis 31:22-35: Laban Pursues Jacob's Family
31:22Three days later Laban was told that Jacob had fled. 23Taking his brothers with him, he pursued him for seven days and overtook him at Mount Gilead. 24But God appeared to Laban the Aramaean in a dream that night and said to him, 'On no account say anything whatever to Jacob (Watch out for yourself that you do not speak with Jacob to bad from good).' 25Laban caught up with Jacob, who had pitched his tent in the hills; and Laban pitched camp on Mount Gilead. 26Laban said to Jacob, 'What do you mean by outwitting me (stealing away my heart*) and then carrying off my daughters like prisoners of war? 27Why did you flee in secret, stealing away without letting me know, so that I could send you on your way rejoicing, which songs and music of tambourines and harps? 28You did not even let me kiss my sons and daughters. You have behaved like a fool. 29It is in my power to harm you, but the God of your father said to me last night, "On no account say anything whatever to Jacob (Watch out for yourself that you do not speak with Jacob to bad from good)." 30Now it may be you really went because you had such a longing for your father's house, but why did you steal my gods?" 31Jacob answered Laban, 'I was afraid, thinking you were going to snatch (take by force*) your daughters from me. 32But whoever is found in possession of your gods shall not remain alive. In the presence of our brothers, examine for yourself what I have, and take what is yours.' Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had appropriated (stole*) them. 33Laban went into Jacob's tent, and then into Leah's tent and the tent of the two slave-girls, but he found nothing. He came out of Leah's tent and went into Rachel's. 34Now Rachel had taken the household idols and put them inside a camel cushion, and was sitting on them. Laban went through everything in the tent but found nothing. 35Then Rachel said to her father, 'Do not look angry, my lord, because I cannot rise in your presence, for I am as women are from time to time.' Laban searched but did not find the idols.
* = literal translation (Interlineal Bible, vol. I, pages 81-82).

Notice the continued repetition of the key Hebrew verb "to steal," gnb, found seven times in the Hebrew translation in Genesis 31:19, 20, 26, 27, 30, 32, 39 along with its synonym "to take by force," gzl in Genesis 31:31 (Interlineal Bible, pages 81-83; Brown-Driver-Briggs page 170).

Jacob and his family had a three day head start before Laban discovered their absence. Without being hindered by the slow moving livestock and the women and children, Laban and his kinsmen were able to catch up with Jacob's caravan on the seventh day after setting our from Haran. The references to the numbers "three" and "seven" are probably symbolic. Both three and seven are considered "perfect" numbers in Scripture. Three is the biblical symbol for something important in God's plan of salvation or a symbol of fullness in time (God's time), while seven is the number of fullness or perfection; it is also the number of covenant. It would be impossible to reach Mt. Gilead in seven days or even nine days (Jacob's caravan was nine days out by the time Laban caught up with him) since Gilead is approximately 350 miles from Haran. A healthy man can cover 20 miles in a 12 hour day and a camel can cover more ground, but the normal shepherd's pace is about six miles per day (Waltke, Genesis, page 428).

Jacob was at a disadvantage with his women and children while Laban had a much stronger fighting force. But Jacob's advantage was that God was on his side.

Question: In their meeting Laban presented himself as the wronged party. What was Laban's complaint when he confronted Jacob? What was his threat? Was Jacob afraid? See Genesis 31:7, 24.
Answer: His complaint was that he would have given them a "going away party" if he had known they were leaving. Laban insincerely expressed his hurt feelings, having been denied the courtesy due a father. However, he also couldn't resist suggesting that taking his daughters was an act of war and included the threat that he had the power harm them if he wanted. He also added that because Jacob's God warned him in a dream not to do evil to Jacob from the good that had come to him from Jacob that he would not harm them. Jacob was not afraid because he knew God would protect him.

Laban's statement in verse 26: 'What do you mean by outwitting me (steal away my heart*) and then carrying off my daughters like prisoners of war? may support the theory that Laban thought of Jacob and his daughters as a slaves/indentured servants instead of family. The section of the Law of Hammurabi dealing with slaves and servitude stated that aiding the escape of a slave was considered to be theft of property, which is how Laban spoke of his daughters and their children in Genesis 31:43. Such an offense was punishable by death.(2)

Question: What did Laban's threat in verse 29 reveal about Laban's original intent?
Answer: Laban's threat that he had the power to harm Jacob probably reveals his true intent in pursuing Jacob's caravan for 350 miles outside his own territory. If it wasn't for God's intervening dream, Laban probably would have taken Jacob's caravan by force and would have either killed Jacob or he would have turned Jacob into his slave.

Question: Of what crimes did Laban accuse Jacob? What accusation was curiously absent in Laban's indictment of Jacob and why? See Genesis 31:26-30.
Answer: In confronting Jacob Laban accused him of (literally) "stealing his heart," a euphemism for deceiving him (31:26), kidnapping his daughters (31:26), and stealing his household gods (31:30), but Laban did not accuse Jacob of stealing his animals, an indication that Laban's reason for the pursuit was not the supposed theft of the livestock.

Genesis 31:30: Now it may be you really went because you had such a longing for your father's house, but why did you steal my gods? That Laban believed it was Jacob who stole his household gods instead of his daughters may suggest that Laban thought this was an inheritance issue if he did at one time consider Jacob to be his heir. Jacob worshiped Yahweh, so it is unlikely Laban thought Jacob took his gods because he wanted to worship them. Jacob defended his actions and then, unknowingly made a promise that could have cost Rachel her life.

Question: What vow did Jacob make to Laban concerning the missing household gods?
Answer: If anyone in his household was found in possession of them that person was to be put to death.

Laban searched but did not find the images; Laban was outwitted by Jacob and also by his own daughter, Rachel. It is ironic that Rachel, Laban's younger daughter, deceived her father like her husband, the younger son, deceived his father.

Question: What excuse did Rachel make to keep Laban from finding the idols?
Answer: She hid the idols in a camel bag that she sat upon. She explained to her father it was her monthly cycle and therefore she could not rise.

That Rachel was occupying a separate tent from Jacob and Leah suggests that she was truthful when she told her father she was menstruating (the slave-women were occupying one tent). In most Near Eastern cultures a woman's monthly menstrual cycle made a woman ritually impure and anything that came in direct contact with her became impure. It was the custom for a menstruating woman to occupy separate quarters. For the first time the women have taken a stand and defined themselves as the wives of Jacob, as women who believe in his God, and not as the daughters of the pagan Laban. Rachel defied her father as she sat menstruating on Laban's ritually defiled pagan gods (Lev 15:19-23, 26).

Please read Genesis 31:36-42: Jacob Confronts Laban
31:36Then Jacob lost his temper and took Laban to task. And Jacob said to Laban, 'What is my offence, what is my crime, for you to have hounded me like this? 37You have gone through all my belongings; have you found anything belonging to your household? Produce it here in the presence of my brothers and yours, and let them decide (judge*) between the two of us. 38In all the twenty years I was under you, your ewes and your she-goats never miscarried, and I never ate rams from your flock. 39Those mauled I never brought back to you, but bore the loss myself. You demanded compensation from me, whether the animal was stolen in daylight or at night. 40In the daytime the heat devoured me, and frost at night; I never had a good night's sleep. 41It was like this for the twenty years I spent in your household. Fourteen years I slaved for you for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, since you changed my wages ten times over. 42If the God of my father, the God of Abraham, the Kinsman (the Fear*) of Isaac, had not been with me, you would have sent me away empty-handed. But God saw my plight and my labors, and last night he delivered judgment.'
* = literal translation (Interlineal Bible, vol. I, pages 82-83).

Genesis 31:36: Then Jacob lost his temper and took Laban to task. The Hebrew word translated as "task" is the word riv/rib. It is a legal term signifying the legal possess that delivers a judgment between plaintiffs and defendants before a court of witnesses (see Gen 13:7-8; 26:20-22). Yahweh's prophets used the same legal term when calling a covenant lawsuit on Israel for violation of the Sinai Covenant (see Is 3:13; 27:8; 50:8; Jer 2:9; Mi 6:1-2; etc.). In Genesis 31:29 Laban attempted to demean Jacob publically in from of his wives, children, retainers and kinsmen, but now Jacob has turned the tables on Laban and twenty years of pent up frustrations have burst forth in a tirade that recounted all Laban's wicked scheming and injustices. As the reader of the narrative we can't help but see the irony in Jacob's unleashed anger against Laban for deceiving and exploiting his own kinsman compared to Esau's rage against Jacob for exploiting and deceiving his own brother.

At the end of the summary of his twenty years of servitude Jacob gave all the credit to God for his survival and his final prosperity. He called upon the assembled kinsmen to serve as judge and jury in his cry: here in the presence of my brothers and yours, and let them decide (judge*) between the two of us (Brown-Driver-Briggs, riv = page 936), and then finished with the statement that his God had already judged Laban in his dream the night before: But God saw my plight and my labors, and last night he delivered judgment.

Genesis 31:39: Those mauled I never brought back to you, but bore the loss myself. You demanded compensation from me, whether the animal was stolen in daylight or at night. According to the Code of Hammurabi and the Sinai Covenant (see Ex 22:10-11) a shepherd was not liable for animals that had been attacked and killed or mauled by a predator. If he brought back proof that the animals had been damaged or killed by a predator, the loss of the animal was not counted against him. He could, however, be held liable for lost or stolen sheep (the Code of Hammurabi, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, page 177, no. 263). Jacob went beyond what was required by law in his care of Laban's flock.

Genesis 31:42: 'If the God of my father, the God of Abraham, the Kinsman (the Fear*) of Isaac, had not been with me, you would have sent me away empty-handed. But God saw my plight and my labors, and last night he delivered judgment.'

In this heartfelt profession of faith Jacob identified God by the titles "the God of Abraham" and "the Fear of Isaac." Jacob's title for God, "the Fear of Jacob" is a unique title for God that is only found twice in Scripture: used by Jacob in this passage and again by Jacob in Genesis 31:53 (Brown-Driver-Briggs, page 808; also translated as "dread"). Jacob's profession of belief in the God of his fathers illustrates that he was not the same man who arrived in Haran twenty years earlier. He gave God the credit for preserving him and making him prosper despite Laban's conspiracies to keep him an unpaid servant.

Please read Genesis 31:43-32:3: Jacob and Laban Cut a Covenant
31:43Laban replied to Jacob, 'These daughters are my daughters and these children (sons*) are my children (sons*), this livestock is my livestock; everything you see belongs to me. But what can I do today about my daughters here or about the children (sons*) they have borne? 44So come, let us make (cut*) a pact (a covenant*); you and me..., and let that serve as a witness between us.' 45Jacob then took a stone and set it up as a memorial (massebah*). 46Jacob said to his kinsmen (brothers*), 'Collect some stones,' and gathering some stones they made a cairn. They had a meal there, on the cairn, and 47Laban called it Jegar-Sahadutha while Jacob called it Galeed. 48Laban said, 'May this cairn be a witness between us today.' This is why he named it Galeed, 49and also Mizpah, because he said, 'Let Yahweh act as watchman between us when we are no longer in sight of each other. 50If you ill-treat my daughters or marry other women besides my daughters, even though no one be with us, remember: God is witness between us.' 51Then Laban said to Jacob, 'Here is the cairn I have thrown up between us, and here the pillar. 52This cairn is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I am not to cross to your side of this cairn and you are not to cross to my side of this cairn and pillar, with hostile intent. 53May the God of Abraham and the god of Nahor judge between us.' Then Jacob swore by the Kinsman (the Fear*)of his father Isaac. 54He offered a sacrifice on the mountain and invited his kinsmen to the meal (bread*). They ate the meal (bread*), and passed the night on the mountain. 32:1Early the next morning, Laban kissed his grandchildren and daughters and blessed them. Then Laban left to return home. 2While Jacob was going on his way, angels of God encountered him, and on seeing them he said, 'This is God's camp,' 3and he named the place Mahanaim.
* = literal (Interlineal Bible, page 83-84).

The underlined significant repeated words are "daughters" (three times in verse 43 and twice in verse 50), "sons" (three times in verse 43), and "witness/witnesses" (five times in verses 44, 48, 50, and 52 twice).

Question: Submitting to the inevitable, what did Laban propose?
Answer: He suggested a non-aggression covenant treaty between himself and Jacob.

Ever the bully, Laban made empty threats to Jacob concerning his authority over Jacob's family and the treatment of his daughters, conveniently forgetting how badly he had treated them. His blustering in making this public declaration may have been an attempt to recoup his standing among the witnesses (Laban's sons and retainers and Jacob's family and retainers) after Jacob's blistering indictment against him.

Question: What are Laban's three terms for the covenant treaty?
Answer:

  1. Jacob must not ill-treat Laban's daughters
  2. He must not marry other wives
  3. Neither party must cross the boundary markers of the cairn and pillar with hostile intent.

Question: Who did Laban call upon as witnesses to the covenant treaty with the non-aggression clause, and who was to be the judge in the event one party or the other violated the terms of the treaty? Note: in the Hebrew text the word for "god" is elohim (gods plural).
Answer: The witnesses to the covenant are the kinsmen (they witness the oath swearing), the cairn, the pillar, and Jacob's God. The judges are Abraham's God and Laban's ancestral gods, the gods of Nahor (Abraham's brother).

It was the usually practice in such Near Eastern treaties that the gods of the two peoples acted as both witnesses and as enforcers of non-aggression pact. Laban's stipulation to exclude other marriages probably is concerned with the inheritance rights of his grandchildren and not concern for his daughters. This stipulation may also have been part of the original marriage contract with Jacob. Jacob's and Laban's Gilead treaty foreshadows similar conflicts and treaties that will be made between the Aramaean and the Israelites (2 Kng 6:8-31; 7:3-20; 8:7-15; 9:14-15; 13:19, 22-25; 2 Chr 28:5-8, 22-23).

The reference to the witnesses suggests both Laban and Jacob swore oaths.

Question: What monument did Jacob erect as a memorial to the covenant treaty and their sworn oaths? What is the irony concerning the raising of this monument compared to the last one Jacob raised?
Answer: Jacob erected a stone pillar, a massebah, like the one he established at Bethel to commemorate his vision of God. Ironically, the first pillar essentially marked the end of his life in Canaan as an unappreciated son and marked a new beginning. This second pillar marked the end of his life as an unappreciated son (in-law) in Haran and a new cycle of his life as Patriarch in the "promised land."

Question: What else did Jacob command his kinsmen to build and what was the significance of this structure?
Answer: Jacob instructed his "brothers," his sons and his brothers-in-law, to build a pile of stones into a cairn that was to be used for the covenant ritual meal. Jacob had become the host/ dominant party in this covenant ritual.

Question: What else did they do as part of the covenant ceremony?
Answer: They made a blood sacrifice, and they ate the sacrificed animal in a ritual covenant meal in which all the kinsmen took part. Both Jacob and Laban named the site.

Laban and Jacob named the site of the covenant treaty in their own languages: Jegar-Sahadutha and Galeed, meaning "witness/testimony heap." Both names refer to the stone cairn to which Laban gave an Aramean name and Jacob the same name in Hebrew. Jacob also called the site Mizpah, meaning "watch-tower" calling on God to watch over the covenant sworn between the two of them when they had parted.(4)

Genesis 31:54: He offered a sacrifice on the mountain and invited his kinsmen to the meal (bread*). They ate the meal (bread*), and passed the night on the mountain.

In the literal Hebrew translation the eating of the meat of the sacrificed animal(s) in the ritual meal is referred to as eating the "bread" (lechem) twice in verse 54. In the Bible "bread" often signifies food in general, as in "to eat bread in the kingdom of God" (Lk 14:15) which refers to the Messianic banquet: Blessed is anyone who will share the meal (eat bread*) in the kingdom of God! * = literal translation. In the Bread of Life Discourse Jesus referred to Himself as the true living bread come down from heaven (Jn 6:32ff), and St. Paul spoke of Christians receiving the Eucharist as one bread and one body in Christ (1 Cor 10:17).

Question: When do we eat the meat of the sacrifice which can also be described as "bread"?
Answer: In the sacrifice of the Mass when the bread becomes the very flesh of our Redeemer and Savior, Christ Jesusur earthly bread is transformed into the "bread of heaven."

Genesis 32:1-3:
32:1Early the next morning, Laban kissed his grandchildren and daughters and blessed them. Then Laban left to return home. 2While Jacob was going on his way, angels of God encountered him, and on seeing them he said, 'This is God's camp,' 3and he named the place Mahanaim.

Jacob encountered angels before he left his "promised land" and again upon returning as he prepared to cross from the Transjordan into Canaan. God's messengers guard the borders of the holy land promised to Abraham's descendants. Jacob identified the site as "God's camp" and named the place of his encounter with God's messengers Mahanaim, which means "two camps."

Question: Why did Jacob call the place "two camps"?
Answer: It is a reflection of his understanding of another meeting between the natural and the supernatural: there was Jacob's camp - the natural, and God's camp - the supernatural.

Jacob's naming the site "two camps" also prefigures his strategy in dividing his people into two camps in preparation for what he believed would be an attack by the men of his brother Esau (Gen 32:8-9). Later the nation of Israel would come to be divided into two camps, losing the unity of continuing as the holy camp of God - the axis of heaven and earth. That distinction would belong to the Temple of Yahweh in the city of Jerusalem.

Please note that in some translations the verses will be divided differently with 32:1 as 31:55 and each succeeding verse numbered one less than the New Jerusalem translation.

Please read Genesis 32:4-14 (31:55-32:13): Jacob Sends Messengers to Esau
32:4Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in Seir, the open country of Edom, 5with these instructions, 'Say this to my lord Esau, "Here is the message of your servant Jacob: I have been staying with Laban and have been delayed there until now, 6and I own oxen, beasts of burden and flocks, and men and women slaves. I send news of this to my lord in the hope of winning your favor."' 7The messengers returned to Jacob and told him, 'We went to your brother Esau, and he is already on his way to meet you; there are four hundred men with him.' 8Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. He divided the people with him, and the flocks and cattle, into two camps, 9thinking, 'If Esau comes to one of the camps and attacks it, the remaining camp may be able to escape.' 10Jacob said, 'God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, Yahweh who told me, "Go back to your native land and I will be good to you," 11I am unworthy of all the faithful love and constancy you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, and now I have grown into two camps. 12I implore you, save me from my brother Esau's clutches, for I am afraid that he may come and attack me, mothers and children alike. 13Yet it was you who said, "I shall be very good to you, and make your descendants (seed*) like the sand of the sea, which is too numerous to count."' 14Then Jacob passed that night there.
* = literal (Interlineal Bible, page 85).

Jacob and his caravan have to pass through territory occupied by Esau before he can reach the "promised land" of Canaan. He has no choice; he has to prepare to meet the angry, estranged brother he has not seen for twenty years.

Question: As his caravan was about to enter Esau's territory, Jacob sent messengers to Esau to inform his brother that he was returning to Canaan, but what information does he receive from his messengers and what are the implications this information?
Answer: Esau was on his way with 400 men. Jacob feared they were coming to attack the caravan.

The danger Jacob faced with Laban and his armed men was present again. He cannot outrun an enemy force.

Question: What strategy did Jacob employ to protect his family and the caravan?
Answer: Jacob employed the defensive strategy of dividing his people into two groups, hoping if one camp was attacked that the other will be able to get away. In addition to dividing the caravan, he prayed to God for His protection.

Jacob's prayer was a reflection of how much he had changed from a man who wanted to shape his own destiny to a man who was ready to rely on God.

Question: What are the three elements of Jacob's humble petition?
Answer:

  1. He acknowledged God's faithful love and protection.
  2. He implored God to save him and his family.
  3. He reminded God of the covenantal promises God gave him which are his inheritance.

Please read Genesis 32:14b-22: Jacob Prepares to Meet Esau
32:14bFrom what he had with him he chose a gift for his brother Esau: 15two hundred she-goats and twenty he-goats, 16two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty camels in milk with their calves, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male. 17He put them in the charge of his servants, in separate droves, and told his servants, 'Go ahead of me, leaving a space between each drove and the next.' 18He gave the leading man this order: 'When my brother Esau meets you and asks, "Whose man are you? Where are you going?Whose are those animals that you are driving?" 19you will answer, "Your servant Jacob's. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau. And Jacob himself is just behind us."' 20He gave the same order to the second and the third, and to all who were following the droves. 'That is what you must say to Esau when you find him. 21And you must add, "Your servant Jacob himself is just behind us."' For he thought, 'If I conciliate him (cover his face*) by sending a gift in advance (before my face*), perhaps he will be well inclined towards me when I face him.' 22The gift went ahead of him (before his face*), but he himself spent that night in the camp.
* = literal (Interlineal Bible, page 85-6).

The key word "face" (panim), occurs seven times in the narrative from the time Jacob begins his dangerous journey in Genesis 31:21; 32:21 [three times], 22, and 31 [two times] (Interlineal Bible, vol I, pages 81-86). The repetition prepares the reader for the next passage when God will remind Jacob that there is something more fearful than the "face" Laban or the "face" of Esau.

Question: What was the purpose of Jacob's generous gift to Esau?
Answer: It was Jacob's hope that the generosity of the gift would make up for way he wronged his brother in the past. Jacob wanted to make amends and thereby spare his family a tragedy.

The danger Jacob faces recalls the old adage that "old sins cast long shadows." The shadow of Jacob's sins against his brother have come back to haunt him.

Question: Into how many groups did Jacob divide the animals?
Answer: It appears that he divided the animals into five groups: 1) male and female goats, 2) ewes and rams, 3) camels and their calves, 4) cows and bulls, 5) female and male donkeys.

Question: What is the purpose of spacing the gift of the livestock out into five separate groups of animals with their herders?
Answer: Each time Esau came across a group of animals and their herders he would have to stop and listen to Jacob's words of conciliation. It was Jacob's hope that by the time Esau heard the fifth speech that his anger would have softened.

If this gift of the livestock only represented a portion of Jacob's wealth in animals, he was very wealthy indeed. The gift of the animals may have represented what Esau expected to receive from Isaac in the double portion of the firstborn son. Jacob has realized that disposing his brother may have given him a legal claim to the material and spiritual rewards of the "firstborn," but there can be a vast difference between what is legally right and what is morally right.

The verses in this passage may be numbered differently in other translations; 32:23 may be 32:22 in other Bible translations.

Please read Genesis 32:23-33: Jacob Wrestles With God and Receives a New Name
32:23That same night he got up and, taking his two wives, his two slave-girls and his eleven children, crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 24After he had taken them across the stream, he sent all the possessions over too. 25And Jacob was left alone. Then someone (a man*) wrestled with him until daybreak 26who, seeing that he could not master him, struck him on the hip socket, and Jacob's hip was dislocated as he wrestled with him. 27He said, 'Let me go, for day is breaking.' Jacob replied, 'I will not let you go unless you bless me.' 28The other said, 'What is your name?' 'Jacob,' he replied. 29He said, 'No longer are you to be called Jacob, but Israel since you have shown your strength against God and men and have prevailed.' 30Then Jacob asked, 'Please tell me your name.' He replied, 'Why do you ask my name?' With that, he blessed him there*. 31Jacob named the place Peniel, 'because I have seen God face to face,' he said, 'and have survived.' 32The sun rose as he passed Peniel, limping from his hip. 33That is why to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh sinew which is at the hip socket: because he had struck Jacob at the hip socked on the thing sinew.

*Note: The New American Bible translation renders the phrase With that, he blessed him there as "With that he bade him farewell" (Gen 32:30). Both the Hebrew text and the Greek Septuagint translation render this significant phrase as a blessing. The Hebrew text uses the word barak. It is the same Hebrew word found in Genesis 1:22, 28; 2:3; 5:2; 9:1, and 26, and in Abraham's blessings in Genesis 12:2, 3 (twice); 14:19 (twice), 20; 17:16 (twice), 20; 18:18 and 22:17, 18; 24:1 and elsewhere in the Hebrew translation of the Old Testament. In the Greek translation of this phrase the word is eulogeo. It is the same Greek word found in the Greek translation of the verses cited above in examples relating to Abraham, in other Old Testament passages and in the New Testament blessings (see Mt 14:19; 21:9; 23:39; etc.; Mk 6:41; 8:7; etc.; Lk 1:28 and 42 (twice) in Gabriel's blessing to Mary; etc.).

Genesis 32:23: That same night he got up and, taking his two wives, his two slave-girls and his eleven children, crossed the ford of the Jabbok.

The mention of the Jabbok (Yabbok) gives us another identifiable place-name. The Jabbok River is located in the Transjordan (east side of the Jordan River) half way between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea (about twenty-five miles north of the Dead Sea). Today this river is called the Nah res-Zerqu (Arabic for "the blue river"). It is one of the four major eastern tributaries of the Jordan River and served as a thoroughfare from the Jordan River Valley to the Transjordan plateau (Harper-Collins Bible Dictionary, page 476; International Critical Commentary: Genesis, page 408).

Genesis 32:24-27: 24After he had taken them across the stream, he sent all the possessions over too. 25And Jacob was left alone. Then someone (a man*) wrestled with him until daybreak 26who, seeing that he could not master him, struck him on the hip socket, and Jacob's hip was dislocated as he wrestled with him. 27He said, 'Let me go, for day is breaking.' Jacob replied, 'I will not let you go unless you bless me.' Jacob arranged to be alone as he was alone on the journey to Haran twenty years earlier when God came to him at Bethel. Jacob, the "soft" but determined man who preferred the tents to the fields before his exile to Haran (Gen 25:27) had become, in the past twenty years, a man who had been tested physically, mentally, and spiritually. Left alone on the bank of the Jabbok, Jacob had an appointment with the divine, this time with a mysterious stranger in the form of a man. In the dark of the night Jacob wrestled with the mysterious figure, refusing to release his opponent and hanging on to him with all his strength. As day was dawning the stranger demanded that Jacob let him go, but Jacob refused. The "man" struggled with Jacob until it became clear that Jacob would not submit himself but would continue relying on his own strength. God respects our free will and in this encounter God respected Jacob's will, albeit a misdirected will, and did not "overcome" Jacob's strength of will. Unlike Abraham who trusted God's plan to the point of offering his own beloved son in sacrifice, Jacob would not yield to God to that degree of trust and faith exhibited by Abraham.

Question: Why did God dislocate Jacob's hip and give him a permanent limp?
Answer: To help Jacob acknowledge his limitations, the angel/God dislocated Jacob's thigh to remind him with every step he would take for the rest of his life to rely not on his own strength of will and his own physical strength but to call on the spiritual strength that comes through trusting his life to God. It is in our weakness/meekness in submission to the will of God that He makes us strong (Mt 5:4/5).

Question: What demand did Jacob make? Then what questions were asked, first by Jacob and then by the mysterious stranger?
Answer: Jacob demanded a blessing before letting the stranger go and the stranger asked Jacob his name; Jacob also asked the stranger his name.

Question: What happened when Jacob told the stranger his name?
Answer: The stranger gave Jacob the new name "Israel," meaning "struggles (or "overcomes) with God."

The stranger told Jacob concerning the old name: It shall no more be said (literal translation), indicating a spiritual transformation from the old "Jacob," the name of a deceiver and supplanter to the new name of the victor and prevailer.

Question: What was the lesson for Jacob and the life lesson for all of us concerning Jacob's encounter with God?
Answer: There are two views of the meaning of Jacob's encounter:

  1. The lesson that by clinging to God and in refusing to let go in the "darkness" of our faith journeys that God sanctifies us and helps to overcome insurmountable obstacles.
  2. The lesson that if we resist submitting to God's will for our lives, God will allow our free will choices to prevail, even if that is not the best choice for our faith journey, but just because He has allowed us to prevail it doesn't mean that He will abandon us. He will continue to work through our limitations to call us to faith and holiness.

At daybreak God ended the struggle. It was time for Jacob to go forward and face his destiny; it was time to face Esau. The end of the wrestling match signaled a new beginning for Jacob just as his first encounter with God at Bethel signaled a new beginning. He entered into the struggles of life as "Jacob" who supplanted his brother, but after this struggle he walked away with a new name, symbolizing the birth of the people of Israel. Like Moses Jacob was the only man who has seen God's face and lived (Ex 33:20).

Question: Why did God/the angel of God refuse to tell Jacob His name? See Judg 13:17-18; Ex 3:13-15.
Answer: It is difficult to know the answer to this question. Both Jacob and Manoah asked the angel of God, "What is your name?" and both received no reply - only a question in return. In Manoah's case the angel asked "Why do you ask me my name? [..]. It is a name of wonder" - meaning it is a name beyond human understanding. In both cases neither Jacob nor Manoah understood they had been face to face with the divine until after the angel disappeared. In Moses' case God revealed His name. Perhaps, not only because Moses understood he was experiencing the divine, but because it was the fullness in time in which God had planned to reveal His Divine Name.

Question: What name did Jacob/Israel give this place to commemorate the event and what does the name mean in Hebrew?
Answer: He called the place Peniel (Penuel), which means "face of God" or more literally, "I have seen God face to face," in Hebrew elohim panim'el-panim.

Question: This was Jacob's third such direct experience with the divine where he named the site of his encounter. What were Jacob's three "divine encounters" where he named each place to commemorate the event?
Answer:

  1. God met Jacob at Bethel, "house of God" (28:10-22).
  2. God's angels met Jacob at Mahanaim, "two camps" (32:1-2).
  3. God wrestled with Jacob at Peniel, "face of God" (32:22-32)(5)

Dr. Bruce Waltke wrote that Jacob/Israel's limping was the posture of a saint - walking not by natural strength but by supernatural strength (Waltke, page 448). The Catechism writes of Jacob's wrestling with God and his prayer for protection of his family as preparation for his meeting with Esau: God renews his promise to Jacob, the ancestor of the twelve tribes of Israel. Before confronting his elder brother Esau, Jacob wrestles all night with a mysterious figure who refuses to reveal his name, but who blesses him before leaving him at dawn. From this account, the spiritual tradition of the Church has retained the symbol of prayer as a battle of faith and as the triumph of perseverance (CCC 2573).

The fathers of the Church perceived in Jacob and his struggle to hold on to the "man" with whom he wrestled through the night the image of the Christian holding on to Christ through the darkness of our earthly struggle. They also saw the numbness in Jacob's thigh as foreshadowing the cross of Christ:

Seeing God face to face prepared Jacob/Israel for seeing Esau face to face.

Please read Genesis 33:1-11: Jacob and Esau Meet
11:1Looking up, Jacob saw Esau coming and with him four hundred men. He then divided the children between Leah, Rachel and the two slave-girls. 2He put the slave-girls and their children in front, with Leah and her children following, and Rachel and Joseph behind. 3He himself went ahead of them and bowed to the ground seven times, until he reached his brother. 4But Esau ran to meet him, took him in his arms, threw himself on his neck and wept as he kissed him. 5Then looking up he saw the women and children. 'Who are these with you?' he asked. Jacob answered, 'The children whom God has bestowed on your servant.' 6The slave-girls then came up with their children, and they all bowed low. 7Then Leah too came up with her children, and they all bowed low. Finally Rachel and Joseph came up and bowed low. 8Esau asked, 'What was the purpose of that whole camp I just met?' 'To win my lord's favor,' he replied. 9'Brother, I have plenty,' Esau answered, 'keep what is yours.' 10Jacob protested, 'No, if I have won your favor, please accept the gift I offer, for in fact I have come into your presence as into the presence of God, since you have received me kindly. 11So accept the gift I have brought for you, since God has been generous to me and I have all I need.' And he urged him, and Esau accepted.

Question: What was the reason for dividing the caravan?
Answer: Jacob's positioning of the women and children was meant to give Rachel and Joseph the most protection.

Genesis 33:3: (Jacob) He himself went ahead of them and bowed to the ground seven times, until he reached his brother.

Question: How did Jacob present himself and his family to Esau?
Answer: As the subservient younger brother acknowledging the superiority of his elder brother.

Jacob's bowing down to the ground seven times was a sign to Esau of his brother's total submission. Documentation found among the Egyptian Tell el-Amarna texts (14th century BC) attests to this practice as a sign of subservience (Archaeological Study Bible, page 56).

Genesis 33:3: But Esau ran to meet him, took him in his arms, threw himself on his neck and wept as he kissed him. Esau's warm response to Jacob not only shocked Jacob but also shocks us as the readers of the narrative. This is hardly the behavior we have come to expect from Esau, but life experience seems to have softened Esau as well as Jacob. Then too, God's true emissaries are always meant to be ambassadors of peace. God has honored Jacob's humble submission to his brother by softening Esau's heart. Notice that when Esau asked Jacob why he had presented him with the gift of the livestock that Jacob didn't attempt to flatter or deceive his brother about his intentions but freely confessed that his intent was to win his brother's good will.

Please read Genesis 33:12-17: Jacob and Esau Part in Peace
33:12Esau said, 'Let us break camp and move off; I shall go beside you.' 13But Jacob replied, 'As my lord knows, the children are weak, and the sheep and cows which have calved make it hard for me. If they are driven too hard, even for one day, the whole drove will die. 14May it please my lord to go on ahead of his servant. For my part, I shall move at a slower pace, to suit the flock I am driving and the children, until I join my lord in Seir.' 15Esau then said, 'At least let me leave you some of the people who are with me.' What for?' Jacob asked. 'Please indulge me, my lord!' 16So that day Esau turned back towards Seir, 17but Jacob made his way to Succoth, where he built himself a house and made shelters for his livestock; that is why the place was given the name of Succoth.

Question: What was Jacob/Israel's response to Esau's offer of an escort and why did he respond as he did to the invitation to come to Esau's camp at Seir?
Answer: He politely refused Esau's offer. His caravan was weary from all the running and drama of the past month, and he did not intend to become a captive again.

Jacob made camp on the east side of the Jordan River, setting up the tents for the women and children and enclosures for the livestock; he named the camp "Succoth." The Hebrew word "Succoth" means "shelters." Jacob's choice of that name for the camp may have had a double meaning - referring not only to the enclosures for the livestock and the shelter for his family, but naming it for God's sheltering his people from the wrath of Laban and Esau.(6) It can probably be assumed that after Jacob established the camp that he took some men with him and visited with his brother at his camp in Seir as he promised Esau in verse 14. Jacob will not be safe from Esau until after he crosses the Jordan River into Canaan.

Questions for group discussion:

Question: What do Jacob's experiences with hardship and conflict teach us about suffering in this life and our relationship with God/ with Christ? See the document "How Should the Christian Respond to Suffering" and CCC 164, 1508, 1521.
Answer: A relationship with God does not assure us that our lives will be free of suffering and struggles. In fact, the Christian journey of faith may bring unexpected conflict and hostility from a world that vents its enmity on the Christian because it has no claim upon those who belong to Christ. But if we are faithful, God can take those conflicts and struggles and use them to mold us into a useful instrument of His peace, love, and faith, just as He transformed Jacob into Israel. Jesus came not to take away our suffering but to unite our suffering with His to give our suffering meaning and value.

Question:

Part I: How is it that Jacob and his children's release from bondage in Mesopotamia, and their fearful journey to the "promised land" with their accumulated wealth prefigured the Exodus out of Egypt and their journey to the Promise Land about 430 years later? See Ex 12:35-36, 37-42; 14:5-14, 19-31; Josh 1:10-11; 3:1 (the children of Israel crossed the Jordan River from the east bank to the west bank).

Part II: How is Jacob's exodus out of Haran to the "promised land" in Genesis and the Egyptian Exodus a "type" of Christ's "exodus" from this world and the new Israel's (the Church's) pilgrim journey to the heavenly Promised Land? See 1 Cor 10:1-4. Chart the typology.
Answer:

The Typology of Jacob's Exodus from Haran and the Twelve Tribe's Exodus from Egypt compared to Jesus' Exodus from this World to the Promised Land of Heaven
At many moments in the past and by many means, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our time, the final days, he has spoken to us in the person of his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things and through whom he made the ages. Heb 1:1-2
Jacob's Exodus
from Haran
Israel's 12 Tribes' Exodus from Egypt Christ's Exodus
out of this world
Journeyed to a foreign land as an exile (Gen 28:10) Journeyed to a foreign land as exiles (Gen 46:1-7) Journeyed to the exile of this world as fully man and fully God (Lk 1:30-33; Jn 16:28)
Forced to labor in bondage to his host (Gen 31:41) Forced to labor in bondage to their hosts (Ex 1:8-14) Delivered mankind from bondage to sin and death (Rom 8:14-17; Gal 4:6; 5:1; Heb 2:14-15)
Made the exodus out of Haran with great wealth - the rightful payment for his years of labor (Gen 30:43) Made the exodus out of Egypt with great wealth - the rightful payment for their years of labor (Ex 12:35-36) Spoke with Moses and Elijah about His "exodus" out of this world where He labored to deliver man from sin and death (Lk 9:30)
God and His angels protected him on his journey to the Promised Land (Gen 31:24, 42; 32:1-3, 32) God sent His angels to protect them on their journey to the Promised Land (Ex 13:17-Dt 34:12) Jesus and the Father are One; angels were sent to ministered to Him (Mt 4:11; Mk 1:13; Lk 22:43; Jn 10:30; 14:6-7, 10-11)
Jacob came from the Transjordan in the east and crossed the Jordan River to the west into the Promised Land of Canaan (Gen 32:23; 33:18) The 12 tribes came to the Jordan River from the east and crossed to the west bank into the Promised Land of Canaan (Josh 2:1; 3:1, 14; 4:19) Jesus was baptized on the east side of the Jordan River and crossed back into the Promised Land from east to west (Jn 1:24-29). In His Ascension Jesus passed across the great divide that separates this world from the Promised Land of Heaven (Acts 1:9; Heb 1:3-4)

M. Hunt © copyright 2009

Question: How is Laban a classic example of someone in bondage to sin? What kind of impact does his experience with Jacob's God have on his life? See Prov 16:2-20; Wis 3:1-9 compared to Wis 1:16; 2:1-24; 3:10-12; and Jer 17:5-11. How do these passages apply to Laban and to Jacob?

M. Hunt copyright 2009

Endnotes:

1. Readings in World History, vol 2: The Ancient Near East, editors note: Modern concepts of slavery have been influences by Roman law in which the master had the power of life and death over his slave; but in both Babylonia and Israel there was little difference between the hired workman and the slave ("Slavery and Servitude: The Laws of Hammurabi," page 164, note 1b).

2. Readings in World History, vol 2: The Ancient Near East, editors note: Aiding the flight of a slave is analogous to kidnapping, which is a form of theft. The flight of slaves seems to have been common occurrences in Babylonia; for contracts of sale are extant which provide safeguards against this, and other documents deal with their return to their owners if taken in flight ("Slavery and Servitude: The Laws of Hammurabi," page 164, note 1a). The ancient legal regarded the marriages of freed women to slaves as valid marriages but the codes took different views of the status of a free woman married to a slave. The Law of Hammurabi protected the free status of the woman and her children (slavery and servitude law # 175), but the Hittite legal code took an opposite view: If a shepherd or an agrig takes a free woman, she shall be a slave in the second or in the fourth year. Also her children shall be slave-born... (Hittite Laws # 175). The Shepherd and the agrig (uncertain designation; temple slave?) were among the lowest-ranking slaves/indentured servants (Readings in World History, vol 2: The Ancient Near East, editors note 21, page 169).

3. Ancient documents of Hurrian family law (enforce in Haran) and the documents discovered at the city of Nuzi have provided information of the customs and civil laws that influenced the patriarchs and their contemporaries. The ancient Mesopotamian city of Nuzi was located a few miles southwest of Kirkuk, Iraq. The cuneiform tablets discovered among the ruins have provided a wealth of information about social customs, civil laws and religious beliefs of the region. The majority of the 3,500 tablets discovered originated from private homes and from the palace of the ruling family. Dating to approximately 1500-1350 BC, these documents demonstrate that the social customs revealed in the Genesis narrative have parallels in the family histories, religious traditions, and legal documents discovered at Nuzi. Included were documents stating that if an inheritance was disputed in a court of law, the possession of the family idols could be accepted as proof that the deceased had intended the possessor of the idols to have legal title to his estate, making Rachel's theft of Laban's household idols an act serious enough for Laban the travel many miles to try to secure their return (Archaeological Study of the Bible, page 52).

4. Aramaean was a western Semitic language that was closely related to Hebrew and which developed several dialects over time including Aramaic, the dominant Aramaean common tongue and the language which Jesus spoke and gave his homilies. By Jesus' time Hebrew was only used as a liturgical language in much the same way Latin is no longer spoken by Christians but remains the language of the Church universal.

5. The location of Peniel is uncertain, but some scholars and archaeologists think the site is on the bank of the Jabbok River four miles east of Succoth at the modern town of Tulel edh-Dhahab (Waltke, page 447).

6. After leaving Esau, Jacob proceeded to the Jordan River near Peniel and built encloses for his livestock, therefore, naming the site "succoth" which means "enclosures" or "shelters." Succoth is located east of the Jordan River and is mentioned in several Bible passages. Most archaeologists identify Jacob's Succoth with modern Tell Deir Alla. There is, however, more than one Succoth mentioned as a biblical location. The Succoth mentioned in Ex chapters 12-13 and Num 33 is a different place.

Catechism references for Genesis 30:25-33:17 (*indicated Scripture quoted or paraphrased in the citation).

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2009 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

31:38-42

164, 1508, 1521

32:25-31

2573*