Genesis 27-36: Jacob

By James M. Rochford

Unless otherwise stated, all citations are taken from the New International Version (NIV).

Genesis 27 (Jacob deceives Esau)

God had predicted that “the older will serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23). This chapter explains how Jacob receives the inheritance and blessing from God.

(27:1-4) When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau his older son and said to him, “My son.”

“Here I am,” he answered.

2 Isaac said, “I am now an old man and don’t know the day of my death. 3 Now then, get your equipment—your quiver and bow—and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. 4 Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.”

Isaac wants to squeeze a nice meal out of Esau before he gives him his blessing and inheritance. Perhaps Esau was selfish, and Isaac didn’t believe Esau would just give him a meal without strings attached.

Isaac is blind in more than one way. He was blind to how dysfunctional his family had become, how he had chosen Esau for his hunting and cooking abilities, how Esau despised his birthright, and how his wife was working against him.[1]

(27:5-10) Now Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau left for the open country to hunt game and bring it back, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, 7 ‘Bring me some game and prepare me some tasty food to eat, so that I may give you my blessing in the presence of the LORD before I die.’ 8 Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: 9 Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. 10 Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.”

Because she loved Jacob more than Esau (Gen. 25:28), Rebekah set up a plot to deceive Isaac.

“Before he dies.” Isaac would continue to live another 20 years (Gen. 31:41; 35:28). However, these deathbed promises were legally binding in this culture. Mathews comments, “Special importance was attached to a deathbed decision (“before he dies,” v. 10), making the “blessing” the most consequential ex officio act of the aging patriarch (cp. 50:16; Deut 33:1; 1 Chr 22:5).”[2]

(27:11-12) Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man while I have smooth skin. 12 What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing.”

Jacob wasn’t an innocent bystander. While his mother conceived of this deceptive plan and told her son how to execute it, he was still complicit. Here, he argues with his mother about the efficacy of the plot, and he discusses the outcome. Later, Jacob acts out the plan and lies right to his father’s face (Gen. 27:19, 24).

(27:13-17) His mother said to him, “My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say. Go and get them for me.” 14 So he went and got them and brought them to his mother, and she prepared some tasty food, just the way his father liked it. 15 Then Rebekah took the best clothes of Esau her older son, which she had in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob. 16 She also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins. 17 Then she handed to her son Jacob the tasty food and the bread she had made.

“Let the curse fall on me.” Rebekah “loved” her son so much that she was willing to take the blame. Unfortunately, this wasn’t something that she was able to do. Jacob needed to take ownership of this sinister plot.

“She prepared some tasty food… Rebekah took the best clothes of Esau… She also covered his hands… with the goatskins.” This was quite an elaborate plot, and it took a considerable amount of premeditation.

(27:18-20) He went to his father and said, “My father.”

“Yes, my son,” he answered. “Who is it?”

19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”

20 Isaac asked his son, “How did you find it so quickly, my son?”

“The LORD your God gave me success,” he replied.

Isaac seems suspicious. He’s raising questions about how quickly “Esau” hunted the animal, gutted it, and cooked the meal. Isaac gives a test to discern if this is really Esau. Since he can’t see him, he wants to tough him.

“The LORD your God gave me success.” Jacob is a heightened liar. He gives the blasphemous lie that God helped him hunt the food. Subtly, he refers to God as your God,” rather than his own God.[3]

(27:21-24) Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not.” 22 Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 He did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he proceeded to bless him.

24 “Are you really my son Esau?” he asked.

“I am,” he replied.

“The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” Jacob realizes that his voice is the only thing that can give him away. So, after Isaac makes this observation, he limits his responses to one-word answers (“I am”).[4]

“Are you really my son Esau?” Isaac is still suspicious. The data aren’t adding up. He brought the meal too quickly, and he doesn’t sound like Esau. On the other hand, the boy brought the meal as requested, and his hands were hairy like Esau. Furthermore, Jacob lied three times about his identity. Isaac must’ve thought that his son wouldn’t be so bold and brazen to lie like this.

(27:25-27) Then he said, “My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing.” Jacob brought it to him and he ate; and he brought some wine and he drank. 26 Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come here, my son, and kiss me.” 27 So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said, “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed.”

Still slightly suspicious, Isaac implements the “smell test.” Jacob passes this because he camouflages his smell with Esau’s clothes.

“[Jacob] went to him and kissed him.” Mathews comments, “His betrayal with a kiss for personal gain was superseded in Scripture only by Judas’s infamous kiss of Jesus for silver.”[5]

(27:28-29) “May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness—an abundance of grain and new wine. 29 May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.

The deal is done. The inheritance of the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12:1-3) is successfully passed to Jacob, rather than the oldest heir, Esau.

(27:30-32) After Isaac finished blessing him, and Jacob had scarcely left his father’s presence, his brother Esau came in from hunting. 31 He too prepared some tasty food and brought it to his father. Then he said to him, “My father, please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.” 32 His father Isaac asked him, “Who are you?”

“Jacob had scarcely left his father’s presence.” Jacob must’ve been exiting the back flap of the tent, while Esau was entering the front.

“Who are you?” These words must’ve sickened Esau to hear.

(27:32-41) “I am your son,” he answered, “your firstborn, Esau.”

33 Isaac trembled violently and said, “Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him—and indeed he will be blessed!”

34 When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me—me too, my father!”

35 But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.”

36 Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” Then he asked, “Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?

37 Isaac answered Esau, “I have made him lord over you and have made all his relatives his servants, and I have sustained him with grain and new wine. So what can I possibly do for you, my son?”

38 Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!

Then Esau wept aloud.

39 His father Isaac answered him, “Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness, away from the dew of heaven above. 40 You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother. But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck.” 41 Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near. Then I will kill my brother Jacob.

“Isn’t he rightly named Jacob?” Jacob’s name means “the deceiver.”[6]

“Birthright.” Matthews comments, “‘Birthright’ pertains to the inheritance of the father’s possessions, whereas the patriarch’s ‘blessing’ only projects what the offspring will obtain in life.”[7]

“[Esau] burst out with a loud and bitter cry.” The Hebrew is very strong in its description of Esau’s weeping. One translation renders the words in this way, “[Esau] burst into wild and bitter sobbing” (NJPS). Esau wept bitterly and raised his voice, demanding a blessing. But Isaac kept his promise. This results in Esau deciding in his heart to kill Jacob after Isaac passes away. The author of Hebrews uses this account to refer to the great responsibility we have in our power of freewill (see comments on Hebrews 12:15-17).

(27:42-46) When Rebekah was told what her older son Esau had said, she sent for her younger son Jacob and said to him, “Your brother Esau is planning to avenge himself by killing you. 43 Now then, my son, do what I say: Flee at once to my brother Laban in Harran. 44 Stay with him for a while until your brother’s fury subsides. 45 When your brother is no longer angry with you and forgets what you did to him, I’ll send word for you to come back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?” 46 Then Rebekah said to Isaac, “I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living.”

Rebekah hears about Esau’s murderous intent, and she urges Jacob to flee and live with her brother Laban. She says that this will be “for a while.” But it winds up lasting for 20 years (Gen. 31:41).

“My life will not be worth living.” Rebekah was getting her purpose in life from her son. That is why she takes his marriage decisions as integral to her very identity. This could also explain why she didn’t love Esau, because Esau married foreign women.

(Gen. 27) Why would God bless Jacob, rather than Esau, when Jacob lied and deceived to get the deathbed will? The Bible nowhere defends Jacob’s actions. Instead, both the book of Genesis and the book of Hebrews emphasize Esau’s sin. Genesis states that “Esau despised his birthright” (Gen. 25:34). Hebrews calls this decision “immoral” and “godless” (Heb. 12:16). Indeed, Esau was willing to trade God’s promised blessing for something as cheap as a bowl of soup! Esau surely wasn’t hungry enough to die, as he claimed (Gen. 25:32). Instead, he exaggerated a temporal hunger in order to justify trading away an eternal impact on the world through the Abrahamic Covenant. Furthermore, Esau broke his own oath (25:33), and he blamed this whole event on Jacob, rather than taking any responsibility for throwing away God’s plan for a bowl of soup (27:36).

From the beginning, God predicted that he wanted Jacob to get the blessing—not Esau. Even when the boys were in their mother’s womb, God predicted that the “older would serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23). Therefore, Isaac’s desire to bless Esau was wrong from the start. Instead, Isaac played favorites with Esau over Jacob, because of Esau’s cooking (25:28) and because of the cultural value of primogenitor (i.e. the firstborn gets the birthright).

Legally, in this culture, deathbed blessings couldn’t be reversed in this culture. Archer writes, “The binding character of a deathbed will, such as was elicited from Isaac by Jacob, is attested by a case where a man named Tarmiya established his right to a woman he had married by proving that his father on his deathbed orally bestowed her on him. This was sufficient to win the lawsuit brought against him by his brothers.”[8] Furthermore, the Nuzi documents support the practice of selling your birthright, as seen in Esau and Jacob (Gen. 25:33).[9] Kidner writes, “Evidence from Nuzi shows that among contemporary Hurrians it was transferable, and in one such contract a brother pays three sheep for part of an inheritance.”[10]

God’s decision to bless Jacob really speaks to his grace: namely, God can choose to bless the least deserving if he chooses to. In this case, Jacob was sinful, but God chose to bless him anyhow.

Questions for Reflection

In what ways was this family dysfunctional? How did each member of the family contribute to the dysfunction? (e.g. Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Jacob)

Why would God bless Jacob, rather than Esau, when Jacob lied and deceived to get the deathbed will?

Read verses 41-45. How does Esau plan to get the blessing back from Jacob? How does this fit with the personality profile of Esau?

Read verses 34-38. Was Esau repentant? (compare with Heb. 12:17; 2 Cor. 7:10)

Genesis 28 (Jacob and the Stairway to Heaven)

Esau—a skilled and brawny hunter—is intent on stalking and killing his brother Jacob. So, Jacob is on the run, fleeing as far as he can away from his homicidal brother.

(28:1) So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him. Then he commanded him: “Do not marry a Canaanite woman.”

Like Abraham, Isaac didn’t want his son to interbreed with the Canaanites. Waltke notes, “Faith becomes endangered either by persecution or by accommodation.”[11]

(28:2) “Go at once to Paddan Aram, to the house of your mother’s father Bethuel. Take a wife for yourself there, from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother.”

Isaac sends Jacob to marry one of his cousins (!).

(28:3-4) “May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. 4 May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now reside as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham.”

Isaac officially gives the Abrahamic Covenant to Jacob.

(28:5-9) Then Isaac sent Jacob on his way, and he went to Paddan Aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, who was the mother of Jacob and Esau. 6 Now Esau learned that Isaac had blessed Jacob and had sent him to Paddan Aram to take a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he commanded him, “Do not marry a Canaanite woman,” 7 and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and had gone to Paddan Aram. 8 Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; 9 so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had.

What is the significance of Esau taking a wife from Ishmael’s line? He’s bitter and angry. He takes a Canaanite wife out of “deliberate disobedience,”[12] specifically because he knows it is “displeasing… to his father Isaac.” Furthermore, it seems that he is deliberating siding with another outcast in the family line: Ishmael. Since he was removed from the inheritance of Isaac, he sided with Ishmael who also was outside of the inheritance.

(28:10-12) Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

Jacob is on the run. So, he uses a stone as a pillow (v.11). The “stairway” can be understood as a “staircase” or “ladder.”[13] This is a “vivid foretaste of [Jesus] as the Way (John 1:51).”[14]

(28:13-16) There above it stood the LORD, and he said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”

“I will give you and your descendants the land… Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth… I will bring you back to this land.” The theme appears once again in Genesis: God repeats the Abrahamic Covenant to each successor of Abraham.

“Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” God was in the place, but Jacob couldn’t see it. Jacob is localizing the presence of God to a place. He thinks it was a coincidence that he went there.

(28:17-19) He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” 18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.

Bethel means “gate of heaven.” This could be a direct contrast to the project at the Tower of Babylon. Waltke writes, “The Semites understood the name Babylon to have been derived from bāb-ilī, ‘gate of god’ (11:9). The identification of Bethel as the ‘gate of heaven’ may be intended as a counterpoint to Babylon.”[15] In other words, God ended humanity’s desire of climbing to him at Babel, but he pursued humanity by stooping down to us at Bethel.

“[Esau] set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it.” Mathews explains, “The pouring (yāṣaq) of oil appeared in rituals of sanctification, such as the grain offering (Lev 2:1, 6; Num 5:15) and objects and personnel (e.g., the ‘anointing’ [mišâ] oil, Exod 29:7; 40:9; Lev 8:10-12; 21:10; and anointing of kings, 1 Sam 10:1; 2 Kgs 9:3, 6).”[16]

(28:20-22) Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the LORD will be my God 22 and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”

Jacob was a conman and a swindler. So, his appreciation of God can be described as very quid pro quo (“I’ll give you this if you give me that”). For example:

  • He is making a “vow” with God (v.20). This is a deal: “If you keep up on your end, then I’ll keep up on mine.”
  • He places conditions on God—that God would be with him, watch over him, give him food, give him clothing, and give him safety.
  • In return, Jacob promises to take God as his God, and he promises to tithe to God.

Wow, what a spiritual man! If God acts like Jacob’s personal butler and bodyguard, then Jacob will choose to follow him. He’ll even tithe his money! This sounds so much like religious people today, making deals with God.

God came to Jacob with unconditional promises, reminding him of the Abrahamic Covenant (vv.13-15). Jacob, however, gives God a number of conditions for him to fulfill.

Questions for Reflection

Read verse 12. Why did God choose to give Jacob a view of heaven at this point in his life?

Read verses 13-15 and 20-22. How do God’s promises to Jacob (vv.13-15) differ from Jacob’s promises to God (vv.20-22).

Genesis 29 (The deceiver gets deceived)

(29:1) Then Jacob continued on his journey and came to the land of the eastern peoples. 2 There he saw a well in the open country, with three flocks of sheep lying near it because the flocks were watered from that well. The stone over the mouth of the well was large.

“The land of the eastern peoples.”

The “well in the open country” seems to be a place where people socially gathered. This might be a good place to find a wife.

(29:3-9) When all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone away from the well’s mouth and water the sheep. Then they would return the stone to its place over the mouth of the well. 4 Jacob asked the shepherds, “My brothers, where are you from?”

“We’re from Harran,” they replied.

5 He said to them, “Do you know Laban, Nahor’s grandson?”

“Yes, we know him,” they answered.

6 Then Jacob asked them, “Is he well?”

“Yes, he is,” they said, “and here comes his daughter Rachel with the sheep.”

7 “Look,” he said, “the sun is still high; it is not time for the flocks to be gathered. Water the sheep and take them back to pasture.”

8 “We can’t,” they replied, “until all the flocks are gathered and the stone has been rolled away from the mouth of the well. Then we will water the sheep.” 9 While he was still talking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherd.

It sounds like they would block this well to keep it preserved or maybe protected. They’d move the stone when they needed it.

(29:10) When Jacob saw Rachel daughter of his uncle Laban, and Laban’s sheep, he went over and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle’s sheep.

Jacob went over and rolled the stone away.” Was Jacob exceedingly strong to move this stone? Sailhamer comments, “Throughout the Jacob narratives, God’s guidance is shown in the superhuman strength and cunning of the patriarch. No attempt is made to glory in that strength as such but rather to use it as a sign of God’s protective presence. It was the fulfillment of God’s promise to be with Jacob in all that he did (28:15).”[17]

Jacob based his decision on physical attraction only—not prayer or otherwise seeking God’s will. This is a total reversal of how Isaac got his wife (Gen. 24). Rushing into this decision led to major problems.

(29:11) Then Jacob kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud.

How did Rachel feel about Jacob immediately kissing her and weeping? (This would’ve been an awkward first date!)

(29:12-14) He had told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and a son of Rebekah. So she ran and told her father. 13 As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he hurried to meet him. He embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his home, and there Jacob told him all these things. 14 Then Laban said to him, “You are my own flesh and blood.”

(29:15-16) After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month, Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.” 16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.

Laban wants to pay Jacob. But knowing Laban’s character, this seems like an astute way to keep Jacob close and on his property.

“Leah” might come from an Akkadian word (littu, lītu) that means “cow,” but “Rachel” comes from a Hebrew word (rāḥēl) which means “ewe.”[18] Needless to say, this is very unflattering to Leah.

“Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.” Mathews thinks that this is a “subtle allusion to Jacob’s past” deceit when he tricked his older brother. He adds “The author indicates that Jacob must taste the bitterness to which he had subjected his family.”[19] In other words, Jacob was getting a taste of his own medicine.

(29:17) Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful.

What was wrong with Leah’s “weak eyes”? It’s likely that Leah was homely. Whatever the words “weak eyes” mean, it is in contrast to Rachel who “lovely figure and was beautiful.” Waltke writes that “weak eyes” literally means “soft,” and it “likely implies that Leah’s eyes lack the fire and sparkle that orientals prize as beauty.”[20] Wenham writes, “What makes eyes ‘soft’ (רך) is unclear; most commentators think it means they had no fire or sparkle, a quality much prized in the East. Whether her eyes were the only features that let her down is not said, but the glowing description of Rachel as having ‘a beautiful figure and a lovely face’ suggests Leah was outshone by her sister in various ways.”[21]

(29:18-21) Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.” 19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her. 21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.”

Earlier, Jacob exploited Esau’s weakness of being hungry after a long day of hunting. Jacob pounced on this opportunity to take from Esau. Now, Jacob is getting a taste of his own medicine. Now Laban will exploit Jacob.

Jacob specified “Rachel” as the daughter he was working for. But Laban never explicitly used Rachel’s name. Moreover, after the seven years expired, Jacob merely said, “Give me my wife.” Since Jacob used the generic word “wife” rather than naming “Rachel,” Laban capitalizes on this. We can imagine Laban saying, “You talked about Rachel seven years ago… I couldn’t remember which daughter you wanted after all those years! Recently, you just said you wanted your ‘wife,’ but how could I remember which one you wanted? In fact, if it was so important to you, why didn’t you name Rachel?”

(29:22-24) So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. 24 And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant.

How could Jacob accidentally have sex with Leah? First, in ancient weddings, the bride was veiled (Gen. 24:65). She would be unveiled in the darkness of the tent. Second, it was “evening” when the wedding took place, and electric lights hadn’t been invented. He would’ve been seeing his bride by candlelight. Third, it’s likely that Jacob could’ve been drinking at his wedding, which would dull his senses. Fourth, this provides a literary connection with Jacob tricking his father Isaac by exploiting his blindness. Laban tricked Jacob through the same method.

Just as Jacob deceived Isaac by posing as Esau, Laban switched his two daughters with Jacob.

(29:25) When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”

After a long night of dancing, drinking, and making love, Jacob wakes up to sunlight coming through the cracks of the leather tent. Yawning, he turns to his new bride to give her a kiss… This makes this an especially comical line: “Behold, it was Leah!” (NASB)

“Why have you deceived me?” Jacob was himself a deceiver, and he was asking how Laban could have the lack of integrity to be a deceiver. We can imagine him saying, “How could you switch these daughters out like that? Who would do such a thing??” (Of course, Jacob did this very thing with Esau!)

(29:26) Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one.”

There is great irony in this retort. To paraphrase Laban, he is saying, “Jacob, we respect the first born in our country.” Of course, Jacob rejected the custom of primogeniture when he took Esau’s inheritance and blessing.

(29:27-30) “Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.28 And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. 29 Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. 30 Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.

Jacob agreed to work for another seven years to win Rachel, his true love. How did Leah feel this entire time? She must’ve felt like garbage.

(29:31-35) When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. 32 Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the LORD has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” 33 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Because the LORD heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon. 34 Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” So he was named Levi. 35 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the LORD.” So she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children.

“When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved.” Nobody loved Leah. Her father pawned her off to get rid of her; he husband really wanted to marry her sister; her sister was ready to marry her husband. Nobody loved Leah—except the Lord!

“Surely my husband will love me now… Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Leah tried to earn Jacob’s love through the birth of her son (v.32, 34). What a sad picture of a woman who had faced rejection from her husband! It took her four children to finally give up on trying to win the approval of Jacob.

“This time I will praise the LORD.” Eventually, Leah learns to get her acceptance and love from God instead (v.35). On her sixth child, she returns to wanting Jacob as her husband (Gen. 30:20).

Rachel gave birth to Joseph, even though she was hopeless. She tried the mandrakes, but it didn’t work. She learns that God was the one who would give blessings.

Genesis 30 (The Twelve Sons of Jacob)

(30:1-2) When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” 2 Jacob became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”

“Give me children, or I’ll die!” This shows just how much identity women took from having children in this culture. Surely there is hyperbole in Rachel’s statement. But the fact that she brings up death implies her identity is on the line—namely, life isn’t worth living without having kids.

(30:3-13) Then she said, “Here is Bilhah, my servant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and I too can build a family through her.” 4 So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife. Jacob slept with her, 5 and she became pregnant and bore him a son. 6 Then Rachel said, “God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son.” Because of this she named him Dan. 7 Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. 8 Then Rachel said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.” So she named him Naphtali.

9 When Leah saw that she had stopped having children, she took her servant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. 10 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11 Then Leah said, “What good fortune!” So she named him Gad. 12 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. 13 Then Leah said, “How happy I am! The women will call me happy.” So she named him Asher.

Why did they use a surrogate wife? This practice already occurred with Sarah and Hagar, and it was a staple of the ancient Near Eastern culture. Mathews writes, “The provision of a servant for an infertile wife was a custom practiced in the ancient Near East, making the children the acknowledged offspring of the wife.”[22]

This entire picture is thoroughly twisted and bizarre. Rachel and Leah were competing to have children through the use of female servants in the family. Marital and sexuality fidelity flew out the window when both women married Jacob. And since their identity was wrapped up in bearing children, they were willing to do anything to satisfy this idol in their lives.

(30:14-16) During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” 15 But she said to her, “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?”

“Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.” 16 So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. “You must sleep with me,” she said. “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he slept with her that night.

What is the significance of the mandrake plants? The term “mandrakes” (dûdāʾîm) only occurs in Song of Songs 7:13, where it “speaks of their exotic smell, as part of a scene depicting lovemaking.”[23] This was commonly used as an aphrodisiac, and it was thought to increase fertility. Mathews writes, “The Arabs called it the ‘devil’s apples’ and the Greeks nicknamed it ‘love apple.’”[24]

The depravity continues. Rachel gives Jacob to Leah in return for some of the mandrakes. Again, Rachel prizes bearing children even over marital and sexual fidelity.

“I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” Mathews is surely right in pointing out the passivity of Jacob. Leah speaks to him like a male escort in this passage, telling him that she has sexual rights over him because she gave Rachel some mandrakes!

(30:17-18) God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18 Then Leah said, “God has rewarded me for giving my servant to my husband.” So she named him Issachar.

“God has rewarded me for giving my servant to my husband.” This is Leah’s interpretation of what happened. But this doesn’t seem like the right interpretation. God chose to bless Leah, but this doesn’t mean that what she did was morally right. God frequently chooses to bless sinful humans like us. Indeed, we are always being blessed while in a sinful condition.

(30:19-24) Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. 20 Then Leah said, “God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons.” So she named him Zebulun. 21 Some time later she gave birth to a daughter and named her Dinah. 22 Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. 23 She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” 24 She named him Joseph, and said, “May the LORD add to me another son.”

“This time my husband will treat me with honor.” How sad! Even after bearing six sons, Leah just wants to be loved.

“God has taken away my disgrace.” Rachel’s mindset is equally tragic. She is having children in order to boost her identity. Worse than this, she merely wants to avoid “disgrace.”

The Twelve Sons of Jacob



Reuben (Gen. 29:32)

Dan (Gen. 30:6) through Bilnah
Simeon (Gen. 29:33)

Naphtali (Gen. 30:8) through Bilnah

Levi (Gen. 29:34)

Joseph (Gen. 30:24)
Judah (Gen. 29:35) Here she stops trying to get Jacob to love her, and starts praising God instead.

Benjamin (Gen. 35:16-18). Rachel died giving natural birth to Benjamin.

Gad (Gen. 30:11) through Zilpah

Asher (Gen. 30:13) through Zilpah

Issachar (Gen. 30:18)

Zebulun (Gen. 30:20)

Dinah (Gen. 30:21) a daughter

Questions for Reflection

We argued that Leah and Rachel had turned childbearing into an identity and an idol. List what they sacrificed in order to have children.

What does chapter 29 and 30 indicate about polygamy?

Jacob wants to be released from Laban

(30:25-28) After Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me on my way so I can go back to my own homeland. 26 Give me my wives and children, for whom I have served you, and I will be on my way. You know how much work I’ve done for you.”

27 But Laban said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, please stay. I have learned by divination that the LORD has blessed me because of you.” 28 He added, “Name your wages, and I will pay them.”

“By divination.” While Laban seems like he’s taking a humble, begging posture, the fact that he brings up “divination” implies that he’s still scheming and lying. Not everything in the text is theologically accurate. For example, the Bible records Satan’s lies, but it doesn’t affirm that these lies are true. Here, the text accurately records Laban’s inaccurate theological view.

(30:29-34) Jacob said to him, “You know how I have worked for you and how your livestock has fared under my care. 30 The little you had before I came has increased greatly, and the LORD has blessed you wherever I have been. But now, when may I do something for my own household?”

31 “What shall I give you?” he asked.

“Don’t give me anything,” Jacob replied. “But if you will do this one thing for me, I will go on tending your flocks and watching over them: 32 Let me go through all your flocks today and remove from them every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb and every spotted or speckled goat. They will be my wages. 33 And my honesty will testify for me in the future, whenever you check on the wages you have paid me. Any goat in my possession that is not speckled or spotted, or any lamb that is not dark-colored, will be considered stolen.”

34 “Agreed,” said Laban. “Let it be as you have said.”

Jacob agrees to take the sheep and lambs that are marked with spots and dark colored. If he can multiply these animals, both men will know that they belong to Jacob—not Laban. However, Laban “changed [his] wages ten times” over the next six years (Gen. 31:41).

(30:35-36) That same day he removed all the male goats that were streaked or spotted, and all the speckled or spotted female goats (all that had white on them) and all the dark-colored lambs, and he placed them in the care of his sons. 36 Then he put a three-day journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob continued to tend the rest of Laban’s flocks.

In other words, Laban and Jacob separated the distinct populations of lambs and sheep to show that there was no interbreeding (“three-day journey between himself and Jacob”).

(30:37-39) Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. 38 Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. When the flocks were in heat and came to drink, 39 they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted.

These bizarre practices fit with a schemer and deceiver like Jacob. Jacob uses some sort of method (Magic? Selective breeding? Folk custom?[25]) for multiplying his flock. There’s multiple problems with this view:

First, the Hebrew grammar does not imply that Jacob’s methods were the cause of the breeding. It only records the effect. Kidner writes, “RSV inserts the words since and so, but the Hebrew is content to state the bare sequence, as in AV, RV, not pronouncing on cause and effect. Verse 39 is post hoc, not explicitly propter hoc.”[26]

Second, Jacob had a dream that gave him this idea (Gen. 31:10-13). This implies that he was following God’s direction—not sympathetic magic. Earlier, God had promised to be with Jacob during this time (Gen. 28). Later, the text implies that God was the ultimate cause behind Jacob’s success. Jacob told his wives, “God has taken away your father’s livestock and has given them to me” (Gen. 31:9). God was protecting Jacob this entire time (Gen. 31:12). Thus, all of these manipulative (magic?) tactics were pointless. Mathews writes, “The dream occurred at the propitious time of the breeding season. Jacob remarks that he ‘saw’ variegated goats mating with the flock (vv. 10, 12). Since he does not include any verbal instructions from God pertaining to breeding, the visual alone must have incited Jacob to employ his peculiar methods of peeled branches. This device was his doing, not a direct instruction from God. The Lord blessed his efforts, though unenlightened as they were.”[27]

Third, the larger narrative shows that God wants to bless these people—even if their actions are sinful. This occurred with the surrogacy of Leah and Rachel, and it occurs here as well. Sailhamer states, “The point of the narrative is to show that such blessing did not come from Laban; rather it was a gift from God.”[28] Mathews writes, “The perplexities of the passage enhance this point: it was God’s gracious intervention that assured Jacob’s prosperity, not his bewildering schemes. Neither Laban’s actions nor Jacob’s counteractions satisfactorily explain the result. Thus Jacob rightly realizes that God protected him from Laban’s dishonesty (31:7).”[29]

(30:40-43) Jacob set apart the young of the flock by themselves, but made the rest face the streaked and dark-colored animals that belonged to Laban. Thus he made separate flocks for himself and did not put them with Laban’s animals. 41 Whenever the stronger females were in heat, Jacob would place the branches in the troughs in front of the animals so they would mate near the branches, 42 but if the animals were weak, he would not place them there. So the weak animals went to Laban and the strong ones to Jacob. 43 In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and female and male servants, and camels and donkeys.

God chose to bless Jacob—perhaps despite his bizarre tactics.

Questions for Reflection

What are we to make of Jacob’s use of striped branches to help the lambs and sheep mate? Is this selective breeding, sympathetic magic, or something else?

Regardless, are Jacob’s methods the cause of the growth in lambs and sheep?

Genesis 31 (Jacob escapes from Laban)

(31:1-3) Jacob heard that Laban’s sons were saying, “Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.” 2 And Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him was not what it had been. 3 Then the LORD said to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”

Laban’s sons accuse Jacob of stealing from their father. Clearly, they’re jealous of the fact that God is blessing Jacob. Consequently, God thinks that this is a good time for Jacob to make his exit and return home. To give him the courage that he needs, God promises, “I will be with you.”

(31:4-13) So Jacob sent word to Rachel and Leah to come out to the fields where his flocks were. 5 He said to them, “I see that your father’s attitude toward me is not what it was before, but the God of my father has been with me. 6 You know that I’ve worked for your father with all my strength, 7 yet your father has cheated me by changing my wages ten times. However, God has not allowed him to harm me. 8 If he said, ‘The speckled ones will be your wages,’ then all the flocks gave birth to speckled young; and if he said, ‘The streaked ones will be your wages,’ then all the flocks bore streaked young. 9 So God has taken away your father’s livestock and has given them to me. 10 In breeding season I once had a dream in which I looked up and saw that the male goats mating with the flock were streaked, speckled or spotted. 11 The angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob.’ I answered, ‘Here I am.’ 12 And he said, ‘Look up and see that all the male goats mating with the flock are streaked, speckled or spotted, for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land.’”

“Changing my wages ten times.” This could be hyperbole.[30] Regardless, Laban was a deceiver and a cheat.

“God… has been with me… God has not allowed him to harm me… God has taken away your father’s livestock and has given them to me.” Jacob is really developing a God-centered perspective. It would’ve been quite easy for him to focus on his own contribution to making the livestock breed (Gen. 30:32-39), but he doesn’t. It also would’ve been easy for him to focus on his negative circumstances. After all, Laban was a cheat, and Jacob had been under his thumb for a total of twenty years (v.41). Instead, Jacob focuses on God’s role. Sailhamer comments, “The events were all a part of the outworking of God’s plan, the plan that began with Jacob’s vow at Bethel and the Lord’s promise to be with him. Now even Laban’s change of attitude toward Jacob and the jealousy of his sons are seen as part of the plan of God.”[31]

“Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land.” It’s time to go! Jacob tells his wives that they need to leave because Laban’s attitude had changed toward them.

(31:14-16) Then Rachel and Leah replied, “Do we still have any share in the inheritance of our father’s estate? 15 Does he not regard us as foreigners? Not only has he sold us, but he has used up what was paid for us. 16 Surely all the wealth that God took away from our father belongs to us and our children. So do whatever God has told you.”

Rachel and Leah have a fierce critique of their father. Laban had deceitfully married off Leah to Jacob, harming everyone involved. Since then, he bilked Jacob out of a lot of money. He treated them as “foreigners” in the sense that the daughters received no inheritance, and Laban “debased [them] by selling them and then squandering their bridal gift.”[32]

(31:17-19) Then Jacob put his children and his wives on camels, 18 and he drove all his livestock ahead of him, along with all the goods he had accumulated in Paddan Aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan. 19 When Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father’s household gods.

“When Laban had gone to shear his sheep.” This practice was usually done away from the home and took a lot of time and energy (Gen. 38:12-13; 1 Sam 25:2; 2 Sam 13:23). This explains how Jacob and his family could escape undetected.

“Rachel stole her father’s household gods.” The “household gods” (tĕrāpîm) were idols that were associated with “forms of divination (1 Sam 15:23; 2 Kgs 23:24; Ezek 21:21[26]; Zech 10:2).”[33] This fits with Laban’s practice of divination (Gen. 30:27). These patriarchs and their wives were not perfect monotheists. Perhaps Rachel was trying to steal from Laban because he had stolen from them.

(31:20-24) Moreover, Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him he was running away. 21 So he fled with all he had, crossed the Euphrates River, and headed for the hill country of Gilead. 22 On the third day Laban was told that Jacob had fled. 23 Taking his relatives with him, he pursued Jacob for seven days and caught up with him in the hill country of Gilead. 24 Then God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream at night and said to him, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.”

What was the purpose of this dream from God? It seems that God is protecting Jacob—just as Jacob had seen for so many years.

“Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.” This is most likely a “figure of speech, warning Laban not to exceed his authority.”[34]

(31:25-30) Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country of Gilead when Laban overtook him, and Laban and his relatives camped there too. 26 Then Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done? You’ve deceived me, and you’ve carried off my daughters like captives in war. 27 Why did you run off secretly and deceive me? Why didn’t you tell me, so I could send you away with joy and singing to the music of timbrels and harps? 28 You didn’t even let me kiss my grandchildren and my daughters goodbye. You have done a foolish thing. 29 I have the power to harm you; but last night the God of your father said to me, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’ 30 Now you have gone off because you longed to return to your father’s household. But why did you steal my gods?”

“You’ve deceived me, and you’ve carried off my daughters like captives in war.” Laban has a totally distorted narrative of what happened, using a lot of rhetoric to make his case. For instance, he describes Jacob as taking his daughters as prisoners of war. This implies that Jacob had started a two-decade long family with these women, and that he took them against their will (see v.16). The rhetoric is vile, and Laban paints himself as the victim, rather than the perpetrator.

Laban also claims that he would’ve sent Jacob and his family away with songs, hugs, and kisses. Everything we know about Laban screams that this is an outright lie.

(31:31-34) Jacob answered Laban, “I was afraid, because I thought you would take your daughters away from me by force. 32 But if you find anyone who has your gods, that person shall not live. In the presence of our relatives, see for yourself whether there is anything of yours here with me; and if so, take it.” Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the gods. 33 So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two female servants, but he found nothing. After he came out of Leah’s tent, he entered Rachel’s tent. 34 Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them inside her camel’s saddle and was sitting on them. Laban searched through everything in the tent but found nothing.

What is Rachel going to do?

(31:35) Rachel said to her father, “Don’t be angry, my lord, that I cannot stand up in your presence; I’m having my period.” So he searched but could not find the household gods.

Rachel leveraged her menstrual cycle to outsmart her father. She was tricking an expert trickster.

(31:36-42) Jacob was angry and took Laban to task. “What is my crime?” he asked Laban. “How have I wronged you that you hunt me down? 37 Now that you have searched through all my goods, what have you found that belongs to your household? Put it here in front of your relatives and mine, and let them judge between the two of us. 38 I have been with you for twenty years now. Your sheep and goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten rams from your flocks. 39 I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself. And you demanded payment from me for whatever was stolen by day or night. 40 This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes. 41 It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household. I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times. 42 If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you.

Now that Jacob has been exonerated, he takes Laban to task for how much he suffered in his household. When someone has been suffering under a master manipulator for a long time, it’s not uncommon to have them blow up like this.

(31:43-55) Laban answered Jacob, “The women are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks. All you see is mine. Yet what can I do today about these daughters of mine, or about the children they have borne? 44 Come now, let’s make a covenant, you and I, and let it serve as a witness between us.” 45 So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46 He said to his relatives, “Gather some stones.” So they took stones and piled them in a heap, and they ate there by the heap. 47 Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha, and Jacob called it Galeed. 48 Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” That is why it was called Galeed. 49 It was also called Mizpah, because he said, “May the LORD keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other. 50 If you mistreat my daughters or if you take any wives besides my daughters, even though no one is with us, remember that God is a witness between you and me.” 51 Laban also said to Jacob, “Here is this heap, and here is this pillar I have set up between you and me. 52 This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not go past this heap to your side to harm you and that you will not go past this heap and pillar to my side to harm me. 53 May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.” So Jacob took an oath in the name of the Fear of his father Isaac. 54 He offered a sacrifice there in the hill country and invited his relatives to a meal. After they had eaten, they spent the night there. 55 Early the next morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then he left and returned home.

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 4-13. Jacob used to be a deceiver—just like Laban. In what ways does Jacob show that he is a changed man?

Read verses 25-30. In what ways does Laban twist the narrative to make himself look like the victim?

Genesis 32 (Jacob wrestles with God)

God promised that Jacob would inherit the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant at Bethel (Gen. 28). Since that time, Jacob has been humbled. He faced Laban. Jacob had a bachelor’s degree in deceit, but Laban had a doctorate. Over twenty long years, Laban used Jacob through manipulation. Jacob had finally met his match.

At this point, God needed to fully humble Jacob. The purpose of this narrative is to show that Jacob needed to be physically weakened in order to be spiritually empowered.[35]

(32:1-2) Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. 2 When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim.

Jacob named the place with angels “Mahanaim” which means “two camps” (cf. Gen. 32:7-10).[36] Francis Schaeffer held that this means that Jacob was starting to see reality through the dimensions of both the physical and the spiritual. This wasn’t just a camp for his men, but also for angels. Mathews agrees.[37]

(32:3-5) Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. 4 He instructed them: “This is what you are to say to my lord Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. 5 I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, male and female servants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.’”

Immediately after Jacob stole Esau’s blessing, the text states, “Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob’” (Gen. 27:41). By now, twenty years have passed (Gen. 31:38). So, Jacob writes a message to Esau to gain peace with his brother. But how will Esau respond? Does he still want to kill Jacob? Is he still holding a grudge?

(32:6) When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.

It’s a 20-year grudge! It must be. Otherwise, why would Esau come to meet Jacob with 400 men?

The difference between these two men couldn’t be any more distinct. Mathews comments, “The contrast between Esau’s army and Jacob’s flocks suits the twin’s occupations when we first met them (25:7), especially Isaac’s picture of Esau (27:40). But unlike his brother, Jacob had invested in his family and herds, evidently leaving himself a smaller count of male servants whom he could have enlisted.”[38]

(32:7-12) In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. 8 He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.”

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

“But now I have become two camps.” When Jacob originally left home, he was functioning as a secular man. That is, he was living as though there was no God. But now, Jacob knows that the angels of God are with him (v.1). He recognizes the spiritual realm.

None of this means that Jacob is finished with fear. Jacob is wrestling with the fear of his circumstances on the one hand (e.g. Esau, 400 men, etc.) and God’s promise on the other (e.g. the Abrahamic Covenant). He is experiencing the tension of fear and faith. God is forcing him into a place where he cannot rely on his own power, but only on God’s promises.

(32:13-21) He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.” 17 He instructed the one in the lead: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘Who do you belong to, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ 18 then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.’” 19 He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: “You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. 20 And be sure to say, ‘Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.’” For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.” 21 So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp.

To calm Esau’s anger, Jacob set up a barrier of three herds as gifts. That is, before Esau could kill Jacob, he would need to pass through three waves of gifts to calm him down. Jacob’s goal is to “soften his opponent’s disposition.”[39] Moreover, Jacob told the messengers to refer to Esau as his “lord” and Jacob as his “servant.” Not a bad plan.

But this is the “old Jacob” reappearing! He is still plotting, scheming, and ultimately trying to control the situation. Sailhamer writes, “A very familiar picture of Jacob emerges in this narrative. It is Jacob the planner and the schemer. As he had taken Esau’s birthright and blessing, as he had taken the best of Laban’s herds, so now he had a plan to pacify Esau. As the narrative unfolds, however, it was not Jacob’s plan that succeeded but his prayer.”[40]

God enters the picture

Readers might consider this a detour to the narrative. After all, the scene is between Jacob and his estranged and outraged brother. However, this encounter with God is Jacob’s lesson in the school of humility. It is a necessary prerequisite for him to encounter Esau. Without this experience, Jacob would’ve thought that his careful plans and scheming won the day. But God purged the deceit and pride of Jacob in this encounter.

(32:22) That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.

Jabbok means “emptying.”

(32:23-24) After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.

Jacob sent his family and possessions ahead of him, and he spent the night alone. His wealth is gone… His family is gone… He’s all alone. It’s at this point that “a man wrestled with him.” At this point in the narrative, we expect that Esau would be the man who burst out of the darkness to wrestle with Jacob. Indeed, when the man grabbed Jacob in the dark, Jacob must’ve jumped in fright! We can imagine him thinking, “Is this Esau coming to kill me in the night?!”

Jacob had considerable physical strength, and this was a key component in his pride. He clutched the heel of Esau from the womb (Gen. 25:26), he moved a massive stone to water Rachel’s sheep (Gen. 29:10), and he was a weathered farmhand for Laban for 20 years (Gen. 31:38-40). He must’ve relied on his physical strength. So, God broke him of this. Mathews writes, “The irony is that Jacob’s physical weakness will recall the transformation of his moral strength.”[41]

(32:25-32) When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.

26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

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

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

“Jacob,” he answered.

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

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

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

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

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

Whom did Jacob wrestle? A superficial reading of the text states that Jacob merely wrestled with a “man” (ʾîš, v.24). Yet, there’s several problems with such a superficial reading.

To begin, all interpreters should agree that this figure is enigmatic and mysterious. He appears into the story just as quickly as he disappears. This seems to preclude a mere man.

Second, the greater context of Jacob’s life describes him wrestling with God. Jacob schemes and lies to get the blessing from God (see Gen. 25-31). By demanding a blessing while wrestling with God, we find a quite literal culmination of this greater theme. This explains why Jacob demands a blessing (v.26). He could see that he was encountering God himself.

Third, the text gives implicit and explicit declarations that this is God. The narrative concludes with Jacob saying, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved” (v.30). Why would Jacob be worried about dying from seeing a man or an angel? For this fear to be warranted, Jacob must’ve believed that he encountered God himself (Ex. 33:20).

Moreover, this mysterious figure gives Jacob a new name. The name “Israel” (yiśrāʾēl) means “you have struggled with God.”[42] Indeed, the mysterious figure states, “You have striven with God” (v.28). Matthews states, “The name ‘Israel’ emphasizes that it was God who initiated the struggle.”[43] Finally, Jacob called the place “Peniel” which means “face of God.”[44] Indeed, it is an abbreviation of the statement, “I have seen God face to face.”[45] Again, Matthews writes, “By this the reader learns from Jacob that the ‘man’ was indeed deity, as we had come to expect from earlier hints.”[46]

What about Hosea’s interpretation? Hosea writes that Jacob “wrestled with the angel and prevailed” (Hos. 12:4). But keep reading. Hosea goes on to describe an encounter with God—not a mere angel. Hosea writes, “He spoke with us, even the LORD, the God of hosts, the LORD is His name” (Ex. 12:4b-5). Moreover, God often appears as the so-called “Angel of the LORD.”

How can God be called a man? As we have already seen, the description of a “man” doesn’t preclude that he is also God. Earlier in Genesis Abraham encountered “three men” (Gen. 18:2), but two of them were angels and one was Yahweh himself (Gen. 18:1).

Needless to say, this was no mere vision. It was truly an encounter with God. Indeed, Jacob walked with a limp for the rest of his life. What dream can cause your hip joint to dislocate? All of this shows that Yahweh himself entered into the world in the form of a “man” (v.24), and he could be experienced through the five senses.

What do we learn from Jacob’s encounter with God?

Jacob needed to admit that he was a deceiver. God asked him, “What is your name?” (v.27) The last time someone asked Jacob this question, it was his father Isaac. And Jacob answered, “Esau.” Now, Jacob is a broken man. When God asks him what his name is, he cries out, “Jacob!” which means “Deceiver!”

Jacob prevailed because he clung to God for his blessing. Jacob wasn’t domineering God (as though such a thing is possible). Rather, Hosea tells us that Jacob “wept and begged for his favor” (Hos. 12:4). Jacob knew that the key to his circumstances was to plead to God for his blessing. This is quite different man that we’re seeing—far different than the man who stole the blessing from Esau twenty years earlier.

God gave Jacob a new identity. Jacob means “deceiver,” but Israel means “God commands” or “governed by God.” Waltke comments, “Jacob’s new name represents a reorientation from supplanter and deceiver into prevailer.”[47]

Jacob was broken after this encounter with God. Indeed, he walked with a limp for the rest of his life. This is an outward and visible expression of what God did to Jacob deep in his heart. God had broken the sinful pride and scheming nature of Jacob over the last twenty years. Now, Jacob has a physical limp that shows what God did to him in his soul. This would’ve served as a constant reminder to Jacob: Every step he took, God’s blessing came to him to “break him down.” Much like Paul’s blessing in the third heaven, God’s blessing comes to those who are weak (2 Cor. 12:2ff).

How much time do we spend trying to control the circumstances of our lives, when God really just wants us to trust him and to pray? Like Jacob, we need to cease the struggle with God and learn to just ask for the blessing through prayer.

Genesis 33 (Peace between Esau and Jacob)

(33:1-2) Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men. So, he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two female servants. 2 He put the female servants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear.

Esau shows up… and he’s bringing 400 men with him! How do you think Jacob was feeling as he saw Esau approaching?

“Rachel and Joseph in the rear.” Jacob is already showing favoritism to Joseph. This will reappear in full swing in chapter 37. Here, the text gives us just a glimpse.

(33:3) He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.

“He himself went on ahead.” Jacob was afraid that Esau was going to kill him and his family (Gen. 32:11), but he still chose to face his brother first. This is a different look for Jacob who normally manipulated his way through conflict and his fears.

“Bowed down to the ground seven times.” This was the common practice between a vassal and his lord. Waltke writes, “Vassals writing to Pharaoh say, ‘Beneath the feet [of the king, my lord] seven times, and seven times I fall.’ Jacob greets Esau as a vassal greets a patron with the ceremony of a royal court: the solemnity of approaching as becomes rank (33:2-3, 6-7), the sevenfold obeisance (33:3), the submissive address of a ‘servant’ (33:5) to ‘lord’ (33:8, 13), the presentation of gifts of homage (33:10-11).”[48]

(33:4-7) But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him. He threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.

5 Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. “Who are these with you?” he asked.

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

6 Then the female servants and their children approached and bowed down. 7 Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down. Last of all came Joseph and Rachel, and they too bowed down.

Jacob was never expecting this sort of a greeting! It turns out that all of that worrying was for nothing.

(33:8-11) Esau asked, “What’s the meaning of all these flocks and herds I met?”

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

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

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

“Like seeing the face of God.” This could be an allusion back to Jacob wrestling with God (Gen. 32), and it would allude to “the forgiveness he had received from God at Peniel.”[49]

(33:12-14) Then Esau said, “Let us be on our way. I’ll accompany you.”

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

Jacob’s livestock and children are slow, and he is worried about running them ragged. So, they decide to split up and meet in Seir.

(33:15-20) Esau said, “Then let me leave some of my men with you.”

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

16 So that day Esau started on his way back to Seir. 17 Jacob, however, went to Sukkoth, where he built a place for himself and made shelters for his livestock. That is why the place is called Sukkoth. 18 After Jacob came from Paddan Aram, he arrived safely at the city of Shechem in Canaan and camped within sight of the city. 19 For a hundred pieces of silver, he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent. 20 There he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel.

Why did Jacob go to Succoth rather than join up with Esau in Seir? Is he still afraid of Esau? No. Later, the text tells us that their wealth precluded them from living close together: “[Esau] moved to a land some distance from his brother Jacob. Their possessions were too great for them to remain together; the land where they were staying could not support them both because of their livestock” (Gen. 36:6-7).

Questions for Reflection

Jacob had a number of plans to pacify Esau. Did any of these plans work?

Jacob lived in fear of Esau for 20 years. Was any of that fear justified?

Jacob prayed to God (Gen. 32:11). What worked the best? His scheming, his worrying, or his praying?

God promised from the beginning that he would bless Jacob. It took Jacob 20 years of pointless scheming to realize that God was good and trustworthy.

Am I going to deal with the problems in my life based on my own ingenuity and personal striving, or will I trust God with what is out of my control?

Genesis 34 (Dinah is raped and revenged by her brothers)

The background if this narrative is the repeated warnings not to take a wife from the Canaanites (Gen. 24:3; 27:46; 28:1). In this chapter, we discover why.

(34:1-4) Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land. 2 When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and raped her. 3 His heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob; he loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her. 4 And Shechem said to his father Hamor, “Get me this girl as my wife.”

This narrative seems to appear out of nowhere. Dinah (Jacob and Leah’s daughter, Gen. 30:21) is raped by Shechem—the Hivite. Then this rapist has the audacity to say that he “loved” this woman, “spoke tenderly to her,” and then tried to gain her hand in marriage!

“Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob.” This is only one of two times that a person is identified as being the daughter of a woman (cf. Gen. 36:39). Why does Moses do this? Mathews writes, “The importance of Dinah as the “daughter of Leah” is her full-blood relationship to Simeon and Levi, also born by Leah (29:33-34; 35:23).”[50]

“He loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her.” This could easily fit the profile of a rapist. He’s trying to control Dinah by getting her to marry him. Similarly, though certainly not the same, Solomon “loved” his hundreds of wives as well (1 Kin. 11:1-3).

“Get me this girl as my wife.” Shechem doesn’t even use her name. He speaks about her like she’s an object and a piece of property.

(34:5-7) When Jacob heard that his daughter Dinah had been defiled, his sons were in the fields with his livestock; so he did nothing about it until they came home. 6 Then Shechem’s father Hamor went out to talk with Jacob. 7 Meanwhile, Jacob’s sons had come in from the fields as soon as they heard what had happened. They were shocked and furious, because Shechem had done an outrageous thing in Israel by sleeping with Jacob’s daughter—a thing that should not be done.

“Shechem’s father Hamor went out to talk with Jacob.” Instead of coming to apologize or to bring his son to justice, Shechem comes to Jacob for another reason entirely (v.8).

“Shechem had done an outrageous thing in Israel… a thing that should not be done.” There is no question regarding the Bible’s view of sexual assault.

(34:8-12) But Hamor said to them, “My son Shechem has his heart set on your daughter. Please give her to him as his wife. 9 Intermarry with us; give us your daughters and take our daughters for yourselves. 10 You can settle among us; the land is open to you. Live in it, trade in it, and acquire property in it.” 11 Then Shechem said to Dinah’s father and brothers, “Let me find favor in your eyes, and I will give you whatever you ask. 12 Make the price for the bride and the gift I am to bring as great as you like, and I’ll pay whatever you ask me. Only give me the young woman as my wife.”

Hamor (Shechem’s father) says nothing about how Shechem raped Dinah. Instead, he tries to smooth things over by intermarrying their sons and daughters and giving him access to his land to get rich (v.10). Then Shechem tries to bribe Jacob whatever he asks (v.11). Both father and son try to give money to pay for the crime done to Dinah.

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

What an odd request! Why would Dinah’s brothers tell the Hivites to be circumcised? Why did “all [the] males” need to be circumcised? What were they planning?

(34:18-24) Their proposal seemed good to Hamor and his son Shechem. 19 The young man, who was the most honored of all his father’s family, lost no time in doing what they said, because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter. 20 So Hamor and his son Shechem went to the gate of their city to speak to the men of their city.

21 “These men are friendly toward us,” they said. “Let them live in our land and trade in it; the land has plenty of room for them. We can marry their daughters and they can marry ours. 22 But the men will agree to live with us as one people only on the condition that our males be circumcised, as they themselves are. 23 Won’t their livestock, their property and all their other animals become ours? So let us agree to their terms, and they will settle among us.” 24 All the men who went out of the city gate agreed with Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male in the city was circumcised.

All of the men agreed to these terms. But what is the point? In the subsequent verses, the strategy of Jacob and his sons becomes clear…

(34:25-29) Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male. 26 They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shechem’s house and left. 27 The sons of Jacob came upon the dead bodies and looted the city where their sister had been defiled. 28 They seized their flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs in the city and out in the fields. 29 They carried off all their wealth and all their women and children, taking as plunder everything in the houses.

Now the plan makes perfect sense. Three days after this tender operation, these men were still sore and were “still in pain” (v.25). By having the Hivites circumcised, all of the males were physically incapacitated (v.25). Moreover, none of the males could rape any more women during this time because they were physically incapacitated in more ways than one!

Simeon and Levi slaughter all of these Hivite men in this family and rescue their sister without difficulty. The rest of the brothers loot the city, and sell the women and children as captives.

“[They] took Dinah from Shechem’s house.” Dinah had been in Shechem’s house all along! Mathews writes, “That Simeon and Levi rescued Dinah from ‘the house of Shechem’ indicates that she had been incarcerated, held against her will, all along. Although no charge of kidnapping occurs in the sons’ rejoinder to their father (v. 31; cf. Exod 21:16), that she remained vulnerable to the prince’s passions may have provoked their charge that Shechem treated Dinah as a ‘prostitute’ (v. 31).”[51]

(34:30-31) Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me obnoxious to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.”

31 But they replied, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?”

Both men have a point. On the one hand, Jacob is angry that Simeon and Levi took such extreme actions, killing all of the men and capturing all of the women and children. Shechem should’ve been brought to justice—not the entire clan.

On the other hand, Simeon and Levi argue that Dinah was being treated like a “prostitute” (v.31). After all, all of the men in this Hivite clan were willing to pay money to pay for Dinah’s rape (Lev. 19:29; 21:9; Deut. 23:17-19 Prov. 23:27-28; Amos 7:17).

Furthermore, Jacob seems more concerned about a blood feud starting than whether or not the actions were right and just. That is, Jacob seems more concerned with the fact that the Canaanites would retaliate. Jacob’s response is ultimately passive, and one commentator calls his objection nothing more than a “peevish complaint.”[52] von Rad, Genesis, 334.

Simeon and Levi were the two central attackers. Later, Jacob says, “Simeon and Levi are two of a kind; their weapons are instruments of violence. 6 May I never join in their meetings; may I never be a party to their plans. For in their anger they murdered men, and they crippled oxen just for sport. 7 A curse on their anger, for it is fierce; a curse on their wrath, for it is cruel. I will scatter them among the descendants of Jacob; I will disperse them throughout Israel” (Gen. 49:5-7 NLT).

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 1-4. What do we learn about Shechem from these opening verses? Explain the sadistic complexity of this character.

What do we learn about Jacob’s character from this chapter? What was Jacob doing while his sons planned a long scheme of revenge against this Hivite family? Why didn’t he lead as the patriarch of the family?

Who was right? Jacob or Jacob’s sons? In a perfect world, what justice would be given to Shechem and his family? How do Jacob’s final words to Simeon and Levi fit into this discussion. Jacob says, “Simeon and Levi are brothers—their swords are weapons of violence. 6 Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger and hamstrung oxen as they pleased. 7 Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel” (Gen. 49:5-7).

Why do you think Moses included this narrative in the story of Jacob? Consider Sailhamer’s thoughts: “Jacob and his family have continuously been characterized as those who attempt to carry out God’s intentions by means of their own plans and schemes. On the surface their plans work reasonably well, but they always involve cunning and deceit to be successful.”[53] Do you agree with Sailhamer’s assessment?

Genesis 35 (Escape from Canaan)

(35:1) Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”

After the slaughter of the Hivites, Jacob’s family would be under attack. God tells Jacob to leave town.

(35:2-4) So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” 4 So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem.

The patriarchs were all originally idol worshippers. Jacob needed to tell them to destroy their idols before going to Bethel. Even their mother Rachel stole an idol from her father’s house (Gen. 31:19).

(35:5) Then they set out, and the terror of God fell on the towns all around them so that no one pursued them.

“The terror of God.” Jacob’s sons recently wiped out a Hivite clan. So, the people could be afraid of them for that reason. However, the fact that the text says “the terror of God seems to imply that God sent a supernatural fear to the people of the land.

(35:6-9) Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. 7 There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel, because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother. 8 Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried under the oak outside Bethel. So it was named Allon Bakuth. 9 After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him.

They traveled to Luz (“Bethel”).

“God appeared to him again and blessed him.” The first appearance could refer to the wrestling match in Genesis 32. It could also refer to the dream that Jacob had (Gen. 28:10-15).

(35:10-12) God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel. 11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.”

God renamed Jacob as “Israel.” The name Israel means “God fights” or perhaps “he fights [with] God” due to Genesis 32:28.

Why did God change Jacob’s name twice? Sailhamer explains, “It appears that the negative connotation of the name Israel (‘struggled with God,’ 32:28) has been deliberately omitted. Perhaps the point of the second renaming was to erase the negative connotation of the name given in the first instance. At this point Jacob was not the same Jacob who ‘struggled with God and men.’”[54]

God also reaffirms the Abrahamic Covenant to him. Throughout Genesis, God goes out of his way to repeat his unconditional promise to Abraham.

(35:13-19) Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him. 14 Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. 15 Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel. 16 Then they moved on from Bethel.

While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. 17 And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” 18 As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin. 19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).

It’s quite tragic that Rachel only gave natural birth to two boys Joseph (Gen. 30:22-24) and Benjamin. And she died while delivering the second child. Yet, the birth of Benjamin was an answer to Rachel’s prayer (Gen. 30:24), and Rachel’s midwife affirmed that God would provide her with another baby (Gen. 35:17).

“Ben-Oni” means “son of my trouble,” but Benjamin means “son of my right hand/strength.”[55]

Jacob returned to his father Isaac, who lived to be 180 years old (v.29).

(35:21-29) This short narrative summarizes the children that came from Jacob, Leah, Rachel, and the midwives. It also shows that Jacob’s oldest sons don’t deserve any special place in God’s plan. For instance, Reuben slept with Jacob’s concubine (v.22), which seems like a powerplay at leading the family clan.[56] This explains why one of Jacob’s youngest sons, Joseph, is the one to rise to prominence. This sets up the narrative of Genesis 37-50.

Questions for Reflection

Jacob needed to suffer in order to grow. The psalmist writes, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word… It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” (Ps. 119:67, 71). Create a list of Jacob’s sufferings. Then, create a list of the ways that Jacob changed.

Genesis 36 (Esau’s line)

This chapter explains what happened to Jacob’s brother Esau. He took his wives from the women of Canaan (v.2), and he moved away from Jacob (v.6). Esau produced the Edomites (vv.8-9, 43). Many of the people listed become integral to the rest of biblical history.

(Gen. 36:31) How could Moses write this before the monarchy? If God exists, then he can know and impart the future to finite human beings through supernatural revelation. Moreover, God had made promises to Abraham (Gen. 17:16) and Jacob (Gen. 25:23; 35:11) about kings being among their descendants. Since Moses knew these promises, he was aware that a king would eventually come about in Israel’s future. This is why God gave Moses laws for the future king (Deut. 17:14-15). God had promised the Jews land and a nation. It only made sense to see the need for a future king, as well. In this passage, Moses was comparing and contrasting Israel’s future kingdom with Edom’s, demonstrating that Israel would overcome Edom. For more on this subject, see the article titled “Authorship of the Pentateuch.”

[1] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 427.

[2] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 429.

[3] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 430.

[4] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 431.

[5] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 431.

[6] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 192.

[7] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 418.

[8] Gleason Archer Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 3rd. ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 179.

[9] Gleason Archer Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 3rd. ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 179.

[10] Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 1, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1967), 162.

[11] Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2001), p.382-383.

[12] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 195.

[13] Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2001), p.390.

[14] Derek Kidner, Genesis (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1967), p.170.

[15] Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2001), p.392.

[16] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 453.

[17] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 198.

[18] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 467.

[19] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 466.

[20] Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2001), p.405.

[21] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50, vol. 2, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1994), 235.

[22] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 482.

[23] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 486.

[24] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 486.

[25] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 501.

[26] Derek Kidner, Genesis (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1967), p.175.

[27] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 514.

[28] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 203.

[29] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 500.

[30] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 513.

[31] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 205.

[32] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 516.

[33] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 518.

[34] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 523.

[35] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 540.

[36] Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2001), p.441.

[37] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 548.

[38] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 550.

[39] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 553.

[40] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 209.

[41] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 557.

[42] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 210.

[43] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 559.

[44] Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 1, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1967), 181.

[45] Bruce K. Waltke and Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 447.

[46] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 560.

[47] Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2001), p.446.

[48] Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2001), p.453-454.

[49] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 569.

[50] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 589-590.

[51] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 607.

[52] Gerhard von Rad, Genesis: Old Testament Library (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961), 334.

[53] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 215.

[54] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 217-218.

[55] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 219.

[56] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 628.