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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Jacob at Bethel Again, Genesis 35

A. Bethel, Benjamin's Birth, and Burying Isaac, Gen. 35.
"The connection with the previous chapter can be established in several ways. Jacob's departure from Shechem is conditioned by the fears he expresses in 34:30; verse 5 of the present chapter (p.  ? ) is in direct response to them. The idols mentioned in verses 2 and 4 most likely derive largely from the looting of Shechem. The theme of sexual offense is shared by both chapters [Reuben 35:22a, p.  ? ], and in both cases Jacob maintains his silence, which is expressed by means of the Hebrew verb שָׁמַע "to hear." In both instances, as is clear from 49:3-7, sons of Jacob [Reuben, Simeon, Levi; p.  ? ] forfeit their place in the line of leadership succession. Chapter 34 is dominated by the theme of defilement; this chapter opens with the subject of purification. Finally, both narratives exhibit a consciousness of Israelite distinctiveness. This is expressed through sexual purity and the rite of circumcision in the preceding story and through the renunciation of idolatry in the present one." (Sarna)
A.1. Jacob Returns to Bethel, 35:1-15
35:1-4 Preparing themselves morally to visit God at Bethel
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.” 2 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.
After the massacre at Shechem Jacob had felt very unsafe from possible retribution from surrounding Canaanites. He needs to get out of there. But "God's intervention transforms ignominious flight into a dignified pilgrimage to Bethel" (Sarna). God knows that now he needs his faith-batteries recharged, and the best place to do that was Bethel, where he had appeared to Jacob when he was once before running for his life (Gen 28:10-22, p.  ? ).  Although Bethel is about 1,000 feet higher than Shechem, God also uses the words "go up", because that was the verb one used for making a pilgrimage to a sanctuary. In many ways this trip is an ascent.
When Jacob was last there, he had set up a pillar (maṣṣēḇāh, 28:18, p.  ? ) to commemorate the vision. Now he is told, when he has reached the place, to build an altar. Although in a sense both pillars and altars could serve as commemorating devices, an altar (מִזְבֵּחַ) differed from a pillar in that it served for sacrifice (זָבַח). Abraham was always building altars to God in the places where God met him: first at Shechem in Gen 12:7, then between Bethel and Ai in 12:8, then at the oaks of Mamre near Hebron (13:18), and finally on Mt. Moriah where he intended to obey God and sacrifice Isaac (22:9). Isaac too built an altar to God in Beersheba (26:25). Jacob himself had built an altar near Shechem right after he arrived (33:18-20). 
Knowing from this instruction that he was going to have to offer a sacrifice to God in Bethel and act in a priestly status, Jacob becomes conscious of the inappropriateness of the idols that his family had. This might have been just Laban's household gods, in which case perhaps they had not been worshiped by Jacob's family while in Canaan. But it is also possible that they were part of the plunder his sons had taken from Shechem, in which case also they may not have been worshiped but were kept for their monetary value. But even to own such items was inappropriate for worshipers of the one true God, who tolerated allegiance to no other god. Mention is made also of the rings in their ears, which may have served as amulets or good luck pieces in pagan society and could also have been part of the plunder from Shechem. These too must go. 
Idols could be disposed of in various ways. In v. 4 we learn that Jacob "hid" (or "buried", וַיִּטְמֹ֤ן, Exod 2:12; Deut 33:19; Josh 2:6; 7:21) them under the oak near Shechem. This is probably the oak of Moreh, where Jacob's grandfather Abraham had encamped when he first arrived in Canaan (12:6, p.  ? ). Burying the idols insured that they would not be used by others. Centuries later, in the era of Jesus, pious Jews buried worn out Torah scrolls, rather than destroying them. 
The rite of purification would certainly have involved immersion in water. And the changing of clothes would signify a change in behavior, since righteous conduct is often described as wearing garments of righteousness, and evil persons as clothed in sin. St. Paul continues the use of this metaphor, when he urges Christians to put off all forms of evil and put on Christ. A change of "garment" is his metaphor. 
35:5-8 Safety on the Trip
 And as they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. 6 And Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him, 7 and there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed himself to him when he fled from his brother. 8 And Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried under an oak below Bethel. So he called its name Allon-bacuth. 
As on his journeys to and from Laban, so too now God provides protection for Jacob and his family as they travel to Bethel. Jacob had feared reprisals from the neighboring cities: now God placed a supernatural terror upon those cities, so that no one dared attack the traveling party.  This protection was clearly undeserved, but God in his mercy is protecting Jacob, who is the heir to his promises to Abraham, and Jacob’s 12 sons who will become the nation of Israel.
Bethel was formerly named Luz, and because a former resident from there had migrated north into the land of the Hittites and founded a city by the same name (Judg 1:26), it is necessary for the narrator to remind us that the Luz he mentions here is the southern one, in the land of Canaan.
Another burial now takes place under an oak tree, this time it is an old woman who had nursed Jacob's mother Rebekah. When Rebekah left Laban’s house to go to marry Isaac, her nurse went with her, according to Gen. 24:59. How she came to be back in the company of Jacob and his entourage we are not told. Early Jewish interpreters assumed that Rebekah had sent her along with Jacob, but no mention is made of this, and Jacob claims that he arrived at Laban's alone ("with only my staff," 32:10 [MT 32:11], p.  ? ). But obviously Jacob grew up knowing this woman who was so closely tied to his mother.  And so the report of her death and burial brings closure to Jacob’s relationship with Rebekah, his mother, who had orchestrated the event that had forced him to flee Canaan. It is interesting that there is no further reference to Rebekah after Jacob fled Canaan in 28:10. Apparently she died while Jacob was in Harran. And so in attending to the burial of Deborah, his mother's wet-nurse, Jacob participates vicariously in the burial of his mother and thus honors her.
35:9-15 God appears to Jacob again at Bethel
The appearance of God to Jacob a second time in vv. 9-15 must have come sometime after he built and consecrated the altar in v. 7. 
Question: God had appeared to Jacob in 32:28 and changed his name then. This was on the occasion when Jacob wrestled with God. Why do you think he did this a second time?
Since Jacob’s name had been changed outside the promised land, (32:28) the new name, Israel, needs to be confirmed and validated by God himself in the land of promise. 
As in earlier visions, God identifies himself by name. This time he uses the name by which he had reassured Abraham that he would give him a multitude of descendants and changed his name to confirm the promise, El Shaddai (17:1 [p.  ? ]; 28:3 [p.  ? ]). Here to God reaffirms the name change of Jacob to Israel that was first mentioned after Jacob had persevered in struggling with the angel at Peniel (32:26-28, cf. p.  ? ).  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob used a number of titles and names for the one God whom they worshiped.  Foremost among these was Yahweh. But the patriarchs used other names with equal frequency, and it was only at the time of the exodus from Egypt that the name Yahweh became truly meaningful and its true significance understood by God’s people. Exod. 6:3: “I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but my name Yahweh I did not make myself known to them.” This doesn’t mean they did not know the name, but rather that they did not yet know it’s true significance.
What is more important than its precise translation is the fact that this is the same name by which Isaac himself invoked God when he bestowed his blessing upon Jacob in Ch. 28. It was the name he used to describe God in his role of multiplying the offspring of Jacob. 
Gen. 28:3 May El-Shaddai bless you and make you fruitful and numerous, that you may become a company of peoples.  4 May he give to you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your offspring with you, so that you may take possession of the land where you now live as an alien—land that God gave to Abraham.” 
And it is in this vein that God uses the name for himself as he addresses Jacob here in v. 11:
“I am El-Shaddai: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall spring from you.
God then blesses Jacob in the words of Isaac’s blessing upon Jacob but also uses the same terms of the blessing that he (God) had bestowed upon Abraham at the covenant renewal in chapter 17. There he changed Abram's name to Abraham and said: “I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.” (same as what God says to Jacob in v. 11). Finally God includes the promise that Jacob and his offspring will at last take possession of the land. This blessing is national in scope. The name change signifies this. Jacob, by becoming Israel is the true heir to the Abrahamic promises, the one through whom the nation of Israel is to come into being.
God's promises to Jacob here, which are also called a "blessing" (v. 9), build upon those given already to Abraham in ch. 17 [p.  ? ]. There Abraham was promised his descendants would become a multitude of nations (הֲמֹ֥ון גֹּויִֽם). Here the same is promised to Jacob (v. 11 "a nation and a company of nations [קְהַ֥ל גֹּויִ֖ם]"), with the addition that among them would be a line of kings (מְלָכִ֖ים), which we know began with Saul and David and continued down to the Babylonian captivity. 
With the purging of idolatry and the arrival at Bethel, the contacts with Mesopotamia, maintained by each of the patriarchs, are finally and decisively severed. The mention of the death of Deborah thus becomes appropriate here for she was a living symbol of that connection.
A.2. The Birth of Benjamin & Death of Rachel, 35:16-26
35:16-21 Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin
As they journey south from Bethel Rachel begins to give birth, and in the midst of what was apparently a very difficult labor, her midwife tried to comfort her saying, “Don’t be afraid, for you have another son.” Rachel had expressed her longing for another son when she named her firstborn Joseph, which means “may he add”, and at the time she had said: “May the Lord add to me another son.” (30:24). At last that longing was being fulfilled, but at the cost of her own life. She named her son Ben-Oni, “son of my sorrow.”  However, to make sure that his wife’s dying gift to him would be properly honored, Jacob renames him Benjamin, meaning “right-hand son,” or “most honored son”.
Jacob has finally returned to his own country with his beloved wife Rachel. How ironic that at this particular juncture Rachel dies while giving birth to her second son… one she had longed for. She named him “son of my sorrow” (אלון בכות) perhaps thinking of her own sorrow in dying and never seeing him grow up… but also she may have been thinking of Jacob’s sorrow… he would have a son but at the cost of the mother, and so this child would be to him the son of sorrow. Jacob quickly changes the name to “son of my right hand” emphasizing another side of the truth. If he was to be bereft of his beloved Rachel, yet the son born to her would be his comfort and consolation. And we will see how this was borne out later in the Joseph story.
Jacob then buried Rachael beside the road leading to Ephrath, and he set up a pillar at her grave… a pillar set up so soon after that of v. 14. This one was witness to the pain of human existence, while the former pillar was witness to God’s goodness and mercy. Rachel’s tomb became a well-known pilgrimage site down to the end of the monarchy period. 
35:22  Reuben sleeps with Bilhah, Jacob's concubine
Why did Reuben commit this odious act with his father’s concubine, Bilhah? Bilhah was Rachael’s maid whom she had given to Jacob as a co-wife during her barren years, and Bilhah bore him 2 sons, Dan and Naphtali. By violating Bilhah Reuben makes sure that she cannot usurp his own mother, Leah’s, position as chief wife now that Rachel is dead. His mother’s sister, Rachel, had always been a rival to Leah in Jacob’s affections. Now he makes sure that the maid of his mother’s sister shall not rival her. 
He may also have been prematurely trying to lay claim to an inheritance that would eventually be his anyway as the firstborn son of Jacob, for we know from other biblical stories for a man to come into possession of his father’s concubines implied that he was the heir and rightful successor to his father.
In either case Bilhah was reduced to living widowhood, because she could not be legitimately joined to a man again. When he learns of the the incident, Jacob takes no definitive action, similar to his response to the rape of Dinah. That Jacob was deeply offended by this act and remembered it throughout his life, however, is reflected in his last testament where he takes away Reuben’s legal status as his firstborn (Gen. 49:3-4)
35:23-26 The Current Status of Jacob's Children
With the birth of Benjamin, the family of Jacob is now complete and the biography of Jacob is coming to a close, and so it is appropriate that we are given a list of Jacob’s 12 sons. The sons are listed according to their mothers, not their birth order. The mothers are listed chronologically in the order of their connection with Jacob; first are the 2 wives in order of their seniority, then come the 2 handmaids in reverse.
A.3. The Death of Isaac, 35:27-29
Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre, or Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had resided as aliens.  28 Now the days of Isaac were one hundred eighty years.  29 And Isaac breathed his last; he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days; and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.
The report of Isaac’s death, which occurred many years after the earlier events of this chapter, is placed here in order to reintroduce Esau and provide a transition to the next chapter. The reunion of Jacob and Esau at their father’s deathbed closes out the long story of their generation: others will now dominate the scene.
As we come to the close of the story of  one generation and are about to embark on the story of the next generation, it behooves us to examine our lives and ask ourselves what kind of spiritual legacy are we leaving for the generation that follows us?
Throughout the entire story of Jacob we have seen his deceit, his trickery, his failure with his sons, his fear instead of faith. Yet God showed him his mercy protected him, blessed him with many sons, brought him out of exile, and in this chapter he has called Jacob to himself again.
How many times have we fallen prey to one or another of Jacob’s sins? Where would we be now if it weren’t for God through his spirit calling us back to himself, forgiving us, showing us the way to walk in paths of righteousness? Where would we be it it were not for his promise never to leave us nor forsake us?
As we sang in our anthem this morning:
 If thou, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who shall stand?
But there is forgiveness with thee
that thou may be feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits
and in his word do I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for morning,
more than watchmen for morning.
Hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord there is steadfast love.
With him is full redemption.

He will redeem us from all our sins.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Jacob at Shechem: Dinah and Shechem, Gen 33-34

A. Jacob at Shechem, Gen. 33:18–20; 34:1–31.
33:18-20 Jacob arrives at Shechem
Gen 33:18   Jacob arrived safely at the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram; and he camped before the city. 19 And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for one hundred pieces of money the plot of land on which he had pitched his tent.  20 There he erected an altar and called it El-elohe-israel.
The statement "Jacob arrived safely" reminds us that God has kept his promise ("I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land"). It was a promise made initially in Bethel before Jacob left for Laban's land (28:15, see p.  ? ), and repeated in the dream to Jacob before he left Laban's land to return to Canaan (31:3, 13). God kept his promises to Jacob. He kept him safe from the angry pursuing father-in-law Laban, and he kept him safe from Esau who could have still kept a grudge for what Jacob had done to him before leaving for Mesopotamia to get a wife. In the last chapter, God tested Jacob's determination to protect the little family that would some day become the nation of Israel, the womb of the messiah, and the hope for the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham. Now he is home "safely", but the tests are not over. In this chapter we see that they come in the form of foolish and violent behavior by Jacob's own children to incite the Canaanites to anger. 
Up until now Abraham and Isaac have lived temporarily in the vicinity of several towns in Canaan, but chiefly in the south (around Beersheba, Hebron, and Gerar); see map here locllnk
Abraham had purchased a field in Hebron with a cave to bury his wife and for himself to be buried (Gen 23, see p.  ? ). Isaac may not have purchased land in the south, but he secured the right to farm lands in the area and cultivated grain (26:12-16, p.  ? ), something Abraham had never done. But this chapter is the first place where it is mentioned that Jacob purchased land. What he buys from the lords of Shechem is a plot of land outside the city limits of Shechem, where he could pitch his bedouin tents and carry on his livelihood as a livestock breeder. 
Shechem was the first city in Canaan where Abraham stopped when he arrived from Harran (12:6). That verse mentions his camping place as "the oak of Moreh" (אֵלֹ֣ון מֹורֶ֑ה). It also identifies the inhabitants of that area as "Canaanites," which as we saw earlier with Hethites is the more general designation of the peoples of Palestine, of which Hethites, Hivites and Horites are sub-groupings. In 34:2 we learn that the prince/ruler of the area around Shechem was Hamor the Hivite, who had a son with the same name as his city. Later on, when Joseph died in Egypt, his remains were brought to Shechem and buried there in land that Jacob bought from Hamor, the father of Shechem (Josh 24:32).  After the successful conquest of the land by Joshua, one of the cities designated to be a city of refuge to which a person accused of murder might flee the avenging relatives of the deceased until he could get a fair trial was Shechem, which was situated in the tribal allotment of Manasseh (Josh 20:7; 21:21).  Shechem was also where, at the end of Joshua's life, he gathered the nation's leaders to renew their covenant with God (Josh 24:25). Thereafter Shechem became a very important national center. Solomon's son, Rehoboam, went to Shechem to receive the allegiance of the northern tribes to his new kingship in Jerusalem. And after they refused to recognize him and chose Jeroboam as there own king, Shechem became Jeroboam's royal residence. In his famous speech in Acts 7, Stephen confuses Jacob's burial in a field Abraham had purchased from Ephron the Hethite with Joseph's burial in a field Jacob had purchased from Hamor the Hivite (Acts 7:16).
The relationship of semi-transient groups like Jacob and his family with the inhabitants of the ancient Middle Eastern towns was symbiotic. The groups like Jacob's provided certain products of value to the townsfolk, and vice versa. Usually there was a kind of agreement between the two groups, at least oral if not actually written. We later learn in this chapter, that intermarriage between such different social groups was not usual (34:8-10), but in this case might have appeared advantageous to the citizens (or at least the leaders) of Shechem (34:21-23). 
Inside the town would have been a temple or at least a shrine with an altar for worship of Canaanite gods. Jacob, living outside the town proper in his camp, erected an altar for the worship of Yahweh, the God of Abraham and Isaac. He gave a name to this altar, El-Elohe-Israel, which meant "the God of gods of Israel". The element El in this name is the Semitic word for "god." But it also served as the name of the chief god of the Canaanite pantheon, like Greek Zeus or Roman Jupiter.  Since Jacob worshiped Yahweh, it is unlikely that El here is a name, but rather the word "god". And since no people of Israel existed yet, the name Israel in this altar name refers to Jacob himself. You remember that God had re-named "Israel" after the night of wrestling. The phrase "God of gods" shows that Jacob recognizes that his god is the true God, superior to all other beings called "gods". Moses himself uses the phrase "God of gods and Lord of lords" to describe Yahweh in Deut 10:17. And the similar expressions "king of kings" and "lord of lords" are used of the exalted Christ in Revelation 17:14 and 19:16
34:1-7 Shechem, son of Hamor the Hivite, rapes Dinah
This extended episode of rape and revenge seems to turn on a series of inversions that throw key elements of the covenant into a dark shadow. Fertility, marriage, circumcision, the promise that Abraham's progeny will be a blessing to the nations-these key elements of the divine plan are distorted and abused. (Reno, 253). 
The juxtaposition of chapter 34 with the previous one creates an impression of rapid chronological sequence, although the text gives no time indication. However, it is clear that Jacob must have spent several years in the neighborhood of Shechem prior to what is described in chapter 34; otherwise, Dinah and her two brothers would have been far too young to have played the roles assigned to them here.
In a rare instance where I do not fully agree with Nahum Sarna, he claims that this incident joins others in the patriarchal narratives to illustrate the sexual degeneracy of the Canaanites. In my estimation there are more examples of sexual sins attributed to Israelites in these narratives than to Canaanites. The chief of the latter is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. But the twin cases of Sarah and Rebekah being endangered in a pagan city were not due to the locals, who thought they were unmarried, but to their husbands, who claimed that were! And Judah's paying for sex with a prostitute in Gen 38 results in his impregnating his own daughter-in-law! 
Dinah is identified, not as the daughter of Jacob, but precisely of Leah (v. 1). This is to help the reader understand that the ringleaders of the revenge squad, Simeon and Levi, were her full brothers, sons of Leah (29:33-34; p.  ? ). This doesn't excuse their behavior, but helps us to see why they instead of Dinah's many half-brothers were the instigators. In a polygamous marriage, a daughter's male protectors were not their father, but their full brothers.
Dinah's behavior, we shall see, looks like what all too often happens to girls today, who think it would be fun to be sexually flirtatious, only to find that it can easily lead to their being raped. The boys' actions in raping are certainly not justified by this, but the girls' behavior that exposed them to this risk shows foolishness and irresponsibility. Sarna comments on the situation in Dinah's time.
“Girls of marriageable age would not normally leave a rural encampment to go unchaperoned into an alien city. The text casts a critical eye upon Dinah's unconventional behavior through use of the verbal stem יצא y-ṣ-ʿ ‘to go out’. Like its Akkadian and Aramaic equivalents, [in post-biblical Hebrew] the verb can connote coquettish or promiscuous conduct” (Sarna).
The ancient Hebrew manuscript of the Samaritans witnesses to a form of the Hebrew text in this verse that tells us Dinah didn't go to "see" the women of the city, but to "show herself among" them. She wanted to be seen along with the other Canaanite girls. This was her "coming-out party." This in turn explains why in the next verse (34:2) we read that Shechem "saw" her. The Hebrew expression "daughters of the land" doesn't refer to children or teenagers. "Daughters" simply means "female inhabitants" of the land. And the use of the expression "the daughters of the Canaanites" in 24:3, 37 to denote women unsuitable for marriage to Abraham's male descendants lends an atmosphere of disapproval to this statement about Dinah's behavior. We are not told if she went without parental approval.
While Dinah was still a virgin, her behavior suggested otherwise. The text says that Shechem—seeing her alone walking the streets like a prostitute—propositioned her and, when she resisted, had sex with her by force. When he discovered she was a virgin and therefore not a prostitute or loose woman, he decided that he loved her and wanted her to be his wife. This was a strange reaction, especially if contrasted with the behavior of David's son Amnon, who raped his half-sister and then rejected her suggestion that they ask their father to allow them to marry (2 Sam 13), but not at all impossible.
The initial reaction of Jacob's sons, upon hearing of the rape while they were out in the fields, was violent. The first verb that described their reaction ("were indignant")  also occurs in Gen 6:6, where it describes God's reaction to universal human sin, and leads immediately to his decision to destroy everyone but Noah's family. The brothers used two terms to describe what Shechem had done: (1) he had "defiled" their sister, a verb that has serious moral overtones: the corruption of the moral fabric of the land, and (2) his deed was an "outrage" (nĕvalah), a term that combines the notion of foolishness and godlessness.
ANE Rape Laws. 
The laws on rape are similar in all of the ANE cultures. In the case of the rape of an unmarried woman who is not yet engaged to be married, the laws of Moses stipulate that the rapist must pay a fine and must marry the woman and never divorce her (Deut 22:28), if she will have him. In ANE laws outside the Bible the treatment is similar but not identical. The Assyrian laws add retaliation against the rapist’s wife if he is already married (AL A55). The Sumerian laws 7–8 (ANET, 525–26) add mitigating factors: if the girl was in the street with her parents’ knowledge, the rapist may or may not marry the girl. 
In the case of rape of a betrothed or married woman, the laws of Moses set the penalty as death for the rapist and the woman went free if one could presume that she struggled and was coerced. If the rape occurred in a remote spot, such as the fields or the mountains, the wife or engaged woman was presumed to have cried out and is thus innocent of wrongdoing. If the attack took place in the town where she could easily have been overheard crying for help and yet was not, the woman was presumed guilty (Deut 22:23–38; cf. CH 130; LE 26; HL 197; AL A12, 16). The Assyrian laws (AL A23) add a further mitigation: in the case of the entrapped wife who was raped in town but who did not cry out when released, her paramour and procuress suffer the death penalty but the laws leave her punishment up to her husband.
Dinah falls in the legal category of a young woman who was not already engaged/betrothed to be married; so the proper penalty for Shechem (if this had been in the days of the Mosaic law) would have been that he be required to marry her, if she would have him. And if not, Shechem should have paid her a handsome monetary compensation for suffering the loss of her virginity (Deut 22:28).  
Despite her foolish and irresponsible behavior, Dinah was obviously the victim, not her brothers or father. But Simeon and Levi are more concerned with how this makes them look, rather than how Dinah might feel. The brothers complaint is that Shechem has "defiled" (the Piel of טָמֵא) Dinah, meaning probably that by taking her virginity he has reduced her chances of a subsequent marriage. This was what in the payment of the fine prescribed in Deut 22:28 was intended to cover. It would be added to her dowry. The brothers further justify to Jacob their massacre of the entire city, saying, "Should he have treated our sister like a harlot (זוֹנָ֕ה)?" (Gen 34:31). But by walking in the streets of the foreign city Shechem unaccompanied this is just how Dinah looked to all who saw her. And when Shechem discovered she was a virgin, he did not treat her as a harlot, but sought her hand in marriage. So the brothers' logic is wrong on all counts. And by assuming that the whole city of Shechem was complicit and must be massacred, they go beyond any reasonable law of evidence and rule of civil behavior. What they did was not only wrong according to God's law but even by the rules governing any civilized state. 
Had she wished, Dinah would have married into wealth. The domain of Hamor and his sons was vast, a thousand square miles, extending from Jerusalem in the south to Megiddo in the north, all of the central highlands of what became the Land of Israel. Hamor and his son were not just rulers of a single city. Rulers of Canaanite cities were usually called melek "king," while Hamor's title is nāsîʾ, usually translated "prince," but actually meaning "ruler or a large region comprising several cities and rural lands of nomadic tribes" (Gen 17:20; 23:6; Exod 16:22; 34:31; Num 1:44). This vaster domain, embracing large stretches of purely rural terrain, meant the ruler needed the cooperation of tribal leaders in order to govern. We see that need displayed in this story, since Hamor calls a town meeting and has to present cogent arguments to get the approval of the chieftains for his plan to intermarry with Jacob's family. 
In verse 2-3 Moses uses two triads of verbs to express respectively Shechem's raping Dinah and his subsequent attachment to her: first he "took … lay … forced" her, and after discovering she was no prostitute he "was drawn to … loved … spoke tenderly to" her. Unlike David's son Amnon, who raped his half sister Tamar, and then refused to marry her (2 Sam 13), Shechem wanted to marry Dinah afterwards. Whether she would want to marry him after he forced her to have sex, thinking she was a prostitute or loose woman, is quite another matter. Much depends on what his tender words to her were. Were they an abject apology and explanation that he mistook her? But this is a moot point, because we aren't told that her brothers even gave her a voice in the decision. She is used by both sides.
Why did Shechem want Dinah as a wife instead of just as a one-night-stand? Contrary to some commentators, I see no motive on Shechem's part for wanting to marry Dinah except his discovery that she was no prostitute and that he loved her. His father Hamor, admittedly, saw vast economic advantages to widening the single union to include multiple intermarriages which would merge Jacob's family with his own and those of other leaders of his realm. The difference between Shechem's primary interest and his father's can be clearly seen in the two men's speeches to Jacob and his sons in vv. 8-12. (In the movie Sabrina, you will recall the different attitudes of the character played by Harrison Ford and his younger brother, the latter of whom falls in love with the beautiful daughter of the owner of a company making a piece of technology that Harrison Ford's character needed. It became a marriage and a merger of two immensely wealthy and powerful families.)
34:8-12 Speeches of Hamor and Shechem
It isn't apparent from the English translation of v. 8, but the word "your" in "your daughter" is plural:  Hamor calls Dinah the daughter of both Jacob and his eleven sons, and he asks all of them to give her to his son in marriage. Apparently, he recognizes from the body language of the brothers that they demand to be parties to the settlement, and that their father Jacob is somewhat passive (on passivity see p.  ? ). Hamor's proposal of intermarriage and mutual trade and profit was extended to the brothers as well as to Jacob. In verse 11 the son Shechem also addresses the whole group, brothers as well as father. He promises bridal payments of two types and as high an amount as is desired. 
34:13-17 The brothers' response
The brothers respond for the silent Jacob. In v. 17 they seem to usurp Jacob' s role by referring to Dinah as "our daughter" (בִּתֵּ֖נוּ). They have no interest in the offers of either man. Their secret decision was to hold the entire city responsible and to exact revenge by slaughtering the whole population after using deception to render the male protectors less able to protect themselves and their families by requiring them to be circumcised. They planned to use the sacred symbol of God's covenant with Abraham (Gen 17:1-14, see p.  ? ) as a sordid means of humiliating and massacring the citizens of Shechem. But the brothers didn't divulge their plan to their father. They were going to launch a surprise attack. So they pretended to agree to the marriage on condition that all the males of the city join their family by being circumcised. They explained the necessity of the whole city undergoing circumcision because this marriage would be just be the start of wholesale intermarriage. Their words "We will live among you and become one people" threatens the promises of God to make only the descendants of Abraham—and those who joined them in faith, worship and obedience to Yahweh—into one great nation. Although circumcision was practiced by other Near Eastern peoples, including the Egyptians, the exact physical mode of the procedure sometimes differed, and the time of life at which it was administered (puberty or infancy). But the most important difference lay not in such physical and temporal issues, but in the intent. The circumcision God commanded Abraham to do was a sign (Hebrew ʾôt) of his covenant with Abraham's family. Only those who shared Abraham's faith in the one true God and believed in his promise were to be allowed to take on this physical sign of the covenant. It was to separate or distinguish God's covenant people from outsiders. Simeon and Levi (albeit deceitfully) proposed that they become one people with the Canaanite group at Shechem, reversing the intention of the covenant of circumcision. That Moses intended his readers to connect this episode with the earlier story of the giving of the Abrahamic covenant is shown by his word-play in verses 15, 22 and 23, where he uses an unusual verb ʾût for the Shechemites' consent or agreeing to the terms, a verb which sounds and looks almost identical to the noun ʾôt 'sign' used of the circumcision commanded of Abraham. This is why this episode was included here, not just because one daughter of Jacob got into trouble or one pagan city experienced the deceit and wrath of Jacob's sons. By showing how Jacob's sons had perverted the very meaning of the Abrahamic covenant, it shows a reason for God's taking the family into Egypt, where a circumcision unrelated to God's covenant was universally practiced, and where they would be disciplined by slavery for 400 years until God ended it through Moses. 
The motives of the Shechemites were not pure either. They saw this alliance and intermarriage with Jacob as a way to become rich at his expense (v. 23). As readers we also realize that because of God's promise of the land to Abraham's seed, none of Jacob's family should intermarry with the local Canaanites, who currently possess that land. The desire of the Shechemites to be "one people" with Jacob's family also reminds us of God's words about the builders of the tower of Babel: "And Yahweh said, 'Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them" (Gen 11:6, p.  ? ). 
34:25-29 The bloody revenge on Shechem. [34:25-29]
The ruse worked, and the sons of Jacob, led by Simeon and Levi, massacred the inhabitants of the city, an atrocity committed not in war but in peacetime on an unsuspecting city. This was an action so dishonorable as to make Jacob's family hated and despised by all the peoples of the area. Jacob himself was horrified at what his sons had done. He probably feared revenge by surrounding cities who were in treaty relationships with Shechem.
If God had ordered Dinah's brothers to do this, it might be defended on the principle of the responsibility of the whole populace of the city to punish Shechem for his deed; and therefore since they failed, they themselves shared in his responsibility for the crime against Dinah. They were "accessories after the fact." For a similar situation later in Israel's history, see the punishment of the tribe of Benjamin by the other tribes because it refused to punish its city of Gibeah for the rape and murder of a Levite's concubine (Judg 19-20). such a scenario might be legally and perhaps morally defensible.
But God had not ordered Simeon and Levi and their brothers to do this, and in his last blessings on his sons Jacob himself condemned these two sons (Gen 49:5-7, p.  ? ). Furthermore, in later Mosaic law (Exod 22:16-17 [MT 22:15-16]; Deut 22:28-29), rape was not punished by death, but by either forcing the man to marry the woman if she would have him, without the possibility of ever divorcing her, or if she didn't want him, requiring him to pay a heavy fine to her for his act. 
Several interpreters I have read (e.g., Reno) foreclose the options, assuming that unless Simeon and Levi acted as they did, the only alternative would be to accept Hamor and Shechem's proposal and intermarry. But this is clearly not so. Hamor and Shechem's proposals of marriage could have been politely and resolutely refused. If necessary, Jacob could also have demanded a penalty payment be given to his daughter, as the later law of Moses required, and as most ANE societies would have recognized as due. 
Everyone in the scene described in Gen 34 has done something wrong: What Dinah did by going unguarded into Shechem, looking for some Canaanite fun, was wrong; what Shechem did in taking her by force was wrong; what Jacob's sons did to take massive bloody revenge was wrong; and Jacob's being silent and not restraining his sons before their act was wrong. 
There was no need for all this bloodshed. There will be a proper time and place for the conquest of the land and the killing of all forces opposing Israel. It will come in God's time, after Israel escaped from national slavery in Egypt and needed a homeland, and under the leadership of Joshua, the man of God's choice. But this premature act, not commanded by God, demonstrated once more the truth of James' words: "the wrath of man doesn't produce the justice of God" (James 1:20). Human retribution, unguided by God's word and will, always ends up with all parties as losers. 
For now Jacob must be on good terms with the local inhabitants of Canaan, as his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham were. For Jacob as "peacemaker" see his earlier efforts with Laban (31:43-55) and Esau (32:1-21; 33:1-17); p.  ? . The obvious parallel and application to us is that Christians must firmly speak the testimony of Scripture and hold out the gospel unashamedly. We must not be ashamed of being different from the world. But we are to live peaceably with everyone, fulfilling Jesus' ideal "blessed are the peacemakers" (Mt 5:9). 
When Abraham first entered the land and stopped at Shechem, he lived under the Oak of Moreh (Gen 12:6), which means "oak of the Guide (or Oracle-giver)" Jacob and his sons should have chosen to live under the guidance of Yahweh, their Guide. 
34:30-31

Jacob now has even more reasons to be fearful. At first when he fled from Laban, he feared his father-in-law. When he returned to Canaan, he fear the revenge of Esau. Now he must fear reprisal by the allies of the men of Shechem.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Jacob Struggles with an Angel & Finds his Brother Appeased, Genesis 32-33

A.1. Jacob sends presents to appease Esau, 32:1-21 (MT LXX 32:2-22)
#1  Jacob went on his way and the angels of God met him;  2 and when Jacob saw them he said, “This is God’s camp!” So he called that place Mahanaim.  
32:1 MT 32:2
32:1  The mission of the angels was to guard Jacob (2Ki 6:16-17; 1Ch 21:15; Ps 34:7; Psa 35:5; 91:9-11; Dan 6:22). Angels “encamp” (חָנָה) and are seen in “camps” (מַחֲנַיִם), because they are God’s “hosts” (צְבָאוֹת), i.e., troops. Ps 34:7 (MT 34:8) tells us: "The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them."  Angels can appear to humans, as here, or be visible selectively to those with prophetic vision. Elisha could see angels surrounding Israel to protect them from the attacking Syrian army, but his servant had to have his eyes opened by God (2 Kgs 6:10-18).  God protects us by various methods; sometimes by unseen angels. 
The angels 'meet' (פָּגַע בְּ) Jacob at the boundary of the Promised Land, as a kind of welcoming committee and escort. The mention of God's angels here also anticipates two other things in the chapter: (1) first, that in the very next verse Jacob himself sends "messengers" (same word as "angels") ahead to Esau as a protective measure; and (2) Jacob will later wrestle with either an angel or with God himself.
LXX at 32:2 (=Eng. 32:1) has an extra clause before the clause reporting the meeting: καὶ ἀναβλέψας εἶδεν παρεμβολὴν θεοῦ παρεμβεβληκυῖαν 'And looking up, he saw the camp of God encamped'. 
32:2
Since the Hebrew word אֱלֹהִים ʾĕlōhîm (usually translated 'God' or 'gods') can refer to angels, Jacob may have called this place 'the camp of angels', instead of 'the camp of God'. The meaning of Mahanaim (weblnk) is probably not 'two camps', but simply 'camp (of angels/of God)', with enclitic mem.
32:3–5 [H 32:4–6]
3 Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom,  4 instructing them, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have lived with Laban as an alien, and stayed until now;  5 and I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male and female slaves; and I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.’” 
32:3
While Jacob welcomed the sight of the encamped angels, he did not rely on their presence to protect him from the assumed lingering anger of his brother Esau. So he arranged an embassy to be sent before him to Esau, to prepare for a friendly meeting of the two estranged brothers. Note that geographically Esau's location in Seir of Edom is not on the route Jacob would normally take from Mahanaim to Bethel, Shechem or even Beersheba. It is farther to the east, on the east side of the Jordan River. But Jacob knows that Esau will learn of his entry into the area, and could consider his doing so unannounced as secrecy with hostile intent. It was better to announce his coming now and in the friendliest way possible. 
32:4-5
Notice how he addresses Esau: not as 'my brother', but as 'my lord', and refers to himself as 'your servant'. This is not just polite language, but the language of subservience and submission: it is a verbal indication that he wishes to make amends for the past. This impression is reinforced by the final words of v. 5 'that I may find favor in your sight', which begs Esau for permission to lavish gifts upon him. He repeats the words again to Esau three times in 33:8, 10 and 15. The language is that of diplomacy and an offer of submission. It is clearly a mission of peace (see p.  ? ). He explains that his absence was always intended to be only temporary: he lived with Laban 'as an alien'. Now he is returning home to stay and wishes to do so on peaceful terms. He has much livestock, so he will not be a burden to his brother, and in fact wishes to share his wealth. 
32:6–21
6   The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”  7 Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies,  8 thinking, “If Esau comes to the one company and destroys it, then the company that is left will escape.” 
When Jacob's messengers return they give no indication that Esau received the overture in a friendly manner. Instead, they report his approach with a large company of men (400). This frightens Jacob into making preparations to protect himself and his family. He avoids taking the initiative in a hostile action, hoping that Esau is coming in friendship. But by dividing his personnel into two groups, he hopes that, if one group is attacked, the other might escape. The Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II used a similar strategy against the Hittites in the Battle of Kadesh, but it backfired. His second group, which was designed not to escape but to offer reinforcement, was too far from the first group to come to its aid in time. Jacob does not hope for an armed victory, merely survival of some. "Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition" was a popular song during World War II, and expresses the truth that God expects us to take practical measures in addition to trusting Him to protect us. 
32:9-12
9  And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Yahweh, who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, and I will do you good,’  10 I am unworthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan; and now I have become two companies.  11 Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him; he may come and kill us all, the mothers with the children.  12 Yet you have said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted because of their number.’” 
Jacob seems not to have forgotten the lesson of the encampment of angels, for he then prays to God for protection (vv. 9-12). The prayer is a model. In the opening he addresses God in terms designed to both express and reinforce his faith. God is the God of Abraham and Isaac, which recalls all that God has promised to and done for these two immediate ancestors. Secondly, God is reminded that he instructed Jacob to undertake this potentially dangerous return trip home and promised to 'do you good' (וְאֵיטִ֥יבָה עִמָּֽךְ v. 9, cf. v. 12). The NIV HCSB NET NABRE JPS etc render this verb 'I will make you prosper', referring to growing wealth in the homeland. But 'I will do you good' used by NRSV, ESV, etc., is more accurate, and is certainly more relevant to Jacob's immediate need for protection (see Gen 12:13, where this verb is used of Abraham's being kept safe in Egypt). 
In v. 10 Jacob admits his unworthiness of all the good that God has done for him from the moment he left Canaan to stay with Laban. This is a good pattern also for us when we pray. We remind God of his promises to us, but we confess that in the final analysis we depend upon his own grace and love, not upon our own entitlement. 
In v. 11 he confesses his fear for his life. Letting God know how we feel, when we are in need, is also a good pattern. He knows these things, but he wants to hear them from our own lips as well. 
In v. 12 Jacob returns to the promise of God given to him in Paddan-Aram, to which he now clings: 'I will certainly do you good, and I will make your descendants as numerous as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted." If Esau kills not only Jacob, but also his wives and children, how could this promise possibly be fulfilled? Jacob presses this argument upon God in prayer. Like Moses, he reverently argues with God. 
32:13-21
13  So he spent that night there, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau,  14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams,  15 thirty milch camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys.  16 These he delivered into the hand of his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass on ahead of me, and put a space between drove and drove.”  17 He instructed the foremost, “When Esau my brother meets you, and asks you, ‘To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose are these ahead of you?’  18 then you shall say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob; they are a present sent to my lord Esau; and moreover he is behind us.’”  19 He likewise instructed the second and the third and all who followed the droves, “You shall say the same thing to Esau when you meet him,  20 and you shall say, ‘Moreover your servant Jacob is behind us.’” For he thought, “I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterwards I shall see his face; perhaps he will accept me.”  21 So the present passed on ahead of him; and he himself spent that night in the camp.
Here we see how all the livestock wealth that Jacob had gained in Paddan-Aram is used by him just to save the lives of himself and his family. He sends them ahead of him to Esau, hoping to pacify his angry brother. 
A.2. Jacob and the Angel at Peniel, 32:22–32
#2  32:22-32   The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.  23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.  24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.  25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.  26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”  27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”  28 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”  29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.  30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”  31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.  32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle. 
One might have expected Moses to proceed now immediately to 33:1-17 (p.  ? ), which tells of the surprisingly friendly reception of Jacob by his brother Esau. But instead he inserts a story about a remarkable encounter in Jacob's encampment the night before he meets Esau. This is because this event is part of God's answer to his prayer and part of his preparation to meet Esau.
32:22-23 [MT 32:23-24]
That night Jacob took another step to protect his wives and children. He didn't keep them with himself, but sent them across the Jabbok River to the side away from Esau's approach, placing himself in between the danger and his family (vv. 22-23). This was a brave move on his part. It shows also that his concern was not just for his own life, but for the preservation of the line of Abraham that was to be God's instrument for blessing the nations of the world. His own life at this point was dispensable, but their lives were not. If Jacob had male servants accompanying him, he either has does not have them with him to help protect his wives and children across the brook. Instead, he is alone. 
32:24-25a [MT 32:25-26a]
When we read in v. 24 [MT 25] that "Jacob was left there alone," we cannot but be reminded of our Lord's lonely night in the garden of Gethsemane, where he struggled in prayer and surrendered his own life, so that the world of sinners might be saved.  The incident, as described here, is truly mysterious. First of all, the opponent who wrestles with Jacob is called "a man" in v. 24 (אִישׁ֙, [MT LXX 25]), because he had the outward appearance of one, but in vv. 28 and 30 (MT 29 and 31) he is called 'God' (אֱלֹהִים ʾĕlōhîm), whom no one is supposed to see face-to-face and remain alive (see Hagar's amazement in Gen 16:7-16 [p.  ? ]). That is the first enigma: Was this God or an angel in the form of a man? Hosea 12:3-4 [MT 12:4-5] tells us: "In the womb [Jacob] tried to supplant his brother, and in his manhood he strove with God. 4 He strove with the angel and prevailed, he wept and sought his favor; he met him at Bethel, and there he spoke with him." Here the opponent is called both "God" (אֱלֹהִֽים) and "the angel" (מַלְאָךְ֙). Perhaps this means that God allowed himself to be represented by an angel. It is clear in this passage that Jacob thought he had wrestled with God himself. But when the "man" says "You have striven with God and man," he may be referred to Jacob's life-long resistance to doing things god's way, not just to this nocturnal wrestling match. 
The second question is: Why did the angel (or God) wrestle with Jacob? What was his purpose? And if he was God or an angel, why wasn't it easy for him to defeat Jacob? In v. 25 [MT 26] the mysterious opponent "saw that he could not defeat (Jacob)"! Obviously, if this is God, his power is unlimited. But the text says he realized that he could not defeat Jacob. What does this mean? What would have constituted a defeat? The answer here seems to be that defeat on Jacob's part would be his giving up struggling, giving up the fight for the promise to Abraham, Isaac, and himself. Victory for Jacob was not in overpowering this opponent, but refusing to give up the struggle against seemingly impossible odds. The one area where God limits himself is in permitting humans the free will to accept or reject his promises and his grace. He will not force anyone to believe in him or force anyone to give up believing. The error of super-Calvinism is teaching that God predetermines belief and unbelief. This is a misuse of the doctrine of Divine Election. The Bible teaches that whoever wishes may believe and whoever wishes may not. God's very nature does not allow him to coerce his human creations in this way. It is a limitation on God, but it is a self-limitation. 
32:25b-26
Jacob may not have realized with whom he was wrestling in the dark, but he knew what he had prayed, and he knew the promise of God, and he knew he had to fight on until death, if need be, to protect the family God had given him. After wrestling for long hours in the night, the opponent partially disabled Jacob (dislocating his hip, v. 25 [H 26]), leaving him with no recourse but to cling to his opponent in desperation and not to allow him to leave, lest he cross the brook and attack Jacob's wives and children. Jacob's seemingly strange condition for letting the wrestler go ("I will not release you until you bless me", v. 26 [H 27]) was not a selfish plea for some magical gift—like the three wishes given in a Grimm's fairy tale—but was intended to assure himself that this unknown person meant no harm to his family. If the unknown opponent refused to bless Jacob, Jacob would know his intentions were hostile, and he would cling to him until death. 
32:27-28
The unknown wrestler then asks Jacob's name (v. 27 [H 28]), a logical reply, because he would need that name in order to pronounce the blessing on him and his family. Jacob used his birth name, associated with wrestling with Esau in the womb and following him out of the womb. But the Divine Wrestler changes his name and blesses him as Israel (v. 28 [H 29]), the meaning of which he explains: You have struggled with humans (Esau, Laban) and with God (tonight, both in your earlier prayer, and now in risking your life in physical conflict in order to preserve God's promise to Abraham)". Jacob will later wrestle mightily through a night again in order to make a decision that will save his entire family (p.  ? ). But God's blessing on Jacob as "Israel" was not just on him, but through him on the nation that he would become. Israel was blessed for this tenacity in engaging God in order to protect its family. And in the ultimate fulfillment, Jesus—the true Israel—struggled on the Cross and dealt sin and death mortal blows in order to save humans who have become his family by faith. 
32:29-30
Jacob in turn now wants to know who this anonymous figure is who has blessed him and his family; so he asks (v. 29 [H 30]). But the stranger simply asks him why he needs to ask, implying that it should be obvious that only the God who renamed Abraham and Sarah would now rename him Israel and bless him and his descendants. An angel of God gave the same reply to Samson's father Manoah in Judges 13:18. There the angel replied, “Why do you ask my name? It is too wonderful.” And after he had left, Manoah and his wife believe they have seen God and lived to talk about it (Judges 13:21-22, p.  ? ). Jacob's response is the same: he calls the place Peniel, which means "the face of God" (v. 30 [H 31]), since he believes that he has seen God face-to face and was allowed to live. 
32:32 
"Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle." This is a remarkable statement. An entire dietary law is based upon one event in the life of Jacob, but which is related to the future character and fate of the nation. Similarly, Israel's eating unleavened bread on the eve of the exodus led to the custom of eating only unleavened bread at Passover. All other Israelite dietary laws are derived from the purity-impurity category of animals (Lev 11; Roget's Thes Bible, p. 209 sec. ap). For further examples of such "temporal/cultural bridging" in OT narratives, see Sternberg, Poetics (1985), 122 [locllnk].

Hepner claims that there are many links between the story of Jacob's struggle with the angel and the Passover narrative, but he fails to mention more than one connecting two Hebrew verbs for "limp".

A.1. Jacob finds Esau friendly, 33:1-17
#3  33:1-17   Now Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids.  2 He put the maids with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all.  3 He himself went on ahead of them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near his brother.  4   But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.  5 When Esau looked up and saw the women and children, he said, “Who are these with you?” Jacob said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.”  6 Then the maids drew near, they and their children, and bowed down;  7 Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down; and finally Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down.  8 Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor with my lord.”  9 But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.”  10 Jacob said, “No, please; if I find favor with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God—since you have received me with such favor.  11 Please accept my gift that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have everything I want.” So he urged him, and he took it.  12   Then Esau said, “Let us journey on our way, and I will go alongside you.”  13 But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are frail and that the flocks and herds, which are nursing, are a care to me; and if they are overdriven for one day, all the flocks will die.  14 Let my lord pass on ahead of his servant, and I will lead on slowly, according to the pace of the cattle that are before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.”  15   So Esau said, “Let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.” But he said, “Why should my lord be so kind to me?”  16 So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir.  17 But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house, and made booths for his cattle; therefore the place is called Succoth.
33:1-3
As on the previous night, when he sent his wives and children behind him across the brook in safety, Jacob goes to meet the large company of Esau putting his most cherished people in the rear: he himself goes first, followed by the two maids/concubines and their children, then by Leah and her children, and finally Rachel and Joseph in the rear. Rachel is still his favorite wife (see 29:14-19 [p.  ? ] and 29:30b-35 [p.  ? ]), and her only son Joseph his favorite son. Favoritism toward Joseph will eventually manifest itself in Jacob giving Joseph the famous "coat of many colors (actually, a "long robe with sleeves"; 37:3, 23, 32) to lord it over his brothers and the angry deed of the brothers of selling Joseph into slavery in Egypt (Gen 37, p.  ? ).  Favoritism lavished on favorite sons or favorite wives was the acid that ate at the fabric of the patriarchal families, but which God made use of anyway to accomplish his purposes. 
Jacob approaches Esau with exaggerated gestures of submission: he bows seven times to the ground, a practice attested in extra-biblical documents from that age as used toward kings. The irony here is that this is the very opposite of what was promised Jacob by Isaac in the stolen blessing: "Be master over your brothers; and may your mother's sons bow to you" (27:29 [p.  ? ]). But Jacob is learning that sometimes survival is more important that the pretense of power. 
33:4-11
But Jacob's elaborate strategies were not the reason for his favorable reception by Esau. God had been working on Esau's heart during the years of Jacob's absence. And—truth be told—it is very probable that Jacob's absence allowed Esau not to be constantly reminded of his brother's scheming competitiveness and overweening sense of entitlement. 
Nahum Sarna points out that: "Esau's kiss [v. 4], undoubtedly sincere, appropriately signals the final resolution of the chain of tragic events precipitated by that other kiss, Jacob's deceitful kiss, that played a crucial role in the original blessing scene (27:26-27 [27:18-29])."
After a tearful and affectionate greeting, in vv. 5-7 Jacob introduces his wives and children in the order in which they are following him, with Rachel and Joseph last. Each group bows respectfully to Esau. The presence of women, especially ones who so respectfully bow to Esau, was intended by Jacob as a strategy to encourage Esau to be friendly. It is recorded that a Hittite king approaching an enemy city with intent to attack and conquer it, was met by a peace embassy containing the enemy king's own mother, old women and old men, whereupon he had mercy on the city. 
Esau then questions Jacob about the groups of livestock that preceded him, and Jacob says that they are his gift to his brother. Esau at first refuses, since he maintains that he himself is a wealthy man with large herds and flocks. Esau's words of polite initial refusal of Jacob's offered gifts in v. 9 "Let what you have remain yours" may have a deeper significance than what appears here. The two famous medieval Jewish biblical scholars Rashi and Radak suggested it might represent Esau's final concession of the birthright. 
When in v. 11 Jacob for a second time begs his brother to accept his gift, he changes the word for "gift" from the normal Hebrew word minḥāh to bĕrāḵāh, usually translated 'blessing", the very word used for what Jacob stole from Esau (27:35-36 [27:30-40]). Some scholars think that the shift in terms here signals a hint by Jacob to his brother that this gift is his reparation for that act. 
Jacob eventually prevails on his brother to accept the gift, claiming that it is so good to see his brother that it is like seeing the "face of God" (v. 10), whereupon he uses a slight variant (פְּנֵ֥י אֱלֹהִ֖ים) of the very name he has given to the place where he wrestled with God, Peniel (32:29-30). There is a subtle and humorous allusion here, since in 32:30 (MT 32:31) Jacob expressed amazement that at Peniel he saw the face of God and remained alive. Here again he is amazed that he has seen Esau face-to-face and remained alive! 
Esau does not reciprocate, thus intimating that Jacob's "gift" is the settlement of a debt, not a magnanimous civility which might require a return gift. 
33:12-17
Jacob is relieved that Esau has forgotten his anger, but he is not anxious to give him further occasion to remember. So when Esau offers to escort him to his own home or to Jacob's planned destination safely—remember the Esau's group is entirely male warriors probably armed—Jacob uses the excuse that Esau's male-only group is able to travel rapidly, and should not be held back by the necessary slow travel of Jacob's women, children and livestock (v. 14; compare what we said in 31:22-25 about Laban's ability to overtake Jacob's party on the road from Paddan-Aram). But he promises to join his brother in Seir, which he then conveniently forgets to do and heads for Succoth. 
Jacob, fearful and devious as always, tricks Esau into thinking he is headed south toward Seir, but turns around and heads back north across the Jabbok stream to Succoth, where he settles down and does not leave there for Canaan for another eighteen months (according to Jewish tradition). That he intended to stay for quite a while is indicated by his building a house to live in (not tents) and stalls for his remaining livestock. It is possible that he wished to build his herds again, after parting with a large portion of them to buy off Esau. 
Application

God has given Jacob experiences in this chapter that were more than enough to permanently overcome his constant fears and his temptations to scheme. And yet Jacob stubbornly persists in both of these tendencies, and will continue to do so until the very end of his life. We don't like to think that believers in Jesus can experience all that goes with the salvation experience—the opening of our eyes to understand the scriptures, the new birth, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit—and not go on to lead singularly changed and godly lives for the rest of their lives. Jacob reminds us that this is a sad possibility. I am not saying that in the coming chapters we will not see glimpses of genuine goodness and faith in Jacob, for we will. But we will also see the sad persistence of his tendencies to inordinate fear and to solving his problems by schemes instead of by prayer. Each of us needs to resolve to listen to God every day and let him correct the tendencies that we have, so that they will not hold us back from being the strong testimonies to his grace that we all wish to be.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Jacob becomes Rich in Sons and Laban's Livestock, Genesis 30

​The blessing of his father Isaac that Jacob stole from his brother Esau (Gen 27:28–29) had mentioned wealth from agriculture in the land of promise, but not from livestock rearing in Mesopotamia, although Jacob was already tending his father's livestock in Canaan as a youth. The blessing freely and graciously given to him by Yahweh at Bethel (Gen 28:13–15) had also omitted any mention of this kind of wealth, focusing entirely on the promise to Abraham, which concerned the land and the blessing to all peoples through him and his descendants. That promise, however, did repeat what Yahweh had said to Abraham and Isaac about descendants as numerous as the dust of the earth, and it committed God to protect Jacob while he was on this journey to Paddan-Aram and back (28:15). 

This chapter will show how God will use the envious competition of Leah and Rachel to give Jacob eleven of his eventual twelve sons within a relatively short period, and how Jacob will use his own scheming and trickery to outwit his uncle Laban and build his own collection of livestock to set himself up in business and allow him to return home wealthy. We will see in the coming chapters how the large family of sons and 21 daughters​ (only one mentioned by name is Dinah, not mentioned until chapter 34 [see also comments on 30:14-21]; total number of children 33 [Gen 46:15]) will bring deadly rivalries that will plague Jacob in the near future, but provide the basis for the twelve tribes that will become Yahweh's chosen people and the cradle of the Messiah.  We will see how the small fortune in livestock that Jacob accumulates by trickery will not be needed in order to protect him from his angry brother Esau (32:17–21; 33:4–11).

The Competition in Giving Birth Continues, 30:1–24

Last week we saw how the first wave of births to Jacob came from Leah, because Yahweh had pity on her because Jacob preferred her more beautiful younger sister Rachel. But Rachel was not without resources in this battle of the birth-stool.
Like Sarah before her, Rachel had a maid, a slave whom she could marry off to her husband so that the slave's children could be credited to her, and thus offset the fertility of her older sister Leah. 

30:1-8

When Rachel found that she bore Jacob no children, she became jealous of her sister and complained to Jacob, ‘Give me sons, or I shall die!’ Jacob said angrily to Rachel, ‘Can I take the place of God, who has denied you children?’ ‘Here is my slave-girl Bilhah,’ she replied. ‘Lie with her, so that she may bear sons to be laid upon my knees, and through her I too may build up a family.’ When she gave him her slave-girl Bilhah as a wife, Jacob lay with her, and she conceived and bore him a son. Then Rachel said, ‘God has given judgement for me; he has indeed heard me and given me a son’; so she named him Dan. Rachel’s slave-girl Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob another son. Rachel said, ‘I have devised a fine trick against my sister, and it has succeeded’; so she named him Naphtali.  (Genesis 30:1–8)

Now the shoe was on the other foot: Leah was in the catbird seat, while Rachel the beauty queen was childless! This was unbearable for her. In her anger and jealousy she reproached Jacob, as though this was his fault. "Give me sons, or I shall die!" she shouted. Jacob's obvious defense was the fact that he—and no one else—had sired four sons with Leah. It couldn't be claimed that he was sterile. So he quite properly and logically replied that it must be that God had kept Rachel from conceiving. The obvious implication was that she must do something to persuade God to let her have children. Hannah had prayed to God to remove her infertility and even vowed to give her first child to God, the boy Samuel. And perhaps—we cannot know for sure—Leah too had made her misery into a series of prayers. 

30:3-8

Then she said (to Jacob), “Here is my maid Bilhah; take her to bed! She shall be my surrogate mother: I will have children through her.” So she gave him her maid Bilhah as a wife; and Jacob took her to bed. And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Rachel said, “God has vindicated me: he has heard my prayer and given me a son”; therefore she named him Dan. Rachel’s maid Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, “With god-like wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and have won”; so she named him Naphtali.  (Genesis 30:3–8)

Rachel's words on the birth of Bilhah's first son, “God has vindicated me: he has heard my prayer and given me a son,” imply that she did make the issue a matter for prayer, but she did not trust God to answer the prayer through her own body. Instead she gave her maid Bilhah to Jacob as a secondary wife, assuming that Bilhah was not also barren. When the plan succeeded, and Bilhah gave birth to a son, Rachel celebrated her victory over her sister, claiming that God had vindicated or defended her, and named the boy Dan, which means "(God) vindicates (or: defends)."  This same verb is used in Jacob's deathbed blessings on the tribes in chapter 49:16, "Dan shall vindicate (or: defend) his people, as one of the tribes of Israel." But against whom did Rachel think God was defending her? Against her own sister? And how was the birth of a son through another woman's body a vindication of Rachel personally? It seems that in her jealousy and false triumph, Rachel was not thinking clearly. Before she had her figure as her main asset; now she had a surrogate son in little Dan. Another form of child abuse. But Dan was just the left jab in Rachel's one-two punch at her sister. The knockout blow would be the next son by Bilhah, whom Rachel appropriately named Naphtali, meaning "wrestling." For she said, "With wrestling as powerful as those of a god I have wrestled with my sister, and I have won!" Here Rachel claims to have exerted strength equal to that of a god in defeating her sister. Ironically, the descendants of neither Dan nor Naphtali would have much territory or power; they would be two of the least significant of the twelve tribes. It was as if Leah's team had scored four touchdowns, and Rachel's had now scored two field goals in reply! And that with a substitute quarterback. 

30:9-13

When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took her maid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. Then Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a son. And Leah said, “Good fortune!” so she named him Gad. Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. And Leah said, “Happy am I! For the women will call me happy”; so she named him Asher.  (Genesis 30:9–13)

The text doesn't say that Leah was now perturbed or felt threatened by Rachel's maid Bilhah's giving birth. But she did wish to contribute more sons to Jacob. So she followed Rachel's lead and gave her maid to him. There now resulted two more sons. Leah named them not to celebrate her triumph over Rachel, but to celebrate her own happiness. Gad means "good fortune" and Asher means "happiness" or "blessedness." The Hebrew root of the name Asher is what Jesus used in the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God." Leah rejoiced that because of her giving her maid to Jacob, other women would call her "blessed" or "happy." It is a good kind of happiness, not a spiteful triumph, but a warm feeling deriving from giving to others. 

​30:14-21

In the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” But (Leah) said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” Rachel said, “Then he may lie with you tonight in exchange for your son’s mandrakes.” When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him, and said, “You must come to bed with me; for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he lay with her that night. And God heeded Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. Leah said, “God has given me my hire because I gave my maid to my husband”; so she named him Issachar. And Leah conceived again, and she bore Jacob a sixth son. Then Leah said, “God has endowed me with a good dowry; now my husband will honor me, because I have borne him six sons”; so she named him Zebulun. Afterwards she bore a daughter, and named her Dinah.  (Genesis 30:14–21)

This episode is designed to remind us of how Jacob bought Esau's birthright. Here Leah buys bed time with Jacob from Rachel, the girl with the better figure. And it appears that God honors this transaction buy renewing Leah's fertility. Rachel thought the mandrakes would make her fertile and was willing to sell her husband's favors in exchange for them. The names of the two sons to issue from renewed nights with Jacob mirror her statements. Issachar contains the word sakhar (שָׂכָר) meaning 'hire" or "wages". This had a double reference: (1) Leah had hired Jacob with her son's mandrakes (Gen 30:16), and (2) God gave Leah her wages for giving her maid to Jacob. The name of the next son Zebulun sounds like the Hebrew word for a dowry (זֶבֶד zeḇed). The dowry was usually the gift that the bride's parents gave her to take into a marriage. Although Laban had given her Leah the maid Zilpah, later on she and Rachel claim that he had withheld their dowries and spent them on himself. And Leah had given that maid away to Jacob; so God reimbursed her with another dowry in the form of her sixth son Zebulun. In Jacob's deathbed predictions he makes no allusion to Zebulun's name in 49:13, but predicts that his territory will be in the extreme northwest part of the promised land and a center for sea-going trade, which would bring in much wealth. This might be an oblique allusion to the rich dowry Leah mentioned. Likewise in referring to Issachar (49:14), Jacob fails to pun on his name, but compares him to a strong work-animal who will work hard to make his living wherever he is put. Thus by implication he will earn 'wages'. 

Leah's final child from Jacob was a girl, whom she named דִּינָֽה Dinah (30:21). The name is built on the same Hebrew root as Bilhah's son Dan (see comments on ?), "to vindicate or defend," but Leah makes no comment on her selection of the name. It is this lone daughter who will become the occasion for the first shedding of Canaanite blood by the sons of Jacob, when her older brothers Simeon and Levi think they are avenging her honor by killing her suitor Shechem and the men of his city. As the seventh child and the only female, Dinah is the frosting on Leah's sevenfold cake of children given to Jacob. She would become "Daddy's girl."

30:22-24

Then God remembered Rachel, and God heeded her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son, and said, “God has taken away my reproach”; and she named him Joseph, saying, “May the LORD add to me another son!” (Genesis 30:22–24)

Finally, God responded to Rachel's prayers ("God heeded her") and gave her her own son, whom she named Joseph. Joseph would become the savior of his family through rejection by his brothers and suffering in Egypt. Although not the legal firstborn, he would inherit a double share in the tribal allotments, because his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim would take the place of Levi, the tribe without land allotment. 

At his birth Rachel used a pun on his name, connecting it with Hebrewʾāsaf, a verb meaning "to remove", commenting that by his birth Yahweh had "removed" the stigma of her childlessness. But recognizing that the true meaning of the name was "(Yahweh) will add," Rachel used this name as a prayer for another son. This prayer was answered in that eventually she gave birth to a second son, Benjamin, and in the course of giving birth to him, Rachel will die and be buried near Bethlehem. That son Benjamin will be the ancestor of a small but militarily fierce tribe, and will be the eventual ancestor of both King Saul and Paul the apostle, one man who displeased and disappointed God and one who pleased him mightily to the salvation of many and to the enrichment of the Scriptures. 

At this point Moses has given us a veritable genealogy of the twelve tribes of Israel. These will all figure in the fulfillment of God's promises to Abraham of offspring that will fill the Promised Land and spread his blessings on the surrounding nations. As Christians we also know that through Jesus, the "Lion of the tribe of Judah," as the Apostle John calls him in Revelation, the blessing of forgiveness and salvation will be made available also to us Gentiles. How grateful we should be that, as Paul puts it in Romans 9-11, we gentiles as branches of a wild olive tree were allowed to be grafted into the noble olive tree of Abraham's faith alongside the branches of Jacob's physical and spiritual descendants. 

Jacob's two wives, Leah and Rachel, had to compete for his affections by producing children for him. As the bride of Christ, we do not need to compete for our heavenly Bridegroom's affections. But we gladly seek to be fruitful for him in other ways: through letting the light of our faith be known to others by Christlike lives of kindness and by our words of testimony. Isn't it wonderful to be secure in his love and not to have to earn it? 

Jacob Prospers at Laban's Expense, 30:25–43

When Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country. Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, and let me go; for you know very well the service I have given you.” But Laban said to him, “If you will allow me to say so, I have learned by divination that the LORD has blessed me because of you; name your wages, and I will give it.” Jacob said to him, “You yourself know how I have served you, and how your cattle have fared with me. For you had little before I came, and it has increased abundantly; and the LORD has blessed you wherever I turned. But now when shall I provide for my own household also?” He said, “What shall I give you?” Jacob said, “You shall not give me anything; if you will do this for me, I will again feed your flock and keep it: let me pass through all your flock today, removing from it every speckled and spotted sheep and every black lamb, and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and such shall be my wages. So my honesty will answer for me later, when you come to look into my wages with you. Every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats and black among the lambs, if found with me, shall be counted stolen.” Laban said, “Good! Let it be as you have said.” But that day Laban removed the male goats that were striped and spotted, and all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had white on it, and every lamb that was black, and put them in charge of his sons; and he set a distance of three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob was pasturing the rest of Laban’s flock. Then Jacob took fresh rods of poplar and almond and plane, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the rods. He set the rods that he had peeled in front of the flocks in the troughs, that is, the watering places, where the flocks came to drink. And since they bred when they came to drink, the flocks bred in front of the rods, and so the flocks produced young that were striped, speckled, and spotted. Jacob separated the lambs, and set the faces of the flocks toward the striped and the completely black animals in the flock of Laban; and he put his own droves apart, and did not put them with Laban’s flock. Whenever the stronger of the flock were breeding, Jacob laid the rods in the troughs before the eyes of the flock, that they might breed among the rods, but for the feebler of the flock he did not lay them there; so the feebler were Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s. Thus the man grew exceedingly rich, and had large flocks, and male and female slaves, and camels and donkeys.  (Genesis 30:25–43)

Although in one sense, God used Laban to give Jacob a taste of the medicine he had administered to his brother Esau, in another sense Laban is clearly an oppressor in God's eyes. In fact, Jacob's time under Laban's oppression is an [BKMK]​ anticipation of Israel's bondage in Egypt, and Jacob's escape an anticipation of the Exodus from Egypt. During Jacob's stay in Laban's home he increases from a single man to a family of one husband, four wives, and eleven children: a dramatic increase, which marks the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham. In the following centuries, Jacob and his twelve sons will enter Egypt, become enslaved, and grow from a total number of seventy (including the wives and children of Jacob's sons [Exod 1.1-7]) to a nation of hundreds of thousands. As the Pharaoh tried to stop the proliferation of Israel by murdering the boy babies, so Laban does whatever he can do to keep Jacob's herds from outdoing his own herds in multiplying. But God overrules Laban at every step and make Jacob very rich in livestock and in sons—all of this in preparation for Jacob's escape from Laban and return to the Promised Land. 

​30:27

At the beginning of this section (Gen 30:25) Jacob wishes to return home, since he has now served the years agreed upon for his two wives, and that was the primary reason he was sent to Laban: to procure a wife and begin to have sons. But Laban has learned through divination that the reason for the fertility of his livestock has been the presence of Jacob. Laban is greedy and wishes to exploit Jacob's presence, just as Abimelech king of Gerar did from Isaac (26:26-33), Hamor of Shechem did from Jacob (34:18-24), and the pharaohs exploited Israel in Egypt as slaves. It is possible that here we see one of the signs of fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that all the nations will be blessed through his seed.

30:28-34

Laban offers Jacob monetary incentives to stay: "Name your wages," he offers. 

From earliest times in ancient Mesopotamia institutions like the palace or temple, or private owners of large herds, entered into official written contracts with herdsmen to care for their herds.

Herds were entrusted by their owner on an annual basis to a herdsman. He accepted personal liability for the herd and was remunerated either by a fixed payment, or by a share of the herd's growth and of its produce, or by a mixture of both. The owner had a minimum entitlement to growth which the herdsman had to meet at the expense of his own payment or share. There was, however, an allowance for natural deaths (on production of the skin as proof) and deaths by epidemic or by a lion (upon declaratory oath), but not for an avoidable disease spread by negligence or lost strays . 

In 30:31-34 Jacob proposes a revenue-sharing form of wages: he asks for a part of the action in the form of shares in the newly born livestock. He proposes to remove all spotted, speckled or black animals from Laban's flock, ostensibly leaving only a pure white gene pool. Then he asks for any spotted or speckled offspring from that white pool. 

30:35-43

Laban thinks he has Jacob in his control now, and his greed is his undoing. God overrules Jacob's apparent disadvantage in the wager, and produces many sheep and goats that are speckled and spotted; so that Jacob becomes a very wealthy livestock owner. That Jacob initially thinks he himself has accomplished this by cleverness (vv. 37-43) need not distract us. For he himself has to admit at the end that it was not himself, but God, who overruled Laban's advantage: 

You know that I have served your father with all my strength; yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not permit him to harm me. If he said, ‘The speckled shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore speckled; and if he said, ‘The striped shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore striped. Thus God has taken away the livestock of your father, and given them to me. (Genesis 31:6–9)

Throughout Jacob's life he had the propensity to think he was succeeding by his own cleverness, but eventually had to admit that it was God who was rescuing him.

After 400 years of slavery in Egypt, Israel was very numerous, but not necessarily wealthy. But through the ten plagues that Yahweh brought upon Israel, climaxed by the Passover night killing of the firstborn son in every Egyptian home, God made the Egyptians eager to pay anything Israel wanted just to get them out of Egypt. And thus Moses reports that on the eve of Israel's departure they were loaded down with wealth by the Egyptians, as if they actually "plundered" them (Exod 12:35–36). The text expresses this as God giving the Israelites "favor" with their Egyptian neighbors.

I will bring this people into such favor with the Egyptians that, when you go, you will not go empty-handed; each woman shall ask her neighbor and any woman living in the neighbor’s house for jewelry of silver and of gold, and clothing, and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters; and so you shall plunder the Egyptians.”  (Exodus 3:21–22)

The Israelites had done as Moses told them; they had asked the Egyptians for jewelry of silver and gold, and for clothing, and Yahweh had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. And so they plundered the Egyptians.  (Exodus 12:35–36 NRSV)

“Now you shall see what I will do to the Pharaoh: Indeed, by a mighty hand he will let them go; by a mighty hand he will drive them out of his land.” (Exodus 6:1)

Relating this figuratively to our own "exodus" as Christians, when God responded to our faith in Jesus to deliver us from the bondage to sin, at the same time he enriched us enormously with his own indwelling presence and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, to enable us to have the wherewithal to live the productive Christian life. And the New Testament tells us that, when Jesus died on the cross and subsequently rose from the dead, he "… ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” (Eph 4:8). 


So already in the experience of Israel's ancestor Jacob, we see both an anticipation of the birth of the nation in the exodus from Egypt, but also the New Birth of Christians through the sacrifice of Christ our Passover. This chapter tells of the enrichment of Israel at Laban's expense, but the actual "exodus" escape from Laban's domination will be told in the next chapter, Genesis 31.