ISRAEL AND THE PROMISES (Genesis 32-35)
Jacob had one more hurdle to overcome and that was himself. He had to appease his brother Esau, whom he had cheated out of his birthright and blessings — the two most important things in life. And as before, Jacob still relied on trickery. God had already promised to stand by him and even send some angels to watch over him. For the past twenty years, these angels were climbing the ladder up and down; yet, Jacob had not fully learned to trust the Lord. Now that he was facing his day of reckoning, he had to learn that he himself would have to face his guilt. Fear came to Jacob as never before and he prayed as never before to the God of Abraham and Isaac to bail him out of the dead end he ended up in. He reminded God to keep His Promises, while he broke every one of his. Now, he was designing ways to bribe his way into his brother Esau’s favor.
First, Jacob sent a messenger to Esau telling him that his servant Jacob was seeking an audience with his lord Esau, but the news that his brother was coming to meet him with four hundred men, made Jacob desperate. Esau was not afraid of their family God and he was not a vengeful person. It was Jacob’s self-imposed life that had come home to roost and create unbearable fear to face his brother whom he had deprived of his birthright and the family blessings as the head of the household. Note the emphasis on addressing Esau as being the lord and Jacob as a servant accompanied with an enormously large gift of appeasement. Fear drove him to divide his people into several camps and sent them ahead of himself including his wives and children. In case Esau attacked one group the others could escape. Jacob loved his life more than anything in this world.
The night before he was to face his brother, Jacob was left alone, with the river Jabbok between his family and possessions and himself. Suddenly, Jacob realized that his cunning plan to bribe would not win back his brother’s favor nor would his sweet talk or all the excuses impress a warrior brother who had the right to destroy him. Thus, for the first time in his life, Jacob began to repent before the God of his fathers. Jacob said a beautiful prayer in Genesis 32:10-12, “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 groups. 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.” Jacob had created a life and thought for himself that drove him to expect the worst from others, even from his brother. It turned him into an utterly nervous wreck. He had to come to terms with himself and this time he did get an unexpected encounter in a dream that became real.
A stranger took him on in a wrestling match that lasted until daybreak. Jacob proved his equal and the stranger disabled Jacob by dislocating his hip and left him limping. Jacob for the first time lost the contest by foul play. When he realized that he could no longer fight, he held on to the stranger. The stranger begged to be let go, but Jacob demanded to be blessed by the victor. The stranger asked, “What is your name?” The looser replied, “My name is Jacob.” The stranger then declared, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince you have contended with God and men and has survived.” Jacob tried to find out the stranger’s name, but he was blessed by him instead. The stranger left it up to Jacob to explain his limp and new attitude. He named the place Peniel because he believed that he had seen God face to face and did not die.
In the morning Israel, and not Jacob came out of his tent a new man with no more fear in his heart to face his brother. Esau and his four hundred fighting men had no intention to engage or inquire about Jacob’s plan to meet each other. Jacob opened his eyes and there was Esau running toward him and throwing his arms around him. They exchanged hugs and tears of joy. There was no animosity or envy present. After their tender embrace, Esau wanted to be introduced to his brother’s family. Jacob’s goods and riches played no role to a man that had more than he needed himself. He was far too happy to have his baby brother back. At that moment neither the birthright or Isaac’s blessing stood in the way of a great reunion. Esau returned home to Seir, and Jacob or Israel settled in Succoth near Shechem in Canaan. From the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, he purchased a plot of land where he pitched his tent and erected an altar to El Elohe Israel. It meant to the new man, “The God of Israel and mighty is the God of Israel.”
Jacob returned to Canaan with a new name and a new responsibility. He had no more Laban looking over his shoulders and no one else watching his back. Like so many fathers he had a blind eye towards what his sons were up to. He trusted ten of them enough with his herds and neglected to control their behavior. The Shechemites were very friendly and Dinah was a bit bold to venture out alone. The prince of the Shechems fell for her and forced himself on her and he sent his father to ask Jacob for permission to marry his daughter. They even were willing to accept Jacob’s faith be circumcised. Before they could marry, Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi broke their agreement and killed all Shechem males while they were recovering from circumcision. Jacob had no choice but pack up and leave the area. He moved everything to Bethel, including the altar. He had another dream from God reminding him that he was Israel and no longer Jacob. While they were moving toward Ephrath, Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin and memorialized her there. In Migdal Eder, Reuben embarrassed his father by sleeping with his concubine Bilhah. In Mamre, Isaac passed away and Esau and Jacob buried him.
This was a time when Jacob could not keep pace with God’s Promises. He and Rachel spent too much on Joseph and alienated him from his brothers. They had made for him a coat of many colors and sent him to check up on his brothers. Joseph was a dreamer and in one of his dreams he told his brothers and even parents that they bowed to him. That sealed his fate. The angry brothers sold their dreamer to Ishmaelite and Midianite traders that sold Joseph to an Egyptian lord. Then they dipped his coat in animal blood and gave it to their parents. Judah the prince of promise and the group leader embarrassed himself. His oldest son was married to Tamar. He died and left no heir. According to tradition, the second son had to marry the widow and produce an offspring. He hated the idea and died without fulfilling his obligation. Actually he was killed; very likely by Tamar’s family and certainly not by God. Judah promised her his third son as soon as he was of age. Judah did not follow through with his obligation and Tamar resorted to be a prostitute and enticed her father-in-law to impregnate her. She knew that her father-in-law could not be trusted. For protection she kept his ring and staff. When Judah learned of her pregnancy, he was ready to burn her alive. To his surprise, she invited her father-in-law to burn with her. The embarrassed Judah confessed that he was the father of Tamar’s twins Perez and Zerah (Genesis 38). When we add up Israel’s events, if it had not been for Joseph ending up in Egypt and had his family follow him, the outcome of Israel’s history may have been completely different. Esau, to the contrary did well, grew rich and raised kings. Jacob died in Egypt and he was taken back and buried in his family plot in Canaan (Genesis 36, 38, 49:33-50). Before Jacob died, he blessed all his sons and predicted and promised a special role for Judah, Leah’s fourth son and for Joseph’s second son Ephraim. Both would raise kings and become nations (Genesis 48-49). Israel or Jacob believed firmly that God would see to it that they would in spite of their erring ways claim their promises. And it became an amazing display of divine intervention. To save mankind, Elohim chose a people to be His witness in the world, but who at the crucial time would also fail and Christ was sent to pick up the pieces.