Genesis 32:1-33:20 House Divided, Gathered, Divided

vision… double-camp… negotiation… giving up things he stole… four hundred men… afraid… calls on Yahweh… faith, humility, fear, hope… bribe… wrestled… persevere… blessing… prevails… Esau’s heart… sour note…

Genesis 32:1-33:20

And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them, he said, This [is] God’s host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim.

An intringuing encounter (paga`), parallel to his first vision at Bethel. Not sure why he sees (ra’ah) one encampment (machaneh) and names it double-camp (Machanayim) — perhaps a superlative, perhaps it just means that God’s host met with Jacob’s host. Jacob also sends his own messengers (mal’ak):

And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the country of Edom.

Now, there’s a tricky negotiation. Its interesting how Jacob presents himself:

And he commanded them, saying, Thus shall ye speak unto my lord Esau; Thy servant Jacob saith thus, I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed there until now:

Good, he’s presenting himself as a servant (`ebed), not demanding obedience to Isaac’s blessing.

And I have oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants, and womenservants: and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find grace in thy sight.

He probably emphasizes his wealth to demonstrate that he’s not after Esau’s inheritance. So, in essence he’s giving up the two things he stole from Esau; a good start to reconciliation!

And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to thy brother Esau, and also he cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him.

Gulp! That’s not the sort of escort you’d expect at a genial family reunion. What is Esau thinking? Jacob understandably fears the worst:

Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed: and he divided the people that [was] with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels, into two bands; And said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape.

But, surprisingly, in addition to taking defensive precautions he also calls on Yahweh:

And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the LORD which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee:

Clearly, he is putting faith in God’s promise. What’s more, he actually demonstrates humility:

I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands.

Interestingly, Jacob has formed his own double-camp (sh@nayim machaneh). Jacob articulates both his fear:

Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, [and] the mother with the children.

and his hope:

And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.

I have to say, Jacob doesn’t always came across as a model citizen, but this is a very impressive prayer. He also puts feet to this prayers by not running away, but trusting in God — though he also keeps his powder dry, in a manner of speaking.

And he lodged there that same night; and took of that which came to his hand a present for Esau his brother;

The gift is quite elaborate — probably five herds, totaling several hundred animals — as is the manner of presentation:

And say ye moreover, Behold, thy servant Jacob [is] behind us. For he said, I will appease him with the present that goeth before me, and afterward I will see his face; peradventure he will accept of me.

I suppose one might fault Jacob for not simply trusting in God rather than trying to bribe his brother, but if I were in his place I’d probably do the same. Though, Jacob doesn’t get off that easily:

And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.

We don’t know how this came about. Did the man attack him? Was it a friendly contest, perhaps for a wager? It certainly seems to have gone on for a long time, with a surprise ending:

And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.

This sounds to me more like a skillful blow (naga`) rather than a magical touch, but commentators disagree. Regardless, it doesn’t deter Jacob — if anything, it encourages him to persevere:

And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.

I must admit, its rather nice to see Jacob earn a blessing (barak) — not through trickery, but through perseverance and suffering. And, interestingly, that blessing involves the loss of his trickster name Jacob (Ya`aqob):

And he said unto him, What [is] thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.

He is now Israel (Yisra’el), God prevails. He now wins not by deception, but by facing (paniym) God’s overwhelming power — that is, Peniel (P@nuw’el).

And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.

And interestingly enough, it all works out:

And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.

Had Esau already forgiven him, and just brought his entourage in case it was another trick? Or had God miraculously changed Esau’s heart at the last moment. It doesn’t seem to be the gifts, at least:

And he said, What [meanest] thou by all this drove which I met? And he said, [These are] to find grace in the sight of my lord. And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast unto thyself.

Of course, Esau doesn’t exactly offer to give Jacob his birthright, either; then again, Isaac isn’t dead so that would probably be premature in any case.

And Jacob said, Nay, I pray thee, if now I have found grace in thy sight, then receive my present at my hand: for therefore I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God, and thou wast pleased with me. Take, I pray thee, my blessing that is brought to thee; because God hath dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough. And he urged him, and he took [it].

One can imagine the joy and relief on Jacob’s face, given that he was prepared to lose half his wealth and family. Yet, Jacob is still Jacob, and the story ends on a sour note, as Jacob sneaks out of Esau’s invitation.

And he said, Let us take our journey, and let us go, and I will go before thee. And he said unto him, My lord knoweth that the children [are] tender, and the flocks and herds with young [are] with me: and if men should overdrive them one day, all the flock will die. Let my lord, I pray thee, pass over before his servant: and I will lead on softly, according as the cattle that goeth before me and the children be able to endure, until I come unto my lord unto Seir.

I wonder if Esau smelled something fishy:

And Esau said, Let me now leave with thee [some] of the folk that [are] with me. And he said, What needeth it? let me find grace in the sight of my lord.

But, he doesn’t make a big deal about it.

So Esau returned that day on his way unto Seir. And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built him an house, and made booths for his cattle: therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.

So, what’s with that? Did Jacob still fear that Esau was tricking him, or would change his mind? Or, was he simply being wise about the need for elbow room — especially given the history with Lot and Abraham. Yet, if his motives were honorable, why make up excuses? Was he just so afraid of explicitly having to leave Esau’s hospitality that he ends up implicitly sneaking out?

The best I can figure it, Jacob still can’t quite trust God (or other people) enough to live an honest life. That’s the tragedy of a life of deceit — it doesn’t just ruin your relationship with other people, it warps your entire thinking. At least he starts out honestly with his new neighbors:

And he bought a parcel of a field, where he had spread his tent, at the hand of the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for an hundred pieces of money

Alas, even that doesn’t go as well as one might hope, as we’ll soon see.


Lord, as flawed as Jabob is, I admire his courage and perseverance in calling on your name in his hour of trial, and not retreating in cowardice. Lord, grant me the wisdom and faithfulness to call on you in the little things as well as the big things, and not trust in my warped human strength and perceptions. Teach me to live in integrity with myself and all who know me. That i might be known from my yieldedness to you and not my own cleverness. In Jesus name, Amen.