And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.
After the debacle with the Hivites, God tells Jacob to return to the house of God (Beyth-‘El). I suspect the significance of God having revealed Himself the first time he fled (barach) from Esau was not lost on Jacob. Jacob’s been running from things most of his life — even his return was perhaps more about leaving Laban than coming home to family. God commands him to make (`asah) an altar (mizbeach), perhaps to force some continuity and accountability upon the still-shifty Jacob.
Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that [were] with him, Put away the strange gods that [are] among you, and be clean, and change your garments:
Jacob takes this very seriously; apparently this made more of an impact than previous encounters with God. That is often the way of it — when we finally come full circle to God’s call, we realize we’ve been carrying with us false gods we no longer need. Though I wonder how Jacob reacted at discovering Rachel’s duplicity…
And they journeyed: and the terror of God was upon the cities that [were] round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob.
God honors their sanctification by protecting them from the revenge Jacob had feared. Jacob in turn honors the command:
And he built there an altar, and called the place Elbethel: because there God appeared unto him, when he fled from the face of his brother.
Interesting how it repeats fleeing the face of his brother (barach paniym ‘ach), as well as compounding “God of the house of God” (‘El Beyth-‘El). Though, it is also a time of weeping (‘Allown Bakuwth) as Rebekah’s nurse (yanaq ) dies (muwth) — I wonder if she joined them when he met Esau, or if she perhaps had been there with Jacob through all the years of exile:
But Deborah Rebekah’s nurse died, and she was buried beneath Bethel under an oak: and the name of it was called Allonbachuth.
God nevertheless blesses (barak) Jacob:
And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padanaram, and blessed him.
He affirms the name Israel (Yisra’el, God prevails):
And God said unto him, Thy name [is] Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel.
And God said unto him, I [am] God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins;
And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land.
And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him, Bethel.
Alas, Rachel too gets what she wants, but it proves her undoing:
And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also. And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin.
Not sure how Rachel’s loss affected his sex life, but I suspect he was neglecting Bilhah; perhaps the reminder of Rachel was too poignant:
And it came to pass, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine: and Israel heard [it]. Now the sons of Jacob were twelve:
Again, I wonder if the irony with respect to Dinah was lost on them. What a messed up family; hardly cheaper by the dozen!
And Jacob came unto Isaac his father unto Mamre, unto the city of Arbah, which [is] Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac sojourned.
Its interesting to see the futility of Jacob’s fleeing. He left because he feared Isaac would soon die, and Esau would then kill him. But Isaac lived a long time after, to see Esau’s change of heart; all Jacob did was miss the death of his beloved mother. His second flight was equally pointless, leading to the defilement of Dinah and the destruction of the Hivites. Finally, at the end, he arrives back in the land of fatness (Mamre’) in the place of association (Chebrown).
Is it not ever thus? Do we not all find ourselves running from our past, from our family and our failures? Does that not lead to the death of all we love? Yet only when we encounter God and humble ourselves to return can we enter in prosperity and relationship, and make peace with our ghosts (gava` ):
And Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people, [being] old and full of days: and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.
At long last, after a lifetime of conflict, the brothers are finally working together. I’m torn between relief at the happy ending, and anguish at all that was wasted.
God, again I am reminded of how much I have played the fool in my life. Out of fear and pain, listening to worldy-wise advice, I have split myself and my family in my flight from reality. Lord, bring me to back to you, back to where I once belonged. Don’t let me wander in the land of my enemies, or be the death of those I love. Teach me to dwell in unity with my brother, that I may receive the true inheritance of growth and connectedness. By the blood of Jesus your son, Amen.