Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Jacob: Genesis 28:10-36:43
Running, Wrestling, and Reproducing, this is the story of the evolution of Jacob.
Chapter 28:10-22 So, Jacob is running away from his brother and is on his way to Haran to stay with his Uncle Laban when he has a dream. In his dream, there is a stairway to heaven (insert Led Zeppelin melody here) with angels going up and down the stairs. Then God talks to him and lets him know yet again that he will have plenty of descendants. This time though he adds this really great verse that I love, “What’s more, I will be with you, and I will protect you where ever you go. I will someday bring you safely back to this land. I will be with you constantly until I have finished giving you everything I have promised.” Jacob wakes up acknowledging God and sets his pillow (a stone…ouch) up as a memorial pillar and names the place, Bethel, or “House of God.” And just when you think Jacob is coming around and is finally going to submit to God, he basically says, “Okay God, IF you keep that little promise you just made, about protecting me and bringing me back to this land safely, I guess I will make you my God and I will tithe to you” ….as if he is doing God a favor. Jacob has gone from a bratty, deceptive little kid to a cocky young adult, but don’t give up on him just yet, watching his evolution has been my favorite part of the Bible so far.
Chapter 29 (and part of Chapter 30) is basically a trashy romance novel minus the penis euphemisms (not, that I‘ve ever read a trash romance novel….). It starts out innocent enough as Jacob arrives in Haran and seeks out his Uncle. He is having a conversation with some shepherds about where to find his uncle, when he sees Uncle Laban’s daughter Rachel. I love, love, love this next part. Jacob sees Rachel and recognizes her has his cousin so as it was customary in those days, he goes over to give her a kiss on the cheek. As he kisses her, his eyes fill with tears, and he is instantly head over heels in love with her. After a month of working and living with his uncle, Laban offers to pay Jacob for his work, but Jacob doesn’t want money, he wants Rachel. And so it is agreed upon that Jacob will work for 7 years to “pay” for Rachel. Talk about a love story! I can’t remember the last time I worked 7 years for anything other than a paycheck! But don’t get too wrapped up in the romance, coming up next, Jacob the deceiver has the tables turned on him. Laban tricks Jacob by sending his older daughter Leah into Jacob’s tent after his wedding to Rachel. So once Jacob has blindly slept with Leah, he has no choice but to marry her. He is still in love with Rachel though, and is obviously furious with his father-in-law. Laban tells Jacob that he can have Rachel too, as long as he promises to work for another seven years. Laban gives him Rachel a week later and Jacob actually keeps his promise to Laban by working for another 7 years. Then the text clearly states that Jacob loves Rachel more then Leah….poor Leah. During the next 7 years Jacob turns into a baby making factory. God allows Leah to have kids to compensate for her feeling unloved by Jacob. First she has Reuben, then Simeon, then Levi and then Judah.
Chapter 30 Okay, here’s where the romance novel turns into a trashy romance novel. Rachel starts getting jealous that she is not having any babies, so she yells at Jacob about it, as if it’s his fault. After a huge fight, they decide to solve this problem by prayer…..just kidding! The book of Genesis would not be has interesting if everyone actually turned to prayer for their problems! What really happens, is that they decide to solve Rachel’s infertility dilemma by having Jacob sleep with Rachel’s maid Bilhah. Bilhah pops out two more sons for Jacob, Dan, and Naphtali. So Leah gets jealous and gives Jacob her maid, Zilpah to sleep with since she stopped having babies after the birth of Judah. Zilpah gives birth to two more sons, Gad and Asher. One day the oldest son of Jacob and Leah brought home roots from a mandrake plant for his mother Leah, and Rachel wanted some (it is safe to say that if you are fighting over a root, you have reached new lows of insecurity and jealousy). So Rachel says to Leah, “I’ll let you sleep with Jacob if you give me some mandrake root.” So Leah and Jacob make their 5th son, Issachar, and then a sixth son, Zebulun, and then finally a daughter, Dinah. Then God decides to give Rachel a son from her own womb instead of from her servant Bilhah, and she names him Joseph. Yes, that Joseph, you know the one with the Technicolor dream coat? Remember him. With all the sex Jacob had been having I’m not sure how he managed to get any real work done. But work he did, and his wealth started to increase. He had finished paying his debt to Laban so he asked to take his wives and children back to his homeland. Laban begs him to stay offering him any wages he wants. Jacob strikes a deal with him (I guess he hasn’t learned his lesson) and says that he will stay if Laban agrees to give Jacob all of his livestock that is speckled or spotted, and all of the dark sheep as his wages. As soon as they agreed, Laban removes all the livestock that is supposed to go to Jacob and gives it to his sons, who moved the herd 3 days distance from Haran. The next part is weird. Jacob takes fresh shoots from a bunch of trees, then sets them up by the watering troughs so that the animals would see them when they drank water and mated. This method apparently created offspring that were exclusively streaked and speckled. I’m not sure if this is something God made possible or if this was a farming practice of this time period, but the details don’t matter, all that matters is that it worked. Furthermore, Jacob only used this tree shoot method with the stronger animals so consequently his flock of animals were stronger than his Uncles.
Chapter 31 This causes tension between Jacob, Laban and his brother in laws, so after God speaks to Jacob in a dream, he decides to gather up his children and wives and return to Bethel (the place where Jacob turned his stone pillow into a memorial) without telling Laban. On their way out of town, Rachel decides to steal some of her fathers idols, but she doesn’t tell anyone what she has done. Three days later, Laban realizes that Jacob and family are gone so he gathered some relatives and went after him. Laban and his men catch up with Jacob in seven days. Laban confronts Jacob about leaving so suddenly without giving him a chance to say goodbye to his daughters or grandchildren. Then he brings up the fact that he is missing some idols and accuses Jacob of stealing. Jacob tells him to search everywhere for his stolen items and search he does. He never finds the idols though because Rachel is up on her camel sitting on them and when her father tries to search her camel she basically says, “back off Dad, I’m on my period.” So, like all men who are totally grossed out by women’s menstruation , he backs off. After some arguing, Laban and Jacob make a peace treaty and set up a pile of stones to commemorate the terms of this peace treaty.
Chapter 32 So Jacob and crew are back on the road to Bethel and after they are met by some angels of God, Jacob decides it’s time to mend fences with Esau so he sends some messengers ahead of him to tell Esau, “Humble greeting from your servant Jacob…” the messengers return with the news that Esau is on his way to meet Jacob….with four hundred army men. Jacob is terrified, even though God had already promised him that he would make sure he and his family returned home safely, so he divides his flocks and servants so that if one group is attacked the other groups might have a chance at survival. Jacob turns to prayer (a very novel idea), and reminds God that he was promised a safe journey…as if God forgot. Then, Jacob makes a present for Esau. Since Hallmark doesn’t make a, “I’m sorry I stole your Blessing” card, Jacob sends his messengers back to Esau with livestock gifts, in hopes that Esau will be friendly towards him. So up until this point everything seems normal and logical, so naturally their has to be some sort of crazy supernatural event…..brace yourself it’s good. After sending his children and wives across the Jabbok river, Jacob has a wrestling match with God (more on this phenomenon in the Questions that got answered by….” section). After wrestling all night with God, God finally touches Jacobs hip and dislocates it. Then he asks Jacob his name, when Jacob responds he says, “I am changing your name to Israel because you have struggles with God and Man and have won.” Then Jacob asks for God’s name but doesn’t get a response. Instead Jacob gets blessed, and then he names the place of the wrestling match, “Peniel which means “face of God.”
Chapter 33 Pretty soon, Jacob sees Esau coming with his army. He positions his concubines and their children first, then Leah and her kids behind them and Rachel and Joseph behind Leah (talk about playing favorites!). Esau immediately runs to Jacob and kisses him and they are both in tears at the sight of each other. The rest of chapter 33 is the brothers getting reacquainted and assuring the reader that Esau has completely forgiven his brother. They part on good terms and Jacob went off to settle with his family in Shechem while Esau went back to Seir.
Chapter 34 This next chapter is a very sad story about Jacob’s children and their less than admirable choices. Dinah, Jacob’s only daughter goes to visit some friends in the area when a local prince named Shechem rapes her. Jacob tells his sons about the rape and they are all very upset as you can imagine. Meanwhile Shechem, the rapist, tells his father Hamor that he is in love with Dinah, and he wants to marry her. Both men go to Jacob and sons and ask for their permission to have Dinah as Shechem’s wife. Jacob’s sons say, “Sure, but you, and every male in your city, has to be circumcised.” The King and Prince agree and everyone is circumcised right away. Three days later, two of Jacobs sons, Simeon and Levi, took their swords into the city and slaughter every man there. They rescued Dinah and removed all the women, children, and livestock from the city and the rest of the brothers help burn the entire city down. Jacob is angry at Simeon and Levi for taking revenge, because now everyone in the surrounding cities will most likely come after Jacob and his family to avenge the people of Shechem. But Jacob’s sons argue that they were justified in committing murder because their sister was not to be treated as a prostitute.
Chapter 35 After the mass murder, God tells Jacob he needs to move to Bethel. Jacob tells his family to destroy all their idols (it’s about time!) and to clean up before the move. Jacob takes all of the idols and their earnings and buries them beneath a tree. God protects Jacob and family as they travel to Bethel, and once they get there Jacob builds an altar. Soon after their arrival, Rebekah’s nurse dies. God comes to Jacob in a dream and reminds him that his name is not Jacob, but Israel, and then reiterates the “may descendants,” and “promised land” covenant he made to Abraham. Next is the surprise birth of Benjamin from Rachel, who dies just after an excruciating labor. Then there is a brief paragraph about Ruben (Jacobs oldest son) having sex with his fathers concubine. After a brief reminder of who the 12 sons of Jacob are, and who the babies mamas are, chapter 35 concludes with the death of Jacob’s Dad, Isaac and his burial by both of his sons Esau and Jacob, which makes me feel nostalgic because Isaac and Ishmael burried Abraham together. Brotherly love is very important to God.
Chapter 36 Not much to report here, just the family tree of Esau. It is also mentioned that Esau settled in the land of Seir because him and his brother were so filthy rich that the land of Canaan could not support their multitude of livestock.
Things I loved:
I loved to watch the transformation in Jacob from a mischievous little boy who deceives everyone to a responsible man who wrestles with God and wins.
I love that all of the characters I have read about are average Joes. God does not choose heroes, he creates them.
Laban is a great example of how God uses bad situations to His advantage. All the things Laban did to Jacob were unfair but they served a great purpose. Jacob getting a taste of his own medicine and being deceived and forced to work so hard for what he wanted matured Jacob and turned him into the man that God intended him to be.
Things I Did Not Love:
Jacob having sex with all of those women. I know it was socially accepted during this time period, but as a woman, I was a little offended.
Jacob’s sons committing murder…..was that really necessary guys?
Questions to Ask God When I Get To Heaven:
I want more details on the wrestling match. I feel like there is a multitude of lessons to learn from it and I have only begun to scratch the surface.
Questions That Got Answered By Doing This Bible Study:
I have read about some pretty amazing miracles and supernatural happenings. Did they really happen or are they metaphors/fairy tales/embellishments? Yes, they happened. You can’t believe in some of the miracles like Jesus rising from the dead but not believe in other miracles like Jacob wrestling with God. Each of the miracles in the Bible served a purpose and accomplished something that couldn't be accomplished in any other way. I do not think that we should waste our energy contemplating if or how God accomplished these miracles, that would be missing the point. What our energy needs to be focused on is what we can learn from these events.
In verse 32: 22, who was the “Man” that wrestled with Jacob? I believe it was God in the form of a man. After the wrestling match in verse 30, Jacob says “….I have seen the face of God and my life has been spared.” To further back this theory up, the author (Moses) writes the word “Man” with a capital “M.” Everywhere else in the bible, when referring to God, or Jesus a capital letter is used (He, Him,).
If the “Man” was God, why did it say that he realized he couldn’t win in verse 25? Obviously he could win because in verse 25 be barley touches Jacobs hip and it knocked out of joint. I think the phrase “he could not win,” and “Let me go, it is nearly dawn,” was not God admitting defeat, rather it was God expressing that Jacob was not going to back down from the wrestling match and God needed the wrestling match to be over and done with since Esau and his army were on their way.
Why did the man ask Jacobs name, if the “Man“ was God, didn’t he know Jacobs name? In my opinion, He wasn’t asking, “What is your name?” he was asking, “Who are you?” So when Jacob answered, “Jacob, the deceiver” it became apparent to Jacob and to God that that was not a fitting title for him anymore. The wrestling match was a pivotal point in Jacobs life. Hence, the name change to “Israel.”
What does God want us to learn from the Wrestling match? The wrestling match is by far my most favorite part of the bible thus far. I think there is a lot to learn that I haven even began to understand. But for now what I have learned is this: Before the wrestling match, I don’t believe that Jacob had a relationship with God. Sure, he believed in him, but he only referred to him as, “the God of my father Isaac,” or “The God of my grandfather Abraham.” He never builds an altar to worship God, like Isaac and Abraham did, he builds “memorial pillars.” And yes he talks to God, but he was probably talking to other “Gods” and idols as well. Just before he wrestles with God and his fear about his brother killing has overcome him, he begs God to save him and I believe the wrestling match was the only way that Jacob became “saved.” Once he wrestled with God, he began a relationship with God. Jacob was the grandson of Abraham, but that want enough. God wants us to want him, and in the definition I found to the word “wrestle” was the word “effort.” God demands effort. Yes, God chose Jacob (and Isaac and Abraham for that matter) but Jacob needed to choose God as well. I think another interesting point is that even after Jacob’s hip was knocked out of joint (which I imagine was excruciating!), he still did not let go of God. He simply went from fighting with God to clinging to God, and it was in his clinging that Jacob finally realized how much he needed to be with God. He needed God so desperately that he clung to him even after his hip came out if socket. I also think this is a beautiful metaphor for why God allows us to experience such hardships in our lives. When we are afraid or injured (physically or emotionally) that is when we are the most vulnerable and when God can really communicate with us clearly.
When did Jacob realize he was wrestling with God? I think it was after his hip was knocked out of joint, up until then I assume he thought he was wrestling with a robber or with Esau.
Final thoughts: I am finding that the most far fetched and random stories are the ones that I am learning the most from. As with most things in the bible, the wrestling match between God and Jacob has been speculated to be a metaphor much like the pillar of salt thing. When I am reading the bible and a shocking story or a story that seems like it doesn’t fit (noah being dunk, enoch disappearing) happens I don’t think the issue is weather or not it literally happened. I think the issue is why did God include this in the Bible? And, what does he want us to learn from it? After all, those stories must stand out for a reason.