Sunday, April 20, 2014

Lecture Six: Jacob - He Who Struggles With God

Jacob and Esau (25:19-34)

Rebekah was barren.

Isaac prayed for her, and God allowed her to get pregnant.

Later, Rebekah complained to God because the baby inside of her was constantly jostling.

The Lord said to her:

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
    and the older will serve the younger.”

Rebekah gave birth to twin boys.

The first boy was covered with red hair and named “Esau.”

Esau sounds like the word for “hairy.”

When the second boy came out, he was holding on to his brother’s heel and was named “Jacob.”

“Jacob” means “heal grabber.”

The text says when the boys grew up Esau became a skilled hunter and Jacob stayed among the tents.

Esau = stereotypical “dumb jock.”

Jacob = stereotypical “momma’s boy.”

One day, Esau comes in from hunting half-starved.

Jacob gets Esau to trade his birthright for some “red stew.”

The text says that this event was one of the reasons that Esau came to be known as “Edom.”

“Edom” means “red.”

Esau was the founder of the Edomites.

Jacob Steals Esau’s Blessing (27:1-28:9)

Isaac prepared to give Esau the blessing of the firstborn.

Isaac was blind.

While Esau was out hunting, Rebekah had Jacob dress up as Esau in order to trick Isaac into giving him the blessing.

Isaac fell for it.

When Esau returned he wept and begged for a blessing of his own.

Isaac also blessed him, but said that he would be Jacob’s servant for a very long time before he was free again.

Esau made up his mind to kill Jacob after his father had died.

Rebekah realized their plan had backfired and she and Isaac sent Jacob away to live in Paddan Aram.

Chiastic Structure of Isaac narrative

A. Abraham desires blessing for Ishmael, Sarah desires blessing for Isaac
     B. First son (Ishmael) becomes wilderness wanderer, second son (Isaac) stays in tents
          C. God’s reassuring promise: Two sons/two nations
               D. God speaks to Abraham
                    E. Isaac carries burden/wood for his own sacrifice/death sentence
                         F. God preserves line of Abraham/spares Isaac’s life
                              G. Nahor’s descendants
                                   H. Death and burial of Sarah
                                         I. Isaac marries Rebekah
                                   H'. Death and burial of Abraham
                              G'. Ishmael’s descendants
                         F'. God preserves line of Abraham/opens Rebekah’s barren womb
                    E'. Rebekah carries burden/pregnancy complications/death sentence
                D'. God speaks to Rebekah
           C'. God’s promise: Two sons/two nations
     B'. First son (Esau) goes out to the wilderness, second son (Jacob) stays in tents
A'. Isaac desires blessing for Esau, Rebekah desires blessing for Jacob

Jacob’s Dream at Bethel (28:10-22)

As Jacob was fleeing from Esau, he stopped to rest and had a dream.

He saw a stairway connecting heaven and earth with angels coming and going on it.

God spoke to Jacob, saying:

“I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

When Jacob awoke, he exclaimed, “God was here, and I didn’t know it!”

Jacob then set up a memorial stone and named the place “Bethel,” which means “house of God.”

Jacob Arrives in Paddan Aram (29:1-20)

Jacob came to the land of the “eastern peoples.”

There he found a well with some shepherds at it.

When his cousin Rachel arrived, he removed the stone covering from the well and watered her flock.

Jacob then kissed her and started crying, telling her that he was her cousin.

Rachel then ran off to find her father.

Laban came and welcomed Jacob and took him into his home.

Laban had two daughters, Rachel and Leah. Leah was the oldest.

Jacob was in love with Rachel and he made a deal with Laban to work for him for seven years in exchange for his daughter.

The text says that he lover her so much that the seven years “seemed like only a few days” to him.

Jacob Marries Leah and Rachel (29:21-31)

At the end of the seven years, Jacob said, “Give me my wife! My time is up, and I want to sleep with her!”

On the wedding night, Laban dressed Leah up as the bride, and when Jacob woke up in the morning – there she was!

Jacob was angry and demanded an explanation for the trick.

Laban said that it was the custom to marry the older daughter before the younger one.

Laban said if he wanted Rachel, too, he would give her to him, but he needed to agree to work for seven more years.

Jacob agreed to this deal.

Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah, but both were barren.

God saw that Leah was not loved, and he had compassion on her and allowed her to have children.

Jacob’s Children (29:32-30:24)
Leah births Reuben, whose name means “He has seen my misery,” saying "God has seen my misery."

Leah births Simeon, whose name means “One who hears,” saying "God has heard that I am not loved."

Leah births Levi, whose name means “Attached,” saying "maybe my husband will become attached to me now."

Leah births Judah, whose name means “Praise,” saying essentially "forget about what my husband thinks of me, I'm going to praise God this time."

Rachel gets jealous her sister's kids, and gives Jacob her slave girl Bilhah to have kids on her behalf.

Bilhah births a boy that Rachel names Dan, whose name means “He has vindicated,” saying "God has vindicated me from this unjust situation with my sister and my husband."

Bilhah also births a boy that Rachel names Naphtali, whose name means “Struggle,” saying "I've beaten my sister in this struggle for my husband's affection."

Leah gets jealous of Rachel again, and gives Jacob her own slave girl, Zilpah, to further the baby-making process along.

Zilpah births a boy that Leah names Gad, whose name means “Good fortune,” saying "Another boy! What good fortune!"

Zilpah also births a boy that Leah names Asher, whose name means “Happy,” saying "Oh! This makes me so happy!"

Later, Rachel gets jealous of Leah’s mandrake flowers (thought to be an aphrodisiac at the time), and exchanges bed-time with Jacob for them.

Leah, however, gets pregnant again and births Issachar, whose name means “Reward,” saying "God is rewarding me for giving my slave girl to my husband."

Leah births Zebulun, whose name means “Honor,” saying "Look at all my sons! I will now be an honored woman!"

At some point, Leah also births a girl named Dinah. Nothing significant is said about her now, but we'll hear more about her later on.

God feels sorry for Rachel, who has still remained barren up to this point, and he heals her womb.

Rachel births Joseph, whose name means “May He add!” saying "Give me another one, God!"

Rachel also births Benjamin later on... but that's a story comes later... and it's not a very happy one.
Jacob’s Flocks Increase (30:25-43)

Jacob asked Laban if he could take his wives and his kids back to his homeland.

Laban wanted him to stay and told him to name his price for staying.

Jacob said he wanted all of the speckled and striped sheep from Laban’s flock and Laban gave them to him.

Whenever a speckled or spotted lamb was born from all the flocks, it was given to Jacob.

Jacob then schemed to get all of Laban’s flocks by only letting Laban’s sheep mate with sheep that were speckled or had stripes, so only lambs with these characteristics were born.

Jacob even goes so far as to set up sticks in front of the flocks with spots or stripes carved onto them in order to help the flocks to think about spotted and striped things while they copulate... which sounds kind of superstitious or even stupid today... but back then that seemed like it might be a pretty good technique.

Jacob became wealthy because of these schemes.

Jacob Flees from Laban (31:1-21)

Laban and his sons began to treat Jacob and his family so poorly that Jacob decided to up and move his family out of there.

God also told Jacob to go back to the land of his fathers.

While Laban was off shearing his sheep, Jacob loaded up all of his family, herds, and possessions and took off for Canaan.

Additionally, Rachel stole her father’s “household gods” before they ran.

Laban Pursues Jacob (31:22-55)

After three days Laban found out, and chased Jacob all the way to Gilead.

God spoke to Laban and told him not say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.

But Laban began to accuse Jacob, telling him he shouldn’t have left and that Jacob had stolen his household gods.

Jacob confessed his fear that Laban would take his family from him, and also insisted that he hadn’t stolen anything.

Laban then began searching everybody’s tents one by one.

When Laban came to Rachel’s tent, she hid the gods by sitting on them and told him she couldn’t stand up because she was on her period.

Laban never found his gods... but that is too be expected, since they didn't seem to be very powerful gods in the first place... powerless, in fact, to free themselves from being desecrated by Rachel's menstrual cycle it seems.

Jacob and Laban made a covenant together and promised never to harm each other again as God was their witness.

They also set up a pile of rocks and promised never to cross that boundary into each other’s territory.

Laban left after saying good-bye to his daughters and grandkids.

Jacob Prepares to meet Esau (32:1-23)

The text then says that Jacob went on his way, but that while he went he was greeted by angels of God.

Jacob sent messengers to his brother Esau to let him know that he had decided to return.

When the messengers returned, they warned Jacob that Esau was on his way with 400 men.

Jacob was afraid and divided his family up into different groups, hoping that if Esau attacked one group, the others might escape.

Jacob also began to pray to the God of his fathers and begged him to save him and his family from Esau’s wrath.

He also sent servants ahead with gifts of hundreds of sheep, goats, donkeys, and camels for Esau.

Jacob Wrestles with God (32:24-32)

Jacob spent the night alone.

A man wrestled with Jacob all night long.

At dawn, the man tried to leave, but Jacob demanded his blessing first.

The man renamed Jacob to “Israel,” saying “because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

“Israel” means “he struggles with God.”

The man blessed him.

The man was suddenly gone.

Jacob named the place where he saw the man “Peniel,” saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

“Peniel” means “face of God.”

What we see here is a common theme in these narratives. The main character encounters someone who appears to the senses to be human, but at some point in the conversation, the main character realizes that they are speaking with no ordinary person - but in fact with God Himself. The biblical characters are often in a fog, and they are unaware that God has been with them until he makes himself known to them. This happens throughout the Old Testament, but is also seen in the New Testament, especially among Jesus' closest followers after he has been resurrected. All of these characters are experiencing something that is beyond their understanding and their senses ultimately fail them until God reveals Himself.

This is the story of how Jacob became Israel - how he struggled with God and overcame. But it is also the story of an entire nation - one chosen to to have a special relationship with God, one that would change them forever. This story is a taste of how one man and one nation were chosen by God - and how they struggled with this God that they didn't understand. And this story is also about us, and how we have struggled with God, how we have overcome, and how God has forever left his mark on us. We are Israel.

Jacob meets Esau (33:1-20)

At dawn, Jacob looked up, and saw Esau coming with his 400 men!

Jacob divided his family into different groups again... placing his favorite wife Rachel and his favorite son Joseph in the back of the procession to keep them safe, and placing the slave girls and their sons towards the front. This obvious favoritism most likely did not go unnoticed by the boys... and will probably come back to haunt Joseph later.

Jacob, thinking death was near, approached Esau alone and bowed seven times.

But Esau ran up to Jacob, hugged and kissed him, and they both wept.

Esau was amazed by all of Jacob’s family and greeted all of them.

Esau asked Jacob why he had sent hundreds of animals in their direction, and Jacob said they were gifts for his “Master Esau.”

Esau said he had enough animals and told Jacob to take them back.

But Jacob insisted, so Esau accepted the gift.

Jacob and Esau agreed to meet up later in Esau’s homeland, Seir, but after Esau left, Jacob moved his family someplace else because he was still afraid of Esau.

Jacob and his family settled near the city of Shechem.

Dinah and the Shechemites (34:1-31)

A guy named Shechem raped Jacob’s daughter, Dinah.

The text also says that Shechem “loved” her and “spoke tenderly to her.”

Shechem told his father, “Get me this girl as my wife.”

When Jacob found out what happened, he didn’t do anything until his sons came back from the fields.

Jacob’s sons were furious when they found out.

Shechem and his father offered Jacob and his sons any price to pay for Dinah to be his bride.

Jacob’s sons entered into a covenant of circumcision with the Shechemites.

After three days, while all the men were still pain from their procedure, Levi and Simeon came into town and killed every male.

They killed Shechem and his dad and rescued Dinah from their house.

Jacob’s sons then carried off all the loot, including all the animals, women and children.

Jacob was angry with Simeon and Levi, and told them that their family was now a “stench” in the nostrils of all their neighbors, and that what they had done could lead to all their neighbors gaining up on them and wiping them out.

They bluntly responded, “Should he have treated our sister like a whore?”

Jacob Returns to Bethel (35:1-15)

God then spoke to Jacob and told to him to go back to Bethel – the place where they had first met.

Before they left, Jacob made everyone with him get rid of their foreign gods. Jacob buried all the idols under the oak tree at Shechem.

The text says that “the terror of God” fell upon everyone they passed, so that no one pursued them.

After this, the text repeats a shorter version of the story of Jacob’s return to Canaan, when God changed his name to Israel.

The Deaths of Rachel and Isaac (35:16-36:43)

Later, they left Bethel and on the way Rachel went into labor but had complications.

The midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” ...indicating that the baby was being born breach, which tended to go very poorly for the mother, especially in the time before C-sections. 

As Rachel was dying, she named her son “Ben-Oni.”

“Ben-Oni” means “son of my trouble” or “son of my sorrow.”

After Rachel died, Jacob changed his son’s name to Benjamin.

“Benjamin” means “son of my right hand.”

Jacob buried Rachel.

The text also mentions that some time after they moved on, Reuben slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and “Israel heard of it.” ...This will probably come back to haunt Reuben later.

This text also presents a list of “the twelve sons of Israel.”

After this, it says that Jacob returned to his father Isaac at Mamre, and that Isaac died at the age of 180 and was “gathered to his people.”

Jacob and Esau buried their father together.

Genesis 36 is an extensive list of all of Esau’s descendants and all of the rulers of Edom and not something that's especially interesting to most people, so if you want to learn more about it you can read it for yourself.

Chiastic Structure of Jacob Narrative

A. Naming of Jacob
     B. Esau Despises and casts off his Birthright
          C. Abimelech, Isaac’s conflict with the Philistines, wells violated, peaceful resolution
               D. Jacob is blessed and incites Esau to Murder
                    E. Vision of God at Bethel
                         F. Jacob vs. Laban
                              G. Leah vs. Rachel
                                   H. God opens Rachel’s womb – birth of Joseph
                              G'. Speckled vs. White Goats
                         F'. Jacob vs. Laban
                    E'. Vision of God at Peniel
               D'. Esau turns from his anger and Jacob blesses Esau
          C'. Dinah, Jacob’s conflict with Shechem, daughter violated, violent resolution
     B'. Jacob despises and casts off the idols
A'. Renaming of Jacob



Wedgeworth, Steven. The Structure of the Jacob Narrative. Biblical Horizons, 2008.

Kugel, James L. How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture Then and Now.

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