Jacob isn’t exactly winning friends and influencing people in this chapter. Laban is a bit peeved that he was breeding the strongest livestock for himself and leaving Laban the weak. So God tells Jacob to go back to his homeland, so he loaded up the truck and he moved to Beverly…sorry, he loaded up his camels with his wives and children and set out on the road, but not before Rachel snuck into her father’s house and stole his household gods.
According to the Oxford Bible Commentary, household gods were usually clay or plaster figures that were used as a source of divination. They would later be outlawed, and their use here is unknown as the story never explains.
So Laban finds out that Jacob left after three days and he goes after him. During a dream, God tells him not say anything to Jacob good or bad. Laban finally catches up with Jacob a week later, and confronts him about leaving so suddenly and about the stolen gods. Jacob assures him that he left the way he did because he thought Laban would try to take his daughters back by force, but he didn’t take the gods (he didn’t know that Rachel had taken them).
Laban checks everywhere he can except in the saddle under Rachel because she is “in the way of women”, which is old language for “on her period”. She already had Joseph, so she’s not pregnant. Laban would not search the saddle that she had been sitting on. Jacob finally gets angry and goes off on a monologue about trust and how long he served Laban.
Finally, they make a covenant. I’m not going through the details of it, but basically they draw a line in the sand and agree not cross it. They used heaps of stones and named them.
51 Then Laban said to Jacob, “See this heap and see the pillar, which I have set between you and me. 52 This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass beyond this heap to you, and you will not pass beyond this heap and this pillar to me, for harm. 53 May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor”—the God of their father—“judge between us.” So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac, 54 and Jacob offered a sacrifice on the height and called his kinsfolk to eat bread; and they ate bread and tarried all night in the hill country.Bibles, Harper . NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha (pp. 85-86). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
Basically, this verse is the Bible version of the tape down the middle of the shared bedroom. Laban awoke the following morning, kissed his daughters and grandchildren goodbye and went home.
The first part of this chapter is pretty boring. Jacob sends a messenger to ask Esau if they could bury the hatchet…after bragging about his riches. I’m sure Esau has forgotten all about Jacob buying his birthright for stew and then stealing their father’s blessing. It should be fine.
The messenger returned to tell Jacob that Esau is coming to meet him…with four hundred men. Maybe Esau wasn’t over it after all. So Jacob splits the men up into two companies so that if Esau drops by, at least half of Jacob’s men will survive. The other half will get red shirts. After whining to God, Jacob sends livestock as a gift to appease his brother.
I never understood the reason for the next part of this chapter which involves a wresting match of sorts between Jacob and apparently God. According to the Oxford Bible Commentary, this was likely an adapted story.
“The original version strongly resembles pagan, even animistic, tales of spirits or demons guarding particular places such as streams, who attack travellers who are endeavouring to pass on their way, but who are powerful only at night; here we are told that the sun rose only when the incident was over.”Oxford Bible Commentary, (p. 59) Barton and Muddiman
This is actually interesting, but the Bible writers turned it into, “God cheats at wrestling because he has to greet the day,” or something like that. This story is kind of key in this whole saga, but it feels shoehorned in in a very awkward place. I suppose it’s a good way to pass the time between sending the gift to Esau and his response, but in other chapters in this book, the only thing that signals the passage of years is a change of sentence.
Anyway, after God hit Jacob with a low blow (to the hip), he does that whole renaming thing. This time he tells Jacob that his name is now Israel, so now his wives, maids, and kids all have to remember that from here on out. Also, Jacob names the land Peniel (better spell that right) which means “face of the Lord.”
My question with all of these place name changes: Do they put signs up to inform others what the new name is? Did Jacob post a sign to the residents of Luz that the place is now named Bethel and their mail will no longer be delivered? Just asking.
Long, boring story (with plenty of bowing and formality) short, Esau and Jacob make amends and Jacob introduces the wives and kids and makes his brother take the gift. The only thing I will add is from the beginning of this chapter.
1NOW Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. 2He put the maids with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all.Bibles, Harper . NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha (p. 88). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
I assume that this is the order of importance to Jacob if Esau came with less than friendly intentions. The maids and their kids would get killed first, followed by Leah and her kids, and Rachel and Joseph could run for the hills.
Jacob buys a plot of land in Shechem in Canaan for one hundred pieces of money. He pitches a tent and builds an altar and named it El-Elohe-Israel which is God of Israel.