Genesis 32

GENESIS:  

“The Gospel According to Torah” 

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Now Jacob leaves his conflicted relation with Laban, whom he has fleeced, and faces an uncertain reception from Esau, whom he has deceived in the past.  As a moral person in our modern culture which aspires to equal opportunity for individuals, playing by free market rules, Jacob is a villain.  Are the rules different for earlier readers, or is Jacob justified by his exceptional role in God’s covenant, or is he a bit repentant? 

Having concluded a truce in a rearguard action with Laban, representing Aramea to the north, now he has to send advance parties to ensure safe arrival with his rival brother, representing Edom in the south.  What if you reframe this whole saga as a definition of boundaries and borders for Israel in relation to ancient markers and claimed northern and southern frontiers? 

Yaakov risks committing his 2 wives, 2 maids, and 11 children to the new land, crossing the Jabbok into the land, at Peniel, and he himself stays behind at the borderland, liminal space, and his dream is of wrestling with God.  We love this story, with the ‘introspective conscience of the West’ as some scholars call it.  We love tales of psychodrama and struggles… 

This story also offers another etiological legend of a northern sacred place, and an Elohist story of dealing with God.  Yaakov, the trickster, is now called Israel, one who strives with God. The transition from an individual heroic saga to an epic celebrating a nation and its tribes gets a ‘hermeneutical key’ here, close to a proposal that we read the whole thing as an allegory with clean correlation of ‘this means that’ – though Calvin, and our own Northrop Frye, prefer the language of typological reading of a metonymic use of language: this is that. 

Genesis Chapter 32

NRSV

Jacob went on his way and the angels of God met him; 2and when Jacob saw them he said, ‘This is God’s camp!’ So he called that place Mahanaim. 

3 Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, 4instructing them, ‘Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, “I have lived with Laban as an alien, and stayed until now; 5and I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male and female slaves; and I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favour in your sight.” ’ 

6 The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him. 

’7Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies,  8thinking, ‘If Esau comes to one company and destroys it, then the company that is left will escape.’ 

9 And Jacob said, ‘O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, “Return to your country and to your kindred, and I will do you good”, 10I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan; and now I have become two companies. 11Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him; he may come and kill us all, the mothers with the children. 12Yet you have said, “I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted because of their number.” ’ 

13 So he spent that night there, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau, 14two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15thirty milch camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16These he delivered into the hand of his servants, each drove by itself, and said to his servants, ‘Pass on ahead of me, and put a space between drove and drove.’ 

 17He instructed the foremost, ‘When Esau my brother meets you, and asks you, “To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose are these ahead of you?” 18then you shall say, “They belong to your servant Jacob; they are a present sent to my lord Esau; and moreover he is behind us.” ’  

19He likewise instructed the second and the third and all who followed the droves, ‘You shall say the same thing to Esau when you meet him, 20and you shall say, “Moreover your servant Jacob is behind us.” ’  

For he thought, ‘I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterwards I shall see his face; perhaps he will accept me.’  

21So the present passed on ahead of him; and he himself spent that night in the camp. 

22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 

24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 

25When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 

 26Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’  

But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ 

 27So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ 

 28Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’ 

 29Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ 

 But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’  

And there he blessed him. 

 30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’  

31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.  

32Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.