Wednesday, March 11, 2009

GENESIS: Chapters 32 & 33

Chapter 32
Summary:Jacob and his household continued on to Canaan and was met along the way by God's angels. When Jacob saw them he concluded that God lived there and named the place "God's Territory".

Jacob sent messengers to his brother Esau in Edom telling him that he had been staying with Uncle Laban for the past 20 years, became wealthy with livestock and slaves, and informs his brother that he's coming and that he's hoping Esau will be friendly to him. The messengers returned with the news that Esau was on his way to meet Jacob with an army of 400 men.

Jacob now terrified, divided his flocks and slaves into two groups, surmising that if Esau attacks one group that the other could flee to safety. He then prays for God's protection, and also puts together a welcoming gift for Esau consisting of:
  • 200 Nanny Goats
  • 20 billy goats
  • 200 ewes
  • 20 rams
  • 30 milk camels (with their colts)
  • 40 cows
  • 10 bulls
  • 20 female donkeys
  • 10 male donkeys
Jacob instructs his servants to drive them on ahead, each group of animals separated by a distance. He tells the first group that when the meet Esau they were to tell him that these flocks belong to his servant Jacob and are a gift for his master Esau, and to also tell him that Jacob is coming up right behind them. He gave the same instructions to each group and sent the flocks ahead while he stayed behind staying the night in camp.

However, during the night Jacob got up and woke up his wives and concubines along with his children, and took them across the Jordan River. When he returned to camp alone, a Man* began wrestling with Jacob, and wrestled with him until dawn. When the man saw that he couldn't win the match, he struck Jacob's hip, knocking it out of joint at its socket*.

The man demanded to be let go as dawn was approaching, but Jacob replied that he wouldn't let the man go until he had blessed Jacob. The man asked Jacob his name, and then told him that his name was no longer Jacob. He told Jacob that his name was now Israel (meaning "One who has power with God"). When Jacob/Israel asked the man for his name, the man refused to tell him stating that he shouldn't ask that, and then the man blessed him.

Jacob named the place "Peniel" (meaning "The Face of God") seeing as he had seen the face of God and had lived to tell it. The sun rose as he started on and he walked away with a limp due to his hip.
Notes:1.)The word Man is implied to be God by the capitalization of the word.
2.) Due to this story, the people of Israel refuse to eat the sciatic muscle where it attaches to the hip.
Thoughts:Jacob continues his trend of naming places after his visions of God at both the beginning and end of the chapter. For reasons unclear, Jacob decides to announce his presence to his brother Esau as he's traveling back to his home land.

When his messengers return with the news that Esau is coming to meet him - with an army of 400, Jacob understandably begins to get a bit frightened. He decides to split up his flock (and slaves) into two groups, hoping that if he's attacked then at least one half of his flock and his slave collection will survive the attack. He then prays for God's protection, and then shows that there is a least a small doubt in his faith - he figures a little bribery couldn't hurt, and prepares some gifts for his brother Esau.

He sends the gift up ahead of himself, but instead of following along, he sends his wife, concubines, and his children across the Jordan River and returns back to his camp - and then things get weird. I mean, really weird.

In a paragraph that seems more like a peyote trip than a divine story, a man has appeared at Jacobs camp - without any explanation as to how he got there, where he came from, and what his intentions were. However, we the readers are to understand that this is God in the form of this Man by the fact that we're seeing that the word "Man" is capitalized.

Jacob and the Man inexplicably begin wrestling with each other (also for reasons unclear) with Jacob gaining the upper hand. When the Man saw that he couldn't win(?) he goes for the cheap shot and strikes Jacob's hip hard enough to knock it out of its socket. Why we are lead to believe that the almighty creator of the universe can't win a simple wrestling match against a mere mortal like Jacob is beyond me, as is the entire point of wrestling with a god as it is.

Apparently a busted hip still doesn't stop Jacob from hanging in the match, and the Man demands that Jacob let him go, as dawn is approaching - as perhaps, maybe the man is a vampire or something(?) - but Jacob refuses to let go until the Man/Count Yahweh blesses him.

Ignoring his alleged omniscience, the Man asks Jacob for his name and then tells him that he is no longer to be known as Jacob, but is now to be called Israel - noting that it loosely means "the guy who delivered the Smackdown to God", or "Because Stone Cold Israel Said So". When Jacob asks the man for his name, in a bizarre fairytale-like response, the Man tells him that he mustn't ask. The defeated Man then blesses Jacob/Israel and Jacob/Israel lets him go. He limps along and names his location after his Heavyweight Championship Title Match Victory, and that like his estranged Aunt Hagar, he saw the face of God and had lived.

Perhaps it is just me, but I think too much importance is placed upon seeing the face of God and being shocked at living to tell about it. While it's probably notable that few people in the bible do get the honor of seeing God face to face, I don't see the connection to the fear of "instant death" that they're expecting.
Chapter 33
Summary:Far in the distance Jacob sees Esau approaching with his army, and he arranges his family into a single file - with his two concubines at the front with their children, followed by Leah and her children, and lastly Rachel and Joseph at the back of the line. Jacob then went ahead to meet his brother.

When he approached Esau, he bowed low before him seven times. Esau ran to Jacob embracing and kissing him, bringing both brothers to tears. Jacob introduced Esau to his family, with each group (his concumbines, Leah, and Rachel with their children) bowing before Esau. Esau then asked what the flocks were for, and upon being told they were gifts he initially refuses them telling Jacob that he has plenty already. Jacob insisted, and Esau relented and finally accepted them.

Esau then offers to have him and his men lead the way back to Canaan, but Jacob replies that the smaller children and the young of the flock can't be pushed too hard, and that Esau's men should go on ahead while Jacob's family and flock follow at their own pace. When Esau suggested that he should at least leave some of his men to travel with Jacob, serving as aides and guides, Jacob flatly refuses.

Esau started back to Seir, while Jacob and his household made it as far as Succoth. There he built himself a camp with pens for his flocks (explaining that this is what the name "Succoth" means - being "huts"). Then they arrived safely at Shechem, in Canaan, and camped outside the city. He bought the land from the family of Hamor, Schechem's father, for 100 pieces of silver. There he erected an altar and called it "El-Elohe-Israel" - meaning "The Altar to the God of Israel".
Thoughts:After a teary family reunion amongst the two brothers, we're still left to see that there's a bit of distrust between their intentions - but perhaps that's a given after that whole "sell me your birthright for a bowl of soup routine" from Chapter 25 and following that up with the "lets trick my blind father into giving me my older brother's blessings" from Chapter 27.

Jacob (strangely not referred to as Israel yet, despite the name change God gave him) opts to travel behind Esau at a slower pace and refuses to let Esau's troops stay behind to help. He eventually arrives at Shechem and buys a spot of land and builds an altar to God there.

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