January 12, 2018 Bible Study — The Initial Formation of the Nation of Israel

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Genesis 33-35.

    I did not touch on this yesterday, but when Esau heard that Jacob was returning he set out with 400 men to meet him. The first thing about this which is noteworthy is that when Abraham defeated the armies which had taken Lot captive he had 318 men with him. So, Esau was coming to meet Jacob with a rather large army. The second thing which is noteworthy (from yesterday’s passage) is that Esau and his army set out before Jacob sent his messengers. Which makes me wonder if Esau knew about Laban pursuing Jacob and was coming to Jacob’s defense?

    I find the negotiations between Jacob and Esau when they met interesting as well. After greeting Jacob as his long lost brother, which Jacob was, he asks about the people accompanying Jacob. Jacob introduces his wives and children to Esau. Then Esau asks about the flocks sent on ahead by Jacob. Since Jacob had instructed the herdsmen to tell Esau that they were gifts for Esau, by asking about them Esau is telling Jacob that the gifts were not necessary for Esau to forgive Jacob. There is a little further back and forth about who should keep them before Esau accepts them. This negotiation resembles the negotiation between Abraham and Ephron the Hittite over the plot of land where Abraham would bury Sarah. By insisting that Esau accept the gift of these specific herds, Jacob is establishing that Esau has no claim to any of the rest of his possessions. This is followed up by the next stage of the negotiations between Esau and Jacob. Esau indirectly offers Jacob the opportunity to enter into Esau’s household and to come under his protection. First Esau suggests that he lead Jacob and his family back to where Esau is based (and we know from the earlier passage where Isaac grew crops that Esau was not truly nomadic). When Jacob rejects this, Esau suggests that he at least provide Jacob with some men to protect Jacob and his family. Once again, Jacob rejects this offer. In both cases, Jacob makes it clear that he is not rejecting his brother, just the offer to become part of his brother’s household. It is worth noting that we learn at the end of this passage that both Jacob and Esau set up households independent of that of Isaac, but that it was Jacob who moved back with Isaac for Isaac’s last few years.

    Finally, I mentioned yesterday that Laban’s household idols would appear once more to provide insight into the mystery of Terah, Abraham’s father, deciding to move to Canaan (although he never got there). The story of Dinah being raped at Shechem tells us more about that. The first thing I think we see is that Jacob and his family hold women in higher esteem then the peoples among whom they lived. They did not just accept that Shechem marry their sister to make up for defiling her by raping her. However, the more interesting thing is that although the sons of Jacob worshiped God at least to the degree of being circumcised and having their sons and male servants circumcised, they also had various idols as well. In the aftermath of his sons sacking and looting the town, Jacob calls on them to give up their idols and purify themselves to worship God. The idols which Jacob buried there included the idols which Rachel had stolen from Laban. There are several important things which happened as a result of this event. First, Jacob and his family became more dedicated to God and abandoned, for the most part, the worship of other gods. Second, Jacob’s sons were forced to stay together in their father’s household, rather than setting out on their own the way their father, their grandfather, and great grandfather had. Because they had sacked and looted Shechem, none of Jacob’s sons could risk leaving the protection of their father’s household.

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