Today, we will just hit a few subjects. The story speaks for itself and is easy, though sad, to follow.
- Genesis 29:31: The LORD is compassionate and tends to be for the underdog.
- Rachel gives her maid to Jacob just as Sarai had given her maid to Abram. This didn’t work out so well for Sarai, though it provides a picture for us of the two covenants. In Rachel’s case, it caused no problems.
- Mandrake (30:14ff), a powerful herb, was considered to produce fertility.
The Work of God in an Age Without Law
In Genesis 30, we find Jacob oddly putting striped sticks in front of the animals while they were eating in order for them to produce striped, speckled, and spotted offspring. He attributes the effectiveness of this procedure to God in Genesis 31:9.
Today much of life seems defined. We know what is Christian and unchristian. There are things we consider evil, and we all know they are evil.
In Jacob’s day, not much was defined. God was to him still "the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar, where you made a vow" (31:13).
Thus, the idea of using something we might fear is witchcraft today—putting striped rods in front of sheep to produce certain offspring—was simply something for him to try in his time.
In fact, you can see the lack of understanding of "the God of Bethel" in Rachel, who stole her father’s idols (statues of false gods) when they fled from him. There is no record that she was ever rebuked for this polytheistic behavior. The Law, which declared that only the LORD God was to be served, was still four hundred years away.
The Blessing of God
It is clear from the story of leaving Laban’s land that Jacob was still in the habit of deception. Nonetheless, God remained with him. He did not let Laban find the idols that Rachel had stolen, and he even warned Laban in a dream to be careful about opposing Jacob.
Later, Jacob prayed a prayer of faith, declaring his own unworthiness and reminding God of his promise (32:9-12). It is this sort of faith, not because it expects things for oneself, but because it believes what God has said, no matter what he said, that causes God to look upon those like Jacob with such favor. It’s not that he prayed for favor, it’s that he treated God as trustworthy.
As a result, and because God had a purpose in raising up a people for himself, God was with Jacob everywhere. He sent him angels along the journey (32:1), and he appeared to him to wrestle with him and give him a new name (discussed below). Finally, he gave him favor in the sight of his brother Esau, who had previously hated him.
Sacrifices … Again
In Genesis 31:54 we read that Jacob "offered a sacrifice on the mountain, and called his kinsmen to the meal" (NASB). Sacrifices were rarely a way to simply kill animals to appease God (or the gods). Sacrifices were a meal. The innards, fat, and skin were burned, but the meat was eaten by those who offered or by the priests.
Haran was located on a tributary of the Euphrates River. Nahor (Abram’s brother) and his descendants continued to leave there after Abram left for the land of Canaan. Abraham’s servant went back to Nahor to find Rebekah, Nahor’s granddaughter, as a wife for Isaac. Jacob went back to Nahor to find wives for himself, both of whom were Rebekah’s nieces (and thus Jacob’s first cousins).
Now Jacob returned again to the land of Canaan, modern Palestine, where both Abraham and Isaac had lived.
Jacob’s New Name
We cannot fail to discuss Jacob’s wrestling with God (32:24-32), though thousands of words could and have been written about it.
Jacob was forced to overcome and to hold onto God for a blessing. This is a picture of how we must wrestle in prayer with God. Our answers do not always come easy.
Also, note the way Jacob’s new name is granted. First, the Angel gives Jacob a new name, Israel. Then, when Jacob asks the Angel’s name, the Angel tells him, "Why do you ask?" Hidden in this exchange and this wording is the fact that the Angel is telling Jacob that he already knows his name … or at least one of his names. The name that was given to Jacob, Israel, is one of the Angel’s names.
This was well known to the early Christians, though we have forgotten much of the prophecy they knew. The Angel, like all other appearances of God in old covenant times, was the Son of God come to earth. No one has ever seen the Father (Jn. 1:18). When we get to Isaiah, we shall see the importance of knowing that Israel was not only the name of the nation descended from Jacob, but it was first one of the names that belongs to the Son of God. It was a gift to Jacob at Penuel.
Finally, Jacob was given a limp at Penuel. Such a limp is not to be despised. May we all be touched by God so that we learn to walk with a spiritual limp, broken of trust in our own power, and required to lean upon the power of God.
Thus, in Genesis 34 we see that Jacob did not try to avenge the rape of his daughter Dinah. Surely, with all that he had seen God do, he could trust God to avenge if he wanted to. Jacob’s sons, on the other hand, young and ready to do battle, destroyed the entire city of Shechem because of it, an act that Jacob could never honor.
A Comment on Dinah
Whether we like it or not (and we do not), in those days the most common answer to a rape was to have the man marry the woman he raped. This is what is prescribed in the Law as well (Deut. 22:28-29). Punishment or revenge seems justifiable (for an Israelite, not a Christian! A Christian must let God judge—and he will [Rom. 12:19-20]). Revenge upon Shechem himself may well have been passed over in Scripture in silence … but the destruction of an entire city?