Genesis 31-33 (Revised): God is the Fount of All Blessing

To read the story of Jacob is to read of a man who was after every blessing he could get.  Not only was he after blessing, but he would go after it anyway he could.  Jacob was a man known for manipulation and deception.  When he wanted his brother’s birthright, he knew how to get it. When he wanted his brother’s blessing he knew how to get it.  Yet, as the narrative moved onward we saw more and more of his scheming for blessing became more and more ineffective.  Jacob the deceiver, became Jacob the deceived.  He wanted Rachael as his wife, and his father-in-law Laban gave him other daughter Leah in marriage.  He thought that it would take him seven years of hard work to gain the hand of Rachael and he was conned into working for fourteen years for his prize. 


As we noticed last time, every plot and every plan that he conceived on his own seemed to blow up in his face.  On the other hand, those things that were clearly out of his control and in the hands of God seemed to go his way.  God was in the process of teaching Jacob that real blessing does not come because of our own ingenuity.  Real and lasting blessing only comes by the grace of God as we learn in James, “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”  In other words, true blessing comes from God on high.  It is also important to note at this point that God chooses to bless all people in various ways and in differing measures.  God has that right, but it is important for the Christian to remember that every situation comes by design for the ultimate and most blessed purpose of being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29).


So we begin here in this section with a few issues that must be clarified if we are going to understand the flow of this passage properly.


1.       Jacob lived much of his life attempting to manipulate and deceive as much as possible so that he would received the blessings he really cared about (birthright, blessing & Rachael).

2.       As his life moved forward he came to realize that his manipulations for blessing often blew up in his face.

a.        He had to flee from his father’s house in fear of being killed because he had stolen his brother’s blessing.

b.       He was deceived by his father-in-law Laban and conned into working fourteen years for Rachael’s hand in marriage, rather than the seven that he was initially promised.


In this text we begin to see a phase of Jacob’s life where he is beginning to mature but also continuing to struggle with his desire to control his own future through the manipulation of others.  In this text we are beginning to see that Jacob is finally learning the lesson that his blessing does not come through his ability to make it happen but upon God’s graciousness in allowing it to take root in his life.


In this text we notice that relations between Jacob and his brothers-in-law had become more and more strained as they argued, “Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.”  Jacob also, “noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him was not what it had been.”  As we noted last time, Jacob had met his match in Laban as his father-in-law was just as much a cheat and a manipulator as Jacob had been.  Jacob realized that he needed to take drastic action so he decided to go back home and see his parents as well as his brother as God had instructed him to do (Genesis 31:13).  Using his typical manner of deception, Jacob took his family and everything he had and headed out without saying a word to Laban.  Sadly, Rachael took the idols that Laban, which she hid, and took off with them as well. 


It seems that this instance where Rachel stole the household gods is a telling moment in the story.  It certainly leaves one with the impression that however committed to the God of Abraham Jacob was, that belief had not transmitted to his wives. Rachael, at least, must have continued to worship these idols in spite of the fact that she was married to Jacob.  This would be a very strange thing if Jacob had a vibrant and growing relationship with the Lord as his grandfather Abraham had.  It is because of this, that I am under no compulsion to believe that Jacob was yet a great man of God.  As we remember him saying to the Lord just before meeting Laban’s family he said, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes tow ear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set u p as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”  These are not words reminiscent of Isaiah’s when he cried in the presence of the Lord, “Here am I, send me.” These are the words of a man who wants to keep God at arms length and if and only if he blesses him, will he be willing to submit to the King of Kings as his personal Lord.

Laban was remarkably like Jacob and one can see his similar temperament in this treatment of Jacob throughout the narrative.  In this text we notice that three days after Jacob’s departure Laban gets word of it and began his chase after Jacob and the rest of the family.  One gets the impression that Laban may have been out for blood as he made his pursuit of Jacob as the Lord intervened before Laban could have done anything to him.  Laban testifies that the God of Abraham came to him in a dream and made something very clear, “I have the power to harm you; but last night the God of your father said to me, “be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.” The interesting thing here, and it is important not to miss this, is that Jacob was afraid of Laban so he left without saying a word.  Laban found out anyway, was prepared to take Jacob’s life because he didn’t given him the common respect to bid farewell to his children and grand children yet was prevented to do so by God himself.  It is very important to glean from this that we need not manipulate our circumstances or our situation, even when we have great fear, because God is ultimately in charge which is a hard lesson for most of us to learn. 


The theme of Jacob’s deep thirst for blessing continues in the narrative as Jacob makes his way back to this story in chapter 32. Jacob, not wanting any trouble with his brother Esau sent some messengers there to let him know what he had been doing for the previous two decades.  As soon as the news went and returned, he found out that Esau was returning as well – with 400 men in tow.  Once again, even though God had just delivered Jacob after he attempted to deceive Laban with his quick flight, now he had to come up with a plan to pacify his brother who he had cheated so many years before.  Jacob sprung to action “in great fear and distress” (32:7a) and divided his caravan into two groups in order to preserve the lives of some of those with him.  It was in the midst of this time of distress that Jacob called out to the Lord and reminded God of the promises he had made to Jacob.  It is interesting that throughout this whole story, we have seen God remember his promise to Jacob, while Jacob has always operated like he could not remember who had always delivered him.


It was in this agony of prayer that he had the famous encounter in which he wrestled with God until daybreak (32:22-32).  This section of scripture has presented many challenges for scholars Gordon Wenham has written this about Jacob’s struggle,


“The whole incident is shrouded with mystery. Not only did it take place at night, but what was God doing attacking Jacob and yet being unable or unwilling to defeat him? Here the paradox of the human condition is vividly summed up. On the one hand, God allows, even puts his people into, difficult or impossible situations, but it is the same God who delivers us from them. We pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’. This experience of Jacob at the Jabbok summed up his career. It was God who had brought him to this crisis situation, confronting Esau, but it was the same God who would bring him through victoriously.”[1]


While this section is shrouded in mystery as Wenham asserts, there seems to be an obvious linkage between this verse and the rest of the narrative.  Just as Jacob was seeking blessing taking the birthright, stealing the blessing, running from Laban and attempting trying to buy off Esau’s anger; he is now fighting for God’s ultimate blessing.  The text gives us a dead give away that Jacob’s seeking of God’s blessing was the real reason for this great struggle in his life as we read, “When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.  Then the man said, ‘let me go, for it is day bread.’ But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:24-26).  Once again, this is another instance in which Jacob sought a blessing ironically the night before he would meet his brother who had once pledged to kill him. OT scholar John Sailhamer has put it this way, “Here we see a graphic picture of Jacob struggling for the blessing, struggling with God and with man (v28).  Most significant is the fact that, according to this narrative, Jacob had emerged victorious in his struggle” (EBC, 210).  Jacob was finally turning to God to help him in his time of need rather than relying on his own techniques of manipulation, deception or evasion.  While Jacob was finally turning to God in his hour of great need as his only deliverer, he could not see what every reader already knows: he already had the blessing that he was seeking.  Like all of us, Jacob failed to remember the past provision and blessing in his future time of need. God would touch is hip so that Jacob would never again forget. 


In chapter 33, we finally find out that God would be faithful to Jacob as he had promised even before he was born.  He was the son of promise and God had been patient with Jacob through the entire ordeal.  Finally Esau met Jacob and rather than killing him, he “ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him.  And they wept” (33:4) Then Esau, referring to all the gifts of animals that Jacob had sent ahead said these telling words in 33:8, “What do you mean by all these droves I met?” After Jacob explained that he had done this in order to keep his life, Esau answered, “I already have plenty, my brother.  Keep what you have for yourself” (33:9).  It doesn’t take very long to learn from these verses which brother is the better man.


What lesson should we take from this section?  We must learn to rest in God’s good Will for our lives.  Jacob was a man who spun his wheels in constant activity that really got him nowhere.  The only things that worked out for him were those things that were beyond his control.  God was the one who worked behind the scenes of his life and constantly and patiently cleaned up the patriarch’s messes.  If we want to be most effective for God, we must learn to resist the temptation use manipulation, deception and stealth to get what we want.  God calls us to be ourselves and walk with him daily so that as we walk  with him we can be assured of accomplishing all that he has determined for us to do according to his good and perfect will. 

[1]Carson, D. A.: New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition. 4th ed. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA : Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, S. Ge 32:3


2 Responses to “Genesis 31-33 (Revised): God is the Fount of All Blessing”

  1. Robert and Sheila Says:

    Hi Bruce
    I hope you will find time to comment on Jacob wrestling with God. We really don’t understand what that was all about.
    one bible says he’s wrestling with a man, another says an angel, yet we know that this ‘man’ or ‘angel’ was really God in the form of a man.
    Why were they wrestling.
    Thanks for taking the time to do this blog.

  2. Bruce Smith Says:

    Hi Sheila, You have asked an incredibly important question. I hope that this update will help you understand this difficult passage a little better.

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