Genesis 35:9–15

35  9 God was seen by Jacob again when he returned from Paddan-Aram. 10 God blessed him and said, “Jacob is your name, but Jacob will no longer be your name. Your name shall be Israel.” And God named him Israel. 11 God said to him, “I am El Shaddai. Bear fruit; multiply! A nation, even a host of nations, will come from you; kings will descend from your loins. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and to Isaac, to you I give it; and to your seed after you, I give this land.” 13 Then God went up from beside him, leaving him alone in the place where he spoke to him. 
     14  Jacob set up a pillar where God had spoken with him, a pillar of stone. He poured an offering of wine on it and poured oil over it. 15 Jacob called the place where God spoke to him, Bethel.


It was to Paddan-Aram that Jacob was sent to take a wife. It was from Paddan-Aram that Jacob returned with two official wives and two quasi-official wives and came to Shechem. Having now fled from Shechem after his sons destroyed it, Jacob returns to his journey home from Paddan-Aram. The context now is Bethel writ large, El-Bethel.

Shechem, settling, was a trap for a sojourning people East of Eden. With no return past cherubim with flaming swords, there is only onward.

This time through Bethel, Jacob carries more than his family name. Peniel is carried along and, leaving Shechem, Jacob is officially vested with the name Israel that was first heard in the tumult of wrestling on the other side of the Jabbok.

In this formal change of names, we hear echoes of creation (be fruitful, multiply) and Abraham (kings from loins). Israel is not about past and present struggles, but the anticipation of a way yet ahead—What does it mean to be the realized form of a community of creators? There are more floods and slaughters and blessings and quests to come. Of betrayals and reconciliations, there is no end. Image betrays. G*D betrays. Growing together, falling apart, setting walls, breaking same—so it goes.

Though names change, the soil, the land (in seedtime and harvest, flood and fire, in season and out) remains. Conquest and exile, lost and found, are as mysterious out of their box as they were when only potential.

Another pillar is set up and anointed with an extra ritual of spilled wine.

Rather than making more of the name of the place, it returns from El-Bethel to simply Bethel. We return to potential, to the everyday quest—of resting upon promises—to “love these dreams of mine” [lyric from Judy Fjell].

Genesis 35:1–8

35  1 God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there. Make an altar/slaughter-site there to the God who was seen by you when you fled from Esau, your brother.”
     Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are in your midst. Cleanse yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel where I will build an altar to the God who answered me on the day of my distress and was with me on the way that I went.” They gave Jacob all the foreign gods that were in their hands, along with the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the terebinth that is near Shechem. 
     They journeyed on. The terror of God lay on the nearby towns, so they did not pursue Jacob’s sons. Jacob came to Luz in Canaan, that was also known as Bethel, along with all those who were with him. He built an altar there and named the place El-Bethel,[a] because God was revealed to him there when he fled from his brother. 
     And Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried below Bethel under the oak. Jacob named it Allon-Bacuth/Oak-of-Weeping.


After the slaughter at Shechem to restore Dinah’s lost purity, there is another voice relating a miscellany of bits and pieces about Jacob before his sons become the main storyline.

Jacob is instructed by G*D to arise and go up to Bethel and there to raise an altar. We are back to Bethel and previous altars raised there. Altars seem to be both for one and for always. A particular altar can be in response to a particular experience. A place of such altars takes on a trans-generational significance as experience after experience adds meaning to a place. Sacredness becomes imputed to the location.

At Bethel, Jacob and company put a further distance between themselves and their Mesopotamian roots. This is similar to Abram having landed at Shechem and the Terebinth of Moreh, raising an altar, and moving on to Bethel to raise another. Abram moved to Bethel on his own; Jacob moved to Bethel at the direction of G*D. Jacob rings a new change on an old tune.

There, at the Terebinth of Moreh, Laban’s household gods and more picked up along the way were buried, and their past with them. The violence of retribution, an old idol, could also have been buried there, but the terror set loose proved all too helpful in cowing any who would do the same to Jacob’s extended household. This terror is attributed to G*D, and we will see it in generations and stories to come.

We are not told the relationship between Jacob’s altar-building after he left Isaac and Rebekah and before arriving at Laban’s, and this altar. Altar beside altar beside altar finally come to be recognized in this place as El-Bethel, not simply Bethel. Imputed sacredness is at work.

There is a stray obituary, not part of a genealogy, inserted about Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse. It is written in the plural, which has been variously interpreted—including the otherwise unnoted death of Rebekah. This type of midrash suggests Rebekah was with Jacob at El-Bethel. There is no other notation of Rebekah’s death. We will only find out later that Rebekah was buried, with Isaac, at the grave first purchased by Abraham for Sarah.

The burial of foreign gods and the strange story of Deborah’s death brings the focus on Jacob to an end, and we shift to Rachel’s death and the story cycle of Joseph and Jacob’s sons. Jacob will still periodically appear to remind people of the land of Bethel and Canaan, but the extended story of Joseph steps forward, and we follow his dream of power and his erasure as a part of the twelve tribes.

Genesis 34:19–31

34  19 The young man did not hesitate in doing the thing, for he desired Jacob’s daughter. He carried more weight than anyone else in his father’s house. 20 Hamor and Shechem, his son, came to the gate of their city and spoke to the men of their city: 21 “These men come in peace to us. Let them settle in the land and travel through it; the land is wide enough for them. We will take their daughters as wives and our daughters we will give to them. 22 The men will agree to settle with us and become a single people only if every male is circumcised as they are circumcised. 23 Their livestock, their property, and all of their animals—will they not become ours? Let us agree with them so that they settle among us.” 24 All who could go out to war through the city gate agreed with Hamor and Shechem, his son, and every able-bodied male in the city was circumcised.
     25 On the third day, when they were still in pain, Jacob’s two sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords, came into the city unopposed, and killed every male. 26 Hamor and Shechem, his son, were killed by the sword. They took Dinah from the house of Shechem and went off. 27 Jacob’s other sons came upon the corpses and looted the city, for they had defiled their sister. 28 Their sheep, their cattle, and their donkeys that were in the city and in the fields, they took. 29 All their riches, their young, and their wives, they took captive and looted all that was in their houses. 
     30 Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have muddied the water for me, making me a stink among the land of Canaanites and Perizzites. I have only a handful of men. If they band together against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, I and my household.”
     31 They said, “Should our sister, then, be treated like a whore?”


Describing Shechem as a “lad” or “young man” suggests he, like Dinah, may have been an adolescent. Readers may remember their own youthful obsession with another for whom they would die if they could not be obtained. Thinking ahead was impossible when such focus on a desired end blocked all else.

Such passion made Hamor and Shechem convincing salespersons. Akin to Jacob and others with a desire for first-born or first-love blessing or some other deep longing, a lie here, a fib there, or an exaggeration anywhere is fair in a love war.

The extra information here is the open suggestion that Jacob’s livestock would become that of the Hivites, the Shechemites. Having seen how Jacob could strengthen his herds, this would be a great commercial benefit to them.

Given such a grand future—who would not go through a minor, temporary discomfort of circumcision? To this day, a magical or imagined benefit still outweighs the assault of circumcision on the body.

On the standard worst day after surgery, the third, Simeon and Levi brought their swords into Shechem and slew every male there, including Hamor and Shechem. They release Dinah from the captivity of Shechem’s house.

With the looting of the city after the slaughter of the males, there is an accusation that all the males of Shechem were involved with the rape of Dinah. Without changing the culture of male prerogative and power by males, the rape by one is the responsibility of all. It is this same construct that is then applied to Simeon and Levi regarding their violence—it redounds upon all of Jacob’s household. All will be held responsible for their acts of violent vengeance. 

This brings us to a basic question of action and reaction. Does abuse require counter-abuse? Where does communal responsibility begin and end? Does an eye or a head for an eye still hold? Is there any way out from Sartre’s hell of others?

Genesis 34:1–18

34  1 Dinah, Leah’s daughter borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land. Shechem, son of Hamor, the Hivite, and the country’s prince, saw her, took her, lay with her, and forced her. His life-breath clung to Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, and he loved the young woman and spoke to the heart of the girl. Shechem said to Hamor, his father, “Take me this girl for a wife.” Jacob heard that Shechem had defiled Dinah, his daughter. His sons were with the livestock in the fields, and Jacob kept silent until they returned. Hamor, Shechem’s father, came out to Jacob to speak with him. Jacob’s sons came back from the countryside when they heard what had happened. They were pained and deeply offended and very angry because Shechem had disgraced Israel by sleeping with Jacob’s daughter. Such things ought not be done.
     Hamor said to them, “Shechem, my son, his life-breath longs for your daughter. Pray, give her to him as a wife. Ally with us through marriage; give your daughters to us and take our daughters for yourselves. 10 Settle among us. The land is before you; settle in it, travel through it, and obtain holdings in it.”
     11 Shechem said Dinah’s father and brothers, “Let me find favor in your eyes; whatever you say you want, I will give it to you. 12 Name the bride-price and clan-gift as large as you like, and I will pay whatever you tell me. Only give me the young woman as a wife.”
     13 The sons of Jacob responded deceitfully to Shechem and Hamor, his father, because Shechem had defiled Dinah, their sister. 14 They said to them, “We cannot do this, to give our sister to a man who has a foreskin. That would disgrace us.15 We will only agree to do this if you will be like us and have every male among you circumcised. 16 Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live with you and be one people. 17 But if you do not listen to us and become circumcised, we will take our daughter and go.”
     18 Their words seemed good in the eyes of Hamor and Shechem, son of Hamor.


It has been awhile since we’ve heard about Dinah. No longer is she known as Laban’s only granddaughter. At Shechem, Dinah is but an immigrant’s daughter—ripe for rape.

In quick order, we hear of Hamor (meaning ‘donkey’), the leading man and perhaps founder of Shechem, and his privileged son from whom the city has its name, Shechem. This will bring the story of Dinah directly to Jacob and his sons.

The story begins with a dramatic laying down of verbs: saw, took, lay with, abused/raped. These are Shechem’s actions toward Dinah.

Jacob was alone when he heard how Dinah had been taken advantage of. His sons were afield. He kept silent until their return. We don’t hear about Jacob’s wives.  Even Leah, Dinah’s mother, may have had this information kept from her.

While Jacob was awaiting his sons, the story claims a moral twist from abuse to love when Hamor’s son, Shechem, asked for Dinah as a beloved wife. Hurt and attempted make-up for the hurt is a well-known cycle of abuse. Other danger signs are present with Shechem’s calling Dinah a girl, not a woman, and getting the powers-that-be to intercede on his behalf. Hamor does come to talk father-to-father, if not ruler-to-immigrant, to make right this harm. With the return of Jacob’s sons, Hamor speaks to the gathered clan.

The storyteller belatedly lets us know that Shechem has been off to the side all along. We learn of his presence when he affirms Hamor’s offer of a bride-price and even increases the offer from a strictly economic trade to an open-ended offer to any arrangement that is set on his desire for Dinah. Echoes of Jacob/Rachel/Laban may surface here.

The sons of Jacob, the duplicitous, respond as his sons.

The terms are set based on tribal identity—not those of commerce per the city of Shechem, but those of Jacob, acculturating the Shechemites by way of their acceptance of circumcision. Hamor and Shechem agree to this resolution and leave to make arrangements.

Genesis 33:1–20

33  1 Jacob lifted his eyes and saw Esau approaching with four hundred men. Jacob divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and the two slavegirls. He put the slavegirls and their children first, Leah and her children after them, and Rachel and Joseph last. He passed them and bowed to the ground seven times until he was near his brother. Esau ran to meet him, threw his arms around his neck, kissed him, and they wept. Esau lifted his eyes and saw the women and children and said, “Who are these with you?”
     Jacob said, “The children with whom God has favored your servant.” The slavegirls and their children came forward and bowed down. Leah and her servants also came forward and bowed down. Afterward, Joseph and Rachel came close and bowed down.
     Esau said, “What does it mean to you, all this camp that I have met?”
     Jacob said, “To find favor in the eyes of my lord.”
     Esau said, “I have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have.”
     10 Jacob said, “No, pray, if I have found favor in your eyes, take this tribute from my hand for seeing your face is, after all, seeing the face of God, and you have received me with kindness. 11 Take this tribute of blessing that I’ve brought for God has favored me, and I have everything I need.” So Jacob pressed him, and he took it.
     12 Esau said, “Let us journey on, and I will go with you.”
     13 But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows the children are frail, and the nursing flocks and cattle are my responsibility. If I whip them forward for even one day, they will die. 14 Let my lord proceed ahead of your servant. I will journey slowly, at the pace of the animals ahead of me and as fast as the children are able to go, until I come to my lord in Seir.”
     15 Esau said, “Let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.”
     But Jacob said, “Why? May I only find favor in my lord’s eyes.” 
     16  Esau started back that same day to journey to Seir, 17 but Jacob traveled to Succoth. He built a house for himself and sheds for his cattle; therefore, he named the place Succoth/Sheds.
     18 Jacob came in peace to the city of Shechem in the land of Canaan. He came from Paddan-Aram and camped facing the city. 19 He bought the portion of land where he pitched his tent from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s founder, for one hundred lambs. 20 Then he set up an altar there and named it El-Elohei-Israel (El/God, God of Israel).


It was as Jacob, not Israel, that he sees Esau and the four hundred. As Jacob, he organized a display with the slavegirls (Zilpah and Bilhah) and their children (Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher) going first, followed by Leah and her children (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and, of course, Dinah), and finally Rachel and her son Joseph.

Jacob then passed the three groups, bowing seven times as he drew near to Esau. Esau ignored such formalities and ran to greet Jacob, his brother. Together they wept (scholars debate whether both wept or only Esau).

Finally, seeing what was before him, Esau asked after the women and children. Group by group, they came to bow down. Asked about the flocks previously  sent ahead and these household members, Jacob continues his respectful address of Esau as “his lordship” and says it was to help him find “favor” in Esau’s eyes.

Esau disclaims the flocks and claims he already has much. Jacob prevails upon Esau to accept them, nonetheless, and Esau does.

Invited to join forces with Esau, Jacob dissembles, claiming slow travel because of the young children and nursing animals. A promise was made to meet again in Seir, Esau’s base. Jacob also finds a way out of Esau leaving some of his cohort with Jacob.

So it was that Esau went to Seir while Jacob journeyed to Succoth in trans-Jordan—a place known for sheds—where he built shelters for his cattle.

After some indeterminate time, Jacob and company cross the Jordan and come in peace to Shechem, in the land of Canaan. Here Jacob buys the land he was camping on and raised an altar, calling it El-Elohei-Israel. El, the high god of a Canaanite pantheon, is become the God of the people of Israel.

Jacob’s on-going trickery is connected to, and even constituent of, a shift from the God of Abraham and the Terror of Isaac to the God of Jacob—El of Israel. How long can such uncertainty remain at peace in Canaan as a separate people without some acculturation with the people of  Shechem and Canaan?

Genesis 32:14–33

32  14 Jacob spent that night there. From what he had acquired, he took from what he had at hand and aside a tribute for Esau, his brother Esau: 15 two hundred she-goats and twenty he-goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 16 thirty nursing camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty she-asses and ten he-asses. 17 He handed the herds over to servants. He said to them, “Cross over before me and put some distance between each of the herds.” 18 He ordered the first group, “When Esau, my brother, meets you and asks you, ‘To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose herds are these in front of you?’ 19 say, ‘They are your servant Jacob’s, a tribute sent to my master Esau. And Jacob is coming right behind us.’” 20 Jacob also ordered the second group, the third group, and all who walked behind the herds, “Say exactly the same thing to Esau when you find him. 21 Say, ‘Your servant Jacob is right behind us.’” Jacob thought, I will wipe the anger from his face with the gift that goes ahead of my face. Then, when I meet him, perhaps he will lift up my face by being gracious to me. 22 So Jacob sent the tribute ahead of him, but he spent that night in the camp.
     23 Jacob arose during the night, took his two wives, his two women slaves, and his eleven sons and forded the Jabbok River. 24 He took them and brought them across the river; he took all he had and brought it across the river. 25 And Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. 26 When the man saw that he could not prevail, he touched Jacob’s hip socket. The socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated as he wrestled with him. 27 The man said, “Let me go because the dawn has arisen.”
     But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
     28 He said to Jacob, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 29 Then he said, “Not Jacob/Heel-Sneak shall your name be called, but Israel/God-Fighter,because you have fought with God and with men and prevailed.”
     30 Then Jacob asked and said, “Tell me your name.”
     But he said, “Why do you ask for my name?” and there he blessed Jacob. 31 Jacob called the name of the place Peniel/Face-of-God, “because I have seen God face-to-face, and my life-breath was saved.” 32 The sun rose upon Jacob as he passed Penuel, limping on his thigh. 33 Therefore, the children of Israel, to this day, do not eat the sinew of the thigh attached to the hip, for the man touched Jacob’s hip socket at the sinew of the thigh.


Alone amid his many animals and other property, his wives and offspring, Jacob acts out his fear of Esau’s potential retribution for having lost the blessing of the first-born. In the night, a plan comes to Jacob to send wave after wave of tribute to the nearing Esau and company—220 goats, 220 sheep, 30 camels with calves, 50 cows, and 30 asses.

Such a display raises the possibility that if Jacob is voluntarily sending this much as tribute, he may have the resources to protect extensive holdings. This may change the calculus of Esau in a moderating direction.

With a plan in place and begun to be implemented, Jacob rests.

Yet, something unsettles Jacob; he gets up and takes his two wives, two slavegirls, and eleven sons (plus Dinah?) to ford the Jabbok that separates him from the advancing Esau. Jacob also sent his remaining flocks across the river.

With everyone and everything on the south side of the Jabbok, Jacob was alone on the north side. There, for the rest of the night, Jacob wrestled with Esau, a stone on a well, and Laban/Rebekah/Isaac all wrapped up in the form of a man. A dream? A messenger from G*D? A presence of G*D? Jacob’s future?

All such wrestling is never finished. All such wrestling leaves its mark.

In this case, it is reported that there is a physical mark—an injured hip on which to journey. There is also a changed relationship and identity with his family of origin, present family, G*D, and self—Israel. This shift from deviousness to openness is also never completed. This shows in the ambiguity with which the names Jacob and Israel will be used (unlike the clear difference between Abram and Abraham).In keeping with Bethel and Gal-Ed, Jacob names this place by the Jabbok, Peniel—in a face-to-face setting with his past, present, and future self, Jacob finds his “life-breath saved.” In wrestling a man who is no man, night gives way to sunrise. It is time to face this day.

Genesis 32:1–13

32  1 Laban got up early in the morning, kissed his sons and daughters, blessed them, and left to go back to his own place. 2  Jacob had gone on his way when God’s messengers drew near to him. 
     3  When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is God’s camp,” and he named that place Mahanaim/Twin-Camps.
     Now Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau, in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He commanded them: “Say this: To my lord Esau, thus says your servant Jacob: ‘I’ve sojourned with Laban and stayed until now. Oxen, donkeys, flocks, male slaves and female slave have become mine. I send this message to my lord to find favor in your eyes.’”
     The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother, to Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”
     Jacob was very afraid and distressed. He divided the people with him, and the sheep, cattle, and camels, into two camps. He said to himself, “If Esau comes against the first camp and attacks it, the remaining camp will escape.”
     10 Jacob said, “YHWH, God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, who said to me, ‘Return to your land and your kindred, and I will deal well with you,’ 11 I am too small for the kindness you have steadfastly shown your servant. I crossed the Jordan with only my staff, and now I have become two camps. 12 Save me from the hand of my brother Esau! I fear him that he will come and strike me down as well as mothers and their children. 13 But you have said, ‘I will deal well with you, and I will make your seed like the sand of the sea—much more than too much to count.’”
     13 Jacob spent that night there…. From what he had acquired, he set aside a gift for his brother Esau:


Depending on the translation, 31:55 is 32:1. Does it complete the treaty (31:55) or belong with the subsequent leaving of the pact place with both Laban and Jacob going on their separate ways? I am choosing the latter. This can throw off the versification all the way through this chapter.

Laban and Jacob part, leaving a marker of a boundary between them. Jacob soon finds himself in the presence of angels. As his escape from Isaac and Esau over his capture of a first-born’s blessing began with angels going up and down a ramp, so it concludes with angels coming with a message. In response to the angelic messengers, Jacob sends messengers to Esau.

The remembrance of Jacob’s twin may be part of Jacob’s naming this parallel to Bethel, Mahanaim, ‘Twin Camps.’ Even though the story of Jacob seems to be more about an escape from Laban than a return to Esau, this marks the beginning of Jacob’s return to his land and people.

Esau was in his land of Edom (‘red’) named for ruddy Esau. Presumably, Isaac is at Hebron, where he will later die.

Jacob’s messengers find Esau and pass on to him about where Jacob has been for twenty years and that he is returning with property, wealth. Jacob does not mention any wife he was sent to bring back (a sore spot with Esau).

Upon their return, the messengers bring no word from Esau. Their only news is that Esau is on his way with four hundred men—the equivalent of a regiment or raiding party. Initially, this does not sound like the bringing of troops to protect Jacob and his wealth as Abraham had done for Lot.

With this news and the naming of this place as Mahanaim, Jacob divides his property into two camps. The hope is that one of them will survive any retribution that might be coming with Esau.

Having hedged his bet with these practical arrangements, Jacob turns to the God of Abraham and the Terror of Isaac and reminds G*D of a promise of protection.

Genesis 31:36–54

31  36 Jacob was incensed and quarreled with Laban, “What’s my crime and guilt that you’ve hotly raced after me? 37 You’ve felt through all of my belongings, and what have you found from your household? Set it here in front of my kin and yours, and let them decide between us. 38 For twenty years I’ve been under you; your ewes and she-goats have never miscarried, and I have never eaten the rams of your flock. 39 When animals were torn by beasts, I did not bring them to you but bore the loss myself. You would expect recompense from me for any animals stolen during the day or night. 40 Parching heat consumed me during the day and the frost at night; sleep was a stranger to me. 41 It is now twenty years I’ve spent in your household. I worked fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times. 42 Had not the God of my father—the God of Abraham and the Terror of Isaac—been there for me, you would have sent me off empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the toil of my hands and last night decided in my favor.”
     43 Laban responded and said to Jacob, “The daughters are my daughters; the sons are my sons, and the flocks are my flocks. All you see—it is mine. But for my daughters and the sons they bore, what can I do now? 44 Come, let us cut a covenant, you and me, and let something here be our witness.”
     45 So Jacob took a stone, set it up as a pillar, 46 and said to his relatives, “Gather stones.” So they brought stones, made a mound, and ate there on the mound. 47 Laban called it Yegar-Sahadutha/Mound-Witness, but Jacob called it Gal-Ed/Witness Mound.
     48 Laban said, “Today, this mound is witness between you and me.” Therefore, he, too, named it Gal-Ed. 49 He also called it Mizpah/Lookout-Point, because he said, “May YHWH keep guard between you and me when we are out of each other’s sight. 50 Should you afflict my daughters and should you take wives besides my daughters, though no one else is present, God will see and witness between me and you.”
     51 Laban said to Jacob, “See this mound and the pillar that I’ve set up between you and me. 52 This mound is a witness, and this pillar is a witness that I won’t cross over this mound to you and that you won’t cross over this mound and pillar to me to do harm. 53 May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the gods of their fathers, keep justice between us.” So Jacob swore by the Terror of his father Isaac. 54 Jacob slaughtered a sacrifice-meal on the mountain and called to his kin to eat bread. They ate bread and spent the night on the mountain.


When, through Rachel’s subterfuge, Laban finds no figures of his gods, Jacob remonstrates toward him in poetic form—high language. As he begins to calculate just how long he served Laban, there is a shift to prose. There is now a time put on a generalized sense of a long time—20 years.

In remembering the feebleness of Isaac when Jacob left, Readers might wonder what 20 years have brought the parents of Jacob.

Coming back from those conjectures, we find ourselves in Gilead, a boundary, a place of transition between Abraham and Nahor, Rebekah and Laban. This is a place not unsimilar to the location of Jacob’s first dream, promising protection. We hear Jacob invoking the source of his making it through the last twenty years, even though there is little evidence of his remembering the God of Protection along the way—the G*D of Abraham and the Terror of Isaac (remember his Binding).

“So, Laban, how do your losable little gods look against the God of my ancestors? Don’t talk to me of grievance!”

Laban concedes nothing, claiming his daughters, grandsons, and flocks. Likely remembering YHWH’s warning not to contest with Jacob, he does not press for their return but proposes a treaty.

Jacob sets a ritual in place with stones reminiscent of the stone protecting him at his dream of a heavenly ramp and the stone he removed from a well when meeting Rachel. Everyone begins to gather stones as a commemoration of this pact and a border marker between Jacob and Laban. Laban names the place “Mound of Witness,” in Aramaic, and Jacob does the same in Hebrew.

A second descriptor is used—Mizpah—a point of long-viewing or guarding that both Laban and Jacob will honor the pact made there. Laban names his daughters as part of the pact, and Jacob claims the Terror of Isaac as his pledge.After a sacrifice is made (a speckled sheep?), they eat bread together and sleep in the cool height of Gilead.

Genesis 31:25–35

31  25 Laban caught up with Jacob. Jacob had pitched his tent in the mountains. Laban and his kin also pitched theirs in the heights of Gilead. 26 Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done? You have deceived me and led my daughters as if they were captives of the sword. 27 Why did you secretly flee, deceiving me, and not tell me? I would’ve sent you off with joy and festive songs, drum and lyre. 28 You did not even let me kiss my grandchildren and my daughters. Now you have played the fool! 29 My hand has the power to punish you, but the God of your father told me yesterday, ‘Watch out! Don’t say anything to Jacob, anything at all.’ 30 You had to go because you longed for your father’s house so much, but why did you steal my gods?”
     31 Jacob responded to Laban, “I was afraid and said to myself that you would rob me of your daughters. 32 With whomever you find with your gods, they shall not live. In front of your brothers, identify whatever I have that is yours and take it.” Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them. 33 Laban came into Jacob’s tent, Leah’s tent, and her two servants’ tent, but he found nothing.
     He left Leah’s tent and went into Rachel’s tent. 34 Now Rachel had taken the gods of the house and put them in the camel’s cushion and sat on them. Laban felt around in the whole tent and found nothing. 35 Rachel said to her father, “Let my lord not be angry with me that I am not able to rise, for the way of women is upon me.” He searched but could not find his household gods.


Somehow a slow train and a fast train meet at a borderline between their respective terminals. With their groups encamped against one another, Laban and Jacob face off over an issue of the heart rather than the expected one of property—the perceived value of the location of well-being. In a religious parallel, the presence of “my god(s).”

In good bargaining fashion, Laban begins with a lack of a proper goodbye. Laban even includes his dream warning to say nothing to Jacob. The loss of family, of tribe, is even more serious than the issues of the economy and must be addressed. Laban recognizes the call of Jacob’s clan, his ancestors. Only after this does the matter of his g/Gods rise to the forefront.

Jacob responds to the acknowledgment of the pull of his family. He also explains their flight based on Laban’s previous duplicity regarding Leah and Rachel—his fear of being cheated out of both of them, as well as his sons. For Jacob, he is just leaving with what he considers his, nothing less and nothing more.

The god question is of no import to Jacob. Little does he know that Rachel, his lovely Rachel, is at risk of death by his very hand should the household gods be found with her.

Laban proceeds to search the tents of Jacob, Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah. This leaves a dramatic inspection of the tent of Rachel who has the gods in question. Knowing what was coming, Rachel hid them in a comfortable cushion and sat upon it. Before being asked to stand, Rachel claimed she needed to remain seated here because her menses were flowing. What had once been an embarrassment because it meant she was not pregnant has now become a source of safety and protection. Rachel is saved by an appeal to a patriarchal taboo of the mystery of the way of women.

Laban presumably went on to search outside the tents, among the flocks, camels, and slaves. His quest comes up empty. Does his anger flare and he destroy Jacob and all? Does he leave in a huff? Is any other outcome possible?

Genesis 31:1–24

31  1 Jacob heard the words of Laban’s sons that said, “Jacob has taken everything that was our father’s and from what belonged to our father he made the weight of his wealth.” And Jacob saw that Laban’s face no longer looked on him as he used to.
     Then YHWH said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your birth place. I will be with you.”
     So Jacob sent for Rachel and Leah and called them to the field where his flock was. He said to them, “I see by your father’s face that he has changed toward me. But the God of my father has been with me. You know I have worked for your father with all my strength. Your father tricked and cheated me and changed my wages ten times, yet God did not allow him to harm me. If he said, ‘The speckled ones will be your payment,’ the whole flock bore speckled young. And if he said, ‘The streaked ones will be your payment,’ the entire flock bore streaked young. God has taken your father’s livestock and given them to me. 10 When the animals were in heat, I lifted up my eyes and saw in a dream that the rams mounting the flock were striped, speckled, and spotted. 11 God’s messenger said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob!’ and I said, ‘Here I am.’ 12 He said, ‘Lift up your eyes and see all the rams mounting the flock are striped, speckled, and spotted. I’ve seen all that Laban is doing to you. 13 I am the God who appeared to you at Bethel, where you anointed a pillar, and you vowed a vow to me. Now, rise, leave this country, and return to the land of your birth.’”
     14 Rachel and Leah answered him, saying, “Do we still have a share in the inheritance of our father’s house? 15 Have we not been counted by him as strangers? He sold us and has eaten up our purchase-price? 16 Whatever wealth God took from our father is ours and our children’s. So, whatever God said to you, do it.”
     17 And Jacob rose and lifted his sons and wives onto the camels. 18 He drove all of his livestock and all of his possessions acquired in Paddan-Aram in a return to Isaac, his father, in the land of Canaan. 
     19 While Laban was out shearing his sheep, Rachel stole the household gods that belonged to her father. 20 Moreover, Jacob deceived Laban, the Aramean, by not telling him he was fleeing. 21 And Jacob fled, with all that was his. He rose, crossed the River, and set his face toward the hill-country of Gilead.
     22  Laban was told on the third day that Jacob had fled. 23 Laban took his tribal-brothers with him, pursued Jacob for seven days, and caught up with him in the highlands of Gilead. 24 God came to Laban the Aramean in a night-dream and said, “Watch out, don’t say anything to Jacob, either good or evil.”


With Jacob’s magical increase, a barrier is set between Jacob and Laban and his sons. Laban is no longer in control of time and material wealth. Still having much, Laban’s family experiences Jacob’s much as having been stolen from them. This zero-sum game is one to which the rich of every generation falls prey.

The decision is made to cut their losses and fire Jacob, send him back to where he came from before he can gain more. How they missed their opportunity to kill him is not explored.

Jacob explains this is because he has been under the protection of G*D, as announced at his dream of a heavenly ramp. That promise did not protect him from having wage games played on him along the way. This same G*D is claimed to be behind the increase in a striped, speckled, and spotted flock. This interpretation of his situation came, again, in a dream.

G*D confirms Laban’s decision that it is time for Jacob to return to Canaan.

To extend the drama, Leah and Rachel raise the practical question of the wealth developed by Laban by selling them to Jacob as wives and exploiting Jacob’s skill as a keeper of livestock. Jacob does not consider this and makes ready to leave with wives and sons and flocks and slaves.

Without Jacob’s awareness, Rachel does find a way to settle up with Laban by taking the figures of Laban’s deities. He will not have access to appeal for good fortune and will fall on hard times. And, perhaps, they will assist her in her desired increase.

Without a word, Jacob and contingent pack their tents and silently steal away. They cross the great river Euphrates flowing from Eden and make it to the high country of Gilead, east of the Jordan River—a miraculous distance in so short a time.

Three days after Jacob fled, Laban found out and began pursuit with his kin, his troops. Even days later, they overtook Jacob in Gilead. That night G*D, still watching out for Jacob, came to Laban in a dream to warn him to not say anything at all to Jacob.

In the silence of this dream’s aftermath, we pause to catch our breath.