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 god’s 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.