Genesis 30-32: Struggle no more!

1.  Rachel vs. Leah:  The 12 Tribes of Israel (Genesis 30:1-24)

2.  The striped, spotted and mottled flock (Genesis 30:25-43)

3.  Jacob and Laban (Genesis 31)

4.  Jacob and Esau (Genesis 32:1-21)

5.  Jacob and Jesus: the struggle (Genesis 32:22-31)

1.  Rachel vs. Leah:  The 11 (or 12) Tribes of Israel (Genesis 30:1-24)

This seems to be an extrapolation of the story of Abraham, Hagar and Sarah.  Instead, the feud between Sarah and Hagar is enlarged here.  Abraham had stupidly ‘listened’ to Sarah rather than the LORD, and mated with Hagar; but here:

(a)  Jacob and Leah – Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah (Genesis 29:31-35), Issachar, Zebulun, Dinah (Genesis 30:18-21)

(b)  Jacob and Rachel – Joseph (Genesis 30:22-24), Benjamin (Genesis 35:18 )

(c)  Jacob and Bilnah (Rachel’s servant) – Dan, Naphtali (Genesis 30:4-8 )

(d)  Jacob and Zilpah (Leah’s servant) – Gad, Asher (Genesis 30:9-13)

Jacob is having a busy time.  What is seriously awry here is how scheming the two wives have become.  Not only did Jacob have an issue with Esau; now his wives also have issues with one another.  This is the effect of Jacob’s sin in his heart – he has not resolved it.  He is still called Jacob, the struggler, the cheater.  It is not surprising to see Leah and Rachel struggling against one another, and as equally scheming and manipulative as their husband.

Let’s look at the meaning behind the names of the 12 sons born (11 mentioned thus far up to Genesis 30)

(1) Reuben = “See, a son” — Preeminent in dignity and power; unstable as water, he shall not have preeminence (Genesis 49:3-4) (1)

(2)  Simeon = sounds like Hebrew for heard

(3)  Levi = sounds like Hebrew for attached — Weapons of violence are the swords of Simeon and Levi; cursed be their anger; divided in Jacob and scattered in Israel (Genesis 49:5-7) (2) & (3)

(4)  Judah = sounds like Hebrew for praise — brothers shall praise him; scepter shall not depart from Judah (Genesis 49:8-12) (4)

(5)  Dan = sounds like Hebrew for judged — judge his people; be a serpent in the way, bites the horse’s heels; “I wait for your salvation, O LORD” (Genesis 49:16-17) (7)

(6)  Naphtali = sounds like Hebrew for wrestling — doe let loose, that bears beautiful fawns/words (Genesis 49:21) (10)

(7)  Gad = sounds like Hebrew for good fortune — raiders shall raid Gad, but he shall raid at their heels (Genesis 49:19) (8 )

(8 )  Asher = sounds like Hebrew for happy — food shall be rich, and he shall yield royal delicacies (Genesis 49:20) (9)

(9)  Issachar = sounds like Hebrew for wages, hire — strong donkey; a servant at forced labour (Genesis 49:14-15) (6)

(10)  Zebulun = sounds like Hebrew for honour — dwell at the shore of the sea; haven for ships (Genesis 49:13) (5)

(11)  Joseph = “May he add”; sounds like Hebrew for taken away — fruitful bough, his bow remained unmoved, three types of blessings, up to the bounties of the everlasting hills/mountains (Genesis 49:26) (11)

(12)  Benjamin = “son of my sorrow” or “son of my strength” (he is born later, and added as Rachel’s second son in Genesis 35:18). — a ravenous wolf, morning devouring prey, evening dividing spoil (Genesis 49:27) (12)

A quick explanation of the “table” above.  The first half of each name is what his mother called him (e.g. what his Hebrew name sounds like or what it means); the second half, after the double dash (“–“) is what Jacob says of them in Genesis 49 when he pronounces “what shall happen to [them] in days to come” (Genesis 49:1).  The final number in the brackets at the end of the name is the order in which Jacob places the children in his blessing to them, as opposed to the order of birth at the beginning of the name.

Note that there is no real correlation between the two (the name of boy and his future ‘destiny’).  Something important should be stated about this – that our God is not fatalistic.  Though Jacob is born the cheater, he is later renamed Israel.  However, Esau remains as Esau… and decides not to partake in the blessings of the house of Jacob/Israel.

Same here, the parents name the children all types of names.. many of which seem to give praise to the LORD (especially for all the children prior to Joseph).  But the LORD is unsurprisingly quiet during the entire ordeal.  Why?  Because this is like a more exaggerated version of what Abraham did when Hagar bore Ishmael.  He did not wait.  So here, Jacob did not only fail to wait, but listened to what his wives said rather than sanctifying them with the Word (Eph 5:22-33).  That is because he had the same fraternal struggles with Esau.  Only in Genesis 30:22-24 is God mentioned – “Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb.  She conceived and bore a son and said, “God has taken away my reproach.””

What’s really important is how Joseph and Judah play a large role in securing the future of the Israelites.  Judah, being the line from which Jesus is born; Joseph, the type of Christ in Egypt in later chapters. But this is not on any merit of their own. Sure, Joseph obeyed God, but it was God who remembered Rachel, and gave her Joseph. It was the LORD who saw that Leah was hated. It was God who listened to Leah. Note – the first child that God grants Rachel is Joseph, whom we will hear all about. Many of the other children in between are forced. Many are based on competition – “I have more sons than you, so in-your-face” sort of ordeal. “I have six sons because I gave my husband my servant to have sex with” sort of logic.

2.  The striped, spotted and mottled flock (Genesis 30:25-43)

Now, why would “fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the sticks” (v. 37) be any effective in the breeding of the flock? Jacob continues to manipulate the situation with his own power, in a very similar manner to Laban’s own deception.

What think you about the significance of the striped/spotted/mottled flock?

3.  Jacob and Laban (Genesis 31)

Yet, Jacob does not depend on his own ways to gain the favour or wages from Laban, the cheater (v.6-7). It is by the LORD that Jacob has any confidence in what he does (v.3), the comfort found in the words “I will be with you”. Even he realized that it is by God that the flock is spotted or striped, and not by his own methods (v.8-13). It is by the angel of God, the just and righteous God of Bethel who tells Jacob to go back to the land of his kindred, Canaan. However, he relied not on God when he left to Canaan. This reveals much of his heart.  Did he really think that it was God who gave him the flock?  Or did he think it was by his own effort again? He had to trick/steal the heart of Lot by not telling him that he intended to flee (v.20). Rachel also stole her father’s household gods – which goes to show that not only she, but also her father, has serious issues in their faith. Not so surprising, given the compromise of her father’s cheating attitude, and Rachel’s lies. Such are those who take comfort in idols of the Deceiver and Liar, Satan (John 8:44).

The Angel of the Lord, the God of Bethel in v.11-13 is just – and he sees everything that had happened between Jacob and Laban. He is also called the God of Abraham, Fear of Isaac and God of Jacob’s father (v.42) – and Jacob acknowledges the complete sovereignty of the Chief Angel. Indeed, the Angel’s hand is over Jacob. Why? Because the Angel is faithful and remembers the promises made to Jacob in Genesis 27 – “will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you” (Chapter 27 v.29).

So here, we have established the heap of witness, the watchpost called “Gilead” or “Galeed” or “Jegar-sahadutha or Mizpah (cf. v. 23, 46-47). This watchpost, this heap is a witness between Jacob and Laban, so that they won’t do harm to one another, and that God of Nahor is judge between them.  Of course, whether Jacob and Laban actually remember the heap of witness is another issue. 

Here, we see more of God’s personality in this chapter – we see Him as the all-seeing Angel; we see Him as the great judge; we see Him as the one who fulfills his promises in spite of our lack of faithfulness or holiness; we see Him as the true righteous one; we see Him as the source of blessings; we see Him as relational (God of Nahor, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob); we see Him as the same God then, present and forevermore. Yet, the irony is that all the heaps of witnesses, all the wells dug, all the covenants made between man has or will be broken – and God is the only one who remembers these covenants, whilst our covenants with other people are such failures.

Even v. 55, Laban’s blessings on his grandchildren and daughter is nothing compared to Isaac’s blessing on Jacob. It is notably quiet. We have here a family of misfits, a family of liars, a family born in deceit, a family born out of competition, a family made of jealousy, a scheming manipulative family.

And yet, this is the same nation from which God will bring his only Son. For when we are weak, He remains strong (2 Corinthians 2:10; Romans 5:6).

4.  Jacob and Esau (Genesis 32:1-21)

Now, for the first time, Jacob meets a camp of sent ones. There is nothing specific about Christ here – but instead, his sight of the angels should strengthen his faith. He calls the place Mahanaim, for it means two camps – one of which is his own, the other is God’s camp of angels. These visions should not have been something trivial; rather, it should have given him the sufficient encouragement that God is indeed with him.

But as soon as he hears that Esau is coming with four hundred men (v.6), he panics. Such is our spiritual ancestor; though he just saw a camp of angels, he flees to the other direction. However, we see something strange for the first time. From v. 9-12, he prays an earnest prayer whereby he acknowledges that Jesus, the God of his father Abraham and Isaac and who spoke to him directly, is his true deliverer. However, he still does not trust the Christ. He had divided the people into two camps within his own schemes; he decided to present 200 female goats, 20 male goats, 200 ewes, 20 rams, 30 milking camels and their calves, 40 cows and 10 bulls, 20 female donkeys and 10 male donkeys. Does this sound like someone who admitted to the LORD that it is by the LORD that he has anything? Does this sound like someone relying on the LORD’s instructions? No – it sounds like someone trying to get the best of both worlds; firstly pleading to the LORD desperately, and secondly trying to handle things by himself. Jacob still cannot relinquish his control to the Angel completely; and is still living a life of distress, fear and compromise (v.7).

5.  Jacob and Jesus: the struggle (Genesis 32:22-31)

So while he divided one camp, the other camp consists of him, his two wives, two female servants, and his 11 children, totaling up to 16 people crossing the ford of the Jabbok (v. 22).

Then comes this interesting section – once Jacob was left alone, a “man” wrestled with him. Who is this man? Is he from the camp of Esau? He is just as mysterious as Melchizedek, as sudden as the Chief angel with his two angels when they appeared to Abraham. This man had godly powers – able to put Jacob’s hip out of joint by a mere touch (v. 25). And this struggle was during the evening, a testimony of sin and struggle in itself (Psalm 17:3). But Jacob did not give up – and he struggled till day-break. Here, again, is a chief portrayal of the man of struggle, the man who cheats. But we finally see a different picture when his hip was put out of joint. No longer can Jacob struggle properly – rather, he must cling onto the man and ask for his blessing (v.26).

Many people misinterpret this part of chapter 32 as a justification for us to work for blessings, to rely on works righteousness to receive God’s approval. No – the scenario here isn’t to praise Jacob’s struggle. We can tell that simply by how many times God has been in complete control, regardless of Jacob’s methods and struggles, scheming and deception in the last few chapters in Genesis. God is the one who is faithful; Jacob is the one who is seriously compromised. And here, the underlying flaw in his character is brought to the forefront, where he is finally (and physically) made to cling onto God. This picture of clinging rather than struggling is different. God describes that Jacob had striven, and has run the race of faith and has come out victorious (c.f. Psalm 17). But he didn’t run the race of faith. Note what Jacob says in v.30 “… yet my life has been delivered”. It is a statement of mercy. But that is the language used throughout Scriptures, especially the warning passages in Hebrews (Hebrews 3). Jacob himself doesn’t run the faith on works, but his faith relies on the deliverance and mercy of God. Sanctification, also, is by God.

Joshua 22:5

“Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Joshua 23:8

but you shall cling to the LORD your God just as you have done to this day…

Psalm 63:8

My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

Jeremiah 13:11

For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the LORD, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.

On this account, who is the man who Jacob clings to?  Who is the right hand who upholds me?   We should do a character study of the man. He is mysterious, suddenly entering the picture. He is strong, and has struggled with Jacob till day-break. He has godly powers. He has a mysterious name, unrevealed. But we need not stab in the dark – Jacob the theologian in v.30 spares us of that mystery – “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered”. God’s name is so utterly important, and it is a privilege to call on the name of the LORD (Genesis 4:26) – this is probably why Jacob asked for the man’s name. The name of the visible of the invisible Him (Colossians 1:15).

Let us remember today to cling onto the LORD, while we are handicapped and seriously compromised. Let us not kid ourselves into thinking we can get the best of both worlds, scheming and creating back-up plans while praying to God for mercy – because God will definitely put your hip out of joint if you continue with that attitude.

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Genesis 30-32: Struggle no more!

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