Genesis 33-35: Jacob – man-fearer

1.  “For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God” – Jacob flatters Esau (Gen. 33)

2.  Dinah defiled and revenge enacted (Gen. 34)

3.  Jacob renamed… again – the drink offering and the oil (Gen. 35:1-15)

4.  The Pillar of Rachel (Gen. 35:16-29)

1.  “For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God” – Jacob flatters Esau (Gen. 33)

There is something disappointing about this chapter.

After seeing Jacob clinging onto Jesus in the end of chapter 32, you would think that he need not rely on his own methods to appease Esau.  But he does – and this is the first challenge God has laid before him.  Jacob had just prevailed, and is renamed Israel which means God strives!  God fights for Jacob!  Jacob has also seen God face to face (v.30)!

But in chapter 33, the very first thing he does, after he sees Esau, is divide the children among Leah and Rachel.  The common refrain is this… “…bowed down”.  The bowing down occurs 7 times in v. 3, once more in v. 6, twice in v.7.  There is a lot of bowing – this is either an act of reverence or an act of fear.  To really get a feel of what is going on, let’s read what Jacob says.  He calls Esau “my lord” (v.8, 13, 14, 15), four times in a matter of less than 10 verses.  So we have four ‘my lords’ and ten ‘bows’ and one more flattery which says that his brother’s face is like seeing the face of God (v.10).  What blasphemy!!!  Indeed, Jacob had seen the living God face to face as to honour Him by calling the place of struggle Peniel (“the face of God”) – but to immediately call Esau his lord, and to say that he looks like God?!   We now know the bowing, the ‘my lords’, and the other flatteries were no result of genuine compassion.  Rather, they are words of flattery which do not build up the body, and work from Jacob’s scheming heart again!

That’s not the end of it.  Esau offers to go with Jacob and his party to Seir, the country of Edom (Genesis 32:3).  But Jacob lies to Esau – firstly he says that his children are frail, that the nursing flocks and herds are a care to him (v.13); then he says that there is no need for Esau’s men to stay behind (v. 15).  Now that Esau and his party has gone, Jacob is free to do as he wishes, and decided to journey to Succoth (v. 17), building himself a house and made booths for his livestock.  This clearly isn’t merely a place of rest – it is a place where he will be for at least quite a while.  Jacob is, yet again, avoiding Esau; and he, yet again, fails to trust in the LORD who proclaimed that Esau shall serve Jacob (Genesis 27:40).  What Jacob could have done, is tell Esau to join him, instead of having Esau tell Jacob to go to Edom!  But Jacob, the man-fearer, fails to remind Esau of the promised land Canaan.  He lets Esau go, and instead goes back to Canaan without having his brother serving him by his side in Canaan.

Jacob finally rests at Shechem, the same place that Abraham had passed through in Genesis 12:6.  Is the prophecy going to be fulfilled yet?  No – again, Jacob remembers what Abraham may have said to his descendants about God’s prophecy in Genesis 15:13.  The four hundred years between the book of Genesis and Exodus has yet to occur.  Although Jacob worships God by erecting an altar in Canaan and calling it El-Elohe-Israel (“God, the God of Israel”) – he had failed to convince his brother.  Rather, he folded in and failed to rule and guide his brother to Canaan.

2.  Dinah defiled and revenge enacted (Gen. 34)

This theme is carried across again in this chapter – the theme of Jacob the man-fearer.  This time though, the ‘fear’ has passed down to his son.  The chapter is horrific – it tells of the story of Dinah, Jacob’s only daughter, being raped by Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, who was the prince of the land.  He may have truly loved her – but his expression was also truly confused.

Jacob had heard about the rape already, possibly through Hamor, but kept his peace about the whole situation until his sons returned.  Hamor is sincere about the marriage – “the soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter.  Please give her to him to be his wife.  Make marriages with us” (Genesis 34:8-9).  Perhaps Jacob kept his peace, knowing that his children would be furious about this event.  Indeed – Israelites and Canaanites must not bond, for it will compromise the gospel message of Christ marrying the Christian Church.  But something heretical is offered here – Hamor is asking Israel to join to Canaan.  Surely there is something odd – isn’t it meant to be Canaan joining Israel, if Israel is the chosen nation to preach the good news of Jesus Christ?!

This is materialised in the abuse of the holy sacrament of circumcision (Genesis 17:12-13) which was also for foreigners.  Why?  So that the foreigners are also marked with this trust in Christ Jesus, that the blessings from the Father are given through the mediatorial offering of Christ’s blood and the water of the Spirit.  So the circumcision, the mark of pain, the mark of cutting of Christ’s flesh, would remind them of their faith.  But no – this sacrament is completely turned on its head; rather, it is now manipulated as a part of a deceitful plan, whereby the Canaanites don’t even have faith in Christ.  Rather, the circumcision is made so that Israel will dwell with the Canaanites, rather than vice versa!  The circumcision is negated of its meaning, but turned completely into a ‘business’ transaction!  How horrifying!  And such is the case of the abuse of infant baptism today; the refusal of people joining “Catholic” or “Christian” schools if the infant is not already baptised, or even special privileges following the completion of certain sacraments.  No – these sacraments have always been about God’s faithfulness to us (Romans 3), and nothing less!  We are set apart for Christ, not set apart for a holy club, or even any club!

And this is the mark of the man-fearer — even though Simeon and Levi did not ‘appear’ to fear man, they became hypocrites.  In return, they killed all the males, and stole their flocks, herds, donkeys, wealth, little ones, wives… what tragedy!  And yet, this is the chosen nation through which God will proclaim Christ.  Yes, as Karl Barth rightly put – the very evidence of God lies in the very existence of Israel to this day.  How can such a nation, with such a horrible track record, be chosen by God?  Naturally, we come to the conclusion that it isn’t down to the nation’s credentials; but it is down to their God’s credentials.

Love thy neighbour and thy enemy… but they could not even do that.  Simeon and Levi seemed not to even repent of what they did (Genesis 34:31).

3.  Jacob renamed… again – the drink offering and the oil (Gen. 35:1-15)

“Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there.  Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau”.  Again, we see the Father speaking of Jesus as “the God who appeared” to Jacob.  God protects the sons of Jacob during this period by striking terror on the cities around them (v.5) – such is the provision of God!  Jacob is probably unaware of it, though he may have wondered why his journey through Canaan was peaceful, despite the vengeful massacre Genesis 34.

Interestingly, prior to God re-iterating the blessing he made to Abraham and Isaac (v.11-12), he renamed Jacob as Israel again.  The name, from he who cheats to God strives.  From struggling against God to clinging onto God’s righteousness.  Jacob responds favourably with a drink offering on a pillar of stone and poured oil over it, in prophecy to Isaiah 53:12, our LORD Christ who poured out his life unto death, so that we can be gifted with new names which speak of Christ as well (Revelation 2:17).  And the oil is a representation of the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  We have, in these short verses from 9-15 the appearance of Christ (v.9), and his work expressed (v.14) on the Pillar of Stone, in Bethel, “the House of God”.  Jacob had all this head knowledge, but he still failed to obey and trust in the LORD entirely.

4.  The Pillar of Rachel (Genesis 35:16-29)

Rachel’s death definitely worths a mention – it is quite a sad account.  She dies from giving birth to Benjamin, the final and 12th son of Israel.  And she dies on the way, from the House of God (Bethel) to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ:

2[a](A) But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of(B) Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be(C) ruler in Israel,
(D) whose coming forth is(E) from of old,
from ancient days. (Micah 5:2)

There is again a re-establishment, after Benjamin’s birth, of the 12 tribes of Israel.  Now the 12 tribes of Israel are complete and all born – and they are now the object of the next part and section of Genesis.  The previous generation has gone, and Abraham and Isaac have yet to physically see their descendants inheriting the true Promised Land.  Jesus had re-established the blessing he had made to Abraham and Isaac, now to Jacob (renamed as Israel).  Israel, the nation and people for whom God fights and strives, now has 12 tribes.  The 12 tribes who will usher the world, as the spiritual forefathers of all those in Christ, ushering the age of the Gentiles and Jews shown by the ruler to be born in the little town of Bethlehem Ephrathah — this ruler whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.  Isaac had striven for his church, Rachel – and the 7 years had felt only like a few days to him.  Now Rachel has passed away – his church has fall asleep; but the 12 tribes live on – and it all culminates on the path to Bethlehem.  The Pillar of Rachel, the Pillar of the physically dying Church, looks forward to the path set on the O Little Town of Bethlehem – and meanwhile, the last act before her falling asleep is an act of giving new life, as the church should be continually doing.

Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. – Malachi 2:15

These 12 tribes were the original 12 apostles, and the Pillar of Rachel, the only “pillar” built for a person, as opposed to being built for God, is a testimony to the work that will be done in Bethlehem and which the 12 tribes are striving towards in long expectation – and the fulfillment of the prophecy is spoken of the death of Rachel’s children at the hands of Herod in Ramah (in Arabia according to Justin Martyr in his dialogue with Trypho chapter LXXVIII):

15Thus says the LORD:(AL) “A voice is heard in(AM) Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
(AN) Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
(AO) because they are no more.” (Jeremiah 31:15)

Genesis 33-35: Jacob – man-fearer