“I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.” -Genesis 26:24
In the twenty years Esau and Jacob had been separated by Jacob’s deceit, both my sons had prospered. Additionally, Jacob had been visited by angels of God and had heard the voice of God Himself, promising all the land of Canaan to his children. Just as the LORD had said, both were on their way to becoming great nations.
Now as it appeared they were about to meet again, Jacob sent scouts ahead to find Esau and give him a message of peace. When the messengers returned with the news that Easu was coming to meet them with 400 men, Jacob’s camp was terrified!
He divided his people into two groups thinking that if one was attacked the other might escape. Then he sought the LORD’s guidance. Next morning he selected several groups of animals and sent them off as gifts to Esau. He told the herdsmen from each group to keep some distance between them so that Esau would be presented the gifts progressively rather than all at once. Jacob hoped by this method to soften Easu up and make him more forgiving.
That night as they neared the area where Rebekah and I still lived, Jacob sent his wives, children, and goods across the river remaining alone in the Arnon Gorge east of Canaan. During the night someone came and wrestled with him till daybreak, with neither one gaining the upper hand. Finally as the sun was rising this mystery opponent caused Jacob’s hip to come out of joint so He could subdue him. Recognizing it was the LORD, Jacob asked for a blessing. The LORD blessed him and changed his name to Israel, which means “wrestles with God.”
Now obviously the LORD could have easily subdued my son, but He wanted to demonstrate the nature of the relationship our descendants would have with Him. Throughout all the long centuries since it’s become clear that the Israelites have mostly wrestled with God, never really submitting, often battling Him to a draw, insisting on having their own way. In fact, if our Old Covenant writings could be summarized with one question it would be, “Israel, are you going to obey Me or not?” Strangely enough, the same can be said of your New Covenant, only His question to you is, “Church, are you going to believe Me or not?”
When Jacob saw Esau coming with his 400 men, he lined up his family by groups according to their mothers, and went out in front of them, formally bowing seven times before Esau. But Easu, overjoyed at seeing his brother again ran up and hugged Jacob. With tears in their eyes my sons were re-united and group-by-group Jacob brought his wives and children to meet Esau.
Even though Esau wanted Jacob and his family to remain with him and travel home together, Jacob declined and said they would catch up later. Then, anxious to get away, Jacob turned off toward Shechem, and after arriving there bought some land and settled down.
In my time, no woman would venture far from the safety of her family for fear of bring accosted by a strange man. In fact it was so dangerous that if a woman ever was found alone in the countryside, it was assumed she was partly responsible for whatever disaster befell her. As a for the man, anyone caught molesting a young woman was required to marry her, both to bear the consequences of his behavior and to provide for the woman, who having been defiled was no longer considered a suitable marriage partner for anyone else. In those days, everyone was required to be responsible for his or her own actions. Radical thought, huh?
Almost everyone is aware that Jacob fathered 12 sons with his two wives ad their maids. Eleven of these had been born when Jacob returned, but there was also a daughter born to Leah, a girl named Dinah. One day, for reasons I’ll never understand, Dinah went out alone to visit the women of the area, and while out was caught and raped by Shechem, the son of Hamor leader of the town after which his son was named.
My grandsons were beside themselves with rage, especially Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s biological brothers. When Hamor told Jacob that his son loved Dinah and wanted to marry her, conspiracies arose on every side. The men of Shechem saw that Jacob was rich and thought that by marrying into his family they could get some of that wealth for themselves.
But my grandsons devised the most evil treachery, convincing the men of Shechem that while inter marriage (forbidden by the LORD by the way) was desirable, it couldn’t begin until the men of Shechem were circumcised like them. In their greed for a piece of Jacob’s wealth, Shechem’s men agreed and while they were incapacitated, Levi and Simeon attacked and killed them all, taking their property and possessions as spoil.
Using something as important as the sign of our covenant with the LORD in such a treacherous way was pure evil. Set aside the sin of murder for a minute. A major provision of our covenant was mutual protection. My grandsons used the LORD’s promise of protection to disable and slaughter the very people they had sworn to protect. It was scandalous! If the other population groups found out about this, they could band together and wipe Jacob’s family out completely. And who could blame them? My grandsons had just proved they couldn’t be trusted, and in the eyes of our neighbors revenge for the attack on Dinah was no excuse. “Remember,” they would say, “she shouldn’t have been out alone in the first place. And besides that, there are legal remedies for what happened and killing the whole town is not one of them.” What a mess! They had to get out of there fast.
But the LORD in His great mercy, remained faithful to His promises and gave them both a destination and divine protection. Next stop, Bethel.