Genesis Week 8 – From Jacob to Israel

Thank you for reading Genesis with us! Here are the readings for this week:

Genesis 32 – 35
□ 32:1-21 – Jacob prepares to meet Esau
□ 32:22-32 – Jacob wrestles with God
□ 33 – Jacob meets Esau
□ 34 – The tragedy of Dinah
□ 35 – Jacob returns to Bethel

Main Topic – From Jacob to Israel
In the previous section of Genesis we saw that Jacob went into exile in the land of Laban and experienced the pain and drama of being deceived. During these twenty years of exile, God has been working in Jacob’s heart. In this section of Genesis, Jacob faces his greatest fears in reconciling with his brother Esau. Jacob wrestles with God, is given a new name, and finds a remarkable picture of the grace and forgiveness of God in his reconciliation with Esau.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion
1. Jacob prepares to meet Esau (Gen 32) – Jacob is obedient to God’s call to return home (Gen 31:3) but he is gripped with fear. He brings this fear before God in prayer. What characteristics and promises of God strengthen Jacob and enable him to cast his fear upon God?

2. Presents for Esau (Gen 32) – Jacob sends a lavish present to Esau. What is it? Why does he send it? The language of “appease him with a present so he will accept me” is often used of sacrifices made before God. How do these gifts reflect the reality of repentance in Jacob’s life?

3. Wrestling with God (Gen 32) – We see a dramatic event in Jacob’s life here. Arguably the turning point for Jacob is the confession of his weakness, his acknowledgement that he is a cheater. Why is this significant? What new name is he given? What message for Jacob is there in this new name?

4. Jacob meets Esau (Gen 33) – Though Esau had been deeply wronged and formerly wanted to kill Jacob, we see a remarkable change in him. How does Esau react to Jacob? How is this story similar to the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15)? Why is this story of grace and reconciliation so important for Jacob, and for us?

5. The tragedy of Dinah (Gen 34) – Nothing good happens in this terrible story from Shechem. Jacob is failing as a father. Consider his response to the events in 34:5-7, 30-31. How would you describe his response and parenting? Where is his focus? Consider 34:13, 25-30. What do the sons of Jacob do? What are the consequences of this, especially as seen in Gen 49:5-7?

Dinah

One of the hardest Bible study classes I have ever taught.  I should’ve seen it coming.  More than half the women in my class have been sexually violated at some point in their lives.  The emotions were so raw, the heartache and tragedy unspeakable.  It’s not something we can gloss over… and I couldn’t decide if we should stop class and all dissolve into a prayerful, sobbing mess – or go ahead and look at Genesis 34 in detail.  Sigh.  We have so much in common with Dinah. 

Scripture does not reveal much about Dinah – why she went out to visit the women of the land or what kind of a young girl she was.  In the end, we discover that the silence of scripture speaks volumes.  She could be any of us.  What was done to her was wrong and all the events leading up to the incident do not matter in the end. 

 God values women and we can see this in the Levitical law, which was very contrary to the “women are property” culture of that day.  For the violated woman God’s law provided protection, care, and economic security for her for the rest of her life (Ex 22:16).  Rape was akin to murder – “you have taken her life” – and the man received the death penalty (Deut 22:26).  Innocent women were not punished, but were precious in the eyes of God.  God seeks restoration and redemption – not the cycle of shame, blame, and reproach.  “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 8:1).

 We talked about Jacob’s failure to lead, how he was passive and lost control of his family.

 We talked about Simeon and Levi, whose righteous anger (justified, wish Jacob had the same response!) became a point of sin for them.  “In your anger, do not sin.” (Ps 4:4)  We talked about how God hates lies and deceit and the treachery of the brothers’ promise of a covenant which they had no intention of fulfilling.  We looked ahead to Genesis 49 where Simeon and Levi lose their inheritance for this act of treachery and violence.

 We talked about “abduction marriages” which occasionally occur in some countries still today.  Many thanks to an Ethiopian seminary professor who pointed this out!

 And we talked about leaving the desire for justice and revenge in the hands of the Lord.  For “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord, I will repay.” (Rom 12:19-20) 

 In the end, Dinah’s story is still a tragedy.  There is no happy ending.

 You can curse God and die, or trust God and live. – Jill Briscoe, ref. Job 2:9-10