Genesis 32-34: Jacob comes home

Welcome back! This will be part ten of Genesis and today’s chapters focuses on the reunion between Jacob and Esau as well as the rape of Dinah.

Here’s an overview: Jacob is finally coming home after 20 years of work for Laban. They have parted ways amicably and Jacob must face his brother whose inheritance and blessing he had stolen before he left. He’s worried but has a plan and a promise from God that all will be well. After they meet up and he moves back in to town, his only daughter is taken an raped. The guy who raped her wants to marry her and her brother’s trick him into thinking all is well before going in and laying waste to his whole town for what he did to their sister.

Chapter thirty-two

Let’s begin with the reminder that Jacob was told by his mother that Esau was plotting his death when he left. While a lot had happened since then, he had every reason to be concerned that his brother would still want to kill him. It’s possible for a murderous rage to smolder that long fully intact.

The very first thing in the chapter is that Jacob came upon some angels. There were enough of them for Jacob to declare that this was God’s camp and he names the place. It seemed strangely out of place, but I consulted the study section of my Bible and found that the word used to name the camp actually means “two camps” and that it is possible that Jacob thought the angels were there to assist in his upcoming reunion. God had just told him that He would be with him until His promise was fulfilled so the argument makes sense to me. Wesley makes the comment that these two camps were one in front because of Esau and one behind because of Laban instead. Either way, it is assumed that the angel camps are there for Jacob’s benefit.

The chapter continues with Jacob sending messengers to tell his brother that he is coming. He prays before it all begins and we see in this prayer that Jacob is terrified and really hoping that God meant that he and Esau don’t end up in some sort of battle where he loses his family. He even sends a pretty lavish gift to Esau ahead of him.

To me, this shows that two things have happened here:

  1. Jacob finally has an idea of how awfully he treated his brother when they were kids
  2. Jacob has realized how much it sucks to be on the receiving end of some deception

Then there’s an odd scene where Jacob physically wrestles with God all night. This is not figurative. It’s really weird but the whole scene plays out from verse twenty-two until thirty-two that Jacob is wrestling with God. Jacob insists on a blessing from the mysterious man he’s been wrestling all night and this is what he gets:

Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.

He is the first person since Adam and Eve to see God face to face and he gets the gravity of it, so he renames that place to reflect what happened there too.

Chapter thirty-three

Now, Jacob’s plan for how to greet his brother has played out and it’s time for them to actually see each other again. He divides up the family, seemingly in case they have to run, and sets to bowing on the ground to his brother and the four hundred men he has with him. He appears to be really terrified and really understand what he had done to him. But it’s been twenty years in a time before communication was easy across long distances. Esau is clearly over it as runs to give him a hug and a kiss and “they wept”. That’s a homecoming!

Jacob keeps insisting on calling himself Esau’s servant but Esau is having none of it, nor is he about to accept his brother’s lavish gifts which are detailed in the prior chapter. Esau insists that he is rich enough and doesn’t want to take anything from his brother. Esau welcomes him back home and wants to escort him, but it’s not really possible. Esau has hearty men with him, Jacob has his whole family and flocks. Not everyone is up to the speed the Esau and his men can handle, so Jacob insists they go ahead.

Then Jacob does a curious thing and buys some land in that place, which made me think he was going to stay there, but he doesn’t. We’ll see in chapter thirty-five that he continues all the way to see his father, Isaac, right where he had left him.

Chapter thirty-four

Jacob has eleven sons and one daughter at this point. Just one little girl. Okay, maybe not so little because she is the marrying age, whatever that was at the time. She was also old enough to be alluring and lusted after because the nearby prince decided he had to have her and not in marriage, at least not at first.

Meet Shechem, he’s a real piece of work. He sees the girl, Dinah, hanging out with some local women and “seized her and lay with her and humiliated her.” So, that’s kidnapping and rape and whatever other horrific things are summed up by “humiliated her” not covered by the other two. Then he has the gall to ask his father to “get this girl for my wife” because his soul was drawn to her all of a sudden.

Jacob hears about the whole thing and, for whatever reasons, waits for his sons to be with him before making any decisions. Nevermind asking the girl like Rebekah had been asked. The brothers appear to be more upset than the father, but the father has the whole camp of who knows how many people to be concerned with, not just his daughter. Remember that these households consist of hundreds of people. This in no way excuses Jacob from seeming cool with the sons speaking up and saying some stuff that make them sound cool with the marriage.

Okay, so there is plenty to be outraged by in this chapter, but let me first point out that the prince and his father seem to want to go along with negotiations as if he hadn’t already defiled her and weren’t currently holding her captive. It has become obvious in previous chapters that virginity and chastity were even more important than some religious people treat it now, so he essentially made her unmarriable to anyone else. And they just want to go on as if they hadn’t done an absolutely horrid thing and wanted to sweep it under the rug as if a little tender treatment after the fact is going to make the girl okay. We don’t hear about what is going on with Dinah, herself, but we should know enough about rape these days that she is totally wrecked emotionally and possibly physically and may be expected to just be his wife and bear him children as if everything were cool.

We’re given a little insight into what the brothers are thinking at this point because it is included that they answer the prince “deceitfully” when they say:

We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we agree with you – that you will become as we are by every male among you being circumcised. Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters to ourselves, and we will dwell with you and become one people. But if you will not listen to us and be circumcised, then we will take our daughter, and we will be gone.

Again, there’s a big part of me that wants to be like, the uncircumcised part is the problem here?! But remember that deceitful part. So the prince and the king go back and tell all their males that they have to be circumcised in order for the prince to marry the girl he has raped. I can’t imagine how they must have taken that news, but they do it. We know that they do it because the next bit begins like this:

On the third day, when they were sore….

And then two of the brothers came in and laid waste. I’m actually reminded of a term some friends of mine who are Marines have used where they “reign down hate and discontent.” These two brothers came in and killed the king, the prince, took their sister back and then killed every male in the city, and then captured everything else, even wives and children. This was what they found to be adequate punishment for what he did to their sister.

Can you imagine that being the punishment for rape? Your whole town is slaughtered?

Jacob gets mad at them over it when they get back, declaring that he doesn’t have the manpower to withstand all of their neighbors were they to hear of it and want to annihilate them. The brothers show no remorse or concern for that possibility when their only response is:

Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?

I mean, prostitute’s don’t deserve rape or humiliation either, but I get how desensitized people can get to the plight of the prostitute. If you aren’t so sure about it, take a minute to read Half the Sky and get back to me. They are definitely still among the marginalized groups and it appears to be most often against their will that they go into it. They are people and deserve more than they get. Getting back to the story at hand, though, I love that the brother’s are just like: Not my sister, you don’t!

I wondered for a minute why only two brothers went out that night, but a few things occured to me:

  1. Someone had to cover for them if their father figured out where they were
  2. The heir should stay because someone had to survive the father
  3. Someone had to be there in case they failed and the locals attacked their camp
  4. Some were probably too young to make it. Their departure from Laban is mentioned shortly before this chapter and Joseph was barely born when they left so it stands to reason that he and maybe some others were still quite young.

We’ll see next time if any of the neighbors do end up feeling threatened by this fierce defence of their sister’s stolen virtue.

So there are my feelings and impressions on the Chs 32-34 of Genesis. Have you read them? What do you think?

Chapter links go to the ESV translations at but I’m reading from the ESV Global Study Bible, which is available for free on the Kindle Reading App.

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