Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 37:9-11

9 And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.

10 And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?

11 And his brethren envied him; but his father observed the saying.

It is interesting that after such a poor reception to his first dream Joseph felt compelled to share this second one as well. Perhaps he was too naïve to realize the vexation it would stir up. Or maybe he fully knew the drama that would be caused, but the dream came with a God-given need to share it. Certainly Noah knew that his calls to repentance would not be received cheerfully, but he still was called to foretell the flood.

It is understandable that Joseph’s brothers would feel poorly about these dreams, but the retaliation they exercised on him was completely inexcusable. If they thought he was a fool or a liar they could have dismissed him out of hand, but the fact that they contemplated murder and sold him into slavery shows that they felt threatened. No doubt they knew in their hearts that he was more worthy than they, but they sought to remove him instead of improving themselves.

Of note in Joseph’s dream is that this one not only shows Joseph’s brothers making obeisance to him, represented by the eleven stars, but also two others represented by the sun and the moon. Jacob interpreted the sun and the moon as being himself and Joseph’s mother, and took offense to that. But unlike Joseph’s brothers, we hear that he “observed the saying,” which suggests that even though he disliked the message, he recognized it was from God and had respect to it.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 35:28-29

28 And the days of Isaac were an hundred and fourscore years.

29 And Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people, being old and full of days: and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.

We haven’t heard about Isaac for a long while. The last words we heard from him were in Genesis 28 when he blessed Jacob to receive the covenant of Abraham and sent him to find a wife. As far as the biblical record is concerned, Isaac’s role seems to have been to carry the covenant from his father Abraham to his son Jacob. He bridged the gap between the two men who were most fundamental in establishing the Israelite nation.

This is also the last we hear of Esau and Jacob being gathered in the same place. We have not heard of any interaction between them since Jacob first returned to Canaan, and we will hear no interaction hereafter, not even when Jacob leaves for Egypt because of the famine.

One would assume that Jacob had occasional interactions with his father and brother after returning to the covenant land, but it is abundantly clear that he does not rely on them anymore. He is his own household, and now that Isaac has passed, he is the patriarch of his own people.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 35:13-15

13 And God went up from him in the place where he talked with him.

14 And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him, even a pillar of stone: and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon.

15 And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him, Beth-el.

I find this passage confusing. In the previous verses we heard about Jacob making a new altar, speaking with God, having his name of Israel reaffirmed, and renaming the place from Beth-el to El-beth-el. But here we hear of him making another pillar, having another conversation, being called Jacob once more, and the place is called Beth-el again.

Are today’s verses calling back to Jacob’s original visit to this land, back when he was fleeing his father’s household? Are they saying that Jacob set up two different pillars in two parts of the land and called those regions by two different names? Is this a clerical error? Is it two separate accounts of the same event being blended together?

I’m really not sure, but I lean towards the last of those options. We have to remember that the Bible is a compiled book, the work of different prophets and scribes, written in isolation and later combined and translated into a single package. It is a work of divinely approved scripture, but also a product of human quirks. Thankfully, small moments of uncertainty like this don’t get in the way of us understanding Jacob’s story as a whole.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 35:9-12

9 And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padan-aram, and blessed him.

10 And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel.

11 And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins;

12 And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land.

Now that Jacob had come to this consecrated land God appeared to him again. This time it appears that God’s identity was not a mystery to Jacob, such as at the time of his night-time wrestle. God is here in clarity and power, for he is here to reaffirm His solemn oaths to Jacob.

Jacob is reminded that he is not to be called Jacob, but Israel, and that he is to sire a nation of kings, and that his children will inherit this land that surrounds him. This reminder of divine promise is very similar to the process that God took Abraham through. God knows that the nature of our hearts is for faith to wane and doubt to creep in, and so He takes special effort to revitalize and reinvigorate us. Were we perfect, God would only need to speak once, and we would always believe, but we are not perfect, and God gracefully accounts for it.

Unlike with Abraham, though, the promises given are already beginning to be fulfilled. All of Abraham’s life he had only one son born into divine promise, and Isaac only had one son of promise as well. Neither of these men had the beginnings of a great nation before their eyes, they just had to trust that it would come at some future date. Jacob, however, now has eleven sons, and soon twelve. There have been three generations of trunk, but now Jacob is seeing the stem splitting into many branches. The reality of God’s promise was at last beginning to manifest.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 35:5-7

5 And they journeyed: and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob. 

6 So Jacob came to Luz, which is in the land of Canaan, that is, Beth-el, he and all the people that were with him.

7 And he built there an altar, and called the place El-beth-el: because there God appeared unto him, when he fled from the face of his brother.

Jacob had been concerned how the neighbors would react to his sons killing the men of Shalem. There was a legitimate fear that the local might destroy the small household, and I would imagine especially so while they were out on the road without cover. Fortunately the people recognized that God walked with Jacob’s household, and restrained themselves from any violence.

And so Jacob’s wars were being fought for him, won before they even started. In peace he arrived at his destination, and there he made a new altar, just as he had when he first rested at this place.

Jacob also christened the land with a new name. Previously he had called it “Beth-el” which meant “the house of God”. Now he named it “El-beth-el” which means “the God of the house of God.” A bit of an unconventional name by our modern standards, and I admit I don’t understand the redundant use of “God,” but it does make for an interesting palindrome.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 35:2-4

2 Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments:

3 And let us arise, and go up to Beth-el; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went.

4 And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem.

The place that God had called Jacob to was of special significance to him. It was the same location where God had first appeared to Jacob, given him a vision of a ladder ascending to heaven, and had promised to be his companion. All this had occurred as Jacob was fleeing for his life from Esau, out in the middle of nowhere. At the time this location must have seemed like the farthest place from home, but now it literally was his home.

Jacob knew that this place had been sanctified by the personal presence of God, and as he examined his household, he saw that they were not ready to dwell there. Evidently members of his family and/or servants had pagan idols, perhaps a carryover from when they had lived under Laban’s roof.

Now was the time to officially set all of that behind them, though. The camp was purified, their sins were put away, and everyone changed their clothes, symbolic of putting off their old way of life and putting on a new, clean one instead.

This is an example of a very important theme in the Bible: that of purifying, cleansing, and dressing in fresh clothing. Anyone that has tried to live a life of discipleship knows that we have to refresh ourselves many times over. We are called by God, but then we go aside in the rut, and then we clean ourselves up and recommit again.

In fact, this month I am going to attend a spiritual retreat in the mountains that I go to yearly, which is one of the most sacred keystones of my life. Each time I attend I feel the presence of God more vibrantly than at any other, but before each visit I find myself taking inventory of where I’m at, in what ways I have lapsed in my discipleship, and how to clean my heart in preparation for going to meet my God.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 35:1

1 And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Beth-el, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.

After Simeon and Levi’s slaughter of the men of Shechem, things were very precarious for Jacob. For all he knew all of the surrounding clans would retaliate and destroy them. In this difficult moment God appeared to Jacob and told him that it was time to pack everything up and once again leave for a new home.

Previously he had been instructed broadly, telling him to return to the land of Canaan. Now he is instructed specifically, telling him to go to the patch of land where he had the vision of a ladder ascending to heaven. It was there that God had first promised to be with him.

I believe there is an important principle for us here about God’s directions beginning broad and becoming specific. Very rarely do we receive a clear, step-by-step plan from beginning to end. Much more common is that we prove ourselves willing to follow partial instructions, and later receive the fullness. We have to have faith that unaccounted elements will, in time, be accounted for, and they will. Jacob had proved willing to return to the land of his father and face Esau, so now he was entrusted to take the next step, too.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 33:17-20

17 And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built him an house, and made booths for his cattle: therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.

18 And Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan-aram; and pitched his tent before the city.

19 And he bought a parcel of a field, where he had spread his tent, at the hand of the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for an hundred pieces of money.

20 And he erected there an altar, and called it El-elohe-Israel.

Jacob continues on to Succoth and makes a more permanent dwelling-place there, but then continues again to the city of Shechem. Some scholars have wondered whether the temporary stay at Succoth was to heal from the thigh wound he endured from his night-time wrestle, but whatever the reason, at long last Jacob had found himself in the land of Canaan once more.

But though he was back in familiar country, Jacob did not try to move in on his father’s abode. Rather he bought his own place, with his own money, and erected his own altar to the Lord. Jacob is putting in his stakes, finally choosing a place of permanent abode.

Or so he thinks. In a little bit we will read how he is moved once again to a different part of the country, and even in his old age he will move to Egypt when famine strikes the land. He seems to have his heart set upon settling down, but like his grandfather Abraham, his fate is to spend considerable time as a stranger in a strange country.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 33:12-15

12 And he said, Let us take our journey, and let us go, and I will go before thee.

13 And he said unto him, My lord knoweth that the children are tender, and the flocks and herds with young are with me: and if men should overdrive them one day, all the flock will die.

14 Let my lord, I pray thee, pass over before his servant: and I will lead on softly, according as the cattle that goeth before me and the children be able to endure, until I come unto my lord unto Seir.

15 And Esau said, Let me now leave with thee some of the folk that are with me. And he said, What needeth it? let me find grace in the sight of my lord.

While reading this chapter I had continually wondered to myself “but why did Esau bring four hundred men in the first place?” That was an army, and Jacob’s assumption that they were being brought to destroy him seems a totally valid fear. Why would Esau have thought it was a good thing to bring them?

One possibility that occurred to me was that maybe Esau did intend to destroy his brother, but when he finally saw Jacob’s face felt his anger melt away. Or perhaps he knew he was going to forgive his brother, but he wanted to give him a good fright first. But if either of these possibilities were his true motivation, then it would surprise me that Esau then says absolutely nothing about the past offense. Instead, his behavior seems to me as though he had let go of his anger many years prior. Then I considered that he might have become something of a warlord, so accustomed to wandering around with a traveling army that he had forgotten how their appearance might frighten delicate farmers.

Reading today’s verses, though, I also realized that he might have simply brought all these men to help his brother during the last leg of the journey. It might have been meant entirely as a kindly gesture, just one that Jacob had misinterpreted. But when Esau suggests that he leave some of his men to protect the flocks, Jacob refuses. Jacob has seen for himself that he is guarded by his God, so he knows that all will be well.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 33:8-11

8 And he said, What meanest thou by all this drove which I met? And he said, These are to find grace in the sight of my lord.

9 And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast unto thyself.

10 And Jacob said, Nay, I pray thee, if now I have found grace in thy sight, then receive my present at my hand: for therefore I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God, and thou wast pleased with me.

11 Take, I pray thee, my blessing that is brought to thee; because God hath dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough. And he urged him, and he took it.

I would very much like to know what Esau’s tone was when he asked, “what meanest thou by all this…” Was it spoken as a sincere curiosity, or as a chiding reproof? Jacob gives an honest answer, that it was to obtain Esau’s grace, though he tastefully omits “because I thought you might kill me!”

There then follows a show of good manners from each brother. Esau refuses the gift, acknowledging that he has enough for himself already, but Jacob insists upon it. This is a good move on Jacob’s part. If he took the gift back now, it would mean he only wanted to save his skin and had no sincerity in the offer.

Jacob further insists on giving the gift by invoking the goodness of God, saying that he had been so kindly dealt with that he must go through with his own act of kindness as well. It is an excellent example of our modern phrase to “pay it forward.”