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Gen 32:22-31

Genesis 32:22-31
Background to the Book of Genesis

Literary Features:
Genesis is a fascinating book which begins with two creation accounts of the world in Gen 1-3, continues with stories about humanity in general through to the end of Gen 11 before we come to the specific journeys of Abraham. Gen 1-11 is often referred to as universal history or primeval history and is applicable to all of humanity. The genealogies enable Abraham to be descended from Adam and Eve. Indeed, another purpose of the genealogies is to divide these eleven chapters as follows into a 5-fold division:

  • Gen 2:4a heaven and earth - these are the generations of the heavens and the earth ...
  • Gen 5:1 ff Adam - This is the book of the generations of Adam.
  • Gen 6:9 Noah - And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth
  • Gen 10:1 Noah’s 3 sons - These are the generations of the sons of Noah. ...
  • Gen 11:10 Shem - These are the descendants of Shem ...

Besides the suggested division above, scholars have proposed different recurring literary patterns such as sin, speech, punishment - Gen 1-3, 4, 6-9,11 (Westermann) in Gen 1-11: von Rad includes forgiveness: sin, speech, forgiveness, punishment. Whether one wants to go along with any of the above suggestions about the literary divisions or patterns in Gen 1-11, there is almost unanimous agreement that there is a tightly formed literary pattern and we are meant read it as a unity. Creation of the world and humans is torn apart when the relationship between God and humans is told in Gen 3 and between humans and humans in Gen 4. One of the literary patterns which may be considered to not only be present in Gen 1-11, but also extend through into the remainder of the book of Genesis is that connected with the command in Gen 1:28 - ‘be fruitful and multiply’. Not only does the phrase occur in a number of places, but the lists of genealogies show that indeed the people have been fruitful and multiplied - Gen 5, 10, 11. The genealogies continue in Gen 12-50 at particular points: Gen 25:12 (These are the generations of Ishmael), Gen 25:19 (These are the generations of Isaac), Gen 36:1, (These are the generations of Esau), Gen 37:2 (These are the generations of Jacob). The genealogies not only show that God's command in Gen 1:28 has been followed, but the promises to Abraham in Gen 12:1-3, Gen 15:5 have come true. That is, Abram will have many descendants and become a great nation. At the point where each of the genealogies are listed we have the story of that person in the following chapters. Abraham in Gen 11:27-25:18: Jacob in Gen 25:19-36:43: Joseph, Judah and Jacob's family in Gen 37:1-50:26. There are a number of covenants mentioned in the Book of Genesis all of which come into the category of unconditional or promissory. Unlike the condition covenant in Exod 19 in which God seeks a response of obedience from the people, the covenants in Genesis are based on first person pronouncements by God. In Gen 9 it is an universal covenant with all living creatures, but once we move into Gen 12 the covenants are specific to Abraham and his descendants. The relationship has been set up from creation when humans were created to be in special relationship with God (Gen 1:26-27).

Attempts have been made since the 18th century to explain such things as: a different word used for God -Yahwist or Elohim: multiple versions of the same story = Abraham’s pretence, Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-18, 26:6-16: repetition within the same story = Gen 6:5-7, 11-12: contradictions - for example, Exod 20:24 gives permission to offer sacrifices at numerous altars v Deut 12:13-14 which forbids this and restricts sacrifice to one place only or Gen 7:17 in which the flood remains for 40 days v Gen 7:24 in which the flood remains for 150 days and other examples. The classic theory suggests that the Pentateuch has a number of written sources as well as the early oral traditions which account for the sort of differences mentioned above. In Gen 1-11 there is the Priestly source which can be seen in Gen1:1-2:4a, 6:9-22, some verses in Gen 7-8, 9:1-17, 10:1-7, 11:10-27 and the remaining texts come from the Yahwistic source. Some characteristics of what is know as the 'P' source are: the use of the Hebrew term toledoth/generations, the writing is sophisticated and often in a liturgical style (Gen1:1-2:4a), in the creation account God speaks and it happens, humans are made in the image of God, the covenant is unconditional and can be made with the animals, and an abiding concern to state numbers and years. The Yahwistic source uses myths and sagas to tell the story, God and animals speak (anthropomorphic), the world is very small (Gen 2:10-14) compared with the universal world of the 'P' source (Gen 1:1-2:4a).

Historical: (History within the text). Gen 12-50 tells the stories about Abram and his descendants as they move from Haran into the land of Canaan and begin wandering around the land and then into Egypt. These stories began as oral traditions passed down within the tribes long before they became part of the written tradition. It is the way many cultures remember their history, but in the Western world we became influenced by the enlightened definition of 'history' which understood 'history' as written facts from an objective viewpoint. This has caused many scholars to debate whether the Patriarchs can be proven to be true people through archaeological means. Other scholars say that this is not possible and therefore they cannot be historical people. If this argument was applied to Bedouin tribes or Australian Aboriginal people we deny them any history. History as oral tradition passed down is the history of a people, and does not need to be justified by Western values. The people are portrayed as very human with all their faults and strengths - they lie, deceive, steal, test God, they have courage, journey into the unknown, seek God, question God and are obedient. These traits apply to men and women, and many of the women (Sarah, Rebecca, Tamar) play a significant role in the working out of the promises of God. I encourage people to read these stories for themselves. After the story of Abram in Gen 11:27-25:18 the next block, Gen 11:19-36:43, tells us about Jacob and finally about Joseph in Gen 37:1-50:26. At the end of the book we are placed ready to begin the story of Moses, the release of the Hebrews from Egypt and their wanderings in the wilderness.

We know something of this period from the discoveries of the Mari Tablets - 20,000 tablets in old Akkadian of which 5,000 were official correspondence (J.Bright. A History of Israel. London: SCM Press, 57). Mari was a great city with highly sophisticated living conditions and the centre of trade. Terah and his family would have travelled through Mari to get to Haran. Mesopotamia was a centre of civilisation in the Far East in the same way that Egypt was in the Near East.

It is a period in which some people lived in cities and others lived a semi nomadic life travelling with their herds and stopping for periods, but rarely settling to an agrarian life style. We seem to have examples of both these life styles within the story of Abraham.

Context of Genesis 32:22-31
The section Gen 29:1-31:55 in which last week's lectionary came from appeared to have quite a deliberate literary structure. It began with a kiss of meeting and and ended with a kiss of departure. The centre of the section focused on the offspring (Gen 29:31-30:24) and on each side were the stories of deception. The first deception was of Jacob by Laban (Gen 29:21-30) and the second was of Laban by Jacob (Gen 30:25-42). After Joseph is born Jacob requests that he return to his own home in Canaan with his wives and children. Laban is not about to let go such a successful farmer as Jacob without some bargaining. The upshot is while Laban tries to thwart Jacob, he is not successful because Jacob gets retribution by means of divination and trickery. Jacob's increased flocks causes jealousy among his cousins and we hear God's voice telling him to return to his own country. Jacob shared the conversation with his wives about God's message they agreed that their father has indeed cheated them and Jacob. After which they started off on their journey, but not before Rachel stole her father's household gods. This week's lectionary reading tells us of the pursuit and encounter between Laban and Jacob. The narrative continues to tell us how Rachel deceived her father when he searched the camp for his gods. Jacob becomes angry with Laban and vents his spent-up anger in Gen 31:36-42 telling Laban how many years service he had given him. A reconciliation takes place with their participation in a covenant ceremony in which God is called upon to witness and it finishes with a meal. Laban returns to Haran and Jacob continues his journey home and prospective meeting with his brother Esau.

Insights/Message of Genesis 32:22-31
Literary: I have copied out the literary outline again to show in which section this week's reading comes from.

Conflict with Esau (25:19-34; 27:1-45; 27:46-28:9)

Meeting at Bethel (28:10-22)

Conflict with Laban (29:1-30)

Births (29:31 -30:24)

Conflict & Covenant (30:25-31:55)

Meeting at Penu'el (32:22-32)

Reconciliation with Esau (32:1-33:17 xxx(Brueggemann:213)

Gen 32:1-2 has this curious meeting between Jacob and the angels which seems to have no particular purpose except to name a place. Jacob is clearly anxious about the impending meeting with his brother especially when he finds out that Esau has a company of 400 men with him. He prays to God and indeed reminds God that he has returned because God told him (Gen 32:9-12). After his prayer Jacob sets up a detailed plan for the morrow when he meets his brother which includes many hundreds of livestock. The lectionary reading picks up the story in vv.22 - 32 in which Jacob takes his wives, maids and eleven children and sends them across the ford at Jabbok. Jacob is left alone and has an encounter with the "a man" (vv.24-31). Initially we have no identity of this man until later in the story when we discover Jacob has wrestled with God. In the Hebrew there is a play on Jacob's name (ya'aqob), the name of the wadi (Yabboq) and the verb to wrestle (ye'abeq) (Scullion:231). The irony is in Jacob asking for a blessing and apparently does not yet know it is God. It is at the point that God gives him the name of Israel that God announces his identity. Jacob sees God face to face and lives as does Moses at a later time. The place is named "the face of God" = Peni(u)el. V.23 is almost a repetition of v.22 and there is further repetition about the length of the wrestling which lasted until the breaking of the day (vv.24, 26). This narrative has some similarities to very ancient stories about gods fighting with humans (von Rad:321).

Message: Gen 32 needs to be taken as a whole with its theophany (vv.1-2), prayer for deliverance (vv.9-12) and encounter with God (vv.24-31). The preparation for his meeting with Esau included a theological dimension (Brueggemann: 261). Jacob both prays and plans for his meeting with Esau. This is a point that we can take note of in our own lives. God has given us brains to use and we cannot abrogate responsibility for our actions by leaving it all up to God. However, we know that like Jacob we are vulnerable and need to pray. The blessing which Jacob stole from Esau becomes legitimized when God blesses Jacob for his own character and actions (vv.28-29). In the sequence of events Jacob's knows he has God's approval before he meets Esau the following day. Besides reminding people about what happened at Penu'el and why it is important, there are two ongoing consequences. First, the name Israel (God rules) becomes the name not only for the northern Kingdom (980 - 721 BCE), but also for those who return from the Babylonian exile 538 BCE. Secondly, it gives the reason why people don't eat the sinew of the nerve along the thigh bone, although this is not mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament. God was with Jacob as he fled from Canaan and appears with him as he returns. The tenacity of Jacob as he continues to hold onto the man/God even after being struck is the same tenacity which kept him serving Laban in order that he could claim Rachel as his wife. Although God fails to answer Jacob's respectful request ("Tell me, I pray, your name") he does give Jacob his blessing. This encounter has both men as winners in the situation. Jacob might be injured, but is able to hold on and question his assailant. And as Job didn't get any direct answers when he questioned God so here God gives a different sort of answer in the form of a blessing. Jacob's life began with strife in the womb and has continued so far in his life, both with humans and with the divine. God came to him at Penu'el and it can be a source of hope that God is present in all of life's struggles.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Mth 14:13-21,: there are no direct allusions or quotes in these sections from the Old Testament.

Resources/Worship for Genesis 32:22-31
:  This reading would be enhanced by using dialogue between the 2 characters.

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the Book of Genesis, the author is R.W.L.Moberly, 1992. (Genesis 12-50)

Brenner, Athalya, ed. A Feminist companion to Genesis. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993.
---. ed. Genesis. Feminist companion to the Bible (Second Series), 1. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.
*Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. Int. Atlanta, Ga.: John Knox 1982.
Coats, George W. Genesis, with an Introduction to Narrative Literature. FOTL. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1983.
Davies, Philip R., and David J. A. Clines, eds. The world of Genesis: Persons, Places, Perspectives. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.
*Fretheim,Terrence E. "The Book of Genesis: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections." In The New Interpreter's Bible. Vol 1. Abingdon: Nashville, 1994.
Hamilton,Victor P. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17. NICOT. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1990.
---. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50. NICOT, Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1995.
Hess, Richard S., and David Toshio Tsumura, eds. I Studied Inscriptions from before the Flood: Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic Approaches to Genesis 1-11. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1994.
*Moberly, R. W. L. Genesis 12-50. OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992.
*Rogerson, J. W. Genesis 1-11, OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1996.
Scullion, John J. Genesis: A Commentary for Students, Teachers, and Preachers. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1992.
Waltke, Bruce K., and Cathi J. Fredricks. Genesis: A Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, c2001. Call Number: 222.11077 W237g
Wenham,Gordon J. Genesis 1-15. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987.
---. Genesis 16-50. WBC. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1994.
Westermann, Claus. Genesis: A Practical Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1987.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: These links were updated 30/12/11

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