Genesis Overview: Jacob's Reconciliation with Esau

a) Jacob's Preparation to Meet Esau (32.3-21 in J and E)

The section divided into two parts: in J 3-13a Jacob defensively divides his goods into two parts in fear of attack; in E 13b-21 Jacob attempts to appease Esau with gifts.

32.3-13a: Jacob submits to Esau and through statements of his wealth promises gifts but he is met with a response that presages great danger, emphasised by J's departure from customary reticence in matters of human psychology. Jacob, being Jacob, calculates that to lose half is better than to lose all. Some have argued that the prayer is a much later interpolation but: "This prayer, ... is extremely significant for the whole Jacob story, as the Yahwist wanted it to be understood. It is a sign that the narrator, in spite of all the intricacy of the transactions in which Jacob was constantly involved, still did not lose sight of Jacob's relationship to God." (p318). One must assume that Jacob's messengers have already met Esau on the way.

32.13b-21: E describes how Jacob staggers his gifts. There are the twin aetiologies of Manahim and Penuel (God's face).

b) Jacob's Struggle at Penuel (32.22-32 in J)

VR is emphatic that "In this narrative more than in any other of the ancient patriarchal traditions something of the long process of formation to which this material was subjected in history becomes clear. Many generations formed and interpreted it. It was in motion for centuries until it finally crystallized in the final form which it now possesses. ... one will not be surprised, therefore, that such a narrative is filled with breaks in its construction and that all of its individual parts do not form an organic whole ..." (p319-320). It is a strange answer to prayer.

32.22-28: The word "man" is indeterminate but, in the context, threatening. The bout is long and only settled when Jacob's hip is put out of joint "... by a magical power." (p320). 32.25-26 and 32.28a imply, improbably, that Jacob had nearly conquered God's messenger; but it is clear that this is another example of Jacob's physical strength cf. 29.10. Although no Israelite would question Yahweh's power, there is a widespread tradition that supernatural powers fade with the dawn ((Frankenstein - KC)). "This clutching at God and his power of blessing is perhaps the most elemental reaction of man to the divine." (p321). Jacob is not blessed but asked his name which denotes his total identity; from a "cheat" to a person who strives with God and men, though the etymology and translation are insecure.

32.29: The unknown power shows his freedom by blessing Jacob; the role of blessing as closure contrasts with Isac's blessing.

32.30-32: For Israel, to see God meant death cf. Exodus 33.20, Judges 6.22. The crippling of the ancestor became a valued memory.

"... it is ... amazing that later Israel found this ancient framework and imaginative material, which derived from the crude, heathen past, completely suitable to represent Yahweh's work with Israel's ancestor." (p324).

"The content of the narrative is certainly not exhausted in the presentation and interpretation of a brief event in the life of the ancestor. Rather, it contains experiences of faith that extend from the most ancient period down to the time of the narrator. ... The narrative itself makes this extended interpretation probable by equating the name Jacob and Israel." (p325).

c) Jacob's Meeting with Esau (33 in J)

The narrative is largely J with traces of E and P.

33.1-11: Jacob is giving the place its name when he sees Esau; he only has time to rank his family, the least nearest the on-comer, giving Rachel time to escape; Jacob advances to the front of his party and the tension is broken: "The narrator draws a noble picture of Esau, who is simply overcome with the joy of reunion." (p327). The impulsive Esau a contrast with the calculating Jacob. cf. 33.10, there is a specific parallel between Jacob's encounters with God and Esau. There is no mention of the past.

33.12-16: Jacob's mistrust is of one who has often deceived.

KC VI/14

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