Genesis 32–35: Tragedy & Promise

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 9: Monday

“I am God Almighty;
Be fruitful and multiply;
A nation and a company of nations shall come from you,
And kings shall come forth from you.
The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac,
I will give it to you,
And I will give the land to your descendants after you.”
Genesis 35:11b–12

In Monday’s Bible reading, Genesis 32–35, Jacob returns home to Canaan, while still in fear of his life from Esau. The night before he is to meet Esau, he sends everyone away and is alone. During that night is when he wrestles with God. Kent Hughes calls this wrestling “a parable of his entire life,” and comments:

“Throughout the long narrative, Jacob’s life has been caracterized as a grasping struggle. Jacob had wrestled wit his brother (25:22), and then with his father (chap. 27), and then with his father-in-law (chaps. 29—31), and now with God (chap. 32). Jacob had always struggled with both man and God.”1

At dawn Jacob is asked his name by God, and then God gives him a new name. Kent Hughes explains:

“In the context of the Bible, to disclose your name could be an act of self-disclosure, a revelation of your character, your deepest identity. So the assailant asked the question, “‘What is your name?’ And he said ‘Jacob'” (v. 27). Here is was a confession of guilt—”I am fraud. I am deceiver. I am supplanter. I am rightly named Jacob, for I cheated by brother twice!” (cf. 27:36). This confession evoked amazing, transforming grace, because instead of merely blessing him, his assailant changed Jacob’s name, annoucing his new character. “Then he said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed'” (v. 28).”2

Derek Kidner writes,

“The new name would attest his new standing: it was both a mark of grace, wiping out an old reproach (27:36), and an accolade to live up to. The blessing, this time, was untarnished, both in the taking and the giving: it was his own, uncontrived and unmediated.”3

Jacob placates Esau with gifts and humility. There are declarations of peace, but undertones of wariness remain.

In Genesis 34 and 35:22, some of the seeds of the favoritism and jealousy planted in Jacob’s family begin to bear bitter fruit. The rape of his daughter Dinah by Shechem, its aftermath of violent revenge by her brothers, and the contempt shown by Reuben to his father all reveal a family out of control. Kent Hughes writes,

“There was only one girl among Jacob’s children, Dinah, the daughter of unloved Leah. Leah’s children, as compared to Rachel’s, were less favored by Jacob, and Dinah appeared to have been of little interest to Jacob.

“…The truth is, Jacob never cared for Leah, and his attitude trickled down to his daughter and six sons. Indeed, Leah’s less-loved sons would be at the forefront of selling his favorite son, Joseph, into Egypt.”4

In Genesis 35, God commands Jacob to go to Bethel.

Then God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.”
Genesis 35:1 LSB

There God tells him again that his name is Israel and blesses him.

Then God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and He blessed him. God said to him,
“Your name is Jacob;
You shall no longer be called Jacob,
But Israel shall be your name.”
Thus He called him Israel. God also said to him,
“I am God Almighty; Be fruitful and multiply; A nation and a company of nations shall come from you,
And kings shall come forth from you.
The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac,
I will give it to you,
And I will give the land to your descendants after you.”
Genesis 35:9–12 LSB

David Gray Barnhouse writes,

“Chapter 34 does not mention God, and is full of lust, murder, deceit, and wretchedness—but this chapter is filled with God. His name appeats ten times, plust once as God Almighty, El Shaddai, plus eleven times in the names Bethel and Israel. The contrast is striking, as it always must be in the life of a believer living out the will of God, and again when he returns to the will of God.”5

Jacob’s wife, Rachel, dies giving birth to Benjamin, and his father, Isaac, dies towards the end of chapter 35. No mention is made of his mother, Rebekah, and she must have died while he was away for so many years. Kent Hughes notes Jacob’s grief at the death of Rachel:

“Jacob’s sorrow was deep. When he lay dying in old age he said, “As for me, when I came from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel dies in the land of Canaan on the way” (48:7). Jacob lived in tears to his dying day.”6

In all this personal disaster, God is faithful to Jacob. He protects him and his household from Esau, and the covenant God made with Abraham is continued through Jacob.

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Jacob’s Homecoming: Karl von Blaas. Public Domain.
1,2,4,6R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning & Blessing (Crossway Books, Wheaton IL: 2004) 400; 401; 412, 413; 424
3Derek Kidner, Genesis (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1967) 169.
5Donald Grey Barnhouse, Genesis: A Devotional Commentary (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids MI: 1970, 1971, 1973) 142.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2021–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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