Genesis chapter 36 is one of those passages that we skim through as we read through the book. In it we find a lot of names that are unfamiliar and somewhat hard to pronounce. It is not a chapter that lends itself to application and so it is tempting to blow right past it. However, we know that this is God’s word and he does nothing without purpose. And so we will press on through this passage with the hopes that God will teach us something about mankind and himself. I’ve kind of treated this chapter as if I was a tour guide pointing out interesting facts as we tour the lists of names and short phrases. There are several natural breaks in the passage, but I will limit us to four. First, we will look at a list of Esau’s wives in verses 1-8 followed by a list of Esau’s descendants in 9-19. Then comes a genealogy of Seir the Horite and we’ll think about why that is here in this chapter. Finally, we will read about the kings of Edom in verses 20-43.
Last time we read about a horrible story of sin and death in chapter 34. God will sometimes bring us into seasons of our life that are just so hard and trying that we fear that we will never make it out. And then we do. The Christian life is a life of ups and downs. When we left Jacob last time he was at the bottom. His daughter had been defiled and two of his sons slaughtered the male population of a city in murderous revenge. His other sons plundered the city, taking all of their wealth, women, and children for themselves. And you thought you had a bad day. But God does not allow his beloved children to stay at this low point. He will not allow the circumstances of life to destroy their faith. The circumstances might end in their death sometimes but their faith will persevere. In our chapter before we have two main ideas happening, some ups and downs, if you will. In 1-7 and 9-15, we find three occasions of fellowship that Jacob has with God. And then in verses 8, 16-29 we have three funerals of people that are instrumental in the life of Jacob.
When you commit to preaching through a book of the Bible, these are the days you know will come. There are the stories or the commands that make us squirm a little. The story we have to look at today is one of those stories. There is nothing pleasant about the story and there are really no bright spots. No shining examples of faithfulness to God in these people. But God is faithful despite the actions of all the men involved. First, we will see Jacob’s inaction as Dinah is taken and Jacob holds his peace. Then we find a marriage proposal from Shechem and a counterproposal from Jacob’s sons. Finally, we find just a multiplication of sins as the story concludes and the evil heart of man is exposed.
We started this journey with Jacob back in Genesis chapter 31 when the sons of Laban were complaining, Laban turned against Jacob, and God told him to return to the land of his fathers. Jacob took his family and his belongings and made a run for it while Laban was away shearing his sheep. Laban heard what happened and chased down Jacob and confronted him. But God prevented Laban from saying anything good or bad to him and Laban went home empty-handed. Jacob left Mizpah and continued south until he reached the Jabbok River. There he was met by the angels of God and he named the place “Two Camps”. Jacob, drawing nearer to the land Edom, sends messengers and a peace offering to Esau hoping to appease the wrath of his brother. The messengers came back with the report that Jacob did not want to hear: Esau was coming with 400 men. That night as Jacob fearfully waited for Esau to come, a mysterious man appeared and wrestled with Jacob until morning. After the encounter, Jacob says that he has seen God face to face and yet lived. Jacob receives the blessing of God and names the place but walks away limping from the ordeal. This leads us to the story that we have before us in Genesis chapter 33. In our text for today, surprisingly we find Jacob’s humility in verses 1-3. And equally as surprising we see in verses 4-11 the kindness of Esau. We also see Jacob changing his offering of appeasement to a free gift. And finally, we follow Jacob as he makes his return to the Promised Land.
In the text before us, we have a story that might be familiar to most of you and so like many of these stories from Genesis we must be careful not to allow familiarity to dull our desire to hear God and his word or to assume that we have learned all we can know from a passage. We have before us a story that is amazing and mysterious. Jacob had prayed to God. He admitted that he is not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that God had shown him. He recognized that it was God who prospered him in Mesopotamia. He has cried out to God to deliver him from the hand of his brother. He has recalled the promises which God had made to Abraham, Isaac, and him. God had been faithful to Jacob and the promises for the past 20 years. And we will see that God is not done yet. Jacob is about to go through a very dramatic and life-changing evening. He starts the night in great fear and distress. He will wrestle and be crippled. He will cling and be changed. He will testify and in the end, will walk away limping. This night will forever leave an imprint on Jacob’s spiritual life.
Beginning in chapter 32, we open a new chapter in the life of Jacob. The first seven decades were summarized in a few stories about his lying, deception, and preying on weaknesses. Then came the second chapter that began with the vision at Bethel of the ladder going up to heaven. For the next twenty years, Jacob was in the school of hard knocks as he struggled under the thumb of his uncle Laban. In this chapter of Jacob’s story, we see some great highs but some equally deep lows for his family. Such is the life of a follower of God. We have seen throughout Jacob’s life God’s presence and work in this man. And that continues in chapter 32. In the first two verses of the story, we read of an angelic visitation as Jacob begins to make his way back to his homeland. Before Jacob enters Canaan he sends a delegation to Esau which we find in verses 3 through 8. Esau’s reply is not what Jacob wanted. This drives Jacob to pray in verses 9 through 12 as he asks for help. Finally, Jacob sends a gift in an attempt to appease Esau. At the end of our story, we find Jacob the same as how he started out this whole journey 20 years prior: alone.
This is our third week looking at this lengthy passage about Jacob leaving Laban’s house. We have heard Jacob’s argument that he gave to his wives as to why they should leave. We also heard Rachel’s and Leah’s description of how they had been mistreated by their father and their agreement with Jacob that he should do what God has said. While Laban was away shearing his sheep, Jacob left with his family and headed for Gilead. But Laban found out what happened and chased Jacob down. Laban confronted Jacob and accused him of trickery and of theft. Laban searched through all the tents of Jacob but did not find his stolen idols which Rachel had hidden. After watching Laban go through all of his stuff, Jacob became angry and unloaded his anger in a short tirade against Laban. Jacob complained of the years of mistreatment at the hands of Laban and cited examples. In verses 43-55, we get to see what happens next. Will these two men settle their disagreements? Will there be peace between these two? We’ll see the answers today. In verses 43-44, we find a proposal for a covenant agreement between Laban and Jacob. In verses, 45-54 we read of the different elements of the covenant. And finally, in verse 55 is the departure of Laban.
Last time we looked at Jacob’s preparation and flight from Haran back to Canaan. He had been 20 years as a sojourner in the land from which his grandfather Abraham had come. But Jacob’s homeland was Canaan. That was where he belonged. For twenty years he has lived with his uncle/father-in-law. These were years filled with hard work, pain, suffering, and trials. Though Jacob was a man of many years he had to go to school. Hanah More said, “Affliction is the school in which great virtues are acquired, in which holy characters are formed.” Charles Spurgeon said, “I bear my willing testimony to the blessing that affliction and trial have been to me. I owe more to God’s furnace and the file, than I can ever describe!” William Ward commented, “We are only scholars. It rests with the Great Teacher to decide which lesson shall come next — a hard one or an easy one.” Hebrews 12:10, “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness!” These trials are hard but Jacob will learn what the Holy Spirit will reiterate many years later through the writing of Paul. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” We’ll see today, that this what Jacob has come to learn about God, and what we must learn as well.
At the end of Genesis 30, we saw that Jacob “increased greatly and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys.” In other words, Jacob was a rich man. He went from homelessness to upper class in twenty years. However, as we have seen before when God blesses his children, people get envious. They get angry and they want a piece. In our text today, we see this happening to Jacob just like we saw it happen with his father Isaac. Jacob’s prosperity was not his own doing but was because God chose to bless him. Sadly, many in the Christian world have fallen into the prosperity trap. They do what Jacob did in the story before this one and put out their magic sticks or their anointed prayer shawls, or they give their seeds money thinking that the false teachers are right and that God will bless them because of it. But these false teachers are like Labans who are just in it for the money. They promise the moon but all they want is your money. And so in this story, we see what happens as God blesses Jacob and then tells Jacob to head home. In verses 1-3 we find Jacob’s motivation to move. In 4-16, we find Jacob’s case for moving that he explains to his wives. And finally, we’ll see Jacob escape in verses 17-21 and some of the interesting questions that arise from this. So let’s begin.
As we have studied the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob I hope that you have been struck by the loving care and provision of God for these men. We have repeatedly talked about the providence of God and for good reason. It is one of the main threads that God has woven throughout these stories. You can’t escape it. God shows us how he is putting together all of these people (good and bad) and events (advantageous and destructive) together to bring about his promises. We often think of the promise of God in Romans chapter 8, as we should. “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” But how does that play out in real-time? What does that look like in the life of a normal God-fearing person? If God is working does it matter what you do then? In Genesis 30 we find the story of how God prospers Jacob. Jacob does his best to work alongside his uncle while at the same time his uncle is taking advantage of him. Jacob does what he thinks will help him. But behind this story and the actions of Laban and Jacob, God is working another story.