In chapter 32, Jacob makes his way to meet Esau, from whom he is estranged. Jacob sent a group of messengers to find out if Esau is amenable to meeting again without anything incendiary. All Esau says is that he is willing to meet and is bringing 400 men, which carries with it the ring of a threat. Jacob prays to be spared by Esau. Jacob breaks his whole estate into camps, hoping that if Esau attacks at least part of his estate will be spared.
That night, Jacob wrestled with who Scripture at first calls a man. Jacob thinks he’s alone. He is not with his divided camps, and he has sent his whole family to the other side of the Jabbok river. He’s intentional about being by himself. We aren’t given any indication the origin of this man or why a grappling match broke out. The feat goes on for a good while, and neither man is going to forfeit. The man simply “touched” Jacob’s hip socket, but Jacob continued to wrestle with the pain and what little use of that leg he now had.
The man wants to stop, but Jacob won’t unless the man blesses Jacob. The man asks Jacob his name and then renames him Israel, which means, “he strives with God.” Jacob now asks this man his name, and though he is given no answer he is given his blessing. Seeing God “face to face” is most likely an expression meaning little more than a personal encounter. God later tells Moses that no one can live after seeing his face (Exodus 33:20). Peniel means “the face of God.”
Jacob has lived by scheming his way through every stage of life. He has deceived his brother, father, and uncle. He is on the run from Laban and trying to find the courage to meet Esau; he has it coming on both sides. On either side, Jacob wants to hide. But there is no hiding from God. Jacob comes face-to-face with God, who always brings the hard truth of who we are and who he is. Jacob may fool others about his intentions, but Jacob will not fool his creator. Jacob will forever limp from this experience. God has won. Do any of your cross references show you where this story is mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament?
Then Jacob and Esau meet. It’s a beautiful reunion, the past is forgiven, and they reconcile. They part ways from there, but there is no lingering animosity.
In chapters 34-36, Jacob and Leah’s daughter, Dinah, is raped by one of the men, Shechem, in whose land they are living. He then tries to marry her by having his father arrange their marriage. Hamor, Shechem’s father, tries to swindle a plan with Dinah’s brothers to let her marry his son. He tells them that all they have to do is name their price. Turns out their price is that every one of the men in the city get circumcised since all of Jacob’s sons are. A city wouldn’t have been very large and would likely have been made up mainly of Hamor’s family. They agree, and as the men are healing up from the operations, Dinah’s brothers come in and slaughter all the men. Jacob seems to have no knowledge of their plan. He is upset with them, not for simply retaliating, but for going overboard and killing all the men and plundering everyone else. Vengeance is not justice. He fears that the other surrounding people groups will attack his family in anticipation of being on the receiving end of another attack.
Jacob has his family throw away all their idols. He and his household return to Bethel. God protects them during their journey, seemingly because of what his sons had just done. On the journey, God repeats the name change from Jacob to Israel. It might seem redundant, but the point is to reaffirm the covenant God has made with Abraham, Isaac, and now Jacob. God is keeping his promises, and he his reminding Jacob of that fact now.
There is a quick recount of the deaths of Jacob’s parents, Isaac and Rebekah, followed by a genealogy of the Edomites (Esau’s descendants).
In chapter 17, Joseph, Israel’s second-youngest son, has some dreams. One of them is of several sheaves of wheat bowing down to a single sheaf, and the other is of eleven stars bowing down to one. The meaning is that one day the brothers will bow before Joseph, and they are quite jealous.
Israel sends Joseph to check on his brothers in the field. As he approaches, his brothers see the “dreamer” and hatch a scheme to kill him. Reuben tries to trick the brothers and save Joseph. He has them throw Joseph in a pit so he can rescue him later. But when his back is turned, Judah convinces the remaining brothers to sell Joseph to some Midianite traders, who then sell Joseph to Potiphar in Egypt.
Chapter 38 is a disruption in the narrative. Judah has already proven himself to be a pretty nasty guy by selling his brother. Just to make that contrast between Judah and Joseph even more stark, Moses includes this story. Judah takes a wife and has three sons, Er, Onan, and Shellac. He marries off his firstborn son to a woman named Tamar. All we’re told is that Er was wicked, so the Lord smote him but good. Judah’s next oldest son, Onan, was supposed to give a son to Tamar in the name of his brother. However, he made sure that didn’t happen. Even today, the term “onanism” derives from this man. Because of that, God also smote Onan. Shelah, his third son, is too young to take over, so Judah tells Tamar to go to her father’s house to wait.
Judah does not abide by his word and does not give Shelah to Tamar. Tamar concocts a plan to humiliate Judah. She dresses up like a prostitute, hides her face, and Judah hires her like a prostitute. Judah is visiting a friend, so he’s far from home. He basically gives Tamar an IOU of a goat. She tells him to leave his signet ring, his cord for his clothes, and his staff as collateral. Judah catches wind that Tamar is pregnant and thinks she’s been involved in a little amorous congress. His worst fears about his black widow daughter-in-law are true. As she is being brought out to be stoned, she shows the collateral Judah had left with her. She is spared from death and gives birth to two sons.
Some have argued that this is an empowering story of a woman getting what she deserves after a man has humiliated her. But sin is never empowering. Only since the moral revolution of the 1960’s and following would a woman pretending to be a prostitute to trick her father-in-law be seen as empowering. Judah was wrong to keep his son from her, and he was wrong to think he could sleep with a prostitute without any consequences. Tamar was wrong for sexual immorality and outright lying. There is no good guy in this story. Judah says that Tamar was more righteous than him, but it’s comparative. That’s the point: everyone is a schemer trying to get “what they deserve.” Judah doesn’t want a third son to die in connection with this woman, and Tamar will wreck a home to get what she needs. God will deal with each in turn.
In chapters 39-44, we get re-introduced to Joseph, but now he is in Potiphar’s house in Egypt. Potiphar is a high-ranking official in Pharaoh’s court, and Joseph works for him. Potiphar put him in charge of everyone and everything in his house but his wife. Potiphar’s wife decides she needs to sleep with Joseph, and she tries to peddle her carnal wares before him. Every time, he refuses because he’s a good man. When she’s had enough of being rejected, she grabs Joseph’s outer garment as he runs away from her. She lies and tells Potiphar that Joseph was the one without any self-control. Potiphar throws Joseph in jail. How does this story compare and contrast with Judah and Tamar?
Because God is watching over Joseph, even while in prison he is put in charge. While there, he meets a cupbearer and a baker who worked for Pharaoh. They both have similar dreams, and Joseph is able to interpret them. The cupbearer will be restored to his work, and the baker will be hanged. Joseph asked the cupbearer to remember him and put in a good word for him before Pharaoh. It takes two years for the cupbearer to remember his promise.
Pharaoh has disturbing dreams, and the cupbearer remembers that Joseph helped him out. He recommends that Pharaoh call on Joseph for an interpretation. Joseph tells Pharaoh that there will be seven years of a great harvest followed by seven years of famine. Pharaoh puts Joseph in charge of gathering and storing food for the next seven years and preparing a distribution plan for the seven years of famine. Joseph has gone from being his father’s favorite, to being sold into slavery, to being second in Potiphar’s house, to jail, to being second only to Pharaoh over all of Egypt. What does a wild ride like Joseph’s teach you about God’s sovereignty?
Once the famine hits, Jacob has to send his remaining sons to Egypt to buy food. All but Benjamin go since he’s youngest. He’s also the only remaining son born to Rachel, Joseph being the other. Once they arrive, Joseph recognizes them. He calls them spies, so he locks them up for three days. The brothers come to think that all of this is because of the way they treated Joseph when he was younger.
Joseph will let them go back home if they leave one brother (Simeon) behind and bring their youngest brother (Benjamin) back. Joseph has not only given them food but has also returned their money. The famine gets worse, and Israel needs convinced to let Benjamin go back with them to buy more food. Yes, it seems like they were totally fine with leaving poor Simeon in custody for however long they were home. What a bunch of heroes.
Joseph prepares a banquet meal for his brothers when they arrive in Egypt. They are about to leave, but Joseph hides his precious silver cup in Benjamin’s bag. His servants track them down claiming that one of them stole the cup. They of course are none the wiser. Once it’s found in Benjamin’s bag, they lose their minds. They recount the entire story of how hard it was to get their father to release Benjamin in their custody and travel to Egypt.
John the Baptist is in prison. He sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus if he’s the messiah they should be waiting for. Jesus responds by rhetorically asking if the things the messiah would do are being done, and of course they are. The crowds think John is a great man, and Jesus agrees. But he also says that John does not bring a kingdom; Jesus does. And the most insignificant person in the kingdom of God is an even greater person that John.
Was it a moment of weakness on John’s part to ask if Jesus was the one for whom everyone was waiting? Wasn’t John the one who baptized Jesus? Shouldn’t he already be convinced of this? Keep in mind that while some religious leaders were following Jesus, many were not. Jesus did not yet have a great crowd of followers, and many were falling away. John may have been in prison for around year by this time for calling out Herod’s marital sin in public. All of these things likely played a role in John’s questioning whether Jesus was the messiah. He was still a human. Public support for a person, for better or worse, plays a role is how we accept them. Sometimes we simply need to hear the gospel again…and again…and again. That does’t mean that we’re not yet saved. It simply means that the news that was good yesterday is good today and will be good tomorrow.
Jesus then says that Gentile cities responded better to the announcement of the kingdom of God better than God’s own people. He also says that the Father has handed all things over to the Son. All of creation has been created by the Son and for the Son. The three persons of the Trinity work together in all things, from creation, to redemption, to restoration. There are only two kinds of people that know God: The Son of God and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal the Father. We have here a clear statement on election and God’s sovereignty in salvation.
The Pharisees try to trap Jesus by what he permits his disciples to do on the Sabbath. But Jesus pulls multiple examples from the Old Testament about what was permitted or exceptions. The Pharisees pick and choose what they throw at Jesus. How did Jesus correct those who questioned him and his motives? What was his authority?
Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees try to trap him again. The Pharisees also try to trap him by claiming he performs exorcisms by the power of Satan. Jesus rebukes them by asking them why Satan would cast out his own demons. Jesus says that those who speak against him can be forgiven, but those who speak against the Sprit will not be. In another Trinitarian reference, we see that in redemption, the persons of the Trinity perform part of the work. The Father grants redemption, the Son purchases redemption, and the Spirit applies redemption. To reject the Spirit is to say that you reject the gift of God. How do we hold together the sovereignty God and the responsibility of man?
Jesus refuses to give in to the demands from the leaders for a sign of who he is. The only sign he’ll give them the “sign of Jonah”, which is a reference to his resurrection.
Jesus then gives several parables. Not only that, but he gives the reason for teaching in parables and explains their meaning. He teaches in parables because only those who are already in the kingdom will understand them. Parables are not evangelistic. If you are not a believer, if you read the parables you will only hate God more. If you are a believer, you will read the parables and marvel at God’s mercy in bringing you into his kingdom. Chapter 13 concludes with Jesus finishing his parables returning to Nazareth, just to be rejected by them.
Psalm 11: The only place to flee is to the Lord.
Psalm 12: The world may be full of evil people, but the Lord knows those who are his.
Psalm 13: The Lord may seem distant, but he has been good to me.
Psalm 14: This foolish words hates God, but God is with the righteous
Psalm 15: The one who lives righteously will dwell with God.