As we have continued reading the story of Jacob this week, it’s been obvious that Jacob’s pursuit of God is wrought with family strife, political dealings, and at times, a blatant lack of concern for the safety and protection of the women in his midst. Indeed, this story begins with Jacob and Rachel’s daughter, Dinah, being raped. Dinah’s situation is much like her own mother’s—she’s the victim of a tangled web of sexual sin and power plays.
It is worth reminding ourselves again that Genesis is filled with theological truths and wisdom, as is all of Scripture; however, it’s also a historical narrative, so the events are a historical report of Jacob’s family. Nowhere do we see God approve of the obvious sin being committed by people; rather, we see God working within a messy situation, driving the story forward as He unfolds His ultimate plan of redemption in Christ.
In fact, the first time we see God speak in this section, He tells Jacob to build an altar, purify himself, and abandon false gods and idols. Jacob obeys God and settles in Bethel (“house of God”), where God changes his name to Israel (“God contends,” likely in relation to his earlier wrestling with God). Then, God reminds him that he is still heir to God’s promises by telling him to “be fruitful and multiply,” a command He gave to Adam, Noah, and Abraham (Genesis 35:11). God’s plan to fill the earth with God-worshipers wasn’t eradicated by sin in the garden, and it wouldn’t be eradicated by the sin in Jacob’s family.
We might be tempted to overlook Esau’s genealogy in Chapter 36 as a bit of historical minutiae or merely a transition to the next part of the story, but it’s actually a capstone to the saga between Jacob and his brother Esau. Though Esau was by birth the heir to the covenant God made with Abraham, Jacob was ultimately the heir to the promise. So when we see Esau settled in another land, the break between he and Jacob is obvious—Esau is blessed by God in many ways, but it is through Jacob that the ultimate covenantal promise would be fulfilled.
God’s chosen people would come through Israel and be established as His holy nation. Though God loves all people, He made particular covenants with particular people to create a missional center for His work in the world. This is no different for us in many ways—Jesus calls His Church to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. Like Jacob before us, we acknowledge that God is with us wherever we go (Genesis 35:3). He loves us, protects us, and calls us to worship Him even in the midst of sinful chaos. May we respond to His call and lean on His covenant.
Written by Brandon Smith