You will find an introduction and outline of Genesis, here.
A prayer of John Calvin to use before you read:
May the Lord grant that we may engage in the heavenly contemplation of the mysteries of God’s heavenly wisdom with ever increasing devotion to God’s glory and our edification. Amen.
III. The Story of Jacob 25:19-36:43
B. 29:1-31:54 Jacob in Haran and the return to Canaan: Commentators consider these three chapters to form a short story within Genesis.
29:1-14 Jacob’s arrival in Haran. This story is reminiscent of the story of Abraham’s servant and Rebekah meeting at a well. (24:11-27). The stone covering the well was large and could only be moved when all the shepherds were present. This helped give everyone fair access to the water. What do we learn about Jacob in his moving the stone by himself? Initially in this story there is family harmony when Laban and Rachel meet Jacob, it does not last long.
29:15-30 Laban’s deception and Jacob’s marriages. Notice that Jacob, the one who deceived his brother and father now has been deceived by Laban. Verse 17- there is uncertainty whether “weak” or “lovely” is an appropriate translation. Jacob the younger son was helped by his mother, here, Rachel the older daughter was helped by her father. And what about Leah and her feelings about this situation?
29:31-30:24 Jacob’s children: Here, again, is the theme of barrenness. The birth of eleven children from Leah, Rachel and their maids, Bilhah and Zilpah – 10 sons and one daughter. The discord between Leah and Rachel reminds us of the discord between Sarah and Hagar. Notice how the women in this passage speak about God and what God does. But also notice how the actions of human beings also affect events. Mandrakes were considered to be an aphrodisiac.
30:25-43: Jacob tricks Laban. Jacob wants to return home and Laban is reluctant for him to leave. The exact nature of their relationship is unclear, but it seems that Jacob cannot leave without Laban’s agreement. The story of the multicolored sheep is a story of duplicity on both sides. Evidently in the ancient world, what animals see when they are bred influences the color of the offspring, so Jacob has the animals look at striped rods or the multicolored animals.
31:1-55 Jacob’s flight: Laban’s sons become jealous of Jacob’s success. Jacob summarizes the situation to Leah and Rachel. Interestingly the sisters are in agreement about what to do. Jacob, without telling Laban, gathers his family and leaves. Laban follows them. God speak to Laban and Laban does what God says. But there is an exchange of complaints between Laban and Jacob. What do you think about the story of Rachel stealing the family god? Is this another story of a younger child deceiving their father? Is it a commentary on the powerlessness of Laban’s gods? Jacob and Laban part ways with a covenant. What is the tone and intention of this covenant? What sort of parting do Laban and Jacob have?
What does this story suggest about human and family relationships? What does it suggest about the ways God is at work in the world?
C. 32:1-36:43 Jacob and Esau Again:
32:1-21 Jacob prepares to meet Esau: Note the resemblance of this to the story in chapter 28 of Jacob’s vision at Bethel. After parting from Laban, now Jacob must manage his meeting with his brother. Jacob prays but also acts shrewdly.Notice the language Jacob uses in his message to Esau.
32:22-32 Jacob wrestles with ?: There has been much commentary on this passage. If the adversary is God, why does he now appear to oppose Jacob’s return? In the story neither God nor Jacob fully prevail. What does that mean? What are the implications? Who is changed because of this struggle? What does it mean that God is willing to struggle with Jacob? What does this suggest about the relationship between God and human beings? What is being suggested with Jacob’s new name- for both God and Jacob? Blessing is not typically received through struggle, why might this blessing be associated with struggle? Typically no one sees God’s face, why does Jacob? Why do you think Jacob does not build an altar here? While we are unclear on the exact nature of Jacob/Israel’s injury what is the significance of it?
The following are several good general reference works to aid your reading of the Torah.
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, “Understanding the Old Testament” Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Keck, Leander E., ed. “The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 1. (Nashville”Abingdon Press) 1994.
Mays, James L. ed. “HarperCollins Bible Commentary” (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
Metzger, Bruce M., Roland E. Murphy, eds. “The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books” (New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.
Plaut, W. Gunther, ed. “The Torah: A Modern Commentary” (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations) 1981.