The last scripture portion ended with Jacob en route to move his family, livestock, and belongings from his father in-law Laban’s house situated near the Euphrates in modern-day Syria back to the land of Canaan where his grandfather Abraham had lived and where his father Isaac still lived. God had blessed Jacob during his work for Laban.
On the way, God sent messengers (angels) to him (32:1-2). While the message is not detailed, the message prompted Jacob to send his own messengers to his older brother Esau in the land of Edom in the mountains of Seir, in order to make peace with him (32:3). Even after more than 20 years, Jacob was still concerned that Esau had not forgiven him for taking their father’s inheritance (25:34) and family blessing (27:41). Added to this, Jacob discovered that Esau had 400 fighting-age men. Before meeting Esau, Jacob arranged for several groups of livestock to be sent to Esau in an attempt to appease him.
During this time of anticipation and uncertainty of how Esau might react, Jacob proved his faith. During the night, he had an experience with a messenger (angel) from God that included a discussion, argument, and even a physical altercation (32:32). Jacob showed his dependency of God by asking this messenger to bless him, which he did (32:29). Jacob grabbed the messenger to try and keep him there, but the messenger wounded Jacob in order to leave and changed his name to Israel (Hebrew יִשְׂרָאֵל), pronounced Yisra-el, meaning he strives with God (32:28). Because of this encounter, Jacob called this place Peni-el (Hebrew פְּנִיאֵל), meaning face of God (32:30). At this time, God also reiterated His promise to Abraham and Isaac, and said that kings would come from Israel’s descendants (35:11-12).
It’s interesting to note that during Israel’s encounter with this messenger, he asked the name of the messenger, but this messenger refused to answer (32:29). This same conversation happened much later during the the time of the Judges of Israel, when Samson’s father Manoah encountered the messenger of Yehovah. When asked his name, the messenger refused to give it, saying it was peli (Hebrew פֶלִאי), that is, hidden (Judges 13:18). In both instances, the messengers (angel) refuse to give their names, perhaps avoiding any praise from people so that the people will give honor to Yehovah alone.
The time came for Israel to see Esau. Israel approached and met Esau while showing utmost respect, including bowing down to the ground and calling him adoni (Hebrew אדֹנִי), that is, my lord (32:4). They put their differences aside and made peace. Esau returned home to the mountains of Seir (33:16), but Israel arrived to a place in the land of Canaan, which was called Shechem (33:18), the same place where his grandfather Abraham had arrived after his similar journey from Mesopotamia (Genesis 12:6).
Israel purchased a piece of land located just outside the city of Shechem (33:19). He purchased the land from the king’s family. Israel’s daughter Dinah was out to see the women of the Shechem, she was abducted and raped by Shechem, one of the princes (34:1-2). Shechem’s father Hamor, king of the city, went out to Israel to negotiate marriage between Shechem and Dinah. He also asked to exchange young women for the other men in the city to marry (34:8-12). This kind of treatment of women was apparently offensive behavior that Jacob and his sons despised (34:31).
Israel was quite afraid of the Canaanites due to his small numbers compared to multiple cities (34:30). Instead of refusing king Hamor’s offer outright, the sons of Israel decided to execute judgment through deception. The sons of Israel agreed to hand over the women to the men of the city if the men would circumcise themselves. Three days after they were circumcised, the Simeon and Levi entered the city, killed all of the men, and took everything from the city (34:25-29).
Israel and his family made a journey back to Bet-el, the place where God had first appeared to him. He built another alter there and renamed the place again. First it was Luz, then Israel had renamed it Bet-el (Hebrew בֵּית־אֵל), meaning God’s house. This time, he renamed it El-bet-el (Hebrew אֵל בֵּית־אֵל), meaning God of Bethel (35:7).
As they continued to travel, Rachel went into labor and had Benjamin before she died. Israel setup a pillar for her where she was buried near Bethlehem, which is south of Jerusalem. In total, Israel had twelve sons through four wives. He traveled to Hebron to see his father Isaac before he died at 180 years of age. Isaac was buried with his father Abraham (35:27-29).