Reading through the Bible together
The story of Jacob leaving Laban and heading for home after 20 years in exile is a story of “return” on many levels. Jacob is returning home to Canaan. He is returning to face Esau and his own treachery against Esau. He is returning to Bethel and the place he first met God when he entered exile. He is returning to the land filled with all God’s promises to him and his family. Most importantly, Jacob is returning to God and entering into a deeper reliance upon him than ever before.
This story is still marked by fear, trickery, theft, deceit, anger, accusations, family discord, and flight from difficulty. This is still a troubled family. However, it is a troubled family with new direction. Jacob is no longer as passive about the needs of his family. He is acting upon what he hears from God. He invites both Rachel and Leah to be part of the decision to leave for Canaan. When threatened by Laban, Jacob is forthright yet respectful of his father-in-law. The two men experience a measure of reconciliation, yet part ways. Jacob is finally free of Laban’s evil influence. Jacob will soon be freed from the internal evil that has polluted so much of his life.
Jacob leaves Laban to face Esau. Little does Jacob realize that before facing his worst imaginable fear (enraged Esau), he will face an unimaginable terror at Jabok (wrestling face-to-face with God). It will be the defining encounter of his life; the encounter that renames him and defines the nation of Israel. It will shape God’s work for Jacob’s life and for the lives of all who follow behind him in faith.
Director of Outdoor Leadership and Education, Southern Adventist University