Genesis 32:1–21: The Sacrifice of Jacob
When Laban heads back to his home (Gen. 31:55), Jacob escapes the frying pan only to head into the fire. Coming back into the land of Canaan, Jacob must now face up to lingering conflicts and festering wounds that have remained unaddressed for the past twenty years. God has sent Jacob back not only to Jacob’s country, but also to his kindred (Gen. 31:3; 32:9), which will require Jacob to reconcile with his estranged brother, Esau. Now, in many ways Jacob returns to the land of Canaan from a position of strength, since he possesses the birthright and the blessing. By this point, Esau has confirmed Jacob’s sole claim to the land of Canaan by moving away and settling in the land of Seir, in the country of Edom (Gen. 32:3). Jacob, then, has three difficult choices before him: (1) to ignore Esau, allowing the rift between the two brothers to grow larger; (2) to make a power play, asserting his own strength and rightful claims to Canaan against Esau; or (3) to humble himself by seeking reconciliation with Esau—even if this attempt finally gives Esau the opportunity to murder Jacob (Gen. 27:41).
Jacob, then, must choose between the strength of his birthright and blessing, and the value of his potential reconciliation with his estranged brother. Is reconciliation valuable enough to make himself vulnerable and weak, risking not only his own life, but the lives of his wives and children (Gen. 32:11–12)? Why, though, does God command Jacob to return now, rather than after Esau’s death? What is God seeking by sending Jacob into the valley of the shadow of death? How will Jacob process the agonized anxiety over the approach of Esau’s army (Gen. 32:6)? In this moment of Jacob’s deepest anguish, we see that God sustains our faltering faith when we are in the shadow of death.
1. Why does God require Jacob to reconcile with Esau by sending Jacob to his country and his kindred (Gen. 32:9)? Why does God send us into the shadow of death? How does God promise to strengthen us as we go into the shadow of death? What obedience has God required of you when he has sent you into the shadow of death? How has that refined your faith?
2. Consider Jacob’s prayer (Gen. 32:9–12). Jacob appeals to the covenant promises that God made to his forefathers. To which covenant promises can you appeal? How has God demonstrated his steadfast loves and kindness toward you, in spite of your unworthiness (Gen. 32:10)? How should we pray for the broader people of God as we prays for ourselves (Gen. 32:11–12)?
3. In this passage, in how many ways does Jacob resemble Christ in Gethsemane? How do these similarities help us to interpret Jacob’s greatest moment of weakness as his greatest moment of glory? What does it mean when God promises that his power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9)? How was this true at the cross? How does this change how you see your own life?
4. In what ways do Jacob’s actions in this passage fall short of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross? In what ways is Christ’s sacrifice unrepeatable in any sense? In what ways does Christ call us to follow in the footsteps of his sacrifice? How does following in the footsteps of Christ put the world’s power structures to shame? How is God’s glory displayed in our weakness?