Lesson 32

Genesis 31–32

“Lesson 32: Genesis 31–32,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2014)


After working for Laban 20 years, Jacob was commanded to “return unto the land of thy fathers,” or Canaan (Genesis 31:3). Jacob and his family departed in secret because they were afraid of what Laban might do to them. When Laban discovered their departure, he pursued them, but he ultimately let them go in peace. As they continued their journey, Jacob worried that his twin, Esau, would seek revenge on him. Jacob prepared gifts for his brother, prayed that the Lord would protect his family, and received divine assurance that he and his family would be preserved.

Suggestions for Teaching

Genesis 31:1–55

The Lord commands Jacob to return to Canaan

Write the following on the board before class:

When you strive to obey a command from the Lord, He will …

a. Change the command so it will be simple and easy for you to accomplish.

b. Bless your efforts by providing a way for you to fulfill the command, even if it is difficult.

c. Intervene and do all the work for you.

d. Require you to do it entirely on your own without any help.

Ask students to select the statement that best describes how they believe the Lord helps us when He asks us to do difficult things. Invite a few students to explain the statement they selected and why they chose it.

Explain that there are many ways the Lord can bless us as we strive to obey His commandments. Invite students to look for doctrines and principles as they study Genesis 31–32 that teach us how the Lord can help us when He asks us to do difficult things.

Invite a student to read Genesis 31:1–3 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord commanded Jacob. Ask students to report what they find.

  • Why might returning to the land of his fathers have been difficult for Jacob? (Students might mention that Esau lived in the land of Jacob’s fathers and when they were last together Esau wanted to kill Jacob.)

  • Even though the command to return home would not be easy, what did the Lord promise Jacob according to verse 3?

  • What can we learn from the Lord’s words to Jacob? (Students may use different words, but they should identify something similar to the following principle: The Lord will be with us when we do what He asks. Write this principle on the board.)

  • How can believing this principle help us do what the Lord asks, even when it is difficult?

Summarize Genesis 31:4–23 by explaining that Jacob and his family were obedient to the Lord’s command. They began their journey to the land of Canaan while Laban was away shearing his sheep. As they left, Rachel took some of Laban’s “images” (verse 19). (You may want to explain that the word images could refer to household idols and that some believe the images could represent Rachel’s dowry. Explain that we do not know why Rachel took the images or why Laban later referred to them as “my gods” [Genesis 31:30].) When Laban returned home, he learned of Jacob’s departure and discovered that his images were missing. He chased after Jacob and his family and, after seven days, overtook them.

  • Why do you think Jacob and his family decided to leave without telling Laban?

Invite a few students to take turns reading aloud from Genesis 31:24–29. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how the Lord was with Jacob.

  • According to verse 27, what did Laban claim he would have done if Jacob had not left in secret?

  • What do you think Laban might have been planning to do to Jacob before the Lord spoke to him in the dream?

  • According to verses 24 and 29, how did the Lord fulfill His promise that He would be with Jacob (see verse 3)?

Summarize Genesis 31:30–40 by explaining that Laban searched Jacob’s camp for his images but did not find them because Rachel hid them under the cushion she used to sit on a camel. After Laban finished searching for the images, Jacob recounted how Laban had mistreated him numerous times during the preceding 20 years.

Invite a student to read Genesis 31:41–42 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Jacob told Laban.

  • What evidence do you see in these verses that the Lord had fulfilled His promise to be with Jacob?

Summarize Genesis 31:43–55 by explaining that Jacob and Laban made a covenant that they would not harm each other. Laban then returned to his own land.

Genesis 32:1–21

Jacob worries that Esau will seek revenge against him and his family

Ask students to imagine that they have a serious problem and they ask one of their trusted friends for advice. The friend listens carefully to the problem and then says, “Pray about it.”

  • What would you think if you were given that advice?

Point out that while it is always important to pray, we can learn an important lesson from what Jacob did after he prayed about the possibility of Esau seeking revenge against him.

Invite several students to take turns reading aloud from Genesis 32:1–5. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Jacob did on his journey back to his homeland. Ask students to report what they find.

  • Why do you think Jacob sent messengers to Esau?

Invite a student to read Genesis 32:6–8 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Jacob learned and how he responded.

  • What did Jacob learn from the messengers?

  • How did he respond to this news?

  • Why might Jacob have been “greatly afraid and distressed” (verse 7) when he heard that Esau was coming with 400 men?

Invite a student to read Genesis 32:9–12 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what else Jacob did after he received the report about Esau. Ask students to report what they find.

  • What stands out to you about Jacob’s prayer?

  • How does Jacob’s prayer illustrate his faith in the principle written on the board?

Invite several students to take turns reading aloud from Genesis 32:13–18. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Jacob did after praying for God’s help.

  • What did Jacob do after he prayed for help? (You may need to explain that Jacob instructed his servants to divide nearly 600 of his animals into many groups and deliver them, one group at a time, to Esau as gifts.)

  • Based on Jacob’s example, what should we do, after praying for help, when we face difficulties? (After students respond, write the following principle on the board: When we face difficulties, we should earnestly pray for help and then do what we can to overcome them.)

  • How can praying help us know what we can do to overcome our challenges?

  • Why is it important that, after we pray, we also do what we can to overcome our challenges?

Invite students to think about a challenge they are currently facing. Encourage them to pray for help and do what they can to overcome the difficulty. Explain that the Lord can inspire them to know what to do to help them overcome the difficulty. You may want to invite them to write down a few things they can do to overcome their challenge after praying for help.

Genesis 32:22–32

Jacob seeks a blessing from the Lord, and the Lord changes Jacob’s name to Israel

Write the word wrestle on the board. Ask students how they would explain what it means to wrestle. You may want to point out that the word wrestle can refer to more than the physical sport. Invite students to look for important principles as they study Jacob’s experience recorded in Genesis 32:22–32.

Summarize Genesis 32:22–23 by explaining that the night before Jacob was to meet Esau, he sent his family ahead across the river Jabbok. Jacob knew that he had to face his brother the following day, and he was likely feeling worried about the outcome and may have wanted to be alone.

Invite a student to read Genesis 32:24–26 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what happened to Jacob the night before he was to meet Esau. Ask students to report what they find.

You may want to invite students to mark the phrase “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me” in verse 26. Explain that the blessing Jacob sought may have been an assurance from the Lord that he and his family would be safe from Esau. Although we do not know exactly what was transpiring here, we do know that Jacob wrestled all night for a blessing that he eventually received. This experience represents the great effort Jacob put forth as he sought this blessing from the Lord.

  • Why might wrestling be a good way to describe what we must do as we seek blessings from the Lord?

  • What can we learn from Jacob’s example about obtaining blessings from the Lord? (After students respond, write the following principle on the board: At times, we may need to put forth great effort as we seek the Lord’s help and blessings.)

  • Why do you think the Lord requires us to put forth great effort before we receive some blessings?

Invite a student to read Genesis 32:27–30 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the blessings Jacob received after he put forth great effort to seek the Lord’s help. Ask students to report what they find.

  • What did the Lord change Jacob’s name to?

Explain that the name Israel means “One who prevails with God” (Bible Dictionary, “Israel”).

Explain that Jacob’s descendants are known as the house of Israel. As we are true to the covenants we make with God, we qualify for and secure for ourselves the fulness of the blessings that God promised Abraham and his descendants. Write the following principle on the board: We will prevail with God as we make and keep sacred covenants.

  • What does it mean to prevail with God? (It can mean that as we persist in earnest prayer, we can receive assurance that Heavenly Father will grant us the blessings we have sought for.)

You may want to testify of this principle.

To conclude, briefly review the principles students discovered today. Ask students to ponder how they can act on the truths they have learned, and invite them to do so.

Commentary and Background Information

Genesis 31:14–16. “For he hath sold us, and hath quite devoured also our money”

“It is interesting that both Rachel and Leah agreed that Jacob was justified in leaving Laban. They also pointed out that they had received nothing from their father, because of his covetous nature. One commentator explained their bitterness:

“‘The dowry was an important part of marriage. We meet it first in Jacob, who worked seven years for Laban to earn a dowry for Rachel (Gen. 29:18). The pay for this service belonged to the bride as her dowry, and Rachel and Leah could indignantly speak of themselves as having been “sold” by their father, because he had withheld from them their dowry (Gen. 31:14, 15). It was the family capital; it represented the wife’s security, in case of divorce where the husband was at fault. If she were at fault, she forfeited it. She could not alienate it from her children. There are indications that the normal dowry was about three years’ wages. The dowry thus represented funds provided by the father of the groom, or by the groom through work, used to further the economic life of the new family. If the father of the bride added to this, it was his privilege, and customary, but the basic dowry was from the groom or his family. The dowry was thus the father’s blessing on his son’s marriage, or a test of the young man’s character in working for it.’ (Rousas John Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law [1973], 176–77)” (Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel, 3rd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 88).

Genesis 31:19. What were the images of Laban?

“There is much debate among scholars about what the images were that were stolen by Rachel and what they represented. The Hebrew word which is sometimes used for small images of false gods is teraphim. Some translators render the word as ‘household gods.’ … One scholar theorized that these images were somehow tied in with the legal rights of inheritance (see D. Guthrie and J. A. Motyer, eds., The New Bible Commentary, p 104). If this theory is correct, the possessor of the teraphim had the right to inherit the father’s property. This circumstance would explain why Rachel stole the images, since her father had ‘stolen’ her inheritance (see Genesis 31:14–16). It would also explain Laban’s extreme agitation over their loss and Jacob’s severe penalty offered against the guilty party (see Genesis 31:31)” (Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel, 3rd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 89).

Genesis 32:9–11. Jacob’s prayer for help

Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that we are to move forward with our decisions based on the answers the Lord gives us:

“When He answers yes, it is to give us confidence.

“When he answers no, it is to prevent error.

“When He withholds an answer, it is to have us grow through faith in Him, obedience to His commandments, and a willingness to act on truth. We are expected to assume accountability by acting on a decision that is consistent with His teachings without prior confirmation. We are not to sit passively waiting or to murmur because the Lord has not spoken. We are to act” (“Learning to Recognize Answers to Prayer,” Ensign, Nov. 1989, 32).

Genesis 32:24–32. Jacob’s wrestle with an angel

“Most scholars believe Jacob wrestled with an angel, but President Joseph Fielding Smith explained why this explanation could not be true:

“‘Who wrestled with Jacob on Mount Peniel? The scriptures say it was a man. The Bible interpreters say it was an angel. More than likely it was a messenger sent to Jacob to give him the blessing. To think he wrestled and held an angel who couldn’t get away, is out of the question. The term angel as used in the scriptures, at times, refers to messengers who are sent with some important instruction.’ (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 1:17)” (Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel, 3rd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 89).

While much of what happened at Peniel (also spelled Penuel [see verse 31]) is unclear, the scriptures indicate that a sacred experience took place there. Spiritual struggles often precede powerful revelations. For example, when Enos, Alma, and Joseph Smith each earnestly sought blessings of the Lord, they experienced such “wrestlings” (see Enos 1:1–5; Alma 8:10; Joseph Smith—History 1:13–17.) The wrestle Jacob experienced may have been a similar spiritual struggle.