The Long Journey Homeward (Chaps. 31–33)
The Fear in Meeting Laban (31:1–32:2)
The Greater Fear in Meeting Esau (32:3—Chap. 33)
After many years in Haran, Jacob realized something had changed and so he decided to take all he had and go home. Having reached a position of unprecedented power and wealth, he embarked on a major transition.
But the journey was not easy, for it meant facing the two most intimidating people in his life—his powerful uncle and his murderous brother. In diverse ways he tried to escape them. He fled in secret from his uncle, and thought of taking a gamble to save half his family from Esau. But his uncle came after him with power and overtook him; and Jacob also realized he would have to face Esau.
The story (chaps. 31–33), then, is about this longing for home and about the facing of danger and death.
The pace of the journey varies, first fast and furious, then measured and slow. When Laban overtakes him, Jacob at first is careful and deferential. But finally, in an angry apologia, he confronts his exploiting uncle, and later the two make peace.
The meeting with Esau affects Jacob even more deeply. As never before he passes through the dark valley of the fear of death.
The homecoming never really happens, at least not as foreseen. Unlike Homer's Odysseus, Jacob does not return to the old house, to the way things used to be. Instead, in a brief puzzling account, Jacob experiences homecoming of another kind.
The primary literary type, encompassing all of chapters 31–33, is that of an itinerary or travel narrative, particularly travel narratives related to death. A somewhat comparable phenomenon will occur in Luke's travel narrative, when, as death beckons faintly in the distance, Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). Jacob, too, sets his face—toward the mountain (31:21). In Luke the turn in the narrative is sharp—the face is set immediately (Luke 9:51)—whereas in Genesis the development is more gradual; the setting of the face is late and