Peace Offering

Peace Offering June 20, 2013

As Jacob re-enters the land after his sojourn in Haran, he sends ahead a present ( minchah ) to appease ( kafar ) his estranged brother Esau (Genesis 32:20-21). This is a “peace offering,” and not only in a metaphorical sense. The text uses the language of sacrifice, and other details fit with this. Jacob gives a combination of female and male animals (v. 14), always more female than male. This enriches the gift, because a female animal has an afterlife in her offspring that a male animal does not. But it also fits the later regulations for peace offerings: While the ascension and trespass offerings had to be male, and the purification offering’s sex was prescribed, the sex of the peace offering was decided by the worshiper (Leviticus 3:1). (When he actually enters the land, Jacob divides the women and children into groups, just like the animals, another wave of minchot , 33:2). Jacob says that Esau’s face is like the “face of God” to him (33:10).

As with the peace offering, Jacob’s gift is designed to prepare a path of approach. He sends the animals ahead, so that he can eventually see his brother face to face: “I will see his face and he will life up my face” (32:20). The animals provide a “cover” ( kafar ), clothing that makes Jacob acceptable in his brother’s presence. Esau initially refuses the gift (33:9), but at his brother’s urging he accepts (33:11), and the two are reunited.

In the event, before Jacob sees Esau’s face, he sees the face of his real “nemesis,” Yahweh (32:30). The peace offering works better than Jacob imagined, for it prepares a path to God Himself. And, having wrestled with God and having been wounded, having been made a sort of living sacrifice, he is prepared for reconciliation with his brother.

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