Pattern of Return


Anyone who studies scripture will quickly realize that patterns occur on a host of different levels and they are usually interwoven. The sort of patterns of interest here are those of history and personal roles. To give a concrete example consider the pattern of exile and restoration.

It is well known in Jewish rabbinic literature that "The actions of the fathers are assigned to the children."1 , which is to say that history is prophecy. To appreciate how this works, consider the pattern of exile and return which begins with the story of Abraham's descent into Egypt because of a famine in the land. While he was in Egypt, he was afflicted by Pharaoh - Sarah was taken from him. God dealt with the one who afflicted Abraham who then returned from exile greatly enriched.

This particular pattern skips Isaac and is resumed and expanded in Jacob. After getting Esau's birthright through trickery, Jacob flew from the land and went to Haran where he sojourned for over twenty years. While in Haran he was oppressed by his uncle Laban. At the end of Jacob's exile God dealt with Laban and brought Jacob back the land with great wealth. So far the events in Jacob's exile match those of Abraham, but the details of the return are expanded.

In the space between Haran, the site of his exile, and the Jordan River which marked exile's end, several crucial events happened to Jacob. The first three of these events occurred at Mahanaim.

Upon arriving at Mahanaim, Jacob sent messengers to his brother and discovered that the intervening years had not dulled Esau's appetite for revenge.(Gen 33:3-7) In fear, Jacob embarked on a twofold strategy; he sent a series of gifts to his brother in hopes of placating him and he divided his household into two camps. During the night, Jacob then had a personal encounter with God who changed his name and his walk forever.

After Jacob's encounter with Esau and before crossing the Jordan into the land, we read: But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth. (Gen 33:17, ESV)

Why? Jacob had just traveled over 350 miles from Haran; the dramatic action with Esau and the encounter with God took place at Mahanaim; why does Scripture make note of a temporary stop some 35 miles short of his final destination at Shechem?

The answer to that question lies in the telling of the next iteration of exile and return. Toward the end of his life, Israel again went into exile, this time to Egypt. The nation was afflicted in exile and God brought them out with great wealth - just like the previous two times - the extraction from Egypt is told in the book of Exodus. Interestingly, the first place God took Israel was to Succoth on the way to the crossing of the Red Sea.(Ex 12:37) After the crossing of the Red Sea, Israel defeated Amalek (a descendent of Esau) and went to Mt Sinai for an encounter with God. After receiving the Torah, Israel proceeded to Kadesh preparatory to entering the land via the route taken by Abraham.

It was God's intention to bring Israel back into the land via the same route that Abraham took on his return from Egypt, but that was not to be. Moses sent spies into the land who brought back a bad report and frightened the people so that they refused to advance.(Num 13) So what was intended to be a rather short time in the wilderness extended to forty years because the exile had not yet worked God's purpose in the nation.

At the end of the wilderness period, the pattern resumed. Israel has a conflict with Esau and a 'final' encounter with God on the plain of Moab. After some final instructions and the death of Moses, Judah leads the nation across the Jordan River and what began as a reentry from the south as Abraham had done, ends with entry from the East ala Jacob.

1 Nachmanides as quoted by Rabbi Ken Spiro in "Jewish History" on Aish HaTorah at Crash Course in Jewish History Part 2 The Bible as History