Saturday, January 07, 2012

Genesis Chapter 31 ~ Jacob's Departure and Cutting a Covenant

Genesis Chapter 31 

Laban's sons were saying that Jacob had taken their fathers wealth and possessions. Further, Jacob could see that Laban didn't care for him. Then Yahweh said to Jacob, "Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you." (31:3) Jacob didn't just decide to leave, he was commanded to leave. He tells Rachel and Leah about their circumstances and how Laban had cheated him by changing his wages ten times (31:7). He confessed though, that God did not permit Laban to harm him.

Next Jacob recognizes that nothing he had done brought him prosperity, it was God's choosing: "Thus God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me." (31:9) Then Jacob described his interaction with an "angel of God" to Rachel and Leah. The angel said, "I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred." (31:13) Rachel and Leah responded recognizing their father's sin in basically selling them and cheating them. Then they affirmed what the angel said by saying, "All the wealth that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children. Now then, whatever God has said to you, do." (31:16) So Jacob set his family on camels and left with all his possessions and livestock that he acquired in Paddan-aram to go back to Canaan to his father Isaac. While packing up Rachel stole Laban's household gods, and Jacob tricked Laban by not telling him he and his family were leaving. So they fled and crossed the Euphrates headed toward the hill country of Gilead (31:21).

Three days later Laban was told that they fled and he pursued them for seven days into the country of Gilead. God came to him in a dream and said, "Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad." (Gen. 31:24) Laban caught up with Jacob accused him of harshly driving his daughters away and accused him of tricking him and not letting him kiss his family farewell. He said that because of this it was in his power to harm Jacob (v. 29), but God told him not to. Then he asked why Jacob stole his gods. Jacob told him the reason they left secretly was because he was afraid and thought he'd take Rachel and Leah from him. He also said that anyone who is found in his camp to have the gods shall not live (he didn't know Rachel took them). So, Laban's party looked through everyone's things and couldn't find them. Rachel hid them under her saddle and sat on them, and she told him that she couldn't get up because, "the way of women is upon me." (31:35). After this Jacob berated Laban telling him all the grievances he had against him. In the midst of this, he accused Laban changing of Jacob's wages similar to what we saw in Genesis 30 and in his description to Leah and Rachel in 31:7: "I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times." (31:41) After this he described how God was on his side and that's why God rebuked him the night before (31:42).

Laban and Jacob's Covenant
As a response Laban proposed that they make/cut a covenant (31:44) saying, "let it be a witness between you and me." Jacob then took a stone and set it up as a pillar, and he told his kinsmen to gather stones, so they made a heap of the stones and they ate there. Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha (Aramaic for "the heap of witness"), and Jacob called it Galeed (Hebrew for "the heap of witness"). So Laban called it Galeed and Mizpah (Hebrew for "watch-post"). Laban then set the terms of the covenant:
"The LORD watch between you and me, when we are out of one another's sight. If you oppress my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no one is with us, see, God is witness between you and me." (31:49-50) 
And further:
"See this heap and the pillar, which I have set between you and me. This heap is a witness and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm. The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us." (31:51-53) 
Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac, and he offered a sacrifice in the hill country and called his men to eat bread. Then early in the morning Laban arose and kissed his grandchildren and daughters and he blessed them. Then Laban returned home.

Reflections on Chapter 31
When you read this chapter it’s hard to miss how God is meticulously in control of everything. First, it’s clear that Jacob was leaving Laban because he was afraid, and yet, he was also leaving because God told him to. Further, this chapter says that all of Jacob’s prosperity came to him because of God’s choosing. It wasn’t a superstitious belief in laying down sticks from poplar, almond, and plane trees. It was because of God. Second, God spoke to Laban in his dream while he was in hot pursuit of Jacob, and basically told him not to charge him of anything and to leave him alone: “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.” (Gen. 31:24) It’s pretty clear that God is on Jacob’s side here, and not because of anything Jacob did, but because of God’s sovereign choice (31:42).

Then they made or “cut” a covenant (keep your eyes open for the next post over-viewing the way covenants are referred to in Genesis). In this covenant Jacob swore by the Fear (capital “F”) of his father, Isaac (see Genesis 31:42 and 31:53). What was this fear? The only answer can be the fear of the LORD. "Fear" here can also be translated, "the Awesome One of Isaac." This is the fear that he learned from His grandpa, Abraham. There are at least three references to this “Fear” in Genesis. First, in Genesis 9:2 the “fear and dread of [God]” is foundational to God’s covenant with Noah, and it’s foundational faith. Second, in Genesis 20:11 the “fear of God” is not in the non-believing king Abimelek’s house. Third, in Genesis 22:12 God stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac saying, “Do not lay a hand on the boy...Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” So Isaac’s “Fear” is his faith, and belief in the one true and living God, Yahweh. It’s interesting that he doesn’t swear on his own fear though.

This should draw our affections and appreciation to Jesus Christ more and more. God is in control of all things, and because of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, fear of God is no longer shaped primarily by His wrath against His people for eternity, but by His wrath poured out on Jesus in our place. If a person is outside of Christ their fear is primarily one of wrath, but a believer's fear of God is rooted in Christ’s work on our behalf, and it is an humble awe and reverence because of His great power and might. It is a trembling in His presence because He has chosen weak and broken people just like us to be His sons if we would only repent and believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Hallelujah, all praise to Yahweh!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Genesis Chapter 30 ~ Family Growth Through Rivalry and Jacob's Prosperity

Genesis Chapter 30

Family Growth through Rivalry
Rachel envied Leah because she was able to have kids, so she went to Jacob and said, "Give me children, or I shall die!" (30:1) This made Jacob angry and he said, "Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?" (30:2) He clearly understood that God was in control of Rachel's infertility. She then asked if he would be intimate with her servant, Bilhah, and he agreed. Bilhah bore a son and Rachel named him Dan, and said, "God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son." (30:6) Bilhah bore another son and Rachel named him Naphtali, and said, "With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed." (30:8)

Competition ensued. Leah gave Zilpah, her servant, to Jacob as a concubine (30:9) to do what Rachel had done with Bilhah. Zilpah then bore a son and Leah named him Gad, and said, "Good fortune has come!" (30:11) Then Zilpah bore a second son and Leah named him Asher, and said, "Happy am I! For women have called me happy." (30:12) In some translations what I have as "as a concubine" (30:9) has been translated as "as a wife". The Hebrew can be translated either way, but considering the context of the passage I think "concubine" is more appropriate. There's more that could be said, but I'll leave it at that. Jacob was a polygamist in marrying Rachel and Leah, but not necessarily marrying Bilhah and Zilpah.

During the wheat harvest Reuben found mandrakes and brought them to his mom, Leah. Rachel asked for some of them, and Leah responded with a sharp tongue of how Rachel took Jacob from her and now wanted her son's mandrakes too! So, Rachel said Leah could lay with Jacob that night in exchange for some of Reuben's mandrakes. Later in the evening Jacob came into the field and Leah went to meet him and told him that he must be intimate with her because she had "hired" him with Ruben's mandrakes. He was intimate with her that night, and Leah bore another son named Issachar, and said, "God has given me my wages because I gave my servant to my husband." (30:18) She bore another son as well and named him Zebulun, and said, "God has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will honor me, because I have borne him six sons." (30:20) Then she bore a daughter named Dinah. (30:21)

After all of this the Bible says, "Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb." (30:22) She bore a son named Joseph, and said, "God has taken away my reproach," and, "May the LORD add to me another son!" (30:23-24)

Here are all the names of the children born in chapter 30 and what the names mean:
6. Dan (son of Rachel's servant Bilhah) - "God has vindicated me"
7. Naphtali (son of Rachel's servant Bilhah) - "with the struggling for God, I have struggled"
8. Gad (son of Leah's servant Zilpah) - "what good fortune" or "luck has come"
9. Asher (son of Leah's servant Zilpah) - "women will call me happy" or "I am to be envied"
10. Isaachar (son of Leah) - "He rewards" or " God has rewarded me"
11. Zebulun (son of Leah) - "God has presented me with a gift" combined with "my husband will acknowledge me as a lawful wife"
12. Dinah (daughter of Leah) - no definition is given (note that Jacob has more daughters later in 46:7)
13. Joseph (son of Rachel) - "May the LORD add to me another son"
Jacob's Desire to Leave and Growth in Prosperity
After all of this Jacob told Laban to send him back to his home country (Beersheba) with his wives (Leah & Rachel) and children, because he finished out his seven year service. Laban said he learned by divination that he was being blessed because of Jacob, and he asked him to name his wages and stay. Jacob affirmed that the prosperity had come because of him, but came back to his original question again and asked to be sent away. Laban responded dodgingly again by asking what Jacob would take in order to stay. Jacob then responded explaining how he would take care of the flock and the (1) speckled and spotted sheep, (2) every black lamb, and (3) every spotted and speckled goat would be his wages (30:32-33). The rest would be Laban's. Jacob claimed to be doing this to prove his honesty, and Laban said, "Good! Let it be as you have said." (30:34) Then we have a contrasting conjunction "but" that indicates Laban was plotting against any prospect of increasing Jacob's prosperity. It says, "But that day Laban removed the [(1)] male goats that were striped and spotted, and all the [(2)] female goats that were speckled and spotted, [(3)] every one that had white on it, and [(4)] every lamb that was black." (30:35) He put those sheep under the charge of his sons, not Jacob, and he set a three days' distance between Jacob and his flock. He basically made it impossible for the flocks to mix and for Jacob's "chances" of prosperity to come true.

Then Jacob took fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees. He peeled white streaks in them and exposed the white of the sticks. Then he set them in front of the flocks in the troughs where they came to drink. The flocks bred in front of the sticks and their offspring were striped, speckled, and spotted (vs. 39).

Jacob separated the lambs by themselves and made the flocks face toward the striped and all the black of the flock of Laban. It seems the "flocks" in this passage is a general term that includes both the sheep and goats, not necessarily the goats in contrast to the sheep (as Waltke pg. 420 seems to indicate from 30:38). Also, from this little description it appears that either Laban changed the terms of their agreement and is now taking some of the striped, speckled, and black, or Jacob is giving Laban more than he is required by their agreement. Jacob basically made two flocks: his own and Laban's. (vs. 40)

Whenever the stronger animals were in heat (mating season) Jacob put the poplar, almond, and plane sticks in the troughs before the eyes of the flock so they'd breed among the sticks. When the weaker of the flock would mate he wouldn't lay the sticks there. So Jacob's flock became stronger, and Laban's weaker, and Jacob increased greatly and had large flocks, male and female servants, camels and donkeys.

Some Thoughts on Genesis 30
It's amazing that around every turn of the narrative in Genesis the sin of man is attempting to put God's purposes to bless His people by bringing them a Messiah in jeopardy. This all in vain though. Yahweh is unstoppable! Here we see all kinds of depravity in Leah and Rachel's competition for children and Jacob's affection. We see the distortion and perversion of the use of sex and children; having their servants lay with Jacob, and then also Leah's "hiring" Jacob by letting Rachel have some of Rueben's mandrakes. We also see the abuse of a husband who puts his wife in the position of having to "hire" him out just to be intimate with her (intimacy in marriage is a "right" as we see later in Moses, Exod. 21:10, and the Apostle Paul, 1 Cor. 7:3). We see Laban and Jacob's schemes to take advantage and "one-up" each-other. In all of this we see the attempt to harness superstitions and the supposed "wisdom of men" in order to benefit their own self-interest (the mandrakes and poplar, almond, and plane trees to increase fertility; divination; etc.). We see deception that is meant to benefit self at the expense of others. We even see the gloating of man when things seemingly work out in his favor, boasting that, "things are better for me than they are for others, and that everyone should envy my blessed condition." We see a lot of self-interest here.

This is the most glaring thing I see in Genesis 30; man's sin and how it works to hurt everyone else for the purpose selfish gain. This is definitely the kind of thinking Christians should avoid. There is a difference between being shrewd (i.e. Luke 16:1-13), being wise (i.e. Matt. 10:16), and being greedy for dishonest gain (1. Tim. 3:8, Titus 1:7). This is just like our hearts as well, isn't it? So often we pursue what we think would be best in the ways we think would be quickest and easiest. Sometimes being tempted to turn to divination like Laban, or putting our hope in medicine, or superstitions to bring us what we think would be the most blessed condition - doing what we want, in the way we want, so that we can get whatever it is that we want. Can you see how arrogant and selfish this is? Wouldn't it be better to find joy and peace in the hands of the Almighty God who is meticulously sovereign over everything in existence. Do we think that if we reject, or put Yahweh off to the side, that our lives would be so much better? Trust me, in the end it will only bring eternal misery. I'm not saying that medicine or human wisdom is always void of the recognition and the power of God. In fact modern medicine is a miracle created by the very hand of God. But how much hope do we put in this stuff? And if we put hope in these things in the place of God, and do it to the detriment of others as well, we may become responsible for the stuff that nightmares are made of (the destruction of human embryos comes to mind, or some of the advances in modern science through the horrors of the Nazi's). Can you see the horrors of human sin; both in the human heart and behavior? Can you see this in your heart and actions?

Even among all of this sin we see that God at work too (30:17, 22). We know from Jacob's comment in verse 2 and from chapter 29 that God is sovereign over the womb. While illustrating much sin, we also see that this chapter is also about fertility. We even see God's sovereign work through what appears to be superstitious thoughts about the power of mandrakes and poplar, almond, and plane trees (boosting fertility, and/or having an effect on the color of the animals). Even when we think we are acting freely from the providence, intentions, and meticulous sovereignty of God, He is still at work. God is working even in this sinful family to create a people for Himself, to bring a Messiah in Jesus Christ, and ultimately to satisfy His wrath so that those of us who turn to Jesus would be saved.