Wednesday, March 11, 2009

GENESIS: Chapter 31

Chapter 31
Summary:Jacob learned that Laban's sons were complaining about Jacob gaining his wealth at the expense of their father. Laban's attitude had considerably cooled towards Jacob as well.

God then spoke to Jacob telling him to return to the land of his father promising to be with him during his journey. So Jacob sent for his wives Rachel and Leah and told them of his intentions on returning home. He further explained to them that their father had turned against him, despite how hard Jacob had worked for him over the years. He continues on to explain that the streaked, speckled, and mottled goat situation was guided by God, making him wealthy at Laban's expense.

Rachel and Leah agreed that they were fine with leaving with their husband as there was nothing for them there in their homeland. They complained that their father had basically reduced their rights to that of foreign women and that the riches that God had bestowed upon Jacob were rightfully theirs and their children's to begin with.

So one day while Laban was out shearing his sheep, Jacob set his wives and children on camels and fled without telling Laban. He drove the flocks before him and took everything he owned (Rachel also steals Laban's household idols before their departure) and started out to return to his father Isaac in Canaan. He fled with all of his possessions crossing the Euphrates River and headed to Gilead.

Laban didn't learn about their departure for three days, but set out in pursuit with several men and caught up with them seven days later at Mount Gilead. That night God appeared to Laban in a dream warning him to be careful about what he says to Jacob - telling him not to give Jacob his blessing nor curse him.

Laban finally catches up to Jacob and chastises Jacob for leaving without notice without giving him the chance to say goodbye to his daughters and grandchildren. He tells Jacob that while he could crush him, that God had appeared to him telling him not to be too hard on Jacob. He then asks Jacob why he had stolen his household idols.

Jacob explained that he fled out of fear that Uncle Laban would take back his daughters by force and denies taking Laban's idols, unaware that Rachel had taken them. He gives Laban permission to search for anything that may have been stolen from him and curses whoever stole Laban's idols, asserting that he had nothing to do with it.

Laban searched Jacob's tent first, followed by Leah's and the two concubines and did not find his idols. Finally he approaches Rachel's tent. Rachel had stuffed the idols into her camel's saddle but was now sitting upon it in her tent. She excuses herself to her father for not getting up explaining that she was pregnant. Laban searched the tent thoroughly but did not find the idols.

Jacob now angrily confronts his Uncle Laban demanding to know what he had found to be stolen in his search. He continues to tell Laban that never once had he ever stolen anything from him during his twenty years of service to his uncle, fourteen of which he had worked to earn his wives, despite the fact that Laban had reduced his wages ten times. He then claims that God had apparently seen through Laban's cruelty prompting his visit to Laban the previous night.

Laban replies that he would never do harm to his daughters and grandchildren and offers to draw up a peace pact. Jacob takes a stone which he sets up as a monument and tells his men to gather more stones to make a heap of them. Jacob and Laban ate together beside the pile of stones, which they named "The Witness Pile" - "Jegar-sahadutha", in Laban's language, and "Galeed" in Jacob's.

Laban states that the pile of stones will serve as a boundary line that neither Jacob or himself would cross to attack the other. Jacob took an oath before God to respect the boundary line, and slaughters an animal as a sacrifice to God at the top of the mountain to seal his oath. Jacob then invited his companions to a feast and spent the night with them on the mountain.

Laban woke up early the next morning, said his goodbyes to his daughters and grandchildren, blessed them, and returned home.
Thoughts:Despite the length of this chapter, there's really not much of anything overly significant here except to close off the narrative of Jacob and his Uncle Laban's antagonistic relationship towards each other. It's difficult to discern how badly Laban had reduced Jacob's wages by what we are told in the previous chapters, adding in that Jacob still managed to become extremely wealthy - whether by his tree branch trickery or by God's intervention. It's far more understandable to Laban's irritation with Jacob than the other way around, as despite his Uncle's trickery he has managed to prosper in spite of.

It is also unclear as to why Rachel steals her father's idols before they leave. Whether it's meant as spite, whether Rachel is trying to send a message to her father about his idols, or perhaps that Rachel actually wanted the idols for personal reasons is not made clear. Her actions and motivations behind the theft only seem to serve to add danger to the struggle between her husband and her father.

God continues his questionable method of appearing to people in dreams warning Laban to neither bless nor curse Jacob. Knowing that dreams are actually a reflection of our subconscious it's debatable as to whether this visitation could in fact simply be Laban's dream instead of a divine appearance. Our dreams are composed of a lot of scenarios that are impossible, supernatural, and defy logic - it would seem obvious that if God intended to send a clear message that he could and would take a much more clear and concise route than appearing in a dream.

The chapter closes out with Jacob and Laban calling a truce and both promising not to pass a pile of stones that Jacob built with the intentions of harming each other. Jacob slaughters an animal to seal this pact with God as well.

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