Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Compassionate Brother (part 8)

Providentially (it would seem), and with the glaring reality that he has completely worn out his welcome with Laban staring him in the face, “The Lord said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives.  I will be with you.’” (31:3)  This conforms with the word of the Lord that was heard in the twenty-eighth chapter when Jacob was at Bethel, where Jacob heard the Lord say to him, “I am with you!  I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land” (28:15a). 

As Jacob, at this point, is still going to be unsure as to Esau’s disposition towards him, he is in desperate need of the reassurance of these words.  Regardless, the deteriorating situation with Laban, along with the fact that Laban really did not want him there (as evidenced by his dismay at Jacob actually achieving what it was that was proposed in his wage agreement), apparently causes Jacob to come to his senses, re-orienting him towards his homeland and the house of his father. 

Accordingly, he sends a message to Rachel and Leah, asking them to come to him in the field where he was with his flocks and said to them “I can tell that your father’s attitude toward me has changed, but the God of my father has been with me” (31:5).  He presents his reasoning process behind the decision that he has taken to return to his father’s house, saying “You know that I’ve worked for your father as hard as I could, but your father has humiliated me” (31:6-7a), thus drawing out the honor and shame component that has been herein submitted as an underlying factor in the growing tension between Jacob and Laban, “and changed my wages ten times.  But God has not permitted him to do me any harm” (31:7b). 

Making this point, and underscoring his gathering of honor in spite of Laban’s desire to shame him, he adds “If he said, ‘The speckled animals will be your wage,’ then the entire flock gave birth to speckled offspring.  But if he said, ‘The streaked animals will be your wage,’ then the entire flock gave birth to streaked offspring.’” (31:8)  Reinforcing the fact that Jacob has accrued honor (and possessions), while Laban’s possessions (and honor) have been devoured, Jacob says “In this way God has snatched away your father’s livestock and given them to me” (31:9). 

Jacob piles further divine sanction upon his pending departure by speaking of a dream in which the angel of the Creator God (31:11) reportedly spoke to him and said “Observe that all the male goats mating with the flock are streaked, speckled, or spotted, for I have observed all that Laban has done to you.  I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the sacred stone and made a vow to me” (31:12-13a).  To this is appended the message of “Now leave this land immediately and return to your native land” (31:13b). 

Dutifully, his wives respond with “Do we still have any portion or inheritance in our father’s house?  Hasn’t he treated us like foreigners?” (31:14b-15a)  This insistent query in regards to being treated like foreigners would certainly take an interesting connotation upon itself when heard by the people of Israel after the receiving of the law, as the Mosaic law provided detailed proscriptions for dealing with foreigners.  Prior to the receipt of the law, and though the circumstances are not entirely applicable (Jacob had grown rich at the hand of the one that treated him as a foreigner), one can imagine how the words of this story would have been heard by an oppressed Israel in Egypt.  In later years, when the tribes of Israel were scattered and exiled as strangers in strange lands, it is almost certain that the story of Jacob’s exile from home, along with these words on the lips of his wives, provided a hope for restoration to their promised land (as it also would have for Israel in Egypt). 

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