Thursday, January 2, 2014

Compassionate Brother (part 10)

Israel had labored under Egypt’s oppression, enriching Egypt at their expense, just as Jacob had done for Laban (at least initially).  Israel yearned to be free from Egypt’s yoke, just as Jacob would eventually come to yearn to leave what had become the insufferable employ of Laban.  As Jacob is said to have received a message from his Lord to “Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives” (31:3), so too would Israel hear the voice of their God through Moses. 

When Israel left Egypt it is said that “The Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, and they gave them whatever they wanted, and so they plundered Egypt” (Exodus 12:36).  Though it comes in a slightly different order, this is not at all dissimilar to the record of Jacob becoming “extremely prosperous” (30:43), which generated the complaint from his brothers-in-law that “Jacob has taken everything that belonged to our father!  He has gotten rich at our expense!” (Genesis 31:1b)  Rachel’s taking of her father’s household gods would fit right into this milieu (while also demonstrating, in something of a correlation to the coming story of Israel’s exodus, that Laban, and therefore Egypt, was powerless to change what was happening). 

In continuing this comparison, it is worthwhile to back up to the thirtieth chapter of Genesis and find a precursor to Moses’ repeated requests to Pharaoh to free Israel, as “Jacob said to Laban, ‘Send me on my way so that I can go home to my own country.  Let me take my wives and my children whom I have acquired by working for you.  Then I’ll depart, because you know how hard I’ve worked for you.’” (30:25b-26)  Laban’s response is mildly Pharaoh-esque (remember, this narrative is part of a compilation for a post-exodus people), as he does not accede to Jacob’s request.  He sends Jacob back to the fields with a new deal (much like Israel’s work is made more difficult after Moses’ first reported encounter with Pharaoh upon his return to Egypt).  Of course, much as it would eventually be true for Israel in Egypt, it will not be long at all until Jacob has plundered all of the wealth of Laban and departs. 

As the Exodus narrative is heard, and as it is allowed to cast light on the Genesis narrative (as the Exodus narrative is likely to have been more important to Israel than the Genesis narrative, especially when it comes to their self-understanding and the interpretive model of their God’s interaction with them and with the world in the ongoing theme of exile to exodus that dominates their historical narrative), one finds that “When it was reported to the king of Egypt that the people had fled, the heart of Pharaoh and his servants was turned against the people, and the king and his servants said, ‘What in the world have we done?  For we have released the people of Israel from serving us!’  Then he prepared his chariots and took his army with him.  He took six hundred select chariots, and all the rest of the chariots of Egypt, and officers on all of them” (Exodus 14:5-7).  It is at this point that the results of the two stories of Jacob and Israel radically diverge, as the armies of Egypt are said to have been destroyed at the Lord’s hand, whereas Laban, after overtaking and confronting Jacob, ends up kissing his grandchildren and his daughters goodbye, blessing them and returning to his home (31:55).   

It is important to draw out these Scriptural connections, as past is almost always prelude to present.  The words of the prophets, when they would come, draw on a collective understanding that is structured upon the history of Israel---a history which stretches back to Abraham.  If one recognizes the importance of Israel’s foundational narrative (the Torah/Pentateuch), then one is in a position to gain deeper insights and appreciation of such things as the parables of Jesus.  Thus, as stated earlier, one gains deeper insights into the character of, and appreciation for the Creator God that chose out a people to uniquely bear His image and accomplish His purposes in and for His creation.

No comments:

Post a Comment