Monday, January 11, 2010


Genesis 30-32

In chapter 30, Rachel, upset that her sister Leah is bearing sons to Jacob (four so far - Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah), sends her maidservant Bilhah to Jacob to provide children for her.  Bilhah bears two sons (Dan, Naphtali).  Leah, who had stopped having children, sent her maidservant Zilpah to Jacob, and he fathered two more sons (Gad, Asher).  Then Leah gives Rachel some mandrakes which Reuben had gathered in exchange for the right(?) to go and sleep with Jacob again, and she eventually produces two more sons (Issachar, Zebulun) and a daughter (Dinah).  Then "God remembered Rachel...and opened her womb."  She bore a son (Joseph) and prayed for another.

After the birth of Joseph, Jacob went to Laban and expressed a desire to return to his "own homeland."  Laban wanted him to remain, knowing that God had blessed him through Jacob, but said he could leave if he wanted, and "name your wages."  Jacob proposed to take all "speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb and every spotted or speckled goat."  Laban agreed, then promptly removed all of the described animals from the flock and into the care of his sons, and three days travel away from where Jacob was tending his flocks.  Jacob peeled strips of bark from trees, exposing white wood, and putting those strips into the watering trough "so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink."  And the animals mated in front of the trough and had spotted or streaked offspring, which he separated from Laban's flock.  He did this when the strong animals mated but not the weak, so the weak animals went to Laban and he kept the strong.  "The man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and maidservants and menservants, and camels and donkeys."

In Genesis 31, Jacob sees a change in Laban's attitude towards him.  Then the LORD tells him to "go back to the land of your fathers."  He calls Rachel and Leah in from the fields, and describes for them the ways that Laban has been unfair to him, and a dream in which God encouraged him to leave.  They gather together all of the children, and all of Jacob's herds and flocks and head back to Canaan, without telling Laban.  In the process, Rachel takes Laban's "household Gods."

Laban (of course) pursues, and catches up with them in the hill country of Gilead.  They talk, and Jacob says that he left without telling for fear that Laban would take his daughters, Jacob's wives, from him by force.  And he agrees that "if you find anyone who has your gods, he shall not live."  They search the entire camp but do not find the gods (which are hidden in Rachel's camel's saddle, and she refuses to stand up from it, claiming that she's having her period).  They set up a pillar of stone at that spot, and agree that neither shall pass it to harm the other.  The next morning, Laban kissed and blessed his daughters and grandchildren and turned back towards his home.

Chapter 32 deals with Jacob's return home.  He knew when he left that his brother Esau wanted to kill him, and he knows that he must deal with Esau.  First, he divides his party into two groups, on the grounds that if Esau finds and destroys one, the other will survive.  Then he gathers groups from his herds and sends them ahead with messengers, as a gift to Esau.  That night, he sent his two wives, 11 sons (no mention of his daughter) and possessions across the ford of Jabbok.  Alone on the other side, he wrestled with a man until daybreak, and then the man injured Jacob's hip.  Jacob demands a blessing, and the man tells him, "your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel [he struggles with God], because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome."

Thoughts, questions, issues
  • This passage, chapters 30-32, introduces us to Israel, and 11 of the 12 tribes of Israel.
  • One of the hardest things to do when documents from antiquity is to avoid seeing everything through the lenses of our modern culture.  Because there's very little in this book that isn't offensive to our modern sensibilities.  Consider the multiple wives sending their maidservants in to be impregnated by their husband.  Leaving aside the question of sexual fidelity, the maidservants are clearly chattel, unworthy of consideration or contribution to a decision.
  • The disappearing Dinah would seem to show the same thing.
  • Laban has "household Gods."  This is, of course, before the revelation on Sinai and the handing down of the ten commandments.
  • It's interesting, and a bit uncomfortable, to see reference to what is generally a fairly personal and private aspect of a woman's life in a story like this.
  • Is the putting of the stripped wood into the trough an "old wives tale?"  Was that a cue for God to create streaked or spotted animals?  Or is there (which would shock me) some actual biological fact at play here?
  • The dishonesty is rampant.  Laban agrees to a price and quickly attempts to reduce, if not eliminate, it.  Jacob cherry picks from Laban's herd.  Rachel steals her father's household Gods.  None of this seems to be a character flaw.
  • It says that Jacob is alone and wrestles with a man.  As the man is never identified, and claims to speak for God, it is clear that a) the man is an angel or b) the man is an incarnation of God's power or c) the man that Jacob wrestles with is himself.  The first option seems the most likely.
  • I don't know enough anatomy for the hip reference to mean anything to me, if it's something specific.  I don't get it.

Proverbs 10:17-32

More parallelisms, again mostly antithetical.  These parallelisms will make up most of the remainder of the book. 

Thoughts, questions, issues
  • Nine of these verses present a comparison between the righteous and the wicked.
  • Six of them are related to the lips or tongue, that is, to thinks that people say.  (There is significant overlap between these verses and the righteous vs. wicked verses that I've already noted.)  Jesus would later say that "the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.'" (Mt 15:18)  The question is, do the things come affect what a man is, or merely reveal it?  Certainly the latter, but I think that these Proverbs imply the former, as well. 
  • Three verses relate to the LORD, to his blessing, his way, and the fear of him.
  • One verse extolling wisdom, one extolling discipline, and one condemning sloth ("the sluggard"), comparing him to "vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes."
  • That adds to 21, but again, there's overlap in these 16 verses.

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