“The Gospel According to Torah”
Posted daily at www.hereticslikeus.com
Weekly summaries also at www.billbrucewords.com
Concurrently at www.trinityunitedkw.ca
Summer Reading 2018
Reading Week from July 8
Garret Talk , Tues July 11
Genesis 31-36: Mon July 9 to Sat July 14
Jacob heads south with all he has accumulated, and Laban chases him down and there is a showdown, culminating in a pile of stones that neither will cross thereafter.
How do you leave one homeland for another? What is owed where you left, and what is yours to take alone? For those left behind, what is their claim, and how do they tell the story of emigrants?
Laban and Jacob each hustled the other – at some point, one sets up good fences for good neighbours, or as Tom Wolfe wrote ‘you can’t go home again’.
What have you left un-reconciled behind you, and what boundary markers have you set between yourself and that past?
This year, our reading and related conversations are veering away from these psychodynamics, perhaps due to our spring reading of Joshua and Judges in terms of ‘Settlers’ in today’s Israel and in post TRC Canada. Our chat sounds like this instead:
After newcomers live alongside locals for a generation, and particularly as the newcomers prosper, human envy seems likely. Who gets their ‘just deserts’? Who is owed a living – who earns, by labour or by shrewd dealing? Laban’s kids resent Jacob’s success.
Jacob gets his wives onside first – he’s asking them to choose him over his in-laws, their birth clans. He claims God has given, and God is sending. They agree that Laban is spending their dowry, and treating them as property – compare this to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, where Lot’s married daughters could not convince their local husbands to flee with Lot – only the unmarried ones escaped with their father. These are stories struggling with the existential threat for a minority of assimilation and intermarriage with a majority culture.
In fact, if you read this as a story about resisting assimilation, and taking one’s due with you, Rachel’s thefts of Laban’s household gods are a different message. She claims what she is due – not what Jacob is due. She deceives her uncle. Can lying be justified by the weak woman being threatened, to the strong man threatening violent vengeance? Reread this in terms of diplomacy!
The etiological legends connect this story to particular markers around Gilead and the West Bank – the border and frontier with Arameans.
Genesis Chapter 31
Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, ‘Jacob has taken all that was our father’s; he has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.’
2And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him as favourably as he did before.
3Then the Lord said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your ancestors and to your kindred, and I will be with you.
’4So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah into the field where his flock was, 5and said to them, ‘I see that your father does not regard me as favourably as he did before. But the God of my father has been with me.6You know that I have served your father with all my strength; 7yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not permit him to harm me. 8If he said, “The speckled shall be your wages”, then all the flock bore speckled; and if he said, “The striped shall be your wages”, then all the flock bore striped. 9Thus God has taken away the livestock of your father, and given them to me.
10 During the mating of the flock I once had a dream in which I looked up and saw that the male goats that leaped upon the flock were striped, speckled, and mottled. 11Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, “Jacob,” and I said, “Here I am!” 12And he said, “Look up and see that all the goats that leap on the flock are striped, speckled, and mottled; for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. 13I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and return to the land of your birth.” ’
14Then Rachel and Leah answered him, ‘Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house? 15Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and he has been using up the money given for us. 16All the property that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children; now then, do whatever God has said to you.’
17 So Jacob arose, and set his children and his wives on camels; 18and he drove away all his livestock, all the property that he had gained, the livestock in his possession that he had acquired in Paddan-aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan.
19 Now Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father’s household gods. 20And Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean, in that he did not tell him that he intended to flee. 21So he fled with all that he had; starting out he crossed the Euphrates, and set his face towards the hill country of Gilead.
22 On the third day Laban was told that Jacob had fled. 23So he took his kinsfolk with him and pursued him for seven days until he caught up with him in the hill country of Gilead.
24But God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream by night, and said to him, ‘Take heed that you say not a word to Jacob, either good or bad.’
25 Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsfolk camped in the hill country of Gilead.
26Laban said to Jacob, ‘What have you done? You have deceived me, and carried away my daughters like captives of the sword. 27Why did you flee secretly and deceive me and not tell me? I would have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre. 28And why did you not permit me to kiss my sons and my daughters farewell? What you have done is foolish. 29It is in my power to do you harm; but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, “Take heed that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.” 30Even though you had to go because you longed greatly for your father’s house, why did you steal my gods?’
31Jacob answered Laban, ‘Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force. 32But anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live. In the presence of our kinsfolk, point out what I have that is yours, and take it.’
Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the gods.
33 So Laban went into Jacob’s tent, and into Leah’s tent, and into the tent of the two maids, but he did not find them. And he went out of Leah’s tent, and entered Rachel’s. 34Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them in the camel’s saddle, and sat on them. Laban felt all about in the tent, but did not find them. 35And she said to her father, ‘Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the way of women is upon me.’ So he searched, but did not find the household gods.
36 Then Jacob became angry, and upbraided Laban. Jacob said to Laban, ‘What is my offence? What is my sin, that you have hotly pursued me?37Although you have felt about through all my goods, what have you found of all your household goods? Set it here before my kinsfolk and your kinsfolk, so that they may decide between us two.
38These twenty years I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, and I have not eaten the rams of your flocks. 39That which was torn by wild beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it myself; of my hand you required it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. 40It was like this with me: by day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes. 41These twenty years I have been in your house; I served you for fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times.42If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God saw my affliction and the labour of my hands, and rebuked you last night.’
43 Then Laban answered and said to Jacob, ‘The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do today about these daughters of mine, or about their children whom they have borne?
44Come now, let us make a covenant, you and I; and let it be a witness between you and me.’ 45So Jacob took a stone, and set it up as a pillar. 46And Jacob said to his kinsfolk, ‘Gather stones,’ and they took stones, and made a heap; and they ate there by the heap. 47Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha: but Jacob called it Galeed.
48Laban said, ‘This heap is a witness between you and me today.’ Therefore he called it Galeed, 49and the pillar Mizpah, for he said, ‘The Lord watch between you and me, when we are absent one from the other. 50If you ill-treat my daughters, or if you take wives in addition to my daughters, though no one else is with us, remember that God is witness between you and me.’
51 Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘See this heap and see the pillar, which I have set between you and me. 52This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass beyond this heap to you, and you will not pass beyond this heap and this pillar to me, for harm. 53May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor’—the God of their father—‘judge between us.’ So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac, 54and Jacob offered a sacrifice on the height and called his kinsfolk to eat bread; and they ate bread and tarried all night in the hill country.
55 Early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them; then he departed and returned home.