Today we read the story of Jacob departing from his Uncle Laban’s household. Jacob had been there 20 years and had purchased his wives Leah and Rachel from Laban by working for him for 7 years each. There are supposedly 2 writers of this story so their writing gets merged and results in the story being told twice. There were a number of issues that were raised by this story. For example, Jacob taking all of his flocks and wives and children, but Laban didn’t realize it for a short while. How could such a large movement be missed? Rachel took her father’s idols and how that relates to the wider issue of the multiplicity of gods worshipped in those days. These household idol was like the blessing given by the father to his eldest son. When Laban caught up with Jacob, God intervened and kept him from killing Jacob or taking all his possessions back. God seemed to protect Jacob and for that matter the descendent line from Abraham. What did God get in return for this? Did Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob fight against the idea of multiple gods and idols that represented them as the Muslims believe based on writings in 400-500 ad? Or was it more being faithful to the principles of God? This is what we seek to discern from the stories that have been passed down to us in Genesis.
We discussed the idols of the time and who were the gods of those days and how the Jewish people came to believe in a one God. That had to be a relatively revolutionary concept. The Greeks and the Romans all believed in multiple gods, as did the American Indians and other primative peoples. So here is this tradition dating back to almost 2000 BCE and yet, the Greeks and the Romans much in 500 BCE to 500 AD still believed in multiple gods. And what role did idols play in the Jewish and then the Christian churches? Do the icons, statues, art work, even music become idols that become worshipped as if they were indeed gods in themselves?
A discussion ensued about how we should view the Bible. What part of it is the history of people seeking a relationship with God and is that what is meant by saying it is the inspired word of God? Is the Bible a guide of how to live within the social context we live in? So when the Bible talks about how to treat slaves, was that because in the social context of that day, people had slaves. What does that mean about the social context of today? How is God being reveled to us today and what does it say about the currrent social context? What would the writers of the Bible focus on within the social context of today? Would it be issues such as abortion, gay people, pre-marital sex, imprisonment of minorities, etc? Why is one a bigot because he believes in traditional views on issues? What is the greater good, to be tolerant of the actions of others or to believe in the adherence to the law? Can tolerance be taken too far?
An interesting topic would be to look at how the rules of society have been formulated over time. For example how did the Law of Hammarribi compare with the laws imposed on the Jewish people as well as other codes of civil behavior? John suggested an article that he is finding intersting, namely “Is America a Christian Nation” by David Lose. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-lose/is-america-a-christian-nation_b_1646389.html
Here is a link to the Islamic view of Abraham as reported in Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_views_on_Abraham
This is the story of Jacob leaving Beersheba and having the dream of seeing the ladder to heaven at Bethel. Then he went on to Heran where he went to Laban his uncle. The story continues with Jacob working for Laban and then making a deal to work 7 years to get Rachel as his wife, but then Laban slipping Leah in to be his wife instead. Then he worked for another 7 years to get Rachel. The passage describes the interactions between the married triple, of Jacob along with Leah and Rachel. Leah thought that she could be the favored wife if she bore him children so she had at least 6 and one daughter, but that wasn’t enough so she had Jacob be with her maid Zilpah and she had a child. Rachel couldn’t have children so she had Jacob sleep with Bilhah her servant who had a child between Rachel’s legs so that she could have a child. She later had a child, Joseph and then Benjamin as well with Jacob. It is quite a tail of the issues of a relationship like this. It may be the reason that Mohammad had 4 wives so that he could emulate Jacob, even though Jacob is part of Isaac’s line while Mohammad was in Ishmael’s line of people.
There are several interesting things about Jacob’s dream of a ladder to heaven with Angels Ascending and Descending in that order. That must mean that the angels started out on earth, went to heaven and then came back to earth. Also of interest is the promise that was made that this would be the land of Jacob in the future. For the moment though, Jacob had to continue on his way to Heran to see his Uncle Laban and find a wife to marry since Rebekah his mother didn’t want him to marry a Canaanite woman. I find it interesting that God sets aside property for his people in spite of the fact that there were already people living there. Maybe all the people of that time were nomadic and so there weren’t property rights as we have today, so maybe it wasn’t a big deal to say this would be there land. I think however that it was a big deal. Gene appropriately pointed out an article in last week’s Newsweek that described a minister’s seeing heaven in a near death experience. A very interesting article along side this dream of Jacobs.
Then we go on to see Uncle Laban’s trickery in terms of how Jacob got his wives. It seems that the author was very taken up with the way that the peoples that were the descendants of Abraham came about. It is quite remarkable that this family that started with Abraham went in two different ways, namely with the descendants of Isaac that led to Jesus and then on to the Jews and Christians of today, and the descendants of Ishmael that led to Mohammad and then on to the Arab peoples of today. Many of our family names have disappeared so that it is extraordinary that supposedly these family traditions have continued. This led to a discussion of the role of servant women who had children for their mistresses with Jacob and I suppose other patriarchs over the years in order to continue the family line.
Mark pointed out that the Mormons have a belief in continuing revelation while we are not so big in that direction. Possibly we should be continuing to see this continuing revelation of God’s work in our lives.
Next week we will go to Genesis 31.
Here we have the story of Isaac expressing his desire to bless his son Esau and make him the person who will continue the covenant that Abraham received from God and then passed on to Isaac. Rebekah schemed with Jacob to steal the blessing from Esau. It reminds me of the plot of an opera where they conceal someone’s true identity with the most basic of disguises but they trick Isaac into thinking that Jacob is actually Esau so Isaac gives Jacob the blessing and says that God’s covenant given to Abraham will continue on with Jacob. When Esau returned from his hunt and went to his father with a savory stew, Isaac said he could do nothing. Esau asked if he could not be blessed too, and Isaac said no, but he promised that he would lead a good life. Isaac indicated that Esau would live by his sword and would serve his brother, but that in the end he would be able to break the yoke of working for his brother. Rebekah said to Jacob, that surely his brother Esau meant to kill him, so that he should flee. She sent him to her brother Laban in Heran. Then she utters the stereotypical complaint of a Jewish mother by saying, I am weary of my life because of thers Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife of one of these Hittite women, what good will my life be to me?
We discused how Isaac was fooled by the simple disguise that Jacob adopted. We also talked about the praise of cleverness that is part of this early story. It seems it is important to how God continued his covenant. This was all foretold, as God had told Rebekah that the second one would be first, so Rebekah was just fulfilling God’s command. I don’t know why Isaac wasn’t in on this command. God seems to work with the person that was most convenient at the time and the most willing to work with Him.
A question was asked by Steve about when we can match up the comings and goings of these people with actual historical events that had been written down. Mark said that probably would be at the time of Joseph with his sojourn into Egypt, because there were written records of the Egyptians and Joseph does appear in some of them. The Hebrews kept mainly oral records, because until the time of Moses, they were a nomadic people and record keeping happened mainly in the cities. It is interesting to think about oral records and how they will be maintained by even the next generation or our families. Will they know or care much about their heritage or will we leave something that will be important to them in the future if they care to look at it. I think that in every generation, there are people who care only about the moment and don’t care about history and there are others who are interested in preserving a family history and knowing its importance in defining who we are.
This is the story of Isaac. He is living in the area controlled by the Philistines with King Abimelech. He tried Abrahams ploy of saying Rebekah, his wife was actually his sister. At least with Abraham, it was technically true or at least half true as their father was the same. Again God told Abimelech not to let his men be with Rebekah Isaac didn’t do as well with this ploy as Abraham did because Isaac had to pay Abimelech.