Monday, 29 April 2013

Reading the Bible 22 Gen 31: 1-21 God Made Me Do It

I always find it impressive – not admirable but impressive – how people are able to justify their actions and put dubious behaviour in a positive light.  Politicians are master of this of course – we need to give people the information about what basically bad people our opponents are.  We are only trying to inform the public after all and information is good (unless it does not support our policies).  This art of self-justification has been practiced from time immemorial as demonstrated in the bible. 

Today we have the further adventures of the trickster Jacob.  He a just tricked his father-in-law Laban into a large portion of Laban’s wealth.  He does this by the use of sympathetic magic.  Now of course Laban is not pleased by this and we are told that Laban’s sons are demanding that their father reclaim what is rightfully theirs.  Jacob announces to Rachael and Leah, “I see that your father does not regard me as favourably as he did before” – big surprise.  Of course we are not surprized by this but Jacob sounds almost aggrieved that Laban should react this way.  Jacob begins what can be described as a litany of self-justification:  your father cheated me many times; God is on my side; God is responsible for the results – it’s not my doing; God told me to do what I did in a dream; God did it so all the property God took belongs to us. 

One of the interesting things is that none of this was revealed before the event so it is doubtful but we don’t really know if God did send Jacob these dreams and instructions.  However, if is always easier to see God’s will after the fact and to read God’s will into events – especially if they suit our view of the world and our place in it.  AIDS is God’s punishment on sinful people; the earthquake and floods and hurricanes and tornados are evidence of God’s wrath.  Of course it is easier to see God’s hand in bad things happening to people we don’t like.  However, to take another lesson from the Bible the Israelites had to their credit no problem in seeing their misfortunes as God’s punishment – over and over again.  I think the lesson here is to take another lesson from the bible, Matt 7: 1 “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.2For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.3Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”

Monday, 22 April 2013

Reading the Bible 21 Gen 30: Jacob – Up to His Old Tricks

When we last left Jacob he was dealing with being out tricked by his father-in-law Laban.  Laban had substituted his daughter Leah for Rachael for whom he had laboured seven years.  After many years and many children with these two women as well as their maid-servants Bilhah and Zilpha, Jacob returns the favour and tricks Laban out of a disproportionate part of Laban’s flocks.  Jacob has decided to leave Laban’s household and set out on his own. 
He asks for a settlement of what he is owed for serving Laban all these years.  Laban seems to be generous and asks, “What shall I give you?”  Now this seems generous as he is evidently asking Jacob to name his own prove.  However, Jacob doesn’t appear to trust the offer – probably with good reason given Laban’s past performance – and asks for what seems to be a modest request,

“But if you will do this one thing for me, I will go on tending your flocks and watching over them: 32 Let me go through all your flocks today and remove from them every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb and every spotted or speckled goat.
Now I don’t know much about raising sheep and goats but from what I have seen spotted ones don’t seem to be that numerous.  Laban probably believes he has gotten the best of his son-in-law again and is likely rejoicing inside – although he would be trying as hard as possible not to show it.  Now we know that Jacob is no fool – at least not in the popular sense – and has a trick up his sleeve.  He uses what can be described as sympathetic magic to have the flock produce striped, speckled and spotted.  These he claimed for his own and as it says he, ‘grew exceedingly rich’. 

The use of magic and divination is quite common in the bible but it always makes me sit up and take notice when I read it again for the first time.  My best understanding of magic as opposed to asking God to intervene in our affairs is that magic is used to manipulate creation for our own ends.  Sometimes this can be doe good (white magic) and sometimes for evil (black magic).  However, it is directed by our will and not God’s.  When we pray to God we are asking that things be done if it is God’s will.  We are hoping (and praying) that our will is in line with God’s but we have no way of knowing God’s as that is beyond our comprehension as mere mortals.  In this case Jacob’s will happens to coincide with God’s. 
My last entry used the rather trite expression, ‘God can make lemonade out of lemons’ to describe God’s seeming favour for Jacob when Jacob was shall we say less than a perfect person.  This was my rather feeble attempt to be cute which I regretted after I pressed the send button.  As I noted in email exchanges with a friend, Alan Jones said it much better in his book Soul Making, ,”God wills our good. This means that everything that happens to us, including our sinning, can be turned to our good.”



Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Reading the Bible 20 Gen 29: The Trickster is Tricked

We might look on the story of Jacob and Rachel (or Laban) as a case of reaping what you sow.  Jacob was someone who personified the Trickster Archetype.  He had tricked his brother Esau out of his birthright and blessing and duped his father Isaac into giving him the blessing.  Now he is on the receiving end of this energy.  Laban tricks him into marrying his daughter Leah instead of Rachael whom he had laboured  seven year for.

Laban’s reasoning, ‘This is not done in our country – giving the younger before the first born’ is reminiscent of Abraham’s  justification to Abimelech for passing Sarah off as his sister, ‘Besides she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father but not the daughter of my mother’.  Putting aside the issue of incest we can take some comfort that God seems to be able to work through less than perfect men and women.
It is always tricky to determine if your desires are part of God’s plan for you and the world.  A good rule of thumb for me is that if it what you desire it is probably your ego trying to run things and not God; though it is reassuring that God can make lemonade out of lemons.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Reading the Bible 19 Gen 28: Jacob’s Dream

Jacob’s ladder is one of those stories that everyone knows – or thinks they know.  Those stories are always a bit of a challenge and therefore an opportunity when they are the subject of sermons because many people will turn their minds off when they begin to hear a passage that they are sure they know well.  They also may pay attention to what the preacher is going to say to see if he or she has anything new to say.  The danger and challenge is that they will turn off if you don’t have something to say they haven’t heard before.  However, that also means that if you can present some perspective that is new to them it will have a better chance of making a lasting impression.

I like the opportunity to preach on this passage as one way I understand the image of Jacob’s ladder as  representing the way God communicates with up through dreams.  The image of angels (God’s messengers or messages) ascending and descending on the ladder between heaven and earth give us a picture of God sending messages to people through dreams.  Jacob’s dream of the ladder happened while he was asleep so that it is reasonable to see this as a dream.  In that sense it is a dream of how dreams work – messages from God coming to earth from God.  Like Jacob we have an opportunity to respond to our dreams by working with them and trying to understand what God is saying to us - admittedly it is not always clear which is why dreams have been referred to elsewhere as God’s forgotten language. 
Jacob responded to the dream by recognizing he was in a sacred place.  He set up the stone he had been using for a pillow as a pillar to mark the place, consecrated it with oil and named it Bethel – the house of God .  We can respond to our dreams by first recording the dream content and then seeing what associations we have with the images in the dream.  It is also very helpful to read some books on the meaning of symbols in dreams.  There are many such books available and as you may be aware I favour one that uses a Jungian approach to understanding them.

I invite you to consider dreams as something which can bring you information – if not from God then about aspect of yourself that you are not aware of consciously.  If you would like more information please don’t hesitate to contact me at