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.”



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