Sunday, May 6, 2007

Genesis 27-31: Jacob and the Family Dysfunction

Okay, so it's been way too long since I wrote one of these. I'm in Genesis 36 right now, but I'm breaking Jacob up because there's soooo much to talk about.

Very brief summary: Jacob tricks his twin brother Esau out of his birthright and his blessing. Esau decides to kill Jacob, so he runs away to his uncle Laban. Jacob wants to marry his cousin Rachel but Laban tricks Jacob into marrying Leah first. Leah and Rachel squabble over children and get into a baby-making contest (Leah wins). Then Jacob has some not-quite-fair dealings with Laban to build up his own flock. Then they leave, and Rachel steals Laban's household gods. Laban chases them, they make a covenant, and then they leave and go their own separate ways.

Okay, so I'm about halfway through Genesis, and I really don't like this patriarch family one bit. Abraham and Isaac were bad enough, but Jacob is a whole 'nother story. He cheats, his uncle cheat, his mom cheats, his wife steals, his wives fight over him, and his brother wants to kill him. What is God thinking using these idiots? It's amazing He got anything at all done with them. It's like trying to teach little kids something and all they want to do is beat each other up. You won't get very far. So the fact that God succeeded not only in keeping these bozos alive but in building a nation out of them is very impressive.

An observation from Gary Smalley and Dr. John Trent (they're psychologists or something) is this whole issue of the "blessing." Isaac and Rebekah played favorites with their kids, and their kids knew it. I don't really blame Jacob for wanting to get some kind of affirmation from his father, because he probably never did all his life until he pretended to be his brother. Parents should be really conscientious about making sure all their children feel equally loved. Isaac only had one blessing to give; I think you should have an individual blessing for each of your kids.

I could go on all day about this, but let's move on.

I do feel bad for Leah. I bet it really sucked to know that the only way her dad could marry her off was by tricking a guy into thinking he was marrying her little sister. I'm glad she had a lot of kids, and I'm glad that God used her, not Rachel, to continue the line that eventually went to Christ.

Rachel bugs me. She was pretty, but she wasn't a very good person. When she figured out she wasn't having kids, the first thing she does is complain to Jacob. What can Jacob do about it? Nothing. The second thing she does is give her maid to Jacob to build a family through her. Um, I thought we did this already with Sarah and Hagar. Evidently Rachel missed the memo that this is a stupid idea. Oh, and guess what she names her maid's kids? "He has vindicated" and "My struggle" - in other words, "Take that, Leah!" The third thing she does is she bargains for some mandrakes, which were believed to increase fertility. So Rachel by now has appealed to her husband, her own ideas, and superstition - but not God. I'm surprised God eventually gave her any children at all. Oh, and guess what she named her own son? "I want another one." Sheesh, what a brat. Compare Rachel to Hannah, who did nothing but pray so hard she looked drunk, and promised God that she'd give her son back to Him if she ever had one. I like Hannah; I don't like Rachel.

Now it's Laban's time to shine. For some reason, Jacob notices that Laban isn't happy with him. Maybe it's because Laban's noticed that his flock are all a lot weaker than Jacob's? So anyway, Jacob sneaks away with all of his stuff (probably wasn't easy to sneak), and Laban finds out he's gone and follows him. God actually comes and warns him not to say anything to Jacob, so look at what Laban does when he meets Jacob. This is hilarious. He goes, "It is in my power to do you harm, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, 'Be careful not to speak either good or bad to Jacob.'" Oh yeah, Laban, you think you're so bad. I bet Laban thought he was pretty special for God to have come and talked to him. Probably thought God was protecting Jacob from big scary Laban. Whatever. It gets better. The next thing Laban says is, "But why did you steal my gods?" In other words, he was just talking about the God of Abraham visiting him, and how that's so cool, as if Laban is now on a level with the patriarchs, and then he snaps back to "I want my action figures back!" What a loser.

What Jacob doesn't know is that Rachel stole the action figures. Why, we don't know. But we already know she was a brat, so that's explanation enough for me. Smart Rachel, she almost got herself killed. Good thing she was a woman and could make up a convenient excuse. You mention that thing and guys get terrified. Needless to say, she wasn't searched, so she got away with stealing the action figures.

Anyway, so then Laban (probably really huffy by now) says that Jacob's wives and children and flocks and everything Jacob owns really belongs to Laban, but since he's such a nice guy, he's willing to make a covenant with Jacob and let him keep all that stuff and go on his merry way unharmed. Gee, wasn't that nice of him? So they make a covenant and promise not to ever go onto each other's territory to do them harm. And they say "May the LORD watch between you and me when we are absent from the other." That phrase became a farewell saying called the Mizpah Blessing, which I think is neat.

So now we've seen Jacob's family at pretty much their worst, but there's still more to come. Luckily, though, things will start to get better soon.