Sunday, January 17, 2010

Gen 35 for Jan 17

The first three words of this chapter (Gn 35), "Then God said," are a theme of Genesis! Those words continue the story begun at creation (1:3).

When God speaks to Jacob in 35:1, it is none too soon! We have seen in story after story with Jacob that he does things with the goal of getting results, and marking the results of what happens to him. By the end of chapter 34, the results are not looking too good.

Let's review some of that, noticing a pattern in Jacob's life. In 28:18-22 he sets up some rules for himself, all on his own, by just vowing it (28:20). He'll do such-and-such, if such-and-such happens. He makes a mark of his decision right there publicly. With Laban, his time there (20 years!) is divided into what he said he'd do, for what, and he makes sure Laban knows the whole idea (31:38-41). The resolution of all is marked by a big ceremonial time, as "witness" (31:46-54).

When Jacob goes back toward Esau, he sets things up ahead of time for that, saying "I will appease him (32:20)." Jacob takes his pursuit of results even to God Himself, demanding, in one of the strangest stories in the Bible, that God Himself bless him before he will let God go (32:26).

If we hadn't seen Jacob's pursuit-of-results pattern yet, we see it in that part of the strange story, where he asks God for a name (32:29). Naming and categorizing are very important to Jacob (28:19; 31:47; 32:2; 32:30). But he doesn't get a name from God Himself. God however, switches the tables, and talks to Jacob in his own language, telling Jacob that God is marking the event by a name that God makes up -- for him (32:28)! "Israel" is a name that encapsulates the way in which Jacob has dealt with the world and God thus far: striving with it, and even with God. Israel means he who strives with God, with a double meaning too: God strives. Eventually Jacob uses that name in a monument as well (33:20).

What you do monumentally well, your family may do similarly, but different. And, in this case, not so well. Jacob went into his wives' maids (29:24; 30:4). Later, one of his sons does the same thing -- with one of the same maids (35:22). Jacob brought wealth to surrounding environment of Laban (30:27; 31:38), and married into it (29:20-28). Later, Jacob's daughter was forced by rape to join the surrounding culture of that time (34:2,26). Jacob made non-agression agreements in his area (31:52-53). Later, his sons make a joining/merging deal with their area too (34:15-18) -- to kill them off (34:13,25)! Families have a funny way of evolving, and in this case, at this point, ominously so.

We have seen Jacob's pattern. God's pattern of intervention interacts with Jacob's pattern of getting things done as he sees fit, and leaving a marker of events. There's some humor available to the reader in reading Jacob's speech, the part in 35:3 where Jacob says God "has been with me wherever I have gone." The truth is that every visit by God to Jacob has been at God's initiative, and this time -- God is flat-out telling Jacob to get out of that area and go to Bethel.

The reader definitely knows by this time that Jacob, the man of action, is dealing with the actions of God. God comes to Jacob on His own initiative, and has been rescuing all along (35:3; 32:11; 31;42). Jacob responds to God, in a "Jacob/Israel" way. When Jacob's personality shows here again, in his telling them as if it was own initiative that he wants to go back to Bethel (35:3), to do his typical thing, the thing he'd done chapter 28, making pillars and giving names to places (28:22; 31:47; 32:2; 33:20), the reader might well ask, did God ever tell Jacob to make all those pillars and monuments? That was Jacob's thing. God had never told him to do all that pillar setting-up (35:14), but God here is doing two things: telling Jacob to go to Bethel, and repeating the very same patriarchal promises, to Jacob, as what was important.

Where does Jacob end up? Ephrathah-Bethlehem (35:19), a few miles from what would later be Jerusalem. "God has been with me wherever I have gone," Jacob summarizes. True. And more.

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