Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Family Matters

Today's passage:  Genesis 32
     Jacob is headed back to the land of his fathers.  God has instructed him in this.  There is only one small problem, actually it is bigger than small.  Esau, his twin brother, the reason he fled in the first place is living nearby.  In Chapter 31, it is evident that Jacob's scheming ways have not completely left him, and in this case that's a good thing.  He divides everything with him into two groups, that way if Esau chooses to exercise revenge, some of his descendants and belongings will survive and carry on the family name.  My immediate reaction upon reading this was, "I wonder how the groups were divided?"  Did he put Rachel, Leah and their sons into one group, and then Bilhah and Zilpah and their sons in another?  Maybe he put Rachel, his beloved, and her handmaid in the group with him and then Leah and her handmaid in the second group.  See what a mess this might create?
     Then, here in Chapter 32, he divides them further as Esau approaches and this is what struck me.
1And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men.  And he divided the children unto Leah, and unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids.
2And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost.

Taken from Treasures of the Bible (Genesis)
By Henry Davenport Northrop, D.D.
International Publishing Company, 1894
       If it had not been clear before, it was certainly obvious now.  Jacob put the people he valued the most at the very back of the line, to preserve them.  And who are the last ones?  Rachel and Joseph.  Perhaps Jacob had shown favoritism to Joseph in subtle ways before this, but I don't think there can be any disputing among the brothers as to who Daddy loved the most.  Dan, Asher, Zebulon, and Issachar must have felt especially undervalued as they are at the front of the line with their mothers.  For a moment, I thought I could argue that Jacob was only putting the oldest sons first, knowing they could defend themselves, but that can't be the case.  The oldest boys were Leah's, and they were put behind Zilpah and Bilhah's boys.  It also doesn't give him an excuse for putting some of the ladies at the head of the pack.  I only know that such blatant favoritism must have stemmed from his own Mother and Father's familial preferences.  He practiced what he had learned.  And his sons will make him pay the price for it.  It must be hard to be the example of what a Father should not do, but Jacob will learn in a few chapters, in a very difficult way, that his behavior towards Joseph   caused a lot of jealousy and even hatred among his sons.  And it probably started way before this chapter, but this is the first instance I see that a line has been drawn.  I'm not sure you can make a point more than choosing for some of your sons to die first, ahead of others. I wonder how Jacob explained this?  Or did he even bother?  Maybe he was so oblivious to how wrong this was, it didn't occur to him to explain it away.  Any explanation would have been lame anyhow, and the boys would have seen through it.  Jacob's future behavior would further cement the assumptions they make at this juncture.  Dad doesn't love me as much as he loves Joseph.  In Dan, Asher, Zebulon, and Issachar's case, "Dad doesn't love me as much as he loves Rachel's and Leah's kids."  What a terrible thing for a child to have to realize!
     Probably in every family, every child has moments when he believes his parent loves one sibling more than another.  But, in many cases this is just a suspicion that can never be proven.  I wish Jacob's sons could say the same.  Though God uses all that Joseph endures for good, and he becomes one of the foremost examples of living for God in difficult circumstances, might God have still accomplished that example had Jacob been a better parent?  Might God have been able to spare Jacob years of believing his son had died and the grief that accompanies it?  I can't answer that, but I know that God uses our weaknesses to work His purpose.  But I don't think that means He wants us to stay deliberately weak.  When we see areas in our life that we should improve, we ought to improve it.  I believe God calls us to that.  In Jacob's case, it may be a matter of seeing the weakness at all.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Too Close to Home

Today's passage:  Genesis 31
     So I've skipped blogging about a series of chapters just because of lack of quiet time. Not surprisingly, the spring forward time change brings the sun out a little earlier in the morning, signaling Youngest's wake up time.  Though I've read through the passages, albeit only a few verses at a time many mornings, the chance to  sit and write about what I've learned has been rare.  Maybe someday, I'll have the opportunity to go back and share what God taught me in those chapters, but for now, I'll start with today's chapter.
     I'm always fascinated with the relationship dynamics in the Bible.  If you think about it, they aren't too different than relationships today, and when I think about that, it isn't hard to imagine the struggles, difficulties and complications that might take place.

Religion in the Home, Part 1
By Charlotte M. Yonge
Illustrated by Julius Schnorr Von Karolsfeld
Published by George W. Bertron, 1913

     This chapter is loaded with family drama. Laban, that sneaky scoundrel, has been cheating Jacob for years. I don't doubt that some of this is the principle of sowing and reaping in Jacob's life for the way he deceived his own brother and father. Still, I think that at this point, Jacob has paid his dues. Jacob complains that Laban has changed his wages ten times. I chuckle to myself a little, because I wonder if dear Daddy-in-law Laban doesn't use Jacob's behavior towards Leah and Rachel as an excuse to swindle Jacob. I can just see it now. Jacob talked a little too sternly to Leah; Laban docked his wages that week. Jacob seemed a little insensitive with Rachel's yearning to have a child; Laban cut Jacob's pay in half. I don't even want to know how severely Laban might have dealt with Jacob when he had children with his daughter's handmaidens, twice. Not that Laban would have told Jacob this was what he was doing, but I can imagine a protective father conveniently using it to his advantage. No wonder Jacob is in a hurry to get back to Abraham's land. Perhaps part of his motivation is to get out of the constant watchful eye of his wives' father. When God tells Jacob that it is time to go back to his family's land, Jacob must have breathed a huge sigh of relief. Finally, I'm outta here. Now to tell the girls. It might not be as easy to convince his wives that it was time to leave Daddy behind. I'm sure they are hesitant at first, but they eventually submit. Part of me wonders if this isn't a match between Rachel and Leah. They have been struggling to be the main affection for years (Rachel usually always winning out) and perhaps this was a chance for both ladies to try to win extra points with her husband. The wife who complained about leaving Daddy would most definitely earn Jacob's anger, while the one who complied would maybe rise a little in his eyes. So maybe neither of them were terribly happy about the plan to leave Laban, but neither of them may have admitted it to avoid being the lesser wife. Then again, maybe good old Dad had become a little too overbearing and they were anxious for a change of scenery as well.
     In any case, Jacob leaves quietly, not giving Laban a clue to where he has gone.  Laban eventually catches up to him (or to be truthful, chases after him) probably intending to bring his daughters and grandchildren back, and maybe digging a sandy grave for Jacob in the desert.  Fortunately, God intervenes and Laban and Jacob make a covenant to not harm each other in the future.  Given both of their deceitful pasts, I don't give a lot of credence to this "covenant", but I'm sure the future chapters will show how it holds up.
      I wish I could expand a little more, but children wake up early even on holidays, and getting this much done amid the distractions has been more than challenging.  With summer approaching, I'm hopeful that sleep patterns (for the boys at least) will be a little later, giving me time to share from time to time.  As the daughter of a career military man, I am ever thankful for the commitment to those who have served in our armed forces, and particularly those who have sacrificed their lives for our great nation.  God bless the families who have loved ones that have paid the price.  Have a blessed Memorial Day.
     Forgive the formatting.  I spent the last half hour trying to reformat the last few paragraphs.  I somehow managed to make it the caption for the picture and without erasing and rewriting the whole thing (which I definitely do not have time to do, I just had to leave as is.  GRRRR!

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