Day 3: Genesis 31-41

Derek Ouellette —  January 4, 2011

The head cold has been persistent today. Last night’s sleep was difficult in the extreme (pray for me, I hate head colds). Then today my wife and I awoke, packed up our belongings and after lunch headed back home: our holidays had come to an end.

We spent New Years with a friend in Chicago (technically Carpentersville). We left early afternoon, journeyed from Illinois through a sliver of Indiana, down through Michigan until we arrived home in Windsor Ontario around 10:30 in the evening. All while trying to contain a dripping nose.

And somehow here I am about to jot down some reflections from the scriptures which I read before I hit the road. Makes me think that if I could get through this, I should be able to make it through an average day of reading 10 to 12 pages and blog-flecting on it.

The stories I read today deal mostly with Jacob and on into Joseph.

First thing I want to observe is that Jacob spent twenty years living with Laban and Laban’s gods. I point this out only because we sometimes think that Jacob’s wives, on account of being married to Jacob, turn monotheist immediately. Scholars even suggest that it is likely the patriarchs themselves were not (strictly speaking) monotheists. Certainly they recognized that their God was “God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth”, but that fact alone would not have crushed their deeply rooted polytheistic worldview immediately. On this note, I find it curious that Rachel steals her father’s household gods (perhaps attributing Jacob’s success to them, Genesis 31:19) and, although it is nearly explicit that Jacob had not clue of her thievery, still later it seems that Jacob is well aware that his househould contains many gods (Genesis 35:2) which he instructs everyone to get rid of.

Remaining on the note of “gods” I found this comment by Laban curious: “May the God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us” (Genesis 31:53). Was the God of Abraham really the same God Nahor served, or even Nahor’s father for that matter? Was Abraham’s God simply another Mesopotamian household god?

I am inclined to say “no”, but then what are we to do with this piece of scripture? Because the scriptures record that, from Laban’s perspective, Jacob’s God is just another Mesopotamian god, should we accept that as “biblical” authority or is there another way to understand this text? Perhaps there is something here which Evangelical’s are not good at picking up, namely separating what is said in scripture from what the scriptures themselves say. In otherwords, just because it is said in scripture does not, by default, mean that the scriptures endorse it. What we can learn as truth from this passage is not that Abraham and Nahor had the same God, but that Laban believed that Abraham and Nahor had the same God. A belief which is not endorsed anywhere else in the scriptures and which the scriptures seem to go against repeatedly by consistently point to Abraham as the root of God’s relationship to Israel, and no further (cf. Genesis 32:9).

I bring this point up because I anticipate a passage we’ll soon come upon which has caused many-a-strife and which I believe this principle can help us work through.

Another point I found fascinating is that God changed Jacob’s name to Israel not once, but twice (Gen 32:28 and Gen 35:9). Between the first instance and the second we have another curious anachronism found in the story of Dinah and the Schechemites. You’ll recall the story of prince Shechem who slepted with Dinah, daughter of Jacob (Israel) thus disgracing her. When her brothers heard of the news they became enraged because, as the scriptures record it: “Schechem had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter” (Genesis 34:7). Granted that the word “in” could also be translated “against”, still the anachronism is curious since the phrasing of the sentence seems to speak of “Israel” as a national identity.

One final curious thought, again on the subject of divine determinism. If you know the story of Joseph at all, then you are aware that while he was serving time in a jail cell Pharaoh had two dreams which Joseph was called upon to interpret. Joseph does so by making these statements: “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God had shown Pharaoh what he is about to do” (Genesis 41:25). This sounds very deterministic and in fact seems to suggest an omni-determinism meaning that some might gather from this that God meticlously controls all things and in this instance God has reveled to Pharaoh one of those things which God is about to do. But why two dreams? Why not one?

Curiously Joseph answers this question, an answer he seems to have gleaned from the Lord: “The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon” (Genesis 41:32).  This is an explosive statement! “Firmly” decided, as opposed to what, not being “firmly decided”? So then, we might inquire of Joseph, if God had only given one dream rather then two, would that then indicate that somehow God’s plan’s were not “firmly decided”? If all things were meticlously determined, or for that matter foreseen, then what sense can we make of this qualifying passage? Taking it at face value (and seeing no need to impose on the text an anthropomorphism), I am left to conclude that God’s plan’s may not always be “firmly decided”.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.