Jacob in Aram (Hos 12:12-12:12)

“Jacob fled

To the land of Aram.

There Israel served

For a wife.

He guarded sheep

For a wife.”

This incident about Jacob or Israel can be found in Genesis, chapter 29. Jacob went east and found his cousin Rachel, whom he wanted to marry. He was tricked into marring her sister Leah. However, he stayed on to take care of the sheep of his uncle Laban, so that he would have Rachel as his wife also.

The righteous Jacob (Wis 10:9-10:12)

“Wisdom rescued from troubles

Those who served her.

When a righteous man fled

From his brother’s wrath,

She guided him on straight paths.

She showed him the kingdom of God.

She gave him knowledge of holy things.

She prospered him in his labors.

She increased the fruit of his toil.

When his oppressors were covetous,

She stood by him.

She made him rich.

She protected him from his enemies.

She kept him safe

From those who lay in wait for him.

In his arduous contest

She gave him the victory.

Thus he might learn

That godliness is more powerful

Than anything else.”

Wisdom also helped the righteous Jacob as we have a condensed version of the story of Jacob in Genesis, chapters 25-32. Of course, the unnamed Jacob is called a just man (δίκαιον) who served wisdom (σοφία). He fled from his brother’s anger after he had tricked Esau out of his birthright. Jacob had dreams that told him about the kingdom of God (βασιλείαν Θεοῦ) and the heavenly angels. Jacob went to live with Laban, the brother of his mother, or his uncle. He then married his 2 first cousins, Rachel and Leah, while he worked for his uncle. He then became rich before he got into a fight with his uncle Laban. For some reason, Jacob was considered righteous as opposed to Esau and Laban in their various disputes.

The vengeance of Simeon and Levi (Gen 34:25-34:31)

“On the third day, when they were they were still in pain, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city unawares, and killed all the males.  They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house, and went away. The other sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and plundered the city, because their sister had been defiled. They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field.  All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and made their prey. Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, ‘You have brought trouble on me by making me odious to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites.  My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.’  But they said, ‘Should our sister be treated as a whore?’”

Wow, this takes a sudden turn. Three days later, when the two sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi were ‘still in pain,’ they took their swords and killed all the men in the city, including Hamor and Shechem.  They took Dinah, who had the same mother as her, away.  What happens to her is not clear.  When the other sons of Jacob came and found out what happened, they plundered the city, taking all the herds and whatever was in the city.  They captured everyone and everything. Jacob said that Simeon and Levi had brought trouble to him among the Canaanites and the other people. ‘My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed both I and my household.’  However, the brothers were defiant.  Our sister should not be treated like a whore.

Clearly, this is breaking a covenant or treaty.  Hamor and Shechem had done what they were asked, but the concept of revenge and deceit was very common among the sons of Jacob.  Jacob himself was a crafty man as can be seen with his dealings with Esau and Laban, but not a killer like his sons, Simeon and Levi.  This ancient idea of killing for a rape offense still exists in some areas of the world today.  Notice too, the other brothers joined in the looting.

 

Jacob prepares to meet Esau (Gen 32:3-32:21)

 “Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, instructing them, ‘Thus you shall say to my lord Esau. Thus says your servant Jacob, `I have lived with Laban as an alien, and stayed until now.  I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, and male and female slaves.  I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.'”

Jacob sent messengers to Esau who was in Seir in the land of Edom.  He instructed them to tell Esau that he had been an alien with Laban but now he had wealth with oxen, donkeys, and slaves, asking for favor in his sight.

“The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.’ Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. He divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies, thinking, ‘If Esau comes to the one company and destroys it, then the company, which is left, will escape.’”

However, they returned to say that Esau was coming to meet Jacob with 400 men.  Jacob was ‘distressed’ and decided to split up into two separate groups.

“Jacob said, ‘O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, Yahweh who said to me, `Return to your country and to your kindred, and I will do you good,’ I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness which you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan.  Now I have become two companies.  Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him.  He may come and kill us all, the mothers with the children. Yet you have said, `I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted because of their number.'”

Jacob prayed to the God of his fathers to say that he was not worthy of God’s love.  He had left the Jordan area with just a staff and now he has two companies.  However, he asked to be delivered from his brother who was coming to kill him because God said the he would be with him.

“So he spent the night there, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau, two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milk camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys.  These he delivered into the hand of his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, ‘Pass on ahead of me, and put a space between drove and drove.’  He instructed the foremost, ‘When Esau my brother meets you, and asks you, ‘to whom do you belong? Where are you going? Whose are these before you?’  Then you shall say, `They belong to your servant Jacob.  They are a present sent to my lord Esau.  Moreover he is behind us.’  He likewise instructed the second and the third and all who followed the droves, ‘You shall say the same thing to Esau when you meet him.  You shall say, `Moreover your servant Jacob is behind us.’ For he thought, ‘I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterwards I shall see his face.  Perhaps he will accept me.’  So the presents went on ahead of him.  He himself spent that night in the camp.”

Then Jacob decided to send a gift to his brother Esau: 200 female and 20 male goats, 200 ewes and 20 rams, 30 milking camels and their colts, 40 cows and 10 bulls, 20 female and 10 male donkeys.   Wow, this was quite a herd. If these were the gifts for Esau, imagine what he kept for himself.  The servants took this gifted herd first with Jacob behind them.  Jacob instructed them to say that this is a present for you, Esau, and that Jacob was behind them.  Jacob thought that this great present might appease Esau and make Esau welcome him.

 

The treaty between Jacob and Laban (Gen 31:43-32:2)

“Then Laban answered and said to Jacob, ‘The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine.  But what can I do today about these daughters of mine, or about their children whom they have borne?  Come now let us make a covenant, you and I.  Let it be a witness between you and me.’  So Jacob took a stone, and set it up as a pillar.  Jacob said to his kinsfolk, ‘Gather stones.’ They took stones, and made a heap.  They ate there by the heap.  Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, the heap of witness.  But Jacob called it Galeed.  Laban said, ‘This heap is a witness between you and me today.’ Therefore he called it Galeed, and the pillar Mizpah, for he said, ‘Yahweh watch between you and me, when we are absent one from the other.  If you ill-treat my daughters, or if you take wives in addition to my daughters, though no one else is with us, remember that God is witness between you and me.’”

Laban responded that these were his daughters, sons, and flocks.  However, he also said ‘let us make a covenant, you and I.’ Jacob took a stone and set up a pillar and asked everyone to gather stones.  He called this place Galeed.  Laban said that this pile would be a witness of their parting, saying that God would watch over all, but he warned Jacob not to take other wives or mistreat his daughters.

 “Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘See this heap and see the pillar, which I have set between you and me.  This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness that I will not pass beyond this heap to you, and you will not pass beyond this heap and this pillar to me, to harm each other.  May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.’ So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac.  Jacob offered a sacrifice on the mountain height and called his kinsfolk to eat bread.  They ate bread and tarried all night in the hill country.  Early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then he departed and returned home.  Jacob went on his way and the angels of God met him.  When Jacob saw them he said, ‘This is God’s camp!’  So he called the place Mahanaim.”

This heap set up some sort of territorial line.  However, neither Galeed nor Jegar-sahadutha ever appears in biblical literature again.  Mizpah does many times.  Laban said good-bye to his daughters and grandchildren, blessing them.  The angels of God met Jacob and told him to call this place ‘God’s camp, Mahanaim, an east Jordan town that will appear again in biblical literature.  This story is a combination of the Yahweh and Elohim traditions.

Laban pursues Jacob (Gen 31:22-Gen 31:42)

“On the third day Laban was told that Jacob had fled.  So he took his kinsmen with him and pursued him for seven days until he caught up with him in the hill country of Gilead.  But God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream by night, and said to him, ‘Take heed that you say not a word to Jacob, either good or bad.’”

Three days after Jacob had left, Laban found out about his departure and spent seven days chasing him until he caught up with him at Gilead, the hill country east of the Jordan.  However, God appeared to him in a dream and told not to say a good or bad word to Jacob.

“Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsmen encamped in the hill country of Gilead.  Laban said to Jacob, ‘What have you done?  You have deceived me, and carried away my daughters like captives of the sword.  Why did you flee secretly and deceive me and not tell me?  I would have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre.  Why did you not permit me to kiss my sons and my daughters farewell?  What you have done is foolish.  It is in my power to do you harm.  But the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘take heed that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.’  Even though you had to go because you longed greatly for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods?’  Jacob answered Laban, ‘Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force.  But anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live. In the presence of our kinsmen, point out what I have that is yours, and take it.’ Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the gods.”

Nevertheless, Laban went to Jacob and accused him of stealing his daughters.  Why are you sneaking away when I would have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre.’  Laban called Jacob foolish and asked why he had stolen his gods.  Jacob responded that he feared that Laban would take his daughters by force. He also said that whoever stole his gods will not live, since Jacob did not know that Rachel took the gods.

“So Laban went into Jacob’s tent, and into Leah’s tent, and into the tent of the two maids, but he did not find them.  He went out of Leah’s tent, and entered Rachel’s tent.  Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them in the camel’s saddle, and sat upon them.  Laban felt all about in the tent, but did not find them.  She said to her father, ‘Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the way of women is upon me.’ So he searched, but did not find the household gods.

Laban searched the tents and could not find them because Rachel had put them in the saddle of the camel that she was sitting on.  She said that she could not get off the camel because ‘the way of women is upon me.’

“Then Jacob became angry, and upbraided Laban.  Jacob said to Laban, ‘What is my offense? What is my sin, that you have hotly pursued me?  Although you have felt through all my goods, what have you found of all your household goods?  Set it here before my kinsmen and your kinsmen, so that they may decide between us two.  These twenty years I have been with you.  Your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, and I have not eaten the rams of your flocks.  That which was torn by wild beasts I did not bring to you.  I bore the loss of it myself.  Of my hand you required it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night.  It was like this with me.  By day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes.  These twenty years I have been in your house.   I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times.  If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed.  God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked you last night.’”

Then Jacob became angry towards Laban and let him know that he was not pleased.  Laban had searched all his goods and found nothing.  Jacob had worked for Laban, day and night, over 20 years, to gain his daughters and his flock, as Laban changed his wages ten times.  Jacob justified his leaving by talking about the 20 years he had spent there working for Laban.  God was on his side. ‘If the God of Abraham and Isaac had not been on my side, surely you would have sent me away empty- handed.’

The flight of Jacob (Gen 31:1-31:21)

“Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, ‘Jacob has taken all that was our father’s wealth.  He has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.’  Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him as favorably as he did before.  Then Yahweh said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your ancestors and to your kindred, and I will be with you.’  So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah into the field where his flock was, and said to them, ‘I see that your father does not regard me as favorably as he did before.  But the God of my father has been with me.  You know that I have served your father with all my strength.  Yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not permit him to harm me.  If he said, `The speckled shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore speckled.  If he said, `The striped shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore striped.  Thus God has taken away the livestock of your father, and given them to me.”

The sons of Laban were mad that Jacob had taken all the wealth of Laban and even Laban was looking less favorable towards him.  Yahweh appeared to Jacob and told him to return to the land of his ancestors because Yahweh would be with him.  Jacob called his two wives into the field and said that their father had been unfair to him, since their father had changed his wages ten times.  God has taken away Laban’s livestock and given it to Jacob with all the speckled and stripped animals.

“During the mating of the flock, I once had a dream in which I looked up and saw that the male goats that leaped upon the flock were striped, spotted, and mottled.  Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, `Jacob,’ and I said, `Here I am!’  He said, `Look up and see that all the goats that leap upon the flock are striped, speckled, and mottled.   I have seen all that Laban is doing to you.  I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me.  Now leave this land at once, and return to the land of your birth.’  Then Rachel and Leah answered him, ‘Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house?  Are we not regarded by him as foreigners?  He has sold us, and he has been using up the money given for us.  All the property that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children.  Now then, do whatever God has said to you.’”

Jacob told of his dream about the male speckled goats that were attacking the rest of the flock.  Then the angel of God appeared to him and said that he was the God of Bethel, where he made a pillar and vow. Jacob responded with the common theme response ‘Here I am.’  Then God told him to leave this land at once and return to the land of his birth.  Both Rachel and Leah, although they legally were part of Laban’s property, agreed to do whatever God wanted.  They also felt mistreated by their father.

“So Jacob arose, and set his children and his wives on camels.  He drove away all his livestock, all the property that he had gained, the livestock in his possession that he had acquired in Paddan-aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan.  Now Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father’s household gods. Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean, in that he did not tell him that he intended to flee.  He fled with all that he had, staring out he crossed the Euphrates, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead.”

Thus, Jacob got his children, his wives, and all his property and livestock to go back to the land of Canaan and his father Isaac.  For some reason, Rachel stole her father’s household gods.  Obviously they were not monotheists. Jacob did not tell Laban that he was leaving at he set out crossing the Euphrates River.

How Jacob got rich (Gen 30:25-30:43)

“When Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, ‘Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country.  Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, and let me go.  You know very well the service I have given you.’  But Laban said to him, ‘If you will allow me to say so, I have learned by divination that Yahweh has blessed me because of you.  Name your wages, and I will give it.’  Jacob said to him, ‘You yourself know how I have served you, and how your cattle have fared with me.  You had little before I came, and it has increased abundantly.  Yahweh has blessed you wherever I turned. But now when shall I provide for my own household also?’  He said, ‘What shall I give you?’ Jacob said, ‘You shall not give me anything.  If you will do this for me, I will again feed your flock and keep it.  Let me pass through all your flock today, removing from it every speckled and spotted sheep and every black lamb, and the spotted and speckled among the goats.  Such shall be my wages.  So my honesty will answer for me later, when you come to look into my wages with you.  Everyone that is not speckled and spotted among the goats and black among the lambs, if found with me, shall be counted stolen.’  Laban said, ‘Good!  Let it be as you have said.’  But that day Laban removed the male goats that were striped and spotted, and all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, everyone that had white on it, and every lamb that was black, and put them in the charge of his sons.  He set a distance of three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, while  Jacob was pasturing the rest of Laban’s flock.”

Jacob wanted to leave Laban after Joseph was born.  Laban said that he would give him his due wages.  Jacob responded that he had made Laban rich because Yahweh had blessed them with abundance.  Jacob wanted to take every speckled sheep, black lamb, and goats, so Laban said fine.  However, Laban took all these animals from his flock and gave them to his sons.  There always seems to be problems with Laban and Jacob.  They do not trust each other.

“Then Jacob took fresh rods of poplar and almond and plane, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the rods.  He set the rods that he had peeled in front of the flocks in the runnels, that is, the watering places where the flocks came to drink.  Since they bred when they came to drink,  the flocks bred in front of the rods, and so the flocks produced young that were striped, speckled, and spotted.  Jacob separated the lambs, and set the faces of the flocks toward the striped and completely black animals in the flock of Laban.  He put his own droves apart, and did not put them with Laban’s flock.  Whenever the stronger animals of the flock were breeding, Jacob laid the rods in the troughs before the eyes of the flock, so that they might breed among the rods, but for the feebler animals of the flock he did not lay them there.  So the feebler were Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s.  Thus the man grew exceedingly rich, and had large flocks, male and female slaves, and camels and donkeys.”

Jacob put some peeled fresh rods of popular, almond, and plane by the watering hole where the flocks came to drink. The flocks bred in front of the rods and produced young animals that were ‘striped, speckled, and spotted.’  In this complicated passage, the ancient belief was that animals would produce the color of what they were looking at when they were breeding.  He then separated them out from Laban’s flock and made sure that the strong animals had the rods in front of them when they were breeding.  This is how Jacob got rich with large flocks, slaves, camels, and donkeys.  He and Laban were always at odds with each other since he had so many wives and children to take care of.

The two marriages of Jacob (Gen 29:15-Gen 29:30)

“Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?’   Now Laban had two daughters.  The name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.  Leah’s eyes were lovely and Rachel was graceful and beautiful.  Jacob loved Rachel.  So he said, ‘I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.’  Laban said, ‘It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man.  Stay with me.’  So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.”

Laban decided to pay Jacob because he was a ‘kinsman.’  Laban had two daughters, Leah, the oldest, and Rachel, the youngest.  Jacob loved Rachel and he said that he would serve Laban for seven years in order to marry her.  This seems like a real love story when years seem like days. Jacob did this so that he could marry his first cousin.

“Then Jacob said to Laban, ‘Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.  So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast.   But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob.  He went in to her.  Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.   When morning came, it was Leah!  Jacob said to Laban, ‘What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel?  Why then have you deceived me?’  Laban said, ‘This is not done in our country, to give the younger before the first-born.  Complete this marriage week, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.’  Jacob did so, and completed her nuptial week.  Then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.  Laban gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel to be her maid.  So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah.  He served Laban for another seven years.”

On the wedding night, Laban brought the veiled Leah, not Rachel, to Jacob.  ‘He went in to her,’ a euphemism for intercourse.  He also gave her a maid called Zilpah. This time it is Jacob who is deceived.  Laban explained that the older daughter must be married before the younger daughter.  Nevertheless they completed the week of marriage festivities.  However, he said if you work another seven years I will give you Rachel, the younger one with a maid named Bilhah.  It turns out to be a two for one deal as Jacob marries two sisters at the same time.

Jacob arrives at Haran (Gen 29:1-29:14)

 “Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the people of the east.  As he looked, he saw a well in the field, and three flocks of sheep lying beside it.  For out of that well the flocks were watered.  The stone on the well’s mouth was large, and when all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone from the mouth of the well, and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place upon the mouth of the well.”

This Yahweh tradition continues as Jacob traveled further until he came upon ‘the people of the east’ at a well that had a stone on top of it with three flocks of sheep around it.  This phrase ‘people of the east’ refers to Arameans, somewhere in Syria.  The shepherds would roll the stone off the top of the well to water the sheep.  Then put it back when they were done.

“Jacob said to them, ‘My brothers, where do you come from?’ They said, ‘We are from Haran.’  He said to them, ‘Do you know Laban son of Nahor?’ They said, ‘We do.’  He said to them, ‘Is it well with him?’  ‘Yes,’ they replied.  ‘Here is his daughter Rachel coming with the sheep.’  He said, ‘Look, it is still broad daylight.  It is not time for the animals to be gathered together.  Water the sheep, and go, pasture them.’  But they said, ‘We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together, and the stone is rolled from the mouth of the well.  Then we water the sheep.’  While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep.  She kept them.  Now when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of his mother’s brother Laban, and the sheep of his mother’s brother Laban, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of his mother’s brother Laban.  Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and wept aloud.  Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son.  So she ran and told her father.  When Laban heard the news about his sister’s son Jacob, he ran to meet him.  He embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house.  Jacob told Laban all these things, and Laban said to him, ‘Surely you are my bone and my flesh!’  He stayed with him a month.”

Jacob asked them where they were from and they responded, Haran.  Then he asked if they knew Laban, the son of Nahor.  They answered that they did and said that his daughter Rachel was coming with the sheep, because Rachel was in charge of her father’s sheep.  The stone could not be rolled off until all the sheep were gathered there. Jacob then rolled the stone off the well, kissed Rachel, and wept.  He explained to Rachel that he was related to her father since he was Rebekah’s son, the brother of her father.  They ran to tell Laban, but he came running out to greet them, embraced them, and brought them to his house.  Laban said, ‘Surely you are my bone and my flesh,’ and Jacob stayed a month.