Genesis 31: Open mouth, insert foot…

My study today continued the story of Jacob in Paddan Aram, working for his uncle Laban in order to “buy” his daughters, Leah and Rachel. Jacob is starting to realize that Laban hasn’t been treating him extremely well by coaxing him to work for him for all these years. Jacob has gotten more than he bargained for in getting two wives (and their maidservants). He’s got at least 12 children by now, which is enough to drive anyone crazy, and his wives have fought over which could give him children. Life hasn’t been easy for Jacob, but God has blessed him by increasing his flocks. Jacob is now looking to leave Laban and head back to his own country, taking his wives, children, and flocks with him.

There are probably a lot of good lessons to learn from this story, but one particular thing stood out to me. Before they left, Rachel (Laban’s younger daughter) sneaks in and steals Laban’s household gods. I assume these were some kind of idols (which is a whole other topic to study!). Jacob and clan head out towards his home country, and Laban comes home to find them gone. He promptly mounts up and pursues them. Apparently Jacob wasn’t traveling too fast (it must be hard with 12 kids and 4 wives…just think of all the bathroom stops!), because Laban ends up catching up with him. Now, Laban is ticked about the fact that Jacob left in secret, but one thing he immediately mentions is the stealing of his household gods. Jacob, who knows nothing of Rachel stealing them, quickly becomes offended, and in his anger he makes the statement “…if you find anyone who has your gods, he shall not live.”   WHAT??  That is a scary thing to say when you are surrounded by at least 16 people you care a lot about!  Rachel, who must know what has been going on, goes back to her tent and sits down on the bag which has the gods in it.  Laban enters her tent, she makes an excuse for why she can’t get up (her period, of all things!), and Laban leaves.  Whew!  Catastrophe averted…

I haven’t read further in the story, so I don’t know if Jacob finds out later that Rachel stole them, but I would like to focus on this day for right now. Jacob, who I guess really believed that no one of his people could have stolen from Laban, makes a very hasty statement. But had Laban found those idols, I am not sure either men would have had Rachel killed. Knowing how seriously people took their words back then, I wouldn’t put it past them. And that would have been an extremely tragic story.

I happen to remember a pretty tragic story that is very similar. In Judges 11, it tells the story of Jephthah. He was the leader of the Isrealite forces at the time, and he was leading them in battle against the Ammonites. As they were going into battle, Jephthah made a vow to God, saying “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”  Wow!  The door of your house?  Really?  How about the door of your barn, or the first animal you see? But the door of your house?  And of course, when Jephthah wins in battle and return home, who is the first one out of his door but his own daughter, his only child. He was overwhelmed with grief, as I know I would be. And he kept his promise to God and sacrificed his own daughter. Tragic…

I can’t help but think that both Jacob and Jephthah needed to be a little less hasty in what they vowed to do. People that know me know that I don’t talk a lot (at least not in social situations), so you would think that I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with saying things hastily, but I do. I think we all do, and it’s something that we all should work to improve on. An example from my life: a few months ago I interviewed and was offered a position with a company doing something that was somewhat related to what I wanted to do, but not exactly what I wanted to do. I had been looking for a job for a while, so I wanted to say yes so badly. Fortunately, the Lord helped my wife and I be patient and to not make a hasty decision. A couple of months later I was offered another job at a company doing exactly what I wanted to do, getting paid almost twice as much as the first job. Had I taken the first job, I know I would have stuck with it for a while, and this second opportunity would have come and gone. I’m thankful that God helped us to not make a hasty decision in this case.

So anyway, to sum up, I want to point out that there is an ironic twist to both of these stories – the location where Jacob promised to kill whoever stole Laban’s idols was Mizpah. And where do you think Jephthah was from? You got it…Mizpah. A very small place (on the map, at least) in the eastern part of Israel. So this tells me that the moral to these stories is one of two things: either we should never go to Mizpah, or we need to be a little more careful about what we say.

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Filed under Bible Study, Genesis, Life Application

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