Sunday, January 12, 2020

Tree Bark and Teraphim (Genesis 30-31)

Image by JPataG, on Pixabay

If I asked you to list your family's top three traits, what would you say they are?  Today's post revolves around the family traits of Jacob, Rachel and Laban.  At the end of the post, see if you can make a comment and name what you think those traits are.  ;)  Bet you can!

It was revealed in earlier chapters that Jacob was prone to twist things to his own advantage.  This has already been seen in his influencing Esau to sell to Jacob his birthright, tricking Isaac into giving him the blessing of the firstborn, etc.
It seems, though, that in his father-in-law, Laban, he had met his match.  Laban deceived Jacob into marrying Leah, when Jacob thought he would be getting Rachel.  Laban also exhibited a pattern of changing the rules on Jacob as it pertained to the accumulation of family wealth (Genesis 31:41).  That's where we are in today's study - - Genesis 30-31.

After 20 years of abiding in Laban's world, Jacob was wise to his rascally ways.  Jacob was feeling led to return to the land of his father, Isaac, the land of Canaan; but, he knew Laban would be loathe to let him go.  After all, Laban had prospered greatly because Jacob had been managing Laban's herds. (Genesis 30:25)
So, because he was good at scheming, Jacob concocted a scheme to build his herds and amass a fortune in sheep flesh to take with him back to Canaan.  He revealed in Genesis 31:10 that God had spoken to him in a dream about how He would bless Jacob through the variegated (streaked, spotted and speckled) males.  Consider how God works in even the seemingly most mundane circumstances!

The interesting thing about this sheep-breeding escapade is the revelation that Jacob knew a great deal about animal husbandry.  He knew, and science supports today, that the barks of the almond, willow and chestnut (plane) trees (Genesis 30:37-39) have beneficial health properties, when the livestock either eat the bark or when they drink water infused with the bark.  Apparently, the water releases the health properties as well.1   Once again, the Bible lines up with science.

There has been some consternation over the phrase "in front of the branches" or "in view of the branches", in Genesis 30:41.  The logical conclusion is not that some magic, hocus-pocus happened when the ewes saw the branches and were mesmerized.  Rather, the logical conclusion is that the ewes would chew on the branches during the mating process, or drink the infused water, thereby ensuring more healthy young.
The sheep and goats with the genetic characteristics Jacob had been assigned by Laban grew stronger and more numerous, while Laban's flock was nowhere near as healthy or prolific. (Genesis 30:39-40).
When Laban began to notice this, his attitude toward his son-in-law soured.  Even though he believed ALL the goods were his (even Jacob's share), Laban realized he had been snookered, beaten at his own game!

In Genesis 31:3, we see God reiterating His command to Jacob to return to Canaan.
Realizing that Laban would never willingly let him go, Jacob met with his wives, Leah and Rachel, and conspired with them to gather together all of Jacob's massive herds, slaves and such, and to sneak off with the booty back to Canaan.  They made their exit while Laban was away, shearing his sheep.

You may recall, if you are reading through Genesis and using these blog posts as an aid, the first part of Genesis featured "the great reproductive wars".  In other words, Leah was using procreation as a strategy to gain the heart of Jacob, and Rachel was struggling to validate herself as a woman by becoming pregnant.  They were both competing for Jacob's affections, a sad by-product of polygamy.  In that larger culture, pagan women believed in the concept of fertility goddesses or "household gods" (Hebrew: teraphim).  An infertile woman was considered practically "cursed", or at a minimum, disgraced (Genesis 30:23); accordingly, she would do just about anything to bear a child.  This included acts of appeasement to false gods, idols.

Could Rachel's long-standing infertility explain why she stole her father's household idols (Genesis 31:19)?
Or, could there be another reason she did this devious thing?  (Note that the "apple did not fall far from the tree", as the saying goes....)  Some Bible scholars postulate that Rachel's motives were more financial than spiritual.  In those days, there was no common coinage, nor were there any banks.  Wealth was accumulated in weights of precious metals, which were often melted and molded into forms/representations of animals, imaginary beings, etc.  It was sort of a combination of aesthetics and pragmatics.
We see in Genesis 31:14-16 that both wives felt their father had cheated them, through his cheating of Jacob.  So, it is entirely possible that Rachel felt like she was absconding with what was rightfully hers.
Her actions were stealing, to be sure, however.  Let's not gloss over that.  By right, such goods should have been passed on generationally to the sons, not the daughters.  Both Jacob and Laban were highly concerned that a theft had taken place; it is not recorded the idols were ever found.  I doubt they would have been overly concerned about a mere household "trinket", or female fertility talisman.  Obviously, what had been taken had real monetary value.
Or, maybe you believe Laban went tearing out across the desert, chasing Joseph, just to kiss his grandchildren good-bye?  LOL

Thus, the escapades of Genesis continue.




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