When I started reading about the stand-off between Jacob and Laban, the first thought that popped into my mind was that this reminded me of an episode of Judge Judy. Then I realized that I don't think I've ever watched Judge Judy. Instead, I decided that it reminded me of those times that I love so much in tv shows where people actually come out and say what they are thinking. So many plots are based on lack of communication (like in Lost, my favorite show), and I long for the times when people are actually forthcoming with each other. Today's readings was one of those times.
But first, the deceptions continue. The text itself makes clear that Jacob's fleeing was itself a deception: "Moreover, Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him he was running away" (Gen. 31:19). The "moreover" refers to the fact that this is the second transgression of this chapter, the first being Rachel's theft of Laban's household gods. I realized something when I read verse 19. The text wants us to see that these things are wrong. It is not whitewashing these characters. It's not like the Biblical text acts like they are okay, and we modern readers are seeing their actions differently. No, the text is on our side. It goes out of its way to point out their deceptions, to point out their bad attitudes, to point out small events like swapping sex with one's husband for some mandrakes. That is interesting to me.
Anyway, Jacob flees, Laban follows, and then these two selfish deceivers have a verbal showdown. (Sidenote: I'm kind of glad, actually, that Laban didn't find the household gods, b/c he would have turned that into a big deal, and it would have distracted from the heart of the conflict between them. That whole incident really made Rachel look pretty horrible, though.) Jacob goes first and lays out his argument in verses 38-42, and I found it to be quite compelling. I was dying to hear what Laban had to say to it (you'd think that I'd never read this before! Apparently, I have amnesia!). Laban's response was brilliantly, uniquely "Laban." At first I was really put off by it. But then I came to see his side of it. His point was that all Jacob had came from him. Jacob came to him with nothing, and left with his daughters, their children, and flocks that came from him. So how could Jacob stand there and accuse him of treating him unfairly? The way Laban saw it, Jacob was a wealthy man because of him. (Of course, it was really God who blessed Jacob. Laban really was a pretty big jerk to him.)
And I love the way this Bible leaves us hanging at the "showdown" between Jacob and Esau. I thought Jacob was pretty savvy to divide his people and possessions into two groups like that. Years of looking out for #1 seems to have made him an expert at self-preservation!
I have more to say about Jacob's view of God, but I need to move on.
NT: Matt. 10: 26-11:6
Well. Today's reading is intense. I could write about every verse, but I'll choose the ones that stood out the most:
10: 28--"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." I interpret "the One" as Satan, but maybe it's God. Regardless, reading that verse made me understand more my biggest fear for my children. It is not that they'll die, but that they will endure something so awful that it distorts their perception of God and destroys their soul. Hmm, that was cheery. Next!
10:29--"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart form the will of your Father." I might be reading too much into this, but what stood out to me was "the will of your Father." Maybe this is a leap, but I'm thinking that, according to the logic of this verse, no deaths occur "apart from the will of your Father." Which means that all deaths that occur are within the will of our Father. I think my brain has been working on a theology of death, which, like I said before, I will address more fully when God gives annihilation orders in the OT.
10: 34--"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace on earth but a sword." I just don't buy that this has anything to do with war. The surrounding context is all about division. To me, the message is that following Christ is so radical that it has the potential to rupture the closest bonds that we have on earth. It's odd, b/c sometimes the Bible seems all about family values, but more often, Jesus Himself does not. In Christianity, Christ comes first, even before your family. Interesting.
10: 38--"and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." It is interesting to me that Jesus makes these cross references before He dies on the cross. I mean, His disciples have no idea what was coming. I bet after He died and rose, they thought back on those words and were blown away. That, or they were terrified ("What?? I thought that was a metaphor!").
10: 39--"Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." One of the deepest concepts of the Bible. I could ponder that one all day long.
11:4-6--When John the Baptist essentially asks if Jesus is the Christ, I love how Jesus tells them to report back what He is doing. My childhood preacher, Mr. Rob, preached a whole sermon on these verses, stressing the importance of our actions.
Psalm 13: 1-6
I don't know what the psalmist is going through in particular. He's probably referring to physical enemies. But reading this psalm reminds me of someone struggling with mental illness, whose enemies are the distorted thoughts in their mind that plague them. The psalmist wants God to deliver him, yes, but the final word is, "I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me." It is sometimes hard to believe that God is good to His children who are suffering and struggling. But Scripture repeatedly asserts that He is. I think if we understood the grace that He shows us humans, we would comprehend more of His goodness.
Proverbs 3: 16-18
More benefits of wisdom.