Sunday, January 30, 2011

Genesis 31:43-55 Jegar Sahadutha/Galeed/Witness Heap

“Laban answered Jacob, 'The women are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks. All you see is mine. Yet what can I do today about these daughters of mine, or about the children they have borne? Come now, let's make a covenant, you and I, and let it serve as a witness between us.” (Genesis 31:43-44 NIV)

At first glance, this looks like a fairly positive outcome for the situation between Laban and Jacob. Laban appears to be a concerned father and grandfather, and he seems to be making a conciliatory gesture toward Jacob by wanting to make a covenant with him. However, I can't help but notice that Laban still seems to think that the flocks which Jacob worked for six years to obtain (v. 41) actually belong to him. There also seems to be a touch of resentment that Jacob is taking his daughters and his children with him, even though Jacob worked for Laban for fourteen years to obtain these wives. ( v.41) Jacob also graciously does not make the point that one of these wives is his only because of Laban's deception.

“So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. He said to his relatives, 'Gather some stones.' so they took stones and piled them in a heap, and they ate there by the heap. Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha, and Jacob called it Galeed.” (Genesis 31:45-47 NIV) Both words mean 'Witness Heap', in Aramaic and Hebrew respectively, according to the NIV Study Bible. (pg. 53, note on 31:47)

“Laban said, 'This heap is a witness between you and me today.' That is why it was called Galeed. It was also called Mizpah [watchtower], because he said, 'May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.'” (Genesis 31:48-49 NIV) I can't help but think of the watchtowers that people would build to be able to keep watch over their fields to protect them from predators or thieves. I think that aspect is much more similar to Laban's way of thinking about this matter. Although this may sound like a beautiful prayer that the Lord would keep watch over the two men while they are apart, Laban's true attitude is one of mistrust. This is revealed by the next few verses:

“...'If you mistreat my daughters or if you take any wives besides my daughters, even though no one is with us, remember that God is a witness between you and me.' Laban also said to Jacob, 'Here is this heap, and here is this pillar I have set up between you and me. This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not go past this heap to your side to harm you and that you will not go past this heap and pillar to my side to harm me.” (Genesis 31:50-52 NIV) Aside from his mistrust, Laban may also be a bit worried that Jacob will use his relationship with God to return later and harm Laban or to steal his flocks. At any rate, this is no parting benediction.

It is interesting to see how Laban concludes this agreement. “May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.” (Genesis 31:53 NIV) There is another possibility that the last part of this verse reads “...the gods of their father”, indicating a polytheistic outlook. We already know that Laban worshipped other 'gods', and Joshua 24:2 indicates that Terah, the father of both Abraham and Nahor, worshipped other gods as well. So Laban may be swearing by those 'gods'.

I also wonder if this is not a veiled snipe at Jacob as well, by implying that he no longer worshipped the gods which his forefathers had worshipped.

For his part, Jacob “...took an oath in the name of the Fear of his father Isaac. He offered a sacrifice there in the hill country and invited his relatives to a meal. After they had eaten, they spent the night there. Early the next morning, Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then he left and returned home.” (Genesis 31:53b-55 NIV)

Jacob seems to want to draw a clear line between his own worship of the true God and the worship of his polytheistic relatives. He takes his oath in the name of the true God, the One his father Isaac feared.

However, there is no animosity between himself and his relatives. They conclude the covenant with a meal together, as was customary, and spend the night. Laban even blesses his daughters and grandchildren before he leaves.

I wonder if they ever saw each other again. The distance was significant, but not impossible. However, when you have flocks and herds to care for, it would no doubt be difficult to leave for the amount of time that such a journey would require. Servants could tend these flocks, I suppose, but again, an owner would probably be reluctant to leave his wealth in the hands of others for too long a period of time.


Note:  Did you ever see jewelry in the form of a heart, with Genesis 31:49 inscribed on it?  Often it is a heart which can be broken apart, and the couple each wear one half of the heart.  This is a popular Valentine's Day gift, but I wonder if the people who buy jewelry with Genesis 31:49 inscribed on it realize that the context of this verse was one of distrust and suspicion, rather than a romantic sentiment!

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