Friday, September 29, 2006

Mizpah: The Lord is Witness pt 2

Mizpah.

"The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent from one another."

The decided implication is that God will judge the oath-breaker. God will judge between us.

He will.

As you can see from the story, Mizpah was established between the kindred Jacob & Laban in lieu of physical battle, and that only because God had directly intervened and prevented open conflict. Everyone speaking in this courtroom scene had grievances

Let's look at them.

Jacob was aggrieved that he had been tricked into working for twice as long as he'd contracted to do and having an extra wife pushed on him as part of the deal. Laban changed Jacob's wages again and again trying to make a better deal for himself. God had prevented this from working the way it normally does in the meat realm, but Jacob was still very angry. He wanted to quit now and leave while he was still ahead of the game, as he could see his kinsman was getting hostile again. Unfortunately, Laban's previous 'sharp dealing' meant Jacob wasn't too sure Laban wouldn't just seize everything he had agreed to pay Jacob if he did. Laban had all the backup and all the connections there in Syria. So Jacob fled without warning, believing God had ordered him to go and would therefore protect Jacob's household from his unjust boss & senior relative.

Rachel and Leah were aggrieved that they had been 'sold' to Jacob for his labor over a very long period of time. (Waiting 7-14 years to marry wasn't usual then either) Worse, the money/goods that traditionally would have been theirs upon marriage had been kept by Laban and spent up. After twenty years in this situation and a bunch of kids with Jacob they have no good options now if Jacob left them or died.

Laban felt aggrieved that his best shepherd and 2x- son-in-law had left suddenly and taken most of the extended family's wealth with him. Laban suspected (correctly) that Jacob had tried to manipulate matters so that Jacob would always get the better babies out of the sheep. (What he didnt know was that Jacob's efforts were so silly they wouldn't have done a thing if God hadn't intervened on Jacob's behalf for His own reasons.) Worse, Laban's household idol(s) had vanished with him. Laban was accustomed to making things up as he went, staying vaguely within traditional bounds but always holding a trump card or three. As long as Jacob had remained at his home, Laban held hope of winning the last big hand. Meantime he was bluffing that he still held all the cards. As head of the house, technically everything was still under his authority and he could still claim a kind of ownership. Laban was very ticked things hadn't gone his way. He might well have lived down to Jacob's worst fears had God not challenged him directly.

And so we have this exchange of accusations at Jacob's camp.

Did you notice that the one who wronged the most also made the aggressive charge across the desert in order to pursue his own accusations? Jacob couldn't even defend himself without pointing out what Laban had been pulling. I've no doubt Laban was hopping mad to hear the implied criticism, no matter how true he knew it was.

& Laban had the mob on his side, initially - so he got to look around and try to make his best charge (the idol thefts) stick.

Unfortunately, Rachel HAD stolen them (to get a little of her own back), but not with Jacob's knowledge. Why doesn't God let her get caught? Simple. Jacob would have been blamed. Jacob was innocent. God preferred to vindicate his innocent servant. Rachel has some trials of her own later and dies relatively young. I wouldn't say she got away with anything. She probably felt justified in her behavior but notice this was the one action that could have undone everything. When God says He'll take care of something, it isn't wise to modify the plan.

Notice also how little remorse Laban has for his own behavior. Okay, so he can't get Jacob for theft. He knows perfectly well Jacob has a right to all he sees...but... Laban is gonna play to the crowd anyway.

His daughters 'were as strangers to him' before their departure but now he says he feels deprived because he wanted to give them a big party before they went. His son-in-law taking his wives & kids to see their paternal grandparents is likened to a violent raiding expedition. He just wants to kiss his grandkids now? yeah huh

Any more ham and Hormel would have been looking for him.

Its not really convincing, is it? So why'd he bother? As a matter of fact, his 'everything you have is really mine' speech probably didn't go over so well right after Jacob refreshed everyone's memory how much he had paid and how often the deal got changed. Notice how the tone changes immediately afterward....so... since everything is really my family how could I possibly hurt any of you? (turn sharp right here! Use the brakes! ssscccrrreeeEEEECCCCHHHHH!!!)

Laban knows Jacob has little standing with the society in which Laban usually lives. Even caught out, he knows his own accusations would not be rebuked by any other man as long as he could make some decent-sounding excuse for it. If he can get the herds back to his community everybody will agree with him tomorrow because he's de big stinky cheese in da tent. He is playing everything up to manipulate Jacob with the other men he knows are listening. He is not focused on justice, just on making the situation end as profitably as possible for Laban.

I feel sure he also knew the ladies felt ripped off. He knew perfectly well that witholding their money had made it hard for them to marry anyone BUT Jacob. Still, as far as he is concerned, he had the right to make the arrangements and if they didn't like them - tough! He was the judge of what rights they had. He'd gotten 'em married, hadn't he?

Laban seems to be one of those who figures that if he has the power to do something, he also has the moral right, and that if he can get the crowd to agree that his gripes are fair, God has to go along with it & call him righteous. I've seen a number of people try this, even today.

As near as I can tell the internal argument goes..."I can't see God's face & I'm ignoring that little voice. If a group of followers agrees that my cause is just, I have a good argument for saying I didn't know any better in Heaven's court...especially if I deliberately forget what I did that I knew was wrong at the time, and believe my own slander about the person. After all, if I can get enough people believing ugly things about my victim(s), they must have no favor with anyone, ergo: they must deserve it. God must hate them too." ***

[big hint: Heaven doesn't work this way.]

We know Laban had been trying to rip off Jacob's whole household

- but all Laban sees is that his social aspirations are endangered and ...that someone had taken something from him! And without any contractual excuses! Oh the inhumanity of it all! He wants justice! Now!

Laban is not a good loser. He's not about to admit God may have had a larger part in the story than the one warning dream he mentions. Laban has no intention of admitting... anything, actually. He's not the kinda guy to back down, show humility, or remorse. That's for losers...

But he isn't as bad as he could be or could have been. His indignant comments suggest to me that Laban is patting himself on the back for not being more violent, dishonest, or high-handed. People often do that too. They compare themselves as favorably as possible with the world's standard, instead of God's perfection. Somewhere in there must be the hope that God will grade on the curve. Even if he did, the upgrade still wouldn't equal a pass for the class. Think about it. You may be one up on your temptor demon, but that demon is already going to hell. Standing on its head won't make your eternal home a better place.

Instead God says that even our best efforts at righteousness are as filthy (mense) rags. [Is 64:6] Think about it. Our BEST efforts are unclean, nasty, gross, icky, unhealthy..and those are the good days. Without God's covering grace we'd have no hope at all. WITH God's covering grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit our standard is Jesus, the perfect one, not our neighbor, not our ugliest temptations. Its challenge enough to keep you busy your whole lifetime.

Hey, at least you won't be bored.

Getting back to Laban... our indignant, carnally-minded, brother....

Yes, to be fair, Laban had shown some restraint. He was willing to bend the facts & situation - to the breaking point- in an effort to make himself look good & the other guy look bad, but not make anything up wholecloth. He did at least keep to the letter of his contracts. The irony here is that you know what Laban has done, yet he probably felt that he was honest (comparatively) and had been cheated by Jacob's household because of the way things had gone for him. He kept the women's money, and it vanished. He changed the wages of the livestock, and the births changed to compensate. He tricks Jacob into marrying Leah first, and she gives him a quiverful of kids. No matter what he did, God made sure it worked out for the best for his Covenanted One. God gave Jacob everything anyway. It was also God that stayed Laban's hand from his worst temptations. God remained in control of the situation and looked out for those who trusted in him. Laban looked to his pet idols, the crowd, and his own wits. Calling on God was a last resort.

& As far as Laban is concerned his demand for satisfaction for the sin against him is a completely separate matter from his own sins...even to the same people.

We'd better be careful how we view that particular sin. Everyone in carnal mode does that one. Your spouse snaps at you and you are 'righteously' indignant, somehow managing to forget that you've been criticizing your partner all afternoon.

You have a private exchange with a co-worker who feels you've wronged them and you jump at first thing on the list you feel you can honestly refute. Bristling with indignation you want to denounce them for getting in your face, totally ignoring the fact that other points were just. Will you expand the war or feel smugly superior that you didn't say 'all you know' about 'how they did you.' This is not the grieved humility saddened to have hurt your neighbor, a concern for the relationship would have worked toward Godly repentence. This is the carnality wearing fallen man's 'filthy rag' robe... and calling it white. consider Gal 5:13- 26

(btw If you said line B to anyone...you would commit three sins. You would be following the spirit of wrath/dissension instead of grace, warring upon your neighbor and creating a lying innuendo that implied the other one sinned far more than you did. How easy it is to add sin to sin when we don't seek God's ways!)

That's the carnal fallen man for you. He always jumps up to defend his own interests, puts himself in his best light, and believes he can justify himself at another's expense if he puts it just right. The most deceived think they can fool heaven.

Laban wasn't going to win the PR war this time and God had flat warned Laban to behave but...

God's message to Laban is interesting. For one thing, I am not sure we heard all of it. Laban says that 'the God of your father' told him "Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad." Laban gives this as the reason he didn't immediately violently attack the family. Laban admits he is changing his plans because of what God told him, and the restriction of activities is not in this bit. He doesn't precisely obey even what he reported as Laban certainly didn't keep his mouth off of Jacob when they met! Had Laban obeyed God even in this, he would have been better off, as Jacob's replies were humiliating...


The Mizpah covenant.

Genesis 31:44 Now therefore come thou, let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee.
45 And Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar.
46 And Jacob said unto his brethren, Gather stones; and they took stones, and made an heap: and they did eat there upon the heap.
47 And Laban called it Jegarsahadutha: but Jacob called it Galeed.
48 And Laban said, This heap is a witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed;
49 And Mizpah; for he said, The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.
Genesis 31: 50 If thou shalt afflict my daughters, or if thou shalt take other wives beside my daughters, no man is with us; see, God is witness betwixt me and thee.
51 And Laban said to Jacob, Behold this heap, and behold this pillar, which I have cast betwixt me and thee;
52 This heap be witness, and this pillar be witness, that I will not pass over this heap to thee, and that thou shalt not pass over this heap and this pillar unto me, for harm.
53 The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge betwixt us. And Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac.
54 Then Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat bread: and they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the mount.
55 And early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his daughters, and blessed them: and Laban departed, and returned unto his place.

Notice that even in 'making peace' Laban adds in a few insults, conditions, and accusations to the 'covenant' with his 'loved ones.' Jacob is never to marry anyone else no matter what. God will see if you ever mistreat my daughters/grandkids! (um..who had the sword out, Granddad?) and so on... They swear before the real God, Laban's lost pet 'gods,' & before the ancestors, that they will not attack each other. There is a big dinner. Jacob makes a sacrifice to God (probably as a thank you for keeping Laban on a leash). There's a touching visit with the grandkids and then Laban finally gives it up and goes home.

Any takers as to whether Laban was smiling under his beard? Planning to send New Year's cards? Commended his daughters and son-in-law warmly to the neighbors when he got home? yeah. thought not. Truly making peace is difficult for the carnal man. Treaties are about as good as it gets. The more honorable will at least try to keep to terms. Laban knew all about terms...and loopholes.. and escape clauses... but God was the arbiter of this one. It held.

This is what Mizpah was about.

"God saw what you did to me! God will get you if you wrong my interests further!"

Yes, God saw. God saw what everybody did long before they invoked His name to settle the matter. God also saw that the results went the best way possible for those who trusted in Him first.

Jacob wasn't always the epitome of upright behavior, but in this circumstance he had more favor than wily, worldly-wise, self-righteously-indignant Laban.

Just the same.... Laban is in the family. Laban is Jacob's relative. Laban is willing to make a covenant before God and keep it. Laban doesn't live for God first, but he does acknowledge God. There is room for growth. There is still hope for him. God gives him the time to make the right choice beyond this day. Laban remains under different rules than a stranger would be. That is important to note.

Mizpah was enforced on family





How does this fit in with the New Testament & our lives today?

part 3 coming up!

***Proverbs 26: 28 "A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted by it; and a flattering mouth worketh ruin."

3 comments:

pb said...

Love the salty update of the Old Testament story.

Wonder if Jesus taught in this manner, entertaining as well as educational?

Excellent explanation of the hows and whys of a very difficult story.

ksrdrunr said...

I just wanted to thank you for the lovely comments you left on my blog on 9-29-06. I'm on the same page as you all the way and just happened to be talking to a friend that same day about some of the same things. It's really neat how God works certain things to happen at the same time. God bless you!

Shushan said...

YAY! I am glad you enjoyed it!

& Thank you for taking the time to plow through it.

Felt sure it was meant to bless someone because I felt led to put it up, but I wouldn't normally share something this long on my blog now.

God bless you both!