Jacob and Grounding (Part 2)

The friction that built up between Jacob and Esau represents the sibling rivalry that we see scattered throughout the book of Genesis. Many religious people today interpret these rivalry texts as an explanation for ongoing tensions in the Middle East as if descendant people groups are fated to clash with each other for all times. In our series we will eventually see how Genesis presents a more redemptive narrative where unfavored firstborns can still receive blessings and reconciliation between siblings can resolve, indeed, ground out negative emotional tensions.

Jacob, the Grasper, can also be viewed as the Dealer. During his ladder-dream, God pronounces another patriarchal blessing upon future descendants. But on the next morning, unlike his grandfather Abraham, Jacob turns this blessing into a deal. “If you watch over me until I return, then (you) will be my God.” How interesting it is, then, that when he travels north to find a wife in the land of his uncle Laban, Jacob meets his match! Laban is also a deceptive dealer. Consequently, Jacob spends the next 20 years of his life there playing along with the game of maneuvering things for his own advantage.

It is not surprising that in this setting of getting the upper hand, the story includes the deep-seated rivalry between Rachel and Leah. This itself is a study in how electricity gets generated between two sides. In the odd vignette of the mandrake plants we can see some lightning flash on all sides (30:14-16). The very names of Leah’s first four sons capture the anguish that she experienced in the marriage triangle (29:31-35). The meaning behind Reuben, for example, means “he has seen my misery.” Out of Rachel’s jealousy, her maidservant Bilhah then bore two sons whose names stemmed from Rachel’s words: “God has vindicated me” and “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.” Imagine growing up with the names Vindicated (Dan) and Struggle (Naphtali), knowing that your very birth was part of an intense contest between mothers who each wanted to gain an advantage over the other.

Jacob’s story of dealing for his own advantage continues in the episode of herding speckled and spotted sheep and goats. He cleverly manages to build larger flocks by keeping stronger females for breeding. In the end, Laban has been beaten fairly by his own game of deceit, despite the fact that he, allegedly, cheated Jacob ten times by changing his wages. As this point Jacob plans to leave the territory with his new takings. Note how many ‘rubbings’ are causing relational friction during this transition time:

  1. Tensions around livestock and wages
  2. Tensions around the maternal-honor status of Jacob’s wives
  3. Tensions around the two daughters and Laban (“Does he not regard us as foreigners?”)
  4. Tensions around Jacob and his troop leaving suddenly without a proper farewell
  5. Tensions around the theft of the household gods (idols)

Is it any wonder that the twelve sons of Jacob absorbed this ethos of tension and rivalry within themselves, only to play it all out in the Joseph story? But that comes later. For now, let us focus on how the story climaxes with Laban and Jacob. In the thick of all of this electrical charge in the air, Laban, with a group of armed relatives, pursues Jacob southward for seven days. Laban finally overtakes him in the land of Gilead. “What have you done?! You have deceived me, and you’ve carried off my daughters like captives in war!” Laban is not only miffed by the situation but also befuddled. “I could have sent you off with singing to the music of tambourines and harps. You didn’t even let me kiss my grandchildren and daughters goodbye” (31:27).

“I was afraid”

A lot is going on here, as is any case where two parties finally come together to talk, to listen, and to understand things better. What we see here is Laban’s deeper interest for human connection. He’s is more of a transcender than a begrudger. Jacob, on the other hand, has stronger inner demons to come to terms with. “I was afraid” (31:31). Fear and insecurity sum up what is lurking underneath Jacob’s usual mode of operation to deal and to deceive. Eventually he will have to wrestle with his inner darkness on the eve of meeting his brother Esau. And if Jacob was afraid of Laban, imagine the built-up fear he still carried within himself regarding Esau. Coming to terms with all the tensions he had with Laban was just a dress rehearsal for what he still had to face with Esau!

This is not the end of the story with Laban. As in a dialogue process, sometimes more tension and emotion can arise after people start a process, and we’ll explore that interaction next time. What is significant at this point in our study is that the thick build-up of emotional electricity required a grounding-out process lest actual lightning bolts would start to dart around and hurt someone. How interesting it is that all of this storm-system friction in the air seems to build up just prior to Jacob’s inevitable encounter with his rival brother Esau.


Contacting Ted Lewis

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