Jacob and Grounding (Part 3)

When Jacob and his uncle Laban had their final encounter, the location would not have been lost on the minds of an ancient Hebrew audience. They met up in the land of Gilead. Laban, feeling betrayed by Jacob for taking his daughters away without notice, was justifiably angry. With his relatives, Laban crossed the desert from the northern edge of modern-day Syria to the high plains of central Jordan in seven quick days. One can imagine the build-up of emotional electricity as he made this hot pursuit.

When he finally catches up with Jacob, the first thing he says in the Genesis narrative is,”You’ve deceived me and you’ve carried off my daughters like captives in war!” Yikes. This is where we feel a vibration with the land of Gilead. Gilead, in the collective Israelite memory, was infamously known for its gender violence against women. The worst episode, causing transgenerational trauma beyond imagination, is when the Israelite army slaughtered all of the Israelite inhabitants of a Gilead town, only to kidnap 400 virgin girls to be taken as wives for the Benjaminites (Judges 21). That, in short, is a lot of voltage to pass from one narrative to another!

Highlands of Gilead

Laban, however, had been met by God during the previous night; a dream message had tamed his vengeful instincts. He thus appeals to Jacob’s better self. “Why the secrecy? Why not be open with me? Why not talk directly to me? We could have planned a going-away party. We could have had good music and dancing on top of it!” (My paraphrase, of course, of Genesis 31:26f.) What strikes me is the connection between trust and communication. When trust is low, communication tends to drop; when trust is raised, communication improves. Jacob’s internal fear blinded him to the strength of open communication to solve a relational problem.


When thereafter Laban searches for the stolen family idols and fails to find them, (thanks to Rachel’s fear and deceit), the tables turn and Jacob now vents his true feelings toward Laban. In this lengthy discourse, one gets the sense that all of the bottled up emotions within both men are finding their way out for things to finally be put to rest. It’s a great example of how strong sentiments spring out of a place of self-defensiveness. We all defend ourselves with great conviction when we feel slighted or misunderstood. And yet, when we can vent our emotions without harming others or creating new walls, that negative energy gets grounded out.

Again, Laban takes the high road; he initiates a positive shift in the conversation. “Let’s face it. The women are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks. And yet what can I do? They are yours, too. Come now, let’s make a covenant, you and I, and let it serve as a witness between us” (vs. 43,44). Wow! That is what I call building a bridge where there was once a force-field of a wall. Can you feel how these words are no longer generating more static electricity in the air? Instead, these words serve as a conduit that can ground out previous electricity so that old grudges can dissipate away.

The two men, now reconciled through open, heart-to-heart dialogue, cemented their covenant by setting up a stone pile. The is the equivalent to two parties writing a consensual agreement of reparation and then signing it. Specifically, the agreement was that neither would pass this marker to harm the other. Laban gave the “witness heap” an Aramaic name; Jacob named the same in Hebrew. This is a nice picture of how people in their differences can come together in unity without giving up certain differences. Incidentally, the name that Jacob gave the heap was ‘Galeed’ which, again to the Hebrew ear, would be understood as pun on Gilead.

The stone heap is also a great metaphor for the grounding that happened to resolve the tensions. How fascinating it is to think of altars as physical reminders of resolution. It is true that altars are also used for sacrifices which supposedly serve to resolve matters. But in this story we see that the real exchange, the real transference on a spiritual plane, happens in the dialogue between men who are present to each other. Even so, in this case, Jacob did sacrifice one of his animals, but the meat was used for a celebratory meal with Laban and all of his relatives (vs. 54).

Now as I mentioned in Part 2, this entire scene with Laban, complete with rising action, climax, and resolution, serves like a dress rehearsal for Jacob’s forthcoming encounter with his brother Esau. He is just beginning his soul-searching journey to deal with the deepest, most hidden part of himself where fear controls his relational patterns of striving and dealing with others. And we will soon see how another encounter will further prepare him for his face-to-face encounter with this brother. Jacob will encounter, through a wrestling match, “the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac.” Encountering God, for Jacob, was simply the flip side of encountering his own fear.

Something is new and stronger in him. He is not avoiding his brother Esau anymore, despite the fact that when Jacob fled 21 years earlier, Esau wanted to kill him. Jacob takes the bold step to send messengers ahead of him to his brother in the land of Edom. “I am now returning after all of these years. (And this time with lots of livestock.) I am sending this message to you, my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes” (32:4,5). Jacob the Dealer is now a much more humble Jacob. To be sure, he is still a fearful Jacob. But he has made the first move toward reconciliation. That move, no doubt, took some courage on his part.

Contacting Ted Lewis

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  2. Ted Lewis says

    Thanks for this affirmation. The real power, of course, is in the content of the Jacob cycle of stories. The Bible doesn’t hold back on the factors that show Jacob’s humanness as well as the tensions in his relationships with others. For him to then go through reconciling processes is quite amazing, giving us greater hope to experience similar things in our own lives. Ted

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