I am not particularly fond of CSI Miami. I think the acting is terrible, especially compared to the original CSI and CSI: New York. Anyway, one of the main characters in CSI: Miami is always quoted in the advertisements saying ‘fear is a killer’. This can be used very loosely used to summarize Jacob’s behavior in this chapter.
You would expect that after God has revealed himself to Jacob in such a tangible way that he would have no problem trusting God to accomplish what He said He would do. Instead, Jacob’s fear overcomes him, and it causes him to make some questionable decisions.
- He divides up his family so that if Esau attacks him, his ‘favorite’ family members will survive. As the NETBible states, this probably fuels the start of the hatred Joseph’s older brothers have had for him.
- The sending of the gifts of livestock seems to be a calculated maneuver that Jacob bases on his past encounters with his brother to ‘buy’ his brother’s favor. However, Esau is not really interested in these gifts – he is just happy to see his brother. It seems as if Esau has forgiven Jacob and moved on with his life, whereas Jacob still seems to be stuck in the past, perhaps feeling guilty about the deceptions of his youth.
- Jacob tells Esau that he would follow him to Seir, but instead he settles at Succoth. The NETBible comments: ‘There are several reasons why Jacob chose not to go to Mt. Seir after Esau. First, as he said, his herds and children probably could not keep up with the warriors. Second, he probably did not fully trust his brother. The current friendliness could change, and he could lose everything. And third, God did tell him to return to his land, not Seir. But Jacob is still not able to deal truthfully, probably because of fear of Esau.’
May God help us to trust in Him so that we can overcome our fears.
All of us have our weak points. Deception seems to be Jacob’s Achilles’ Heel, especially when he is afraid, and unfortunately deception seems to be ingrained in his household too. Jacob reaches breaking point after he has worked for Laban for twenty years. He wants to leave his father-in-law’s house but he fears that Laban may take his life if he leaves, or that Laban may forcefully take his family away from him. Instead of calling on the Lord to help him in this situation, he decides to deceive Laban by fleeing from him unannounced.
Laban chases after Jacob, very upset that Jacob left unannounced and that someone in Jacob’s household has stolen Laban’s household gods. Jacob knows nothing of the latter, and proceeds to make a very impulsive promise – one that if he knew the truth, he never would have made. However, Rachel seems to have ‘inherited’ some of her dad’s deceitful moves because she manages to steal the gods, and lie well enough that her dad doesn’t find his household gods with her when Jacob invites him to look for them. The Bible doesn’t tell us why Rachel has stolen these gods. Was she afraid that her dad might ‘use’ these gods against them because they fled without saying goodbye? Was Laban perhaps very attached to these gods, and she wanted to get him back for everything he had done to Jacob and herself? Did she serve these gods? We do know that she manages to get away with the theft.
Laban is trying his best not to lose too much face. He is full of bravado when he speaks to Jacob after his unsuccessful attempt to find his household gods. However, he is probably insecure and afraid because not only are his household gods missing, but he has had a dream in which God warned him to be careful how he speaks to Jacob. This perhaps forces Laban’s hand to let Jacob, his daughters, and his grandchildren go. Perhaps he realizes now how unjustly he has treated Jacob, because he initiates a treaty with Jacob in which they declare that they will not attack each other out of retaliation for what each party has done to the other party.
Again one is left to wonder how things could have turned out if there was no deception involved. We do know that God once again in His grace prevents any tragedy from occurring.
I really appreciate chapters like Genesis 20 because they show that the heroes of our faith are fully human. I also believe that it makes the Bible a more authentic religious text because it is not trying to hide the faults of its main characters.
I think there is only one healthy fear: the fear of God, i.e. understanding that the God of the Bible is the Creator of this universe, and that we are nothing compared to Him. The reason this is a healthy fear is that it can create a life-giving response in us: worship. All other kinds of fear leads us to respond in foolish and destructive ways, often creating mayhem in our relationships with others.
This is not the first time Abraham uses this type of deception to ‘protect his life’, a fear that got him to respond in a similar way before. One would think that he would have remembered how God protected him when they were in Egypt. Instead this turns out to be a classic example of just how quickly we forget of God’s love and faithfulness.
I think that it is important to identify our ‘pet’ fears. These fears are part of our sinful nature, and they often cause us to respond in foolish and destructive ways in our relationship with God and other people. Obviously Abraham’s guard was down, which caused him to respond to the fear of losing his life in a way that left Sarah insecure, and brought a curse down on another man and his family. On a side note: Abimelech is not innocent in this account. Scripture suggests that he already has a few wives, so his desire to acquire Sarah as another wife is most likely driven by lust. The God of the universe decided to reveal Himself to Abimelech through this incident.
God’s response to Abraham’s misstep is a picture of His grace and mercy. Sarah is restored to Abraham, He enables Abimelech and his family to have children again, and Abraham is given material wealth and the freedom to settle in the land where he wants to settle. Can we accomplish or do anything aside from God’s grace and mercy?