Scripture Portion of Week 7: Vayetze

Genesis 28:10-32:3

In the last portion, it is recorded that just as Abraham refused to allow his son Isaac to marry one of the local Canaanites, Issac refused to allow his son Jacob to do the same. Isaac’s wife Rebekah was depressed at the thought of her son Jacob marrying a Hittite woman (27:46), so as his father Abraham did before him, Issac found Jacob a wife from his wife Rebekah’s hometown. Her home region was located along the Euphrates River in Syria. In Genesis 24:10 it is called Naharayim (Hebrew נַהֲרַיִם), while in 28:2 it is a compound word called Padenah-aram (Hebrew פַּדֶּנָה אֲרָם). Perhaps these names indicate two different places within close proximity, or perhaps they are the same place, but in the Greek Old Testament, they simply translate these as one word, Mesopotamia (Greek Μεσοποταμία). From the instructions that God later gave to Moses, we know that God did now want His people to intermarry with any tribes from Canaan due to their religious practices, not due to their difference in ethnicity (Deuteronomy 7:3-4).

Jacob traveled northeast to return to his mother’s family and find a wife. While he was sleeping in the wilderness, had an encounter with God. As with Abraham (Genesis 15:5-7) and Isaac (26:4-5), God appeared to Jacob in order to reiterate His covenant of innumerable descendants and possession of Canaan, the Promised Land (28:13-14). In Jacob’s dream, he saw a ladder or staircase to heaven, with angels on it and Yehovah at the top. God gave him the promise of descendants and the land. After waking, Jacob setup a memorial stone and named the place where he slept Bet-el (Hebrew בֵּית־אֵל), meaning God’s house. At that time, Jacob committed 10% of his possessions to God; Abraham committed 10% to God by giving it to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:20), but it is not clear how Jacob used the 10% that he committed to God. Perhaps he offered it as animal sacrifices or perhaps he gave it as charity.

Jacob's Ladder by Wenceslas Hollar

Jacob’s Ladder by Wenceslas Hollar

Jacob arrived at a well near his uncle Laban’s house and met his cousin Rachel (29:10). They expressed joy for this family reunion. Jacob showed public affection for his cousin Rachel (29:11), giving us a clue as to how different genders were allowed to interact at that time. Laban welcomed Jacob into his home to live and work (29:13-14). How Jacob’s future wife was found reminds us of how his father Isaac’s wife was found. His mother Rebekah was found at a well near Laban’s house, possibly the same well (24:15).

Laban’s love of possessions became clear in this Scripture portion. In prior a reading, when Abraham’s servant found Laban’s sister Rebekah to be a suitable wife for Isaac, Laban appeared to be impressed by the jewelry that Abraham’s servant gave to Rebekah (24:29-30). In this reading, Laban agreed to give Rebekah in marriage to Jacob in exchange for 7 years of labor (29:20). He deceived Jacob and gave Leah instead; Jacob consummated the marriage at night before realizing that the woman was Leah (29:25). Laban agreed to give Rachel in marriage to Jacob after another 7 years of labor (29:27). After that, Laban hired Jacob to be his shepherd. Jacob used a natural aphrodisiac to get the sheep to be more reproductive (30:37-39) and had many spotted, striped, and speckled sheep. Over the course of the next 7 years, Laban let Jacob keep part of the flock as his payment. However, depending on the number of sheep in the flock, Laban changed the terms of the hiring agreement by sometimes allowing Jacob to keep the striped sheep, or the speckled sheep, or the spotted sheep – to the advantage of Laban. Apparently, Laban changed this agreement several times. Overall, Laban changed his hiring agreement with Jacob about 10 times in order to keep the most that he could from Jacob (31:41).

We should avoid the spirit of Laban. Yehovah instructed that we should not take advantage of a hired person or delay paying the hired person (Deuteronomy 24:14-15). James, the brother of Yeshua had harsh words to say about those who violate this commandment: “Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of Yehovah of Hosts (James 5:4). John, disciple of Yeshua, warned against the love of possessions: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 John 2:16).

It’s interesting to note that Jacob commits 2 actions that God would later instruct Moses and his people not to do. While on his journey to Laban’s house, Jacob set up a pillar to Yehovah after he had seen the ladder and angels in his dream (28:17-18). God later forbid the dedication of stone pillars to Himself so that His people may avoid idolatry and also avoid the appearance of worshiping another god (Leviticus 26:1; Deuteronomy 16:22). The other action that Jacob committed was marrying two people at the same time, or specifically, marrying 2 sisters, Rachel (29:28) and Leah (29:23). God later prohibited this in the Law of Moses (Leviticus 18:18).

Hebrew was the common language spoken by all of Abraham’s family, while Aramaic was the common language spoken by Rebekah’s family in Mesopotamia. We clearly see this when Jacob and Laban make a covenant of peace before departing from one another. Laban gave Jacob permission to return to Isaac and Rebekah in the land of Canaan. They setup a pillar of stones in the wilderness but called it by different names. Laban called the place Yegar-sahadutha (Aramaic יְגַר סָהֲדֻותָא), but Jacob called it Galeed (Hebrew גַּלְעֵד). Both words mean heap of witnesses referring to the pillar of stones.

Caravan of Jacob leaving Laban, by Sweet Media

Caravan of Jacob leaving Laban, by Sweet Media

Another way we see the common use of Hebrew is in the naming of Jacob’s children. In this reading passage, through 4 relationships – Rachel, Leah, and their maidservants – Jacob had 11 sons and 1 daughter. (1 more son was born later.) Each of the names has significance in Hebrew, and the meaning is explained in the reading portion. From the time of Abraham, Hebrew has been the language of Israel and the Jews, while Aramaic has been the language of the foreigners.

Mosaic of the 12 tribes

Mosaic of the 12 tribes

Hosea 12:13-14:10

Matthew 3:13-4:11

About Jonathan Lankford

Originally from Nashville, Tennessee, Jonathan has provided education and training services to organizations and individuals in Vietnam since 2007.
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