Genesis 28 – Pretexts

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Today’s PassageGenesis 28

We left Jacob in a precarious situation. He’s safe as long as his father lives, but it’s a thinly-veiled secret that Esau plans to kill Jacob as soon as Isaac dies. However, Rebekah has a plan to get Jacob far away from his brother. She drops a hint to Isaac that she would absolutely hate it to death if Jacob married anyone from Canaan. So, in today’s chapter, Isaac sends Jacob to Rebekah’s family, so that he can marry one of Laban’s daughters.

Laban is Rebekah’s brother. Rebekah intends to save Jacob’s life under the pretext of having him marry a cousin.

We’ve been over the whole incest-not-technically-prohibited-yet thing before. What we haven’t been over, though, is how the patriarchs would sooner have their sons marry their extended family members than marry Canaanite women. What do Abraham and Isaac have against Canaan? Is this some long-standing contempt running back to when Ham, the forefather of the Canaanites, walked in on his drunk naked father and didn’t do a thing for him? Is it politics? Do they not want to owe anything or forge any alliances with the descendants of Canaan, of whom Noah said, “A servant of servants he shall be to his brothers?” (9:25). Have the Canaanites drifted into idolatry?

I don’t know. The narrative seems to think the patriarchs have good reason to marry within the family. Esau marries a Canaanite woman seemingly out of spite, and the text appears at least to cast this move as disrespectful toward his dad, if not outright wrong (28:6-9). But Esau has enough respect for his dad not to chase after Jacob with intent to kill him. Rebecca’s plan appears to have worked.

Anyway, while Jacob’s on the road, he has a dream in which God appears to him at the top of a gigantic ladder full of angels. God’s message to him reiterates what he’s been saying to Abraham and Isaac: “In you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (28:14). And it won’t be by virtue of Jacob’s own, ahem, virtue, because we’ve seen that Jacob has virtue in scant supply. It’ll be because God is better to him than he deserves, and because through Jacob’s lineage, God will be better to all the families of the earth than they deserve.

I’m thinking here of Jesus Christ, through whom God offers forgiveness for all our failures and a chance to change, to be changed. But you probably figured that out already.

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