Thoughts from the Sukkah 2016 Edition — Day 4

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Recap

Yesterday we looked at Jacob’s marriages and the idea that Leah is the first wife and the more spiritual woman while Rachel is his earthly love. We saw the pain that this caused for Leah even though she was able to give Jacob four sons and Rachel remained barren.

Consider the children

Before we get started with today’s portion of the story I would like to encourage you to consider the marriage relationship between Leah and Jacob and the sons who were influenced by it. I am especially struck by their sons Simeon and Levi based on other things I have read about them. Simeon and Levi are sons that held themselves to a very high standard of righteousness, which is a wonderful thing and part of what allowed Levi’s descendants to take on the priesthood. They also held everyone else to that same high standard of righteousness which is where they had their downfall. Their lack of mercy and forgiveness is a key factor in their interactions with Joseph and with the Prince of Shechem, the event that caused them to lose their blessings from their father.

By the time the Israelites go into the Land, the Levites have redeemed themselves by taking on the Priesthood and it’s rigid attention to detail that kept them alive in the presence of God. They are allowed to have land but it does not belong to them. They are the caretakers of the Cities of Refuge — the places where those accused of crimes, or found not guilty of murder and unable to return to their home until the sitting high priest had died, were to go and be protected and shown mercy. Simeon’s descendants are given islands of land within the borders of Judah’s land with the hope that they would be influenced and impacted by their brother’s deep mercy surrounding them.

The character qualities of each of the sons, and of Dinah, the only daughter, are worth considering as we read about the family into which they were born.

Rachel

Rachel was the second wife, the younger sister, and the recipient of Jacob’s deepest love. She was beautiful in form and appearance, and she was barren.

There is a teaching that the Matriarchs were barren so that they would be driven to cry out to God even more and their spiritual maturity would ready them to be the mothers of the Patriarchs or tribes that they were going to mother. There are many reasons that Rachel is seen as representing the earthly aspects of Jacob.

Instead of turning to God to ask him to open her womb, she became jealous of her sister Leah. She demanded that Jacob give her children both blaming him for her not having children and manipulating him with her threat of death. Whether she meant she would literally die or that her soul would be as dead we do not know. What we do know is Jacob’s response.

Jacob was angry with Rachel and reminded her that he was not God and was not the one who was preventing her from having children. With the reminder that it was God who was not granting her children, Rachel did what Sarah had done years before and brought her maidservant Bilhah to her husband. She told him to sleep with Bilhah and let her have children who would be counted as Rachels. Bilhah became his wife and she conceived and gave birth to a son. Rachel named him Dan as a way to acknowledge both that God had judged her unworthy to have children of her own but had heard her voice and given her a son.

Bilhah conceived again and gave birth to another son. Rachel named this child Naphtali–a beautiful name but one that was chosen because she had schemed against her sister to make herself equal to her and had prevailed.

The Competition

When Leah realized she was not having children anymore and her sister was catching up to her in the number of sons she had provided to Jacob, she got back into the competition by offering her maidservant Zilpah to Jacob so that she could have children and increase the sons credited to Leah. Zilpah did conceive and she did bear a son. Leah declared that good luck had come and named him Gad.

Zilpah had a second son for Jacob and Leah named him Asher because she declared that she had good fortune and women had deemed her fortunate.

Bilhah and Zilpah

It’s fascinating to me that we know so little of Bilhah and Zilpah and yet they are the women who brought forth four of the sons of Jacob, four of the tribal fathers.

We know they came from Laban’s home and that they were given as maidservants to his daughters when they married Jacob. We know that their relationship was such that they either willingly, or obediently, became Jacob’s wives in order to provide children who would be credited to the women for whom they were maidservants. We see this idea of one woman having a child for another in the story of Ruth when Boaz is counted as Naomi’s son.

As I mentioned above we also saw this with Sarah and Hagar and we know it did not go well between them after that.

Little is known about these women but some have suggested that culturally they would likely have been half-sisters to Leah and Rachel. They are certainly devoted to them and as they become part of the tribe of Jacob they do their part to grow the family.

Reuben’s gift

During the wheat harvest Reuben found dudaim in the field and brought them to his mother Leah.

This part of the story is considered one of the most puzzling of texts because no one really knows what the dudaim were. There are many guesses — possibly jasmine, violets, mandrakes, or even a basket of figs. We do not know what the dudaim really was, but we do know that Rachel saw them and wanted them so badly that she offered to trade her night with Jacob for them.

There are some beautiful commentaries out there about why Reuben, thought by some to be 4 years old when this event took place, would bring dudaim to his mother. Some suggest that he brought it home because nothing planted for harvest belonged to their family who existed at the mercy of Laban for whom Jacob worked, but this wild plant was something he could pick and bring to her. Some have suggested they may have had fertility-inducing powers and he brought them because he knew his mother longed to have more children. Some suggest he brought it to his mother because he knew she longed for Jacob’s love and they may have had love-inducing powers.

Some commentaries speak to the way the text talks of him walking out to find them and relate this to the firstborn walking in the wisdom of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather. He is the product of their love for God and whatever the plant was he had gone to it with wisdom and brought it to honor his mother

Let the bidding begin

Rachel wants the dudaim. She wants them so badly that she asks for some of them. If there was a connection to fertility or love this would be a bold thing to ask of Leah considering the competition they are in both for Jacob’s love and for how many sons they will provide for him. One commentary even calls her entitled for thinking she had a right to them.

Leah was upset at the request and said to her, “Was your taking my husband insignificant? –And now to take even my son’s dudaim!”

Leah has laid the situation out plainly. Regardless of how she came to be the one to marry Jacob, once they were married it was inappropriate for Rachel to also become his wife. It was selfish, entitled and hurtful. Had Rachel done what was right she would not have created this mess they are in. Although that is not taking into consideration the fact that Jacob would have still resented Leah for not being Rachel, it reveals that she thought they might have been able to overcome that if Rachel had not continued to be a constant presence in their lives.

In response, Rachel offered her night with Jacob to Leah in exchange for the dudaim. She is praised in the Jewish commentary for wanting to smooth over his sister’s hurt feelings, but also taken to task for considering a night with Jacob such an unimportant thing that she would trade it for the dudaim.

Because sex is the right of the woman, Rachel was able to make this offer. When Jacob came in from the field Leah went out to meet him and informed him that he would be with her that night. She told him she had traded her son’s dudaim for a night with him and it was a binding agreement. Jacob complied and went to her tent for the night.

Leah’s not out of the game yet

God heard Leah’s heart’s desire for more children and once again she conceived. As this story follows immediately upon the last one I have always thought that she must have conceived that night. What irony that Rachel gave up a night with Jacob in exchange for the dudaim and on that night Leah conceived.

Let’s talk about fertility for a minute

This is where some knowledge of women’s fertility cycles may come in handy.

Women’s fertility cycles are tied to the moon, just as the Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar. Cycles of the moon control when a woman is fertile, when she ovulates, and when her menstrual cycle begins. Women who live outside of the city in nature are generally more connected to this cycle than those who live in cities, especially in the modern world. And women who live together become synced in their cycles.

This means that all four of the women with whom Jacob was having children would have been fertile, ovulating and menstruating at approximately the same time.

As for sperm and the role it plays in conception, sperm that will produce a male lives for about 24 hours and must penetrate the egg within the 48 hours that it is viable and making its way into the womb. Sperm that will produce a female lives longer (it is generally thought to live up to 4 days but I personally know of children conceived after 5-6 days). There are definitely exceptions, but, in general, if sex is had very close to ovulation the odds are you will conceive a boy. If sex is had days before ovulation the odds are you will conceive a girl.

This begs the question of how much the timing of these children was due to natural conditions and how much their conception was miraculous.

Since Jacob’s bed was permanently set up in Rachel’s chamber as his favorite wife, it is most likely that she was having the most sex with him and this is why she was so distraught that she brought forth no children whatsoever. It’s quite possible that the nights of highest conception likelihood were reserved for Rachel and this is why Leah is so sure that God is showing her favor when she not only conceives, but has sons.

Which brings me to one other thing that is not generally addressed in commentary and I am left assuming this is because most commentary is written by men. Rachel is barren. This does not necessarily mean that she cannot conceive children, it may mean that she suffers repeated miscarriages. If this is the case it means many things that impact our story.

First, it means that she is experiencing hormonal roller coasters. The experience of being pregnant and losing that pregnancy is very hard on a woman’s body. Her hormones become confused and she suffers loss physically. The death of life within her affects her soul. I won’t go into detail beyond that but her intense distress, jealousy and blaming Jacob for her not having a child is even more understandable if she is suffering multiple miscarriages.

Second, it may give some insight into what the dudaim actually was.

dudaim

While it is clearly impossible to know for certain what plant it is that Reuben picked for her mother, there is a plant that is native to Persia and has varieties that are known to come from the Middle East that is called dudaim. It is a melon.

The melon is known for its musky scent and is not as sweet as other melons like it, but the scent is often used to freshen chambers and is very fragrant.

The dried juice of the dudaim has antiemetic properties and is used to help with digestive disorders including nausea and vomiting.

dudaim melon

dudaim melon

If this is the dudaim that Reuben found and picked for Leah, Rachel may have thought nothing of giving away her night with Jacob because she already knew she was pregnant. She may have needed it to help control the morning sickness.

Dudaim is also a very interesting thing to consider from the perspective of the proto-canaanite word pictures that were the root for Hebrew and many other languages. The pictures for each letter in the word dudaim suggest that Rachel wanted to keep her womb closed tightly and calm the chaos (nausea and indigestion) that was at work inside her as she hoped to bring her firstborn into the world. Any pregnant woman with chaos in her belly knows that she will give almost anything to calm it.

She would also not be concerned about a night of sex with her husband. That would probably be the farthest thing from her mind.

If Leah knew that Rachel was pregnant her anger at her about stealing her husband and bringing so much distress into her life makes even more sense. As does Jacob not questioning the changed sleeping arrangement. If this was known then what Leah told him when he came in from the field would be more like, “Rachel isn’t feeling well tonight. She traded her night with you for something to settle her stomach.”

Back to Leah

Whether that night, or soon after, Leah did conceive again, and she had a fifth son. She declared that, “God has granted me my reward because I gave my maidservant to my husband.” She named him Issachar.

Then she conceived again and had a sixth son. She declared that,”God has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will make his permanent home with me for I have borne him six sons.” She named him Zebulun.

Then Leah gave birth to Dinah, the only daughter born to the family. As the mother of four sons and only one daughter I have a special place in my heart for Dinah.

Rachel finally has a child

The telling of Rachel’s birth comes at the end of Leah having children, but there is no evidence that this is a chronological timing of the birth. Hebrew story telling is circular. It would make sense to place the story about the dudaim into Leah’s chronology of births if it indicated the trading of nights with Jacob that allowed for Leah to conceive. Then the telling of the birth would have its own place not just because it is a child born to a different mother, but because it is the firstborn child of Rachel, the beloved.

It would make sense to look at the order of blessings to try and find a chronology confirmation, but Jacob also blessed Joseph’s children before blessing any of the other sons. Or at least the telling of their blessing was set apart as well.

While I am putting forth that Rachel may have given birth to Joseph at some point during the time that Leah was still having children, whether that is the case or not does not change the significance of any of the births. Rachel may have lost at least one baby during the time that Leah was having children. We know of Rachel’s distress but are not given the private details of her pain or the details of the depth of her struggle.

Rachel did finally have a child. She named her son Joseph because, “God has taken away my disgrace.” And she added, “May Adonai add on for me another son.”

Even in her thrill at giving birth, finally!, she is already wanting more. The excitement we have for her is somewhat dampened by her expression that it was not yet enough.

Jacob’s first attempt to leave

At this point in the story Jacob approached his father in law Laban and indicated that he wanted to leave and return to his home.

His 14 years of contract had previously ended but Jacob had waited until Rachel gave birth. We are not told why, but there is commentary suggesting that Jacob knew that because of Joseph’s birth he would be able to conquer Esau and it was safe to return to his family. It may be that he wanted his beloved wife to have the opportunity to give birth in her own home with her family around her. We don’t know.

We do know that Jacob is ready to leave, and Laban isn’t ready to let him go. Tomorrow we will talk about why and how that played out.

Day 5

Thoughts from the Sukkah 2016 — Day 3

Day 1

Day 2

Recap

Jacob was promised the birthright of the first born, even though he was the second born twin. His older brother sold him the birthright for a bowl of red lentil soup. His mother had him trick his father and pretend to be his brother in order to get the firstborn blessing as well. Then she had him flee to her brother’s house to protect him from his brother wanting to kill him, but she said it was for him to get a wife and when he got there he met Rachel. His uncle Laban wasn’t impressed with his lack of gifts but agreed to let him stay and now they were discussing terms for Jacob working for him. Jacob said he doesn’t want money, he just wants permission to marry Rachel.

Let’s meet the women

Laban had two daughters.

Rachel was the youngest daughter and Jacob met her at the well when he first arrived. Scripture says she was beautiful of form and appearance.

Leah was the older daughter and Scripture says her eyes were “tender.”

Christian scholars have debated whether this meant she wasn’t much to look at, or maybe she was partially blind.

Jewish scholars believe this was because she wept constantly in prayer. The thought is that because she was the oldest daughter she would be expected to marry Esau and she heard stories about his character and did not want to be partnered with someone who held God in such low esteem. Leah is honored for being so devoted to prayer that God excused her from the obligation to marry Esau and allowed her to marry Jacob who was the recipient of the birthright of the oldest.

In Judaism Jacob is seen as the Patriarch who unites heaven and earth. One of the ways he does this is through marriage to the woman who will give birth to the earthly savior of his descendants, Joseph, and the spiritual savior who will come through Judah. This is very significant and something to keep in mind while reading the rest of the story.

Three more things you need to know before we continue

There are three things that are very important to know in understanding this story. One is understanding the Bride Price and another has to do with tents. The third is about the right to sex and who held it.

Many people mistakenly think the bride price was the amount paid to the father to “purchase” the bride. This is not at all the case. Jacob is not buying Rachel from Laban.

The Bride Price was the amount that was pledged by a bridegroom to the bride and it was her money. Originally this would have been money given to her when they agreed to be married. Eventually, during times of poverty for the Jewish people, there was added an option of pledging it at the time the marriage was negotiated and giving it if the marriage should end.

The Dowry from the bride’s family would also belong to the bride and was hers to save or invest in the marriage or business of the family as she chose. She was the final say on how that money was spent and whether it was used during the marriage or not.

In addition to these two funds that belonged to the bride, the groom was culturally expected to lavish gifts on his intended’s family. Any gifts brought to the family were for the purpose of showing how wealthy and able the groom and his family were of providing for their daughter.

None of this constituted purchasing a bride or a man selling his daughter.

The tent was also something that belonged to the woman and she had the right to invite her husband into it or not.

The tent was the property of the wife and she decided who was welcome in it.

The tent was the property of the wife and she decided who was welcome in it.

Even more importantly, sex was the right of the woman, not the man. She had the right to children and her husband was obligated to have sex with her to fulfill that right. This is especially significant in this story and will help you understand the dynamic of the family and some of the exchanges that are made.

These three rights of the bride were eventually formalized into the ketubah that is signed by the bride when she marries. The ketubah is only signed by the bride as it is a formal and legal declaration of the offers made to the bride by the groom and the ketubah must include an acknowledgement of her right to provision (Bride Price — especially documented if she is accepting this as a future promise should the marriage end), a home, and sex in order to bear children. In modern ketubahs there is often included the right, at any one time during the marriage, for the woman to demand the right to have the family move to Israel.

The Fateful Agreement

As we return to our story, Jacob is agreeing to work for seven years for Laban in exchange for Laban granting him permission to marry Rachel, his younger daughter. We cannot think of this as a bride price, or a gift offered to Laban by the man who wants to marry his daughter. This is a negotiation between two men who don’t really trust each other and who want to make sure they get the better end of a deal. This is about the men, not the women. Laban wanted to make sure he got something out of the deal and since Jacob had come empty handed with no gifts for his future father in law, Laban was going to even things out.

When Jacob states that he would work seven years for the opportunity to marry Rachel, Laban’s response was that he may as well allow her to marry him as anyone, and the terms of their deal were set.

Jacob worked seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him a few days because of his love for her.

This seems like we are reading an epic love story. Jacob’s love for Rachel was epic. It was also very earthly and sensual and with little to no concern for the character of the woman she was. He loved her blindly when it came to matters of the soul because he saw so clearly her beautiful form and appearance.

At the end of the seven years Jacob went to Laban and demanded that his bride be delivered to him so that they could consummate their marriage and start their life together.

The Wedding

Weddings today in most Western cultures are silly affairs compared to weddings in the ancient world. Weddings in the Middle East in the Ancient World involved a week that the couple spent in the wedding chamber having sex and getting to know each other more intimately. Outside the tent the father of the bride would be celebrating his family’s joy by throwing the most lavish party he could afford involving food and drink for the entire town for the week. As a side note, witnesses in the middle east generally stood outside the tent to assure that the couple had in fact finalized the act of marriage.

The wedding Laban delivered involved an entire day of feasting and drinking before the bride and groom were allowed to enter the marriage tent and begin their marriage by consummating it.

It was a very drunk and happy Jacob who entered the marriage chamber and waited for his Rachel.

And it was a very drunk and happy Jacob who did not realize that his father in law had tricked him and instead of Rachel he sent Leah to Jacob to become his wife.

As horrible a deception as this was, and as angry as Jacob was, it was God who allowed this marriage to take place and Leah who was allowed to become Jacob’s wife. This will be confirmed later in the story, but for now let us continue with what happened after Jacob realized how he had been deceived.

A tragic plot twist

When Jacob woke and realized what had happened, and that he was married to Leah instead of Rachel, he went to Laban and demanded an answer about how and why this had happened! Instead of waking to find his dreams all come true, Jacob had found himself in a nightmare of being married to a woman he had no intention of marrying. Jacob reminded Laban that they had an agreement that he would work in exchange for being allowed to marry Rachel — why had Laban deceived him?

At this moment let us pause to consider the irony of the situation. Jacob purchased the eldest birthright from Esau. Jacob tricked his father into giving him the blessing intended for the firstborn. Jacob now finds himself married to the woman who would rightfully be married to the firstborn. And all he wants is his second-born right!

With Leah came Zilpah as her maidservant.

Laban now called Jacob out with the fact that what Jacob thought he was agreeing to was never what he was agreeing to because that’s not their custom. The younger was not given in marriage before the older. If he wanted the younger he had to take the older daughter first.

Laban told Jacob to finish the week in the wedding chamber with Leah and then he would allow him to marry Rachel as well . . . if he would agree to work another seven years for him!

Jacob accepted his fate and spent the rest of the week with Leah. The following week he was allowed to marry Rachel.

With Rachel came Bilhah as a maidservant.

Jacob had just arranged to take Rachel on credit and he owed Laban the next seven years of his labor, but he had the woman he loved and there was no doubt that Jacob loved Rachel more than he loved Leah.

God sees

God saw Leah and how she was unloved by her husband.

Yes, Jacob had stronger emotions of love for Rachel, but love is an action word and no doubt his attentions were given to Rachel far more than they were given to Leah.

God had mercy on Leah and she began to give birth right away, despite how rarely her husband may have ventured to her tent compared to her sister.

Leah first gave birth to Reuben whose name is given because, “God has discerned my humiliation, for now my husband will love me.”

As a wife and mother this breaks my heart. She was convinced that giving Jacob his firstborn son would cause at least some of his love to turn towards her. Yet this child was conceived in a marriage with little to no love and this pregnancy was endured in a marriage of little to no love.

No doubt Jacob blamed Leah for her part in the deception, and his feelings are understandable. But her lot in life was to be the daughter of a trickster and in honoring him she became the wife of a trickster who blamed her for the deception. We cannot forget her plight in all of this and we are made aware of it by the names of her children as they are born. We can see her struggle to come to terms with her life over the years that she is giving birth, even while her sister, the favorite wife, remains barren. Even having children cannot change the pain of knowing they are the children of a man who doesn’t love you.

Leah’s second son is born and she names him Simeon. She declares that God has heard that she is unloved and has given her a second son. It is not the love of her husband, but it is love and it is the opportunity to mother and raise young ones in the Lord.

The Rabbi’s teach that the Matriarchs were prophetesses who knew that Jacob was to be the father of 12 sons whose tribes would populate Israel. They assumed that these children would come from Leah and Rachel as well as their maidservants because they believed that each of them would only be granted three children.

When her third son is born Leah is sure that her husband will turn his attentions and affections towards her because now she has provided him with three sons and she named him Levi to signify this. Surely he would love her for fulfilling this for him.

He did not.

Her fourth son was a gift of mercy from God, above and beyond the three sons she believed she would provide. She named him Judah because, “This time let me gratefully praise Adonai.”

A note about the name Adonai

Adonai is the word used in translations when the text reveals the name of God as YHVH (Yod Hey Vav Hey). The name YHVH cannot be spoken as it is the sound of breath. There are no vowel markers offered with the name to tell us how to say it and therefore Jewish tradition is not to try (especially because of all of the ways it can be said at least one is a blasphemous word).

Instead, in the text you will find the vowel markers for the word Adonai imposed over the letters YHVH as a reminder to say Adonai instead of trying to pronounce YHVH.

There are many conspiracy theories and strange doctrines that have surfaced over this and many people who insist on saying the letters YHVH with the vowel markers for Adonai and that is how we get names for God like Jehovah and Yahweh. However, these are not what is revealed in the text and I refuse to call on God with the pronunciations of manmade names that are believed to define him.

It is so offensive to the Jewish community to try and say the name of God that many will not even write the o in the word God, rendering it G-d. In the Orthodox and Hassidic communities the name Hashem is substituted for YHVH as Hashem means “the Name.”

Judah

Judah’s name is significant because the letters of the name of God, YHVH, are all found in his name along with the root word that means “thankfulness.”

Leah knew that Judah was a gift beyond the three sons she would be expected to bring to Jacob and she realized this was purely a gift from God to her. She was now the mother of 1/3 of Jacob’s expected sons and she knew she had been granted more than her rightful share.

Jewish scholars believe that the Jewish people have come to be called Jews, after the name of Judah, because of the expectation from God that one of their character qualities should always be gratitude to God for all that they are given, because He has given more than a rightful share.

Leah has completed her childbearing

Or so she thought. There’s a lot more to come from Leah, but tomorrow we will dive into the dynamics of this family even more. There really is nothing new under the sun and this story would rival any soap opera on daytime tv today, so be ready.

Thoughts from the Sukkah 2016 Edition — Day 4

Thoughts from the Sukkah 2016 Edition — Day 2

Day 1

Recap

When we left Jacob yesterday he was running away for fear that his twin brother would kill him if he didn’t get out of there. He had tricked his father and received his brother’s blessing. His mother was wise enough to adapt the plan to involve an escape option. He would be sent to her brother to find a wife.

When he stopped to sleep for the first night he had a dream and he saw God standing over him. God told him that because of his covenant with Abraham and with Isaac he was going to do the things with Jacob that needed to be done. What was clearly missing from what God said was any mention of a covenant relationship with Jacob. This is confirmed when Jacob promises God that if God does all the things he is saying he will do then God would be his God too. This is a very important part of the story so I want to make sure we revisit it, and I want to make sure that we keep this relationship in mind in the things that Jacob does while working for Laban.

Jacob meets his uncle

Jacob headed East, to Abraham’s ancestral home, and found himself at a well in a field. Wells have strong significance in Hebrew stories. It’s where Eliezer found Rebecca for Isaac, where Moses will meet Zipporah, and eventually where Jesus will meet the woman at the well and disclose to her all of the things about her life that are kept hidden deep inside her. Wells represent hidden wisdom — just as the water in a well is below the ground. Yet the water is accessible to those who understand how vital it is to life and are willing to put in the effort it takes to unearth it. Women are also a symbol of wisdom (see Proverbs 14:1) and the two symbols of wisdom are often brought together.

a well is a symbol of deep wisdom below the surface

a well is a symbol of deep wisdom below the surface

Jacob found sheep and the shepherds caring for them at the well. He found out they were from Haran and knew his uncle Laban. They assured him Laban was well and pointed out his daughter Rachel who was coming to the well with her father’s sheep. Jacob tried to get the men to water their sheep and head out to graze them but they insisted they had to wait for all of the flocks to be gathered before they could roll back the stone from the well. When Rachel arrived and Jacob saw her he jumped to roll back the stone from the water and watered her sheep.

The description of this act includes three mentions of the sheep belonging to “Laban his mother’s brother.” There is some debate about why this is referenced three times. Some suggest that it reveals everything Jacob did was in honor of his mother. Others suggest it was made clear to those present so that when he kissed Rachel they would already know his intentions. These are suggestions from men. I’m not a man and the thing I see lacking in these thoughts is any reference to Rachel, or the fact that the story doesn’t say he spoke this three times. It is not part of his speech, it is for the reader to give us insight into Jacob and what he was thinking.

Jacob was sent to find a bride from his mother’s family. Jacob was on his way to his uncle Laban’s house. At the symbolic site for wisdom hidden below the surface he meets a beautiful symbol for wisdom (woman) and learns she was in fact his mother’s brother’s daughter. Jacob realized he has hit the jackpot! “THIS is the woman for me!” And he kissed her, then raised his voice and wept.

Only now does Rachel learn that this man who had kissed her at the well was her father’s relative. I believe this young woman who was old enough to tend to sheep on her own, and who had not found a husband, understood that this man who had kissed her was suitable to marry and she did not waste a second before telling her father. She ran to tell him.

When Laban heard that Jacob was there he ran out to greet him. He embraced him and kissed him. He insisted he come home for dinner and over dinner Jacob shared his story. He told of all that had transpired to bring him to where he was sitting at their table for dinner.

What’s under the surface?

The rabbinic commentary for the story up to this point delves into some wonderful and intriguing ideas based on the character of the people in the story. I ‘d like to share a bit of that now as learning about this commentary helped me flesh out the characters and the story far beyond what I’d encountered before.

We talked yesterday about how Jacob, in a family tradition shared by Isaac and Esau, was a master at wordplay. He knew how to walk the line between a lie and trickery. We discussed how this goes back to Abraham and how he attempted to get around the issue of Sarah being so desirable that he might in fact die if certain leaders knew she was his wife. She was related to him by blood and this was not an outright lie, but it was also not the full truth and the words were parsed in Abraham’s favor. Even Rebecca knows how the game works and is behind Jacob wearing goat skins to trick Isaac into thinking he was their oldest, Esau.

Keeping that in mind, when we look at the story of Jacob at the well we can begin to see wordplay already at work in the story. Did he ask how Laban was because he was genuinely concerned? Or because he wanted to get some information about him that might help him as he went into this attempt to negotiate for a bride? No one would be able to accuse him of anything questionable from the simple act of asking about the condition of his uncle. He hasn’t done anything “wrong.” Yet there are some people for whom information is a commodity.

What of the Arameans he encountered? They have to wait for everyone to be present to roll the rock away from the well and water the sheep. Is that because the rock is too heavy for only one or two people to roll it away? Is this an effort to keep anyone from stealing their precious water and leaving their well dry? If so, then Jacob’s ability to roll it away becomes miraculous and super hero like. Or is this a practice that has begun because none of the locals trust each other and they have made an agreement to wait until everyone is there so that all of the sheep are watered together and they can all keep an eye on each other? Are they trying to make sure no one takes more than their “fair share” and monitoring each other’s activities here?

And why did Laban run to him? Was it because he was family? Or might Laban have been excited at the wealth that someone coming from that side of the family must be bringing? Eliezer, a mere servant, came to get a bride for Isaac with ten camels carrying serious wealth (see Genesis 24:10). Laban was there. He remembers. Did he hug him out of familial love? Or was he surprised to find no outward signs of wealth and decided there was need for a pat down to see if wealth might be hiding in some secret pocket? This might explain why, after hearing Jacob’s story, he responded with, “Nevertheless, you are my flesh and blood!” and allowed Jacob to stay with them for a month. That ‘nevertheless’ makes a lot more sense if it is expressing the disappointment of his nephew having come to get a bride empty handed. Out of obligation he would allow him to stay.

I would also like to suggest that this acknowledgement that Jacob is Laban’s flesh and blood is issued as a challenge as well. The story Jacob had told him involved an incredible amount of trickery, deception, intrigue. Laban heard this story and realized this kid was a chip off the old block. He had encountered an opponent that it would be enjoyable to beat.

Jacob strikes a deal with Laban

After Jacob has stayed with Laban a month, Laban introduced the idea of him staying and working for him. He asked what it would take for Jacob to enter that arrangement. Jacob offered to work for seven years in exchange for the opportunity to marry Rachel, Laban’s younger daughter. He didn’t want money, he wanted the young woman he loved. Laban agreed.

There is a lot to unpack in that agreement, and in what follows, that we will talk about tomorrow. This story has no shortage of excitement and intrigue and introducing these new characters will blow the story open in a whole new direction. I hope you’ll join us.

Day 3

Thoughts from the Sukkah 2016 Edition – Day 1

Last night when I saw our sukkah I knew that this was the year I needed to break down the story of Jacob. A friend’s family joined us for dinner and as we ate in our sukkah I shared the story with her to test where I have come in telling it and I think I’m ready.

Lutton Sukkah 2016

Lutton Sukkah 2016

The story of Jacob’s return to the Land concludes with him parting ways with Esau and journeying to Succoth (another way to spell Sukkot ) and that struck me a few years ago so I dug into the details even more. Let’s just say this is not your Children’s Bible story and he is not your Sunday School Jacob. I know others have had questions about a lot of things in his story and, like me, probably struggle with the answers not at all addressing the issues you see. So let’s dive in and see where it takes us.

Background

Jacob is twin to his brother Esau. When they were in utero God shared things with their mother about them. This really touches me because I am a mother of twins and when I was pregnant I almost miscarried one of them. In fact, it was how we learned they were twins. As I cried and prayed and did all I could to keep both babies safe inside me the Lord spoke very plainly to my soul and assured me, “When this is over you will have two healthy babies.” The relief I felt was immediately matched by a great concern.

When WHAT is over?

For the next two years I clung to that promise from God and when it was all over I did in fact have two healthy babies, but I needed that assurance from the Lord in order to make it through.

One of the things we all had to survive was one of my boys being born with a giant congenital hairy nevus — a large black birthmark that is tumorous and grows hair. On my son it took up over 1/3 of his back and he required 3 surgeries before he was 18 months old to remove it.

In researching the condition for my son I was surprised to come across writings that suggested this is the condition that Esau had. Esau’s nevus would have at least covered his arms and his trunk. This is a known presentation for this condition. As a person with this kind of nevus grows and the skin stretches the color changes to red and the hair becomes goat like. Since that is the description of Esau we are given in Scripture, the idea makes a lot of sense.

There’s a lot more I could unpack in this regarding bonding with both parents and why Isaac may have favored Esau while Rebecca may have favored Jacob. So very much goes into bonding and if she almost lost Esau in the same way I almost lost my son, if that is the meaning of the “warring within her” that she cried out to God about, let’s just say I have compassion for Rebecca in ways I didn’t before that experience. I am strongly bonded with both of my sons despite each of their early health challenges but the challenges those health issues created to bonding cannot be dismissed.

Let’s also clear up right here and now that when it says one “loved” one son this doesn’t mean that they didn’t love the other son in a way that we would equate to parental love. It merely means they preferred their company.

As the boys grew it became clear they had different personalities. Jacob was more of a homebody and Esau was more of a wild man out trapping and working in the field. One teaching is that he wasn’t just adept at trapping animals, but of asking questions that would trap his father into thinking that he was more righteous than he was. He liked wordplay and one example suggests he asked his father how tithes should be taken from salt and straw — even though he knew there was no tithe expected from them. The idea was that he wanted to look really righteous by pretending he wanted to offer those tithes, but since he already knew that they weren’t required he knew he wouldn’t have to do anything with the answer. He also got his father’s allegiance through bringing home meat to feed him and serving his taste buds. Isaac apparently loved fresh game.

When Esau was 40 years old he married two Hittite women and they led him to spiritual rebellion against Isaac and Rebecca. One Jewish Tradition is that while he waited so long to get married Esau was living immorally and enticing married women to have affairs with him. The idea behind him marrying at 40 is that he claimed, quite hypocritically, that he was following the example of his father who waited until that age to marry. (We can talk about Isaac’s story another time but let go of your preconceived ideas about him as well. The whole sacrifice thing didn’t even take place until he was at least 30.) So Esau married at the same age as his father but he didn’t marry a righteous woman. He married TWO Hittite women. This act is thought to have sealed the deal on him being unworthy of carrying on the family mission.

In fact, the insight God gave to Rebekah during her pregnancy was that Jacob, the second born, and not Esau, the firstborn, would be the one to receive the firstborn blessing. The event where Jacob buys Esau’s birthright is thought to have been after the death of Abraham. This would explain why Jacob was making red lentil soup — a traditional mourner’s meal. Sacrifices were still offered by the firstborn of the family and Jacob was concerned that his wicked brother would be standing in front of the family and God offering unworthy sacrifices. Jacob wanted to make sure that wouldn’t happen. Esau valued the food more than his birthright and he sold it with no deception involved–for a bowl of lentil soup.

But back to Esau and his wives, who he married when he was 40. Since Isaac was 60 years old when his sons were born he would have been 100 years old at the time of these marriages. At the point where Isaac summons Esau to his room to tell him that he is old and doesn’t know when he will die, the Rabbi’s teach that Isaac was actually 123 years old. His mother had died when she was 127 years old and Isaac was contemplating his own mortality. Because Isaac had always preferred his oldest, and because he held out hope that he would indeed become worthy of his blessing, Isaac gave him the opportunity to honor his father and be blessed by him.

Rebecca found out about this plan and set in motion one of her own. She told Jacob to take stew into his father and pretend to be Esau so that he would receive his father’s blessing. Jacob was concerned that even though he could not see well at this point, Isaac might reach out to him and notice that his arms are not covered in goat-like hair. So his mother covered him with the skins of the goat kids she had used for the stew. Jacob goes in to his father and uses intricate word play to avoid lying outright to him, while still convincing him that he was the one who should receive his father’s blessing.

This is the blessing that Jacob received that day from his father Isaac

May God give you of the dew of the heavens and of the fatness of the earth, and abundant grain and wine. Peoples will serve you, and regimes will prostrate themselves to you; be a lord to your kinsmen, and your mother’s sons will prostrate themselves to you; cursed be they who curse you and blessed be they who bless you.

Jewish commentary teaches that this blessing for all of the physical things intended to go to Esau may have been done with the awareness that Jacob was to be the spiritual leader of his people and Isaac didn’t want to burden him with physical wealth that distracted from that. If this is true then giving Esau all of the material blessings would have been so that Esau could see to the earthly needs of his people while Jacob was freed to see to the spiritual needs. This would be supported by the blessing he gives to Jacob when he knows it is him.

Between the two blessings, however, is revealed some intense family drama. Esau came home and prepared the meat he hunted for his father, took it in to him to serve him and be blessed, and found out that Jacob had received the blessing. Esau begged for any blessing that his father had to give him and received this

Behold, of the fatness of the earth shall be your dwelling and of the dew of the heavens from above. By your sword you shall live, but your brother you shall serve; yet it shall be that when you are aggrieved, you may cast off his yoke from upon your neck.

Esau was not going to be forced to plunder and fight for his sustenance, but he was going to be victorious in battle. “When you are aggrieved” speaks to a time, should it come, that Jacob might transgress the Torah and not be worthy of the blessings. Isaac put out there a future opportunity to take Jacob down if he is unworthy of what he has received. And Esau’s response was to determine to wait until the time for mourning his father was finished and then kill Jacob.

When Rebecca learned of Esau’s intent to kill Jacob she went to Isaac and complained about those Hittite daughters-in-law she had to endure and how much she hated her life because of them. She begged Isaac to send Jacob to her brother Laban so that he could marry a righteous wife from her family. Isaac agreed and as he sent his son out to find a wife he blesses him in this way

May El Shaddai bless you, make you fruitful and make you numerous, and may you be a congregation of peoples. May He grant you the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may possess the land of your sojourns which God gave to Abraham.

And off went Jacob on his grand adventure.

The Adventure Begins

Before we are done with today’s portion of the story, let me add what happens at the beginning of his journey so that we can keep this in mind as we read on this week.

Jacob started out on his journey and when he laid down to go to sleep for the night he had a dream. You’ve probably heard of Jacob’s Ladder — this was that dream.

Jacob sees a stairway set Eastward with a top that reaches toward heaven and angels of God were ascending and descending on it. God stands over him and says this to him

I am Adonai, God of Abraham your father and God of isaac; the ground upon which you are lying, to you will I give it and to your descendants. Your offspring shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out powerfully westward, eastward, northward and southward; and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you and by your offspring. Behold, I am with you; I will guard you wherever you go, and I will return you to this soil; for I will not forsake you until I will have done what I have spoken about you.

The thing that jumped out to me about this blessing is that God identifies himself as God of Abraham and God of Isaac, and then makes a promise to him of what he will do. Nothing here is mutually balanced. This is simply a statement of who God is and what he is going to do — and he is doing it because of the promises made to Abraham and Isaac, not anything to do with Jacob.

Jacob recognized the significance of this, made an altar, blessed the Lord, and made this vow to God

If God will be with me, will guard me on this way that I am going; will give me bread to eat and clothes to wear; and I return in peace to my father’s house, and Adonai will be a God to me — then this stone which I have set up as a pillar shall become a house of God, and whatever You will give me, I shall repeatedly tithe it to you.

And that sounds like a beautiful prayer of faith, unless you read it closely.

He knows this is God. And God knows who he is. This is a very honest exchange.

God does not identify himself as “your God” for a reason. He isn’t. Not really. Not fully. The blessings will pour onto Jacob because of his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac, and God will stay with him until all of the things that were promised shall come to pass. And Jacob responds, “Okay — you do all of that and when I return to the Land blessed like you’re talking about THEN you will be my God.”

One Jewish commentary explains that this cannot be a promise of loyalty, because it is conditional. If the things promised by God hadn’t come to pass, then Jacob would not have been obligated. Opinions differ on how much faith he had that they really would and therefore they are a commitment, but I cannot shake the tradition this family has of wordplay. It goes back to Abraham saying that Sarah is his sister so that he won’t be killed and plundered . . . TWICE! I didn’t go into it but the same thing happens with Isaac and Rebecca during their story. Esau engaged in trickery and trapping through wordplay with his father, and it’s through wordplay that Jacob takes his father’s blessing from Esau.

So Jacob begins his grand adventure with God promising him many amazing things and Jacob responding, “If you do all of that, then you’ll be my God.”

And off he goes to find himself a wife from his mother’s family.

Day 2

15 microaggresions women in the church deal with on a daily basis

I admit I’m borrowing the idea and the list from this article (be warned, there is a bit of language though it’s not the author as much as the examples of the micro aggressions and while I’m at it, I used some gif’s with language too. Some things are just best expressed with certain words. Sometimes they’re the only words.). The article is pretty comprehensive, but it doesn’t offer examples that really speak to the way these issues are present in the life of the average Christian woman who isn’t out “in the world.” This makes it easy for those in the Church to dismiss these ideas because they just aren’t the reality they live with.

Except they are.

So I’ve decided to offer examples of how they are and here you go.

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1. Sexist Language

Women who are starting to question how they have been taught God views us often land on the question, “Is there a sound, inclusive language, Bible translation?” This is because it is very hard to realize that the Bible is written to you when everything said to any group of people is translated with masculine pronouns. I’m well aware that the rules for most languages say we use feminine pronouns for groups of only women and masculine pronouns for groups of only men OR groups that include even ONE man. The rule itself is part of the problem, but the bigger problems is that insisting on sticking to the rule is giving the message to young women every day that the Bible is largely not written to them.

 

 

We need more women like this

2. Sexual Harassment Did you know that it’s sexual harassment to stand up and walk out of the room just because the person who got up to speak is a woman? It’s not sexual harassment if you have to go to the bathroom and you will be going right back in, but maybe you could hold it for just a bit because most of the time when I get up to speak and someone leaves the room they aren’t coming back. Sometimes they loudly proclaim that they aren’t going to sit there while a woman tries to preach. The very idea that God doesn’t want women teachers is sexual harassment — and it flies in the face of so many examples from Scripture.    

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3. Slut Shaming You’re probably more familiar with this as “Spirit of Jezebel” shaming. For those not familiar with it, every woman in a Christian context who has ever said something a man didn’t like has been accused of having a spirit of Jezebel. Jezebel — the woman who introduced child sacrifice to Molech into common practice in Israel — the woman who killed a man because he wouldn’t sell her husband his vineyard. But, okay, I guess that’s the same as holding a different doctrinal position as we all try to encourage people to worship God. I’m not even going to dive into the ocean that is slut shaming from men like Mark Driscoll and those like him.        

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4. Victim Blaming This one isn’t that different from how it’s encountered outside of the church — women who dress like they want to be raped deserve it. Because you know we all shop at that store that sells things for the woman who wants to be raped. And even when it’s winter and the person was covered head to toe you know you’re going to get the question, “What was she wearing?” In the Church it goes to a different level, though. In communities that view everything that happens to you as evidence of God’s judgment of you, the victim was judged by God to be deserving of it. Even if they are a child. One man I know loudly insists that his daughter won’t dress like a whore because if she does and her brother rapes her then it will be all her fault. No, I’m not making this up. Driscoll went so far as to blame years of issues in his marriage on his wife having been “promiscuous” when she was raped.        

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5. Tone Policing This one brings to mind the book I read that had explicit instructions for how women are supposed to go to their husbands to try and share opinions before the man makes his final and unquestioned decision about something. Of course the woman should divert her eyes and not move in any way that could be perceived as aggressive. She needs to ask her husband, first, if he is open to hearing her ideas. If not, she is to take that as his decision and respect it. It doesn’t matter what the issue is. If he is open, then she needs to make sure to present everything in a non-threatening way and with a tone that doesn’t sound challenging. She must at all times remember that he is the one with the authority and she is being granted this opportunity. At all times a woman must speak with a tone that makes it clear she knows her place and if she doesn’t then she deserves whatever she gets.            

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6. Language Policing When women don’t know their place and they begin to talk about things like equality, or even suggesting that God has called them to anything other than a pre-determined “woman’s role” she is called out. I have been told many times, “You say that God has called you but . . . ” I don’t think I’ve ever heard that said of a man. The very use of any language deemed “feminist” is justification for dismissing you entirely. Maybe I should back up and say that the very idea that women are not allowed by God to “teach” the Word of God is the essence of language policing. We are told we are quite literally not allowed to speak the Word of God if a man might hear us and learn something. (We can, however, write it if the man can later read it and imagine that he is learning from a man.)        

http://mansplainedmarxist.tumblr.com/post/105314280629/mansplaining-at-its-finest

7. Mansplaining

If you think you’ve encountered mansplaining out in the world, you haven’t even tapped the keg of the store of mansplaining out there to be had. First year licensed pastors with no formal training whatsoever have been known to mansplain doctrine when I’m trying to make a point. I guess my Master’s degree from a world renowned seminary doesn’t mean I understand simple things because I have had people correct my word choice, argue for a different explanation of what I’ve said, or even try to apologize to others on my behalf because I clearly don’t realize that it says . . . .

My favorite is when I get told, as if this puts a nice point on the issue, that I should read my Bible and then I’d understand.

 

 

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8. Sizeism

There are examples of skinny women and girls being singled out by the church, like this girl who wrote about breaking Christian school dress codes and talks about how her yearbook picture was left out because her “A-cups were demanding too much attention.” These stories tend to fall under sexual harassment more than sizeism, though.

Sizeism is different (my autocorrect keeps wanting to change it to sizes. Like it’s not even a thing!)

Charisma Magazine came right out and asked “Why is the church so fat?” Telling us

Have your noticed that we don’t fit in the pews anymore? God’s people are packing on the pounds, but His Word is clear about how we can reclaim our health.

This article drew a correlation between church going and being fat . . .

In an interesting Purdue University study, sociology professor Ken Ferraro found that affiliation with the Baptist and Protestant church increased the risk of obesity, going as far as to call religion a “feeding ground” for obesity. Ferraro also cited an earlier study at the Pawtucket Heart Health Program that found regular churchgoers were more likely to be more than 20 percent overweight. While Ferraro found a direct link between obesity and the Baptist Church, particularly among women, he found Judaism to be at the bottom end of the church-chunk spectrum. Conversely, he found that obesity did not drive people to the church.

Which has got to be GREAT encouragement for the Baptists when Landover Baptist Church’s Brother Percy felt the need to post in detail how God hates fat people!  (Landover Baptist is kind of like the Onion, but if you read the other two articles and this post you see that they don’t have to go far to lampoon).

And over at ChurchLeaders.com the question “Should fat people lead worship?” is tackled. At least the answer was

So back to the question, “Should fat people lead worship?” If they are gifted, they have no choice.

The question isn’t weight, height, gender or race; the question is gifting. Without the gift, it’s just a show; with the gift, it’s holy ground.

I can’t be the only person who finds the question inherently aggressive.

 

 

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9. Mom Shaming

Believe it or not, the very idea that God ONLY created women to be wives and mothers is a form of mom shaming. Especially when you encounter “Quiverfull” teachings that suggest even child-led weaning is disobedience to God because you are allowing natural amenhoerrhea to make you infertile.

I love Dulce De Leche — truly, she is an amazing woman. And I love this article she wrote outlining the differences between Fundamentalist Quiverfull teachings and traditional Catholicism — because people often lump “All Christians” together when they want to bash something.

What she brings to light — while not becoming guilty of it herself — is the tendency to bash the parenting practices of some other group (especially one we don’t really understand) and how mom shaming across denominational lines is just as unhelpful as mom shaming across parenting practices.

And, at the same time, there are some practices that absolutely should be called out as NOT Biblically supportable. Quiverful is among them. So are the programs and books written by the Ezzo’s and the Pearls. Then there’s jacked up teachings of church fathers who have had a lot of doctrinal influence on things taught to this day

“I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.” — Augustine

Motherhood is a blessing because it is an amazing opportunity to become worthy of the children entrusted to us by God. Motherhood is not a competition. Motherhood is not the pinnacle of woman’s purpose. There is nothing that says every woman has to be a mother.

Stop shaming moms.

Stop shaming how moms mom.

Stop shaming the women who aren’t moms for not being moms.

 

 

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10. Period Shaming

As I’ve focused study on the actual Hebraic ideas behind different things found in the New Testament I’ve learned something really interesting . . . the Patriarchy of the modern Fundamentalist Church is NOT, as they like to argue, rooted in Judaism or the actual teachings of the Old Testament. There is a lot made of the fact that the book of Leviticus speaks of women being “unclean” during their period. But the context is absolutely lacking in any of the teachings I’ve encountered from the Church.

Like, for example, the fact that the book of Leviticus is speaking of what makes someone RITUALLY unclean as in unable to serve in the role of offering sacrifices in the Tabernacle or Temple, which is why the man coming into contact with her blood is even discussed. Other things that made you ritually unclean included wet dreams, being spit on by someone with an open wound, or encountering roadkill. By now you might be seeing a connection between being literally unclean – as in you need to bathe – and the level of ritual cleanliness that was needed for serving in the role of the Levitical Priests who offered the sacrifices on behalf of the people who brought them. What it took to be ritually clean generally involved waiting until sundown (the start of the new day) and bathing. And yet the implication of the idea of pure and impure, clean and unclean, is not related to physical cleanliness when, for example, Hassidic authors address the issue. They see this as speaking to the value of “life” and the call to mourn “death.” What wet dreams and menstruation have in common is that they both are the results of life not being created. It isn’t sinful to not create life each month, and yet there is a call to stop and consider the value of life.

There is much made of the Red Tent, but in ancient Israel the Red Tent came about as a practical solution to a practical problem. It’s not commanded in Scripture. God didn’t establish the Red Tent. He did, however, establish the New Moon as a day of rest for women. Only one of the very pro-women things that God has established in Scripture. Personally, I would welcome a Red Tent where I could go and no one would want me to take care of them on days when I want to just rest and care for myself and be taken care of. It has been a long journey for me to not hate and resent menstruation. Now when I hear the hate come out in teachings about women and the “monthly curse” I call it out immediately.

I’m also quick to point out that I don’t have any responsibility as a pastor to prepare or offer animal sacrifices in the Temple. Neither do ANY pastors or priests within the Church.

 

 

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“No, this is not representative of women in Christian ministry”

11. Stereotypes

I’ve had people assume I’m the secretary.

I’m not insulted by what people might think I am. I’m bothered when they just can’t imagine that I’m the pastor.

I’m bothered when I know that if they walked in and saw a man standing there they would assume he was the pastor and the secretary was out of the office for some reason.

I’ve been writing a series for CBE International on why we need to stop calling every woman in the Bible a whore because we are destroying the role models that women have been given in Scripture.

 

 

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12. Objectification

One reason I’ve been told that women aren’t supposed to be preachers is that someone’s husband might find them attractive. I’ve never heard that as a reason for a man not to be a preacher.

Women who breastfeed in church are often told they are responsible for all of the porn addicts getting turned on. That’s sick!

Women who wear something someone finds sexy are guilty for making him lust . . . even if the outfit isn’t something anyone in their right mind would get in a hissy about!

 

 

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13. The Wage Gap

The reality is that women are going to have a harder time getting a job in churches, especially if they want to be a pastor. Then, when they do, they make even less compared to men than women in jobs outside of the church.

This is really important because

The BLS reports weekly earnings, which generally show less of a gender gap than annual earnings. According to the BLS, in 2014 male clergy earned $1,007 per week; female clergy earned only $763. This is a $12,000 difference in annual earnings.

The gap among clergy is noteworthy because, as an occupation, the clergy has credentialing (ordination) and educational requirements that should encourage similar pay for similar work. Religious organizations often have educational requirements and institutional controls for clergy

In my personal experience, I had my Master’s from a top seminary and then I had to take classes offered by my chosen denomination because I needed to prove that I understood the doctrine of the denomination I had chosen to align myself with and had been teaching as a part of for several years at that point. Men fresh out of high school were getting ordained faster than I could prove my knowledge and loyalty.

In my first staff position I started making $200 a MONTH. When I launched out on my own I learned that church plants were not being funded because 3 men had started churches and they failed so there wasn’t money for that.

 

 

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“NO! Women preaching does not lead to atheism. Ironically, not letting them preach sometimes does.”

14. Implicit Bias

It’s not only that women are treated differently in most church settings. We are treated as less than — and often that is justified by saying God made us to be less than.

Women are finding that they are able to give more to a society and a world in need OUTSIDE of the Church than they are inside

Additionally, Lane points out, women have been gaining ground in every arena of society: economically, in their careers, at school. They have a new sense of vocational agency—something the church hasn’t always encouraged in women. “With more education, women have had more opportunities afforded to them to contribute to the public good,” she says. “What was different (or better) about using my gifts in a church than, say, in my work as a retreat facilitator for clergy or in the feminist writer community of which I was a part? As a young woman, I often felt a greater sense of personal voice and agency in my work outside the church than I did within its walls.

I talked with a team of men who was traveling to train people in a program. They were so very pro women, and they did not travel with any women because they wanted their wives to know how valued they were and that there was no threat to the marriage. This means there were no women in this position because that would mean people would question the sexual fidelity of the men.

Why wasn’t I talking to a team of women who were doing this job and traveling without men?

Why had these very pro-women men not realized what this policy was doing to women?

 

 

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15. Gas lighting

And then when you get to the end of the list and you call it all out and you show how aggressive the Church has been to women on a micro (and a macro level) you get to hear this:

Are there complementarians who oppress women? Yes.

Are there complementarians who are sexist? Yes.

Is the complementarian view oppressive or sexist to women?

No.

Complementarianism is the teaching that women are created to be subordinate to men and men are granted authority and the position of leader, boss, and final say by the very nature of their creation.

Are there people who believe that women were created to be subordinate to men who oppress women? Yes.

Are there people who believe that women were created to be subordinate to men who are sexist? Yes.

Is the teaching that women were created to be subordinate to men oppressive or sexist to women?

YES! Yes, it is inherently sexist!

If you’re not familiar with what Gaslighting is, it’s one of the signs of a cult and here is some great info about it. It’s evidence of Spiritual Abuse and that page is about types of spiritual abuse found in a particular cult. So when you say you are dealing with sexism and you know you are, and you are told you aren’t, you’re encountering gaslighting.

And just as an FYI, ironic sexism is still sexism. Trying to dismiss it by calling it “ironic” is a form of gaslighting.

Thankfully there are organizations, denominations and churches tackling this issue openly and head on, but there is still a lot of work that can be done and we can all do our part at that!

Just remember, when God calls you, you don’t have to defend yourself to people who want to stand against you. There’s a wise Pharisee in the Bible who talks about the early church leaders and says if they are not called by God then their efforts will be revealed as false and the situation will take care of itself. If, however, they are doing God’s Work and called by Him to do it then maybe the Pharisees shouldn’t position themselves against them because doing so is positioning against God.*

That’s not a position you want to take when you claim to be the Church!

via GIPHY

*Before anyone feels the need to mansplain I’m talking about Gamaliel in Acts chapter 5

The problem when it needs to be said

ps_janet-scott_40160_bunting-flag-shape-mask-018_puI remember reading several years ago that we need to stop telling girls that they can be anything they want. The reason? Until we said this to them they never thought they couldn’t be anything. The very need to say something can sometimes betray the reality of the opposite.

The other day I was very intentionally trying to focus on the road and loudly singing whatever was on the radio when something caused an idea to bump and shift slightly in my head and that memory flooded back and shed light on something I’ve been digging into recently. Suddenly I understood what was bugging me!

I grabbed this definition from Wikipedia because it is the generally agreed upon definition and I didn’t really want to do a ping back to someone’s site because that really isn’t the point of this. Essentially Complementarian doctrine is this:

Complementarianism holds that “God has created men and women equal in their essential dignity and human personhood, but different and complementary in function with male headship in the home and in the Church.”

See anytime I’m talking to someone who holds to Complementarianism and trying to talk about the problems I see with the doctrine that God created men and women to be different in function with male headship in the home and in the church, the problems are always quickly explained away with the idea that He created us equal in essential dignity and human personhood.

Until we told girls they could be anything they wanted, young girls didn’t know there was a reason to think otherwise.

The fact that this doctrine needs to include the idea that God created men and women equal in our essential dignity and human personhood means that the doctrine itself suggests otherwise.

Because the very idea of male headship — the idea that men were created by God to be the ones in charge, the bosses, the authority, the final say in any disagreement, the recipients of wifely submission with the “equal” requirement on men being that they need to love their wives and be benevolent dictators and not tyrants — is an inherently unequal essential dignity and human personhood.

Think about it for a minute. Left to your own, without any doctrine about men and women, would you have thought that God created men and women with essentially UNequal dignity or human personhood?

Then you hear the doctrinal position of male headship and the clear and obvious reaction is to say, “HEY! That is inherently unequal essential dignity and human personhood!”

And the proponents of the doctrine say, “No. I know it looks that way. I know it sounds that way. It just isn’t.”

And you say, “But it is. It’s inherently unequal.”

And they say, “But our doctrinal description already addressed that. It isn’t.”

And that is supposed to be the end of it. Especially when ideas are tacked on like if you don’t agree you will go to hell, or if you argue you must be a Jezebel feminist, or the bullying received from the men who are supposed to have all the authority if you try to disagree with them.

But it doesn’t have to be because it isn’t. Them saying so doesn’t make it so. If I don’t turn off my brain, it isn’t the end of it.

“Equal in essential dignity and human personhood” is entirely incompatible with “male headship in the home and church.”

You don’t have to pretend it isn’t. I refuse to.

Distilled Thought for the Day

If you really think about it Complementarianism fits the requirements of a lie of Satan — it acknowledges the power of God while hindering God’s work through half of His Kingdom. And then the response is to say that women wanting to serve God in His Kingdom work are being influenced by Satan. It’s brilliant really. Quite Machiavellian if you stop to think about it. The confusion caused by the logic loops is textbook Satan. The power and control dynamic is textbook Satan. The victims defending the victimizers and trying to force those who begin to escape to stop using their brains and just embrace their lot in life is textbook Satan.

Let’s Talk About the F Word

Do I have your attention?

Brace yourself . . . it is going to be really controversial!

It’s not something I want to talk about . . . I want to live in a world where we don’t need it.

I’m talking about Feminism.

Some of you might be thinking, “That’s worse than what I thought she was going to talk about!”  In some circles this is the worst F Word you can utter!

I know this because there are all sorts of blog posts and articles and memes and Facebook posts, Tweets, etc., etc., all trying to caution people about the dangers of Feminism and how it’s in opposition to Scripture.  Honestly, that’s why we need to talk about it!

Princess Leia was amazing when I was 7 -- she saved the guys and spoke her mind. I loved seeing that portrayed in a movie! The only girl more awesome is Rey.

This was my shirt when I was 7. Princess Leia was amazing — she saved the guys and spoke her mind. I loved seeing that in a movie! The only girl more awesome is Rey.

I really don’t appreciate when people who don’t understand it try to define it.  I really hate it when people who don’t understand it try to define ME!  They will boldly post what feminists believe, what the feminist agenda is, where feminists want to take everyone, and what is really driving us.

Why?  Why does it bother me?

It’s because they are so miserably wrong and they don’t get it.

Most recently I read an article that talked about one of the problems with feminism being that everyone defines it differently.  An interesting argument but not something I’ve ever found to be true.  In fact, I just googled “feminism defined” and was quickly informed it’s a noun of French origin that means “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.”

Easy peasy and no confusion at all! A quick scan of the articles and blog posts about the definition of feminism confirmed that this is the basic agreed upon definition that feminists are functioning with.  It’s why there isn’t a lot of infighting about what we’re all advocating for.  We basically agree.

At the same time, we all function in different realms of life and there is going to be a beautiful diversity of how that plays out and what it looks like in our lives.

At feminism.com there is an excerpt called “What is Feminism?”by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards*

In the most basic sense, feminism is exactly what the dictionary says it is: the movement for social, political, and economic equality of men and women. Public opinion polls confirm that when people are given this definition, 67 percent say they agree with feminism. We prefer to add to that seemingly uncontroversial statement the following: feminism means that women have the right to enough information to make informed choices about their lives. And because “women” is an all encompassing term that includes middle-class white women, rich black lesbians, and working-class straight Asian women, an organic intertwining with movements for racial and economic equality, as well as gay rights, is inherent to the feminist mandate. Some sort of allegiance between women and men is also an important component of equality. After all, equality is a balance between the male and female with the intention of liberating the individual.

I am not advocating everything on the site, or even in the Manifesta – I haven’t read it all and don’t want to be misconstrued.  I do want to point out a few things in this beautiful description and offer my thoughts on them.

First – as I mentioned above, there isn’t debate about the definition and it’s easily defined

Second – the goal is inherently pro women AND pro men.  There is no need for men to lose in order for women to live in equality with them.  In fact, if the goal is equality then the idea of taking men down is counter productive and foolish.

Third – wanting to accomplish these things for all women regardless of their gender, position, sexual orientation, etc., is not the same thing as endorsing or agreeing with all of the things they may choose to do.  It is, however, important to acknowledge the reality that women may make choices you don’t agree with. That is not a valid objection to them having the information and right to make those choices.**

Fourth – the goal of empowering women with enough information to make informed choices is only scary if you are invested in victimizing and controlling women.

It’s with the fourth point that I find myself most entangled day to day. This is because I am not just a feminist . . . I’m a Christian Egalitarian.

All too often Fundamental Patriarchalists will say that Christian Egalitarians are liberals who discount the “plain and obvious truth” of the text of Scripture.

To that I say that Fundamental Patriarchalists have found another area where they have no idea what they are talking about.

For one thing, the issue of liberal and conservative with regards to the Bible has to do with whether you hold the Bible as authoritative for the instruction of believers. Liberal means you do not hold the Bible as authoritative.  Conservative means you do.

I do. That makes me theologically conservative.

And we find ourselves at the primary reason that anti-feminist bloggers in the Christian community can’t seem to find a way to silence us.  We are not the straw men they set up and knock down.

Who are we and what do we really believe?

We are educated, intelligent, empowered, women AND MEN who have studied Scripture and believe it to advocate for gender equality.

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

Gender equality is not the same thing as gender neutrality.  I don’t care how many times someone tells you it is, they are wrong.

Christian Egalitarians do not reject submission.  We reject the idea that there is a sound doctrine that requires women only to be submissive while men are told to rule and dominate.

Ephesians 5:21 “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.”

Mark 10:42-45 “42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.””

Christian Egalitarians reject Subordinationism.

Christian Egalitarians know that the Word of God presents God not as male or female but as Spirit and as the Creator determined, male and female are both image-bearers of God.

Genesis 1:27 “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

One test I put doctrinal ideas through is this . . . I take them to its extreme and ask what that looks like.  Does it hold up to Scripture?  I just can’t find anything in Scripture that argues against treating men and women as equal image bearers of God, submitting and serving one another sacrificially, and treating people in the way that I would treat God because as we do to the least of these we have done to Him.  I have yet to come across a sound argument against Christian Egalitarianism.

In fact I believe Egalitarianism is the doctrine that best expresses  God’s intention for men and women within the Body of Messiah.  Therefore, I am a Christian Egalitarian.  I am a feminist.

 

*from Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000).

**While Christian bloggers might express loud and passionate views of what they think of men’s choices, to my knowledge there is no organized movement to remove information and choice from men’s lives.  There is some hate mongering and name calling when someone does something some people don’t like, and efforts to pass laws making it okay to be mean to them or refuse their business.  Those laws would include women too so it’s not the same thing.

The Husband is the Head of the Wife

Ephesians 5:23 “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.”

Most people are familiar with this verse and when issues of submission come up this is one of the quick draw verses brought out to defend certain patriarchal teachings within the modern church. There is a lot going on in the discussions of submission that go way beyond the scope of this article, but I want to discuss the Greek word kephale that is here translated “head”. And briefly, before I discuss kephale, I want to be clear that I believe in wifely submission. Where I disagree with traditional patriarchal ideas on submission is on the overall dynamic of the relationship in which I believe wifely submission is placed by God, and I believe that the verses used to support wifely submission ignore the instruction to men to submit as part of the all believers submitting to one another (a relationship that does not change after marriage if both spouses are believers in Messiah) and are taken out of context to create a doctrine that does not accurately express God’s heart for His children—male or female.

The way the traditional argument goes is that “we all know” that the head means the thinking, logical part of the person who is in charge. It’s on the top of the body so it must be the boss. And Jesus is the boss of the church so it makes sense that the man would be the boss of the woman. Interestingly, that does not fit with what this passage in Ephesians is saying.

There are several words in Greek that can be translated into English as “head”. Some actually do mean “boss” or “in charge” or “the top”. Kephale is not one of those words. Since Paul was a highly educated man who was writing in order to teach the believers in Ephesus I believe he used exactly the word he wanted to use to communicate exactly what he wanted to communicate. As it turns out, kephale means a literal head of a body, and is the only word for “head” that is used for the head of a river. In that context it would be best translated that, “the husband is the source of the woman even as Christ is the source of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” Rather than boss and “in charge” this rendering opens up an incredibly rich theological fountain!

It is easy to agree that Jesus is the source of the Church—we exist because of Him and who He is and what He has done for us. His death is the source of our gaining access to life. From Him flow all blessings and teachings and Wisdom and love. He is the source of our gifts and the source of our callings to ministry—and our being equipped for those ministries.

Is the man similarly the source of the woman? In the beginning the man was put into a deep sleep and from his very body was taken the essence of woman. More specifically, though, the passage does not tell us that “man” is the head/source of “woman”. Rather, the husband is the source of the wife. According to tradition it is the man who generally extends an invitation to marry to the woman who, when she accepts the offer for marriage, becomes his wife. He brings her into his life and the home he has made for her – a home she would run and that she was admonished to run with him and his best in mind. He was here being told by Paul to teach his wife and bring her into his study of Scripture, what was in the Word of God. In this way he was to be, like Jesus to the church, the source of wisdom for his wife, the source of her understanding and being equipped for whatever calling the Lord had for her, and the source of bringing her into study of the Word.

When I’m studying Scripture I believe it’s important to always go to the Hebrew—even if what was written was written in Greek—because the authors of the New Testament were writing in an effort to communicate Hebraic ideas, properly understood in light of Jesus, to a mixed audience of Jewish and Greek believers. The Jewish audience would be familiar with the traditional Jewish teachings, and certainly familiar with what was in Scripture (the only Scriptures anyone had access to at that time!) and if there is a change to the original understanding there is much to be learned from it. Nothing in Scripture can contradict anything else in Scripture if it is being properly understood for God is the same yesterday, today and forever. So when going to the Hebrew I would expect to find help in clarifying Paul’s teaching and this is a wonderful illustration of how that works.

Hebrew for “head” is “rosh”. It means the literal head, it also means the “head of the month”, or of the year. Rosh Chodesh is the name for the “new moon” celebration. Yom Teruah is the name for the Feast of Trumpets but the holiday is also called Rosh Hashanah because it is the first Rosh Chodesh of the new year! It is from Rosh Chodesh that the month flows, Rosh Hoshanah that is the source of the year. And as the literal head, the Hebrew word rosh, is a perfect fit with kephale.

The husband is the head of the wife, the source of the wife, the rosh of the wife . . . just as Messiah is the head of the church, the source of the church, the rosh of the church. There is much in this teaching that challenges man and woman, husband and wife, to pursue a closer relationship to God and one another so that they can fulfill the previous command to submit to one another.

The Weaker Sex

Okay, I admit it . . . I sometimes wish Peter and the other Apostles were here to answer for some of their word choices. As much as I love learning about the culture and thoughts of their day to try and understand the message behind their words, sometimes their words leave me having to answer so much more than I would like. Peter’s reference to men remembering that women are the weaker sex is one of those times. The lightbulb moment I had with this verse was so refreshing . . . I admit I cannot prove that this is, in fact, what Peter exactly meant. BUT none of the ideas about what he meant can be proven. They are all someone’s best guess about what Peter meant. So, here are my thoughts thrown into the mix.

First, especially in ancient times, I seriously question the idea of women being viewed as “weaker”. I’m sure in some cultures that was the perception of women, but I read Proverbs 31 and other writings and I see amazing women who are honored for all that they do for the family and the community. The perception that women weren’t valued in Jewish culture could not be further from the truth. Women were not “forbidden” from studying Torah — they were “excused” from the obligation to study it for two reasons.

1. They were caring for the family members who included babies and young children and wouldn’t be able to commit to the requirements put on the men.

2. It was believed that women intuitively got a lot of spiritual truths that men didn’t get without a lot of study.

I’m not saying this just because I’m a woman, either. I would encourage anyone who wants to learn more about women in Judaism to visit the page on women at jewfaq.com. [Read more…]