It’s good to reject false images of God!

The problem with far too many theologies is that God is understood and presented as an abuser.

Some abusive men start by picking at you and telling you everything you do is wrong. One thing at a time. Today it’s how you dress, then it’s how you do your hair. He reminds you all the time that he loves you and only wants the best for you, but the best is never what you’re doing. It’s always something different. And because you want to please him you do your best — but it’s never good enough. And in the end he reminds you how lucky you are that he chose you and loves you . . . especially because you’re not worth the love he’s giving you.

Some abusers declare their love and shower you with good treatment, but it’s always with a catch. And, ultimately, the threat of them leaving you is subtly (or not so subtly) hanging over your head. They love you, but if you don’t love them back good enough or the right way, or you don’t live the way they tell you to, then they will punish you by leaving you and you will have to learn to live without them. Or they will make sure you know your place and you will suffer at their hand because that is all you are worthy of and it’s their job to teach you that truth.

"I'm doing this because I love you and it hurts me more than it hurts you."

“I’m doing this because I love you and it hurts me more than it hurts you.”

Some abusers make you feel special that they chose you and over time they isolate you from your family and friends because they aren’t good enough. You’re only allowed to have the family and friends that they say you can have and those people all think the same way so if you try to tell anyone that he’s abusing you they will deny it and correct you on how you’re thinking — explaining why it’s not abuse. Usually it’s about you having the wrong perspective or if you only trusted him enough or if you could have his perspective you would get it.

God IS love. God is not an abuser. God is not twisted but so many doctrines are. Rejecting these garbage doctrines — rejecting the idea that God is abusive and refusing to live with an abusive deity — is NOT rejecting the God who created you, loves you, died for you and redeemed you. It’s healthy to reject a false image of God.

Ephesians 5 . . . husbands/wives and Christ/Church

A human has a head with a brain and a body with a heart. If either is dead the person is dead. In Ephesians, Paul explains that, for the purposes of the analogy he is making — AFTER saying that all believers are to submit to one another — the man is the head of the person and the woman is the body. This fits with the idea held at his time that the man was closer to the mind of God and the woman closer to the heart of God . . . it also fits with the belief also held at his time that the heart was the ruling organ of the body and the Jewish belief that women intuitively understand things about God that men need to study to learn.

The human — who was one person until divided into two and then called to be Echad — a word that translates “one” but which is not “singular one” but is more like “one bunch of grapes” or a plural, multi-faceted one. I express it as plural unity because it is the word for the two shall become one AND the word used when Moses says, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” Just as Jesus said “I and the father are one” and he explains that he hasn’t do anything the hasn’t seen the Father doing. They function in plural unity.

One bunch of grapes

One bunch of grapes

And that’s important because Paul ends the section of Ephesians 5 with this statement “29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” (yes, there is one additional verse here but it’s a practical summary moving back from the analogy and it’s been twisted so much that it warrants it’s own discussion)

Jesus loves the church how? By sacrificing, laying down his life, redeeming, and loving us thoroughly! Men — imagine your wives are like your own body — imagine you have literally become one flesh with them. That’s the mystery and that’s the picture — as well as you do this, that’s the picture you are giving to the world about what the relationship between Christ and the Church looks like. Your picture will be imperfect, but that’s what you’re aiming for.

Christ and the Church is NOT the analogy of husband and wife. Husband and wife is the analogy for Christ and the Church

So Christ and the Church is NOT the analogy of husband and wife. Husband and wife is the analogy for Christ and the Church. And just as the church is supposed to strive for plural unity with Christ, that is intended to be expressed to the world when they see husband and wife functioning plural unity — the picture we give is what they will understand. And where we fail we destroy the picture . . . kind of like how Moses struck the rock and destroyed a picture of Messiah and the Jews know they needed and credit with their errors from that point on.

Thomas Talks about Contentment

There comes a time where you have to acknowledge your limitations and rely on the people who God has put around you to shore you up. When you cast the vision that God put in you and trust that the people it relies on are going to catch the vision and do what they need to do to see that vision realized.

In this case the vision is for something I’m so very excited about — Thomas Talks.

The people I need to rely on are the amazing team of women that God has brought into my life over the years who understand, much more than I do, what it’s going to take to get this going the right way. I’m so grateful they believe in the vision and see what God is doing — but of course they do, God brought us together to do this!

Thomas Talks is a Reconciliation ministry.

What does this mean?

1) Thomas Talks is purposed to make amends where people have been wounded and wronged by those who claimed to be representing God — whether institutions or individuals. If someone was wounded and wronged then the one(s) who came to them were not representing God — whether correctly or at all. We want to remove unnecessary obstacles to God that have been put in people’s lives. What comes of that we trust the Lord and the individual to work out and while we’d be honored to be a part of that, we believe it’s inappropriate to create goals for other people’s lives.


2) Thomas Talks is about open and inclusive dialogue about anything related to Biblical faith. In too many faith communities there isn’t a respect for questions and those who have them are deemed trouble makers, doubters, and, if they are women, Jezebels. This is wrong and God is bigger than our questions! We believe questions are valid and are often an expression of faith, rather than doubt. We say ask the questions — and then get good information as you seek out the answers. We also say that too many people have been arguing about the right answers to the wrong questions and we want to help you ask better questions!

We want to provide comprehensive answers to questions that include what is really found in Scripture (in context) as well as the history of how issues have been dealt with over time and encouragement for how to shine God’s love and truth into those situations today. Towards these ends we are committed to collaborating with amazing people and ministries who are addressing relevant and important issues — and doing it well.

We have a website that I’m so excited about! As it turns out, to get us started correctly it’s going to take a lot more talent and skill set than I bring to the table. We opened up a membership chat room right after the election because we wanted to make our space available, and several people joined. In the end, it was easier to move that to a Facebook group, but right in the aftermath I was so grateful for that space! We’ll use it again. In the meantime we have put out information about a Pre-Inaugural Time of Meditation and Prayer that we co-hosted with Imagine Yoga in our local area. Eventually we want to provide resources and encouragement for similar types of meetings that people might want to hold to address various issues. Goodness knows there is no shortage of issues right now!

While I give my team the time they need to build the site in it’s entirety and correctly I’m focusing my energies on growing the community. As I mentioned, we’re on Facebook. We’re a closed group, but you can find us and we’d love to have you if you need this kind of space. I’m also going to be blogging here more while I wait. The goal will be to move the articles from here out onto the Thomas Talks site so many of them will be written with the goals of Thomas Talks in mind. Feel free to comment and engage with me. I keep the comments moderated but I really do approve them! Just want to keep out the very clever spammers and the people who troll around without good intentions. We don’t need that kind of negativity in our lives so I try to keep it out of yours.

In addition, if you have a ministry (blogging, books, speaking, music, whatever) and you think that your heart meshes with what we’re trying to do here, reach out to me. Post a comment or contact me through the group on Facebook. I want to know about you so I can let others know about you. When people want to find good resources I want them to be able to!

So there it is. We’re in the stage of moving towards and I’m accepting the things I cannot change and working on what is mine to do. In the end I am convinced that God’s timing is going to be perfect and what God has called us to do will be amazing. I don’t want to do it in my own strength anyway. I just want to put my strength towards what I can do today.

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Thoughts from the Sukkah 2016 Edition — Day 7

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6


Jacob was afraid to meet his brother Esau after all that had happened between them before he left home. He sent ahead of him an incredible amount of tribute, seeking to win his favor. He also helped his family cross over the river while he waited behind and wrestled with God. After wrestling he had a more humble walk (a dislocated hip-socket will do that to you) and he had kept good on his vow to make the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, His God.

Jacob raised his eyes and saw Esau

Because I believe Jacob was wrestling with God during Rosh Hashanah — possibly the whole time of the Days of Awe through Yom Kippur — it is important to note that these are Judgment days and on these days God determines the fate for individuals and the Jewish Nation. If he had not kept his vow, I believe Jacob would have met with a very different temperament from Esau.

As it was, he still feared him. When he saw his brother and his 400 men coming he divided the children with their mothers and sent them ahead of him in shifts. The handmaids and their children were sent out first, then Leah and her children, and finally Rachel and Joseph last. He went ahead of them and bowed to the ground before his brother seven times as he was approaching Esau.

Esau ran toward him and embraced him. He hugged him deeply, kissed him and wept.

Jacob had not considered that during his own travels his brother would have grown up as well.

Esau looked up and saw all of the women and children and asked who they were. Jacob responded, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.”

Everyone was introduced to Esau and then Esau asked why Jacob had sent ahead all of the tribute. Jacob answered, “To gain favor in my lord’s eyes.”

Esau informed Jacob that he had plenty and insisted that Jacob keep his tribute, as would be customary in an honor society. Jacob then insisted that if he had found favor in Esau’s eyes Esau should keep the tribute and Jacob would consider it a blessing that they were reunited and reconciled. Jacob insists that because God has been gracious and generous to him he wants to be generous toward Esau. Esau did not object again.

Let us travel on together

Esau encouraged Jacob to travel on together with Jacob’s family and men side by side.

Jacob objected and insisted that his children needed to rest and the nursing cattle needed tending. He did not want harm to come to them from being driven too hard. Jacob encouraged Esau to return ahead of him and assure him he would catch up. Jacob was going to let the herds and the children set the pace for his travels.

Esau suggested leaving some of his men to help them.

Jacob argued that he did not need Esau to go to that rouble and asked for favor in his brother’s eyes.

Despite the tearful reunion there is clearly distrust between the brothers. As it was, Jacob had no intention of taking his family to Seir. The Sages point out the conflict between his obvious plan and the lengths he had gone to in his life to not tell a blatant lie and suggest he may have been referring to the End of Days when Obadiah (Obadiah 1:21) declares that Jacob’s descendants will come to Mount Seir to render judgment against Esau’s descendants.

Esau started back that day on his way to Seir

If Jacob was referring prophetically to the time referred to by Obadiah, this could be an allusion to the fact that Esau has not changed completely and even though they are reconciled he is still the same person he was in character and intention before Jacob left.

Esau started back to Seir.

Jacob, instead, journeyed to Succoth (another spelling for Sukkot). He built himself a house and many shelters and called the place Succoth.

His Journey Ends

He then arrived with his whole family and all of his possessions at the City of Shechem, in the Land of Canaan. He camped outside the city and eventually bought a parcel of land, from the children of Hamor (Shechem’s father), where he pitched his tent. He bought the land for 100 kesitahs.

Jacob set up an altar on the land and it was there he proclaimed, “God, the God of Israel.”

Jacob's altar was stone but you get the idea

Jacob’s altar was stone but you get the idea

Thoughts from the Sukkah 2016 Edition — Day 6

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5


The important things to know for today’s portion are

1) Jacob loved Rachel, his second wife, more than Leah, his first wife. Rachel and Leah are sisters.
2) Jacob made a vow to God as he was leaving the Land that if God would keep all of his promises to Abraham and Isaac and return Jacob to the Land of his fathers safely and having prospered while away, then God would be his God too.
3) Esau’s plot was to kill Jacob when he had completed mourning his father’s death and Isaac, their father, is still alive.

Jacob sends angels to Esau

Jacob knew he was going home and knows that his brother Esau may still be angry with him.

I think most people who have left home for any period of time can relate to Jacob’s hesitation. While we are away from home we change and become different people through our experiences and our maturing. We return home, whether to live or just to visit, to people who only knew us in the before, not the after. They don’t know the way we’ve changed and may respond to us the way they did before we left. Sometimes we find ourselves responding as we did before we left because in all of our growing up we might not have dealt with the issues that are brought out when we’re with our family.

Sometimes we find that those in our family haven’t changed the way we have and that can be challenging.

There is debate in the Rabbinic commentaries over whether Jacob sent human emissaries (“angels” are messengers) or actual spiritual angels to his brother Esau to test how he would respond to Jacob’s return. Jacob’s message was this:

To my lord, to Esau, so said your servant Jacob: I have sojourned with Laban and have lingered until now. I have acquired oxen and donkeys, flocks , servants, and maidservants and I am sending to tell my lord to find favor in your eyes.

The angels returned to Jacob with news that they had given his message to Esau and Esau was heading towards him with 400 men.

Jacob became frightened.

Why 400 men?

Was Esau coming to exact revenge on him? Did Esau want to take everything he’d just told him he was bringing back with him? And we are reminded that we are still dealing with Jacob who is looking out for himself because his plan reveals what is most near and dear to his heart.

Jacob’s Plan

Jacob’s plan for how to deal with Esau involved dividing up his family and his property and sending them out in waves so that Esau would have several groups to get through before Jacob himself was at risk.

Jacob’s prayer as he divided them was this

God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac; Adonai who said to me, ‘Return to your land and to your relatives and I will do good with you — I have been diminished by all the kindnesses and by all the truth that You have doe Your servant; for with my staff I crossed this Jordan and now I have become two camps. Rescue me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him lest he come and strike me down, mother and children. And You had said, ‘I will surely do good with you ad I will make your offspring like the sand of the sea which is too numerous to count.’

The next day

Jacob stayed the night there and woke the next day to prepare a tribute for his brother to send ahead of him. He sent as tribute:

200 she-goats
20 he-goats
200 ewes
20 rams
30 nursing camels with their colts
40 cows and 10 bulls
20 she-donkeys
10 he-donkeys

He sent these off in droves, each with a different servant, and told them to stagger the droves and go ahead of him.

Each servant was told that when he encountered Esau and Esau asked who they belonged to and where they were going they were to say, “Your servant Jacob’s. It is a tribute set to my lord, to Esau, ad behold he himself is behind us.’

Jacob thought if he gave him enough tribute then Esau wouldn’t be as mad when they met and might forgive him.

The servants with the tribute left at intervals throughout the day.

That night he rose and took his wives, handmaidens and eleven sons, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After them he sent over his possessions.

Jacob stayed behind.

Jacob Wrestled

That night, while alone, Jacob wrestled with a man until the break of dawn. When the man realized he couldn’t overcome Jacob he struck him and dislocated Jacob’s hip socket. The man told him to let him go for dawn had broken, but Jacob refused to let him go until he blessed him.

The man said to Jacob, “What is your name?”
He replied, “Jacob.”
He said, “No longer will it be said that your name is Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with the Divine and with man and have overcome.”
Then Jacob inquired, and he said, “Divulge, if you please, your name.”
And he said, “Why then do you inquire of my name?” And he blessed him there.

So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel — ‘For I have see the Divine face to face, yet my life was spared.” The sun rose for him as he passed Penuel and he was limping on his hip.

And then there’s a note in the story that this is why Jews don’t eat the displaced sinew on a hip-socket.

What the what?

Jewish commentary acknowledges that this is one of the cosmic events in Jewish history. But just who is this man that Jacob wrestled with? And why did he acknowledge that he had seen the Divine?

Some Jewish scholars argue that he was fighting with Esau’s Guardian Angel. Some take this a step further and say that because Esau epitomized evil his Guardian Angel was Satan himself.

Christian scholars argue that this man was a pre-incarnate Jesus.

That is a huge difference and a lot of options.

All of these ideas also leave me with a ton of questions.

If the man is Satan then why does Jacob ask for a blessing? And why does he say he has seen the Divine?

If the man is Jesus then why is he worried about the sun coming up? He’s not a vampire who has to stay out of the sun — He is THE SON, the Light of the World.

And why wouldn’t Jesus be able to win in a fight with a mere man?

If the man is Esau’s Guardian Angel then how did he have the right to bless Jacob by changing his name?

I admit this story left me very confused for a very long time.

The High Holy Days

Then I studied the Fall Feasts and Festivals and some very fascinating things began to unravel for me.

As an overview, the Fall Holy Days begin approximately 30 days before Rosh Hashanah, during the month of Elul, when a call goes out daily to, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” Yes, this is what John the Baptizer was announcing, and this was no doubt when he was announcing it.

During this time people are encouraged to get right with God and with their fellow humans. Make amends if you have wronged someone, offer forgiveness if they have wronged you. Examine your heart, mind and soul and seek out any darkness that you know you have been harboring and take it to the Lord in earnest prayer and repentance. This is also a time for mikveh — ritual immersion to symbolize being returned to the mother’s womb and cleansed through the waters of life.

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, but it is also a day of Judgment. It is the day that God sets the course of the year for His people. Three books are opened in heaven and they are examined. One is the Book of the Righteous. One is the Book of the Wicked. The third is the Book of the Undecided. These are all people who know God — those who have surrendered to him completely, those who have rejected him completely, and those who have not yet committed to one path or another. The Rabbi’s believe that most Jewish people — people who know God — are in the Book of the Undecided. At the close of Rosh Hashanah the Book of the Righteous and the Book of the Wicked are closed for their judgment has been given for the upcoming year. The Book of the Undecided stays open through the Days of Awe and is closed at the end of Yom Kippur.

The Book was opened

The Book was opened

Yom Kippur is a day of Judgment for the Jewish Nation and they stand corporately before God and confess their sins as a community, repenting of the wrong they have done over the last year and acknowledging the wrong they will do over the next year, while acknowledging that God is bigger than man and expressing gratitude that He will bring yeshua (salvation) and atonement. At the close of Yom Kippur the Book of the Undecided is closed and their judgment is set for the upcoming year.

Sukkot comes shortly after and is a week long Festival that is used as a remembrance for the Jewish Nation of what it was like for them to live in tents in the Wilderness. It is also the week long sacrifices that are offered by Israel for the Nations — those who don’t know God at all and aren’t expected to.

The Break of Dawn

What does the sunrise have to do with anything in this story?

That question was answered for me when I began to study the words being translated and found that the word used here does speak to the sunrise, but the ancient root word being used also can speak to enlightenment, or the sun coming on in a person’s understanding.

Remember the Vow

When God told Jacob it was time to return to his family and the Land of Canaan he reminded Jacob of the vow he had made.

When Jacob prayed seeking protection when he encountered Esau he reminded God of the vow that he had made.

The vow was made to God of his grandfather Abraham and God of his father Isaac and said that if God protected him and prospered him while he was away from home, and returned him safely to the Land of Canaan, then he would be Jacob’s God too.

A time of personal reckoning

I am putting forth that it was time for Jacob to make good on his vow.

Jacob’s return to the Land of Canaan is begun when God reminds him of his vow and says it’s time to return. Like the call that goes out at the beginning of the month of Elul to, “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand,” Jacob was reminded of his vow and told it was time that God would be returning him and fulfilling the conditions of the vow. It was time for Jacob to get right with God.

It’s also time to get right with your fellow man and after 20 years of deceiving each other Jacob and Laban were able to make a covenant to keep a respectful distance and leave each other alone Not quite reconciling for deep and intimate friendship, but reconciling nonetheless.

Jacob asks God to help him reconcile with Esau, but before that can happen Jacob needs to reconcile with God.

Who is the man?

I do believe that the man is Yeshua — the Hebrew name for Jesus that is not quite as weighted down with cultural baggage. I believe this because of information given to us in Revelation 5:1-9.

I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.”

And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8 When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are You to take the [fn]book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”

There is a lot more to unpack in this passage than fits within the purpose of this post, so let me stick with the relevant details.

In the Throneroom of God the one who was found worthy to open the book was the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, who has overcome in order to open the book. And the Lion appeared as a Lamb who after being slain sent the Seven Spirits of God out into the world.

The 4 Living Creatures are a reference to the standards of the camps of the Tribes of Israel as they were positioned around the Tabernacle during their time in the Wilderness.

What does any of this have to do with wrestling?

Some people need this story to speak to a physical wrestling. I believe it is speaking to a spiritual wrestling with the One who opens the books at the times of Judgment. I relate to this type of wrestling because it is how I wrestle with God, with ideas, with Truth. I won’t let go until I understand it. And even though it is mental and spiritual it is very physically exhausting. It involves my whole body, mind, soul, and spirit.

So what happened?

As with everything I am putting forth in this story, I am sharing how I have come to understand this story. I believe the text supports it. I believe it fits within the greater context of Scripture. By no means do I think I have it all figured out or do I believe that this understanding renders all others invalid.

What I propose occurred that night is this:

After the call to return to the Land and get right with God and his fellow men, Rosh Hashanah came and Jacob encountered the One who was worthy to open the Books and render Judgment from the Throneroom of God.

When the Book of the Righteous was opened, the One who opened it acknowledged that Abraham and Isaac were listed there, but Jacob was not. In order to fulfill his vow, Jacob needed to make God HIS God. It was time.

Jacob wrestled with this reality, the implications of what it all meant. What would happen to Rachel? How would it impact his family? His future? His children? Was it really important?

At times Jacob was strong in his flesh and refused to give in. This is what prompted the dislocation of the hip-socket. This act produced a more humble walk as he went forward in life. This is also what provoked the man to tell him to stop fighting because he had understanding — he had revelation and knew what he needed to do!

Finally Jacob was willing to surrender, but he insisted on receiving a blessing before he would let go. The man informed him that NOW his name was Israel. He now had the spiritual status to walk in the ways of his fathers and continue the covenant they made with God.

From this point forward in the story of Jacob, when the name Jacob is used it generally references something related to earthly experience and when the name Israel is used it generally references the spiritual status of the man and his descendants.

Jacob moved his name into the Book of the Righteous and then he stopped wrestling.

What happened next?

I will address this in the conclusion of this series tomorrow when we look at the impact this experience had on Jacob and the implications for his meeting with Esau and how that resolves.

Day 7

Thoughts from the Sukkah 2016 Edition — Day 5

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4


Jacob had stolen the blessing from his father and then fled to escape his twin brother Esau’s plan to kill him. He was sent by his mother to her brother Laban’s home to find a bride. Upon arrival he met Rachel and he agreed to work 7 years for his uncle in order to get permission to marry her. When the wedding week arrived, Laban tricked Jacob by getting him drunk and sending in to him his older daughter Leah. Jacob demanded to know why he had done that and Laban insisted the older daughter must marry first, but offered to let him marry Rachel the following week in exchange for 7 more years of labor. While he labored in the field his wives Leah, her handmaiden Zilpah, and Rachel’s handmaiden Bilhah were laboring in their tents producing 10 sons and 1 daughter for Jacob. Rachel, the wife he loved most, did not have any children until she finally gave birth to a son, Joseph.

After all of these children were born and the commitment to Laban for the total of 14 years labor was completed Jacob went to him to announce his intention to leave and return to his family.

Keep in mind

Jacob and Laban were living in an honor culture. This is a very strange thing to those who were raised their entire lives in a Western culture. I don’t yet understand all of the nuances in a way that I can explain them but I will do my best to point out some of the things that I see in the dialogues. Please also keep in mind that when Jacob left for Uncle Laban’s he made a deal with God that if God would keep all of his promises to bless him on behalf of his father and grandfather, then he would be his God too. What comes next involves strange practices that are more pagan than Hebrew and I believe it’s important to keep in mind where, when and who the people in this story are.

Please don’t go

Jacob went to Laban and sought his blessing to leave. He had the right to simply go but he was honoring Laban’s role as an elder, his father in law, his uncle, and his employer. He pointed out how rich he had made Laban and all he had done for him, and the fact that his contract for service was completed.

Laban responded by acknowledging how much he had been blessed financially because of Jacob’s hard work — he even admitted that through divination he understood that Jacob’s presence was the reason for his being blessed.

Laban asked Jacob to tell him what he would need to be paid to make staying worth it for him.

Jacob knew this man. Jacob hdd been tricked in the ultimate deception by this man. Jacob was not going to be caught off guard again.

Jacob reminded him of what his flocks were before he arrived and began working, and how much he had grown them. He reminded Laban that he did all of this for him and asked when it would be his turn to build something for himself and his household.

Laban asked what Jacob wanted him to give him and Jacob responded that he wanted nothing given to him. He only asked for one thing. Jacob would continue pasturing and guarding Laban’s flocks but first he would pass through the flocks and take for himself every speckled or spotted lamb, every brownish lamb, and every spotted or speckled goat. These sheep and goats would become Jacob’s wage. He even put his reputation and integrity on the line by saying that if he was found with any unspeckled or unspotted sheep or goats in his possession they would be acknowledged as stolen.

Laban agreed but added the statement, “If only it will be as you say.” He was no doubt looking for the catch, the trap.

Then Laban went about his own trickery. He went through the field before Jacob could and removed every ringed and spotted male goat and sheep and every speckled and spotted goat or sheep, and every goat or sheep that contained white or was brownish, and entrusted them to his own sons. After removing these animals from the genetic pool he put three days journey between them and Jacob. He left Jacob in charge of the rest of his flock.

Jacob gathered together fresh rods of poplar, hazel and chestnut. He peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the rods, and set them up in the watering receptacles where the flocks drank, facing them so they would become stimulated when they were drinking. When that happened they gave birth to sheep and goats that were ringed, spotted, and speckled and Jacob took those out from the flock and kept them for his own. He did not let his own sheep and goats mingle with Laban’s flocks.

Every early mating season Jacob would place the rods in the drinking troughs and the sheep and goats would produce kids that were ringed, spotted and speckled and he would take them for his own flocks. During the late mating season he would not do this and those kids would go to Laban.

Through this Jacob became “exceedingly prosperous” and he attained large flocks, maidservants and servants, camels and donkeys.

It’s time

Laban’s sons were watching their brother in law grow wealthy beyond belief and began to cry that he had taken all that belonged to Laban. Jacob heard about this and also noticed that Laban was no longer acting as a friend and was not positive toward him as he had once been.

At this point Adonai made it clear to Jacob that it was time to return to the land of his fathers and ensured Jacob that he would be with him.

Jacob gathers his wives

This time Jacob sent for Rachel and Leah to come to the field where he was with his flock. He told them that he had noticed their father’s change in how he treated him. He told them that Laban was not on his side, but the God of his father was with him. (note he does not say ‘my God’ at this point).

Jacob reminded his wives how hard he has worked, holding nothing back, in the service of their father. He also reminded them that Laban had mocked him and changed his wage 100 times, always seeking to keep them reliant on him. And yet God did not permit Laban to harm Jacob. If Laban said, “speckled ones shall be your wage,” then the entire flock would have speckled ones. If Laban said, spotted ones shall be your wage,” then the entire flock would have spotted ones. God did not allow Laban to succeed and over time transferred Laban’s livestock over to Jacob.

Jacob told his wives of a vision he had during mating season one year. He raised his eyes and saw in a dream

Behold! The he-goats that mounted the flock were ringed, speckled, and checkered. And an angel of God said to me in a dream, ‘Jacob!’ And I said, ‘Here I am.’ And he said, ‘Raise your eyes, if you please, and see that all the he-goats mounting the flocks are ringed, speckled and checkered, for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. I am the God of Beth-el where you anointed a pillar and where you made Me a vow. Now–arise, leave this land and return to your native land.’



When God spoke to him he reminded him of the vow he had made while also reminding him that God had kept his part of the bargain. God had protected him, prospered him, and was now calling him to return to the Land of his fathers.

His wives reaction

Jacob’s wives have lived through and seen all that their father has done to them over the years. They also see what God has done. They respond to him

Have we then still a share and an inheritance in our father’s house? are we not considered by him as strangers? for he has sold us and even totally consumed our money! But, all the wealth that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children; so now, whatever God has said to you, do.

so Jacob rose, put his children and wives on camels, and left with them, his flocks, his wealth and everything he had earned or purchased while in Paddan-aram. He set out to return to his father Isaac, to the land of Canaan.

A note

Before we move into the rest of the story I want to point out that this adventure began when Isaac wanted to bless Esau before he died. When Jacob tricked his father and took the blessing Esau declared that he would wait until he was finished mourning his father’s death before he killed Jacob in revenge for what he had done. Jewish Tradition teaches that Jacob was away from his parents for 36 years, and according to this story he was gone at least 20, and yet Isaac is still alive.

Laban learns they have left

Before they left, Laban had gone out to shear sheep and Rachel stole the idols that belonged to her father. These may have been the idols who informed him through divination that Jacob’s presence was why God was blessing him. Various commentary try to argue that Rachel stole the idols because she wanted to prevent Laban from worshipping them. I am not convinced.

We know that at this point Jacob did not have a personal relationship with God. He has been blessed because of God’s covenant with his father and grandfather. We also know that Rachel represented the earthly passions and love of Jacob, and gave birth to the earthly savior of their people, Joseph. I would suggest it is very likely that Rachel was still incorporating worship of the idols into her life. At the very least, she may have considered them powerful enough to not want her father using them to find out where they were or being enabled by them to trick them into returning. I suggest this because the details of the theft are partnered with the declaration that Jacob deceived Laban by not telling him they were leaving. Jacob did not just leave, he fled.

Three days into their journey Laban learned they had left. He took family with him and pursued Jacob for seven days before he caught up with them on Mount Gilead. God visited Laban in a dream and told him to be careful when he spoke with Jacob and not to go at him with good or bad. Laban caught up to them on the mountain where Jacob had pitched his tent, and Laban set up guards nearby.

Laban confronted Jacob

What have you done that you have deceived me and led my daughters away like captives of the sword? Why have you fled so stealthily, and cheated me? Nor did you tell me — for I would have sent you off with with gladness, with songs, with timbrel, and with lyre! And you did not even allow me to kiss my sons and daughters; now you have acted foolishly. It is in my power to do you all harm; but the God of your father addressed me last night, saying, ‘Beware of speaking with Jacob either good or bad.’ Now–you have left because you longed greatly for your father’s house; but why did you steal my gods?

Jacob and Laban resolve their differences

Jacob answered Laban very honestly and confessed that he fled because he was afraid that Laban would steal his daughters from him. But Jacob has not stolen anything from him. Trickery, sure. Deception, for the sake of his family, absolutely. Thievery, there is no history of stealing and he isn’t going to be accused now.

Jacob tells Laban to look for his gods and if he finds them with someone that person will die. The text is quick to tell us that Jacob did not realize they were with Rachel.

Laban began his search. He looked in Jacob’s tent, Leah’s, that of the two maidservants, and eventually Rachel’s. Rachel had put the gods into the camel’s packsaddle and sat on them. Her father searched her tent and when he had found nothing she spoke up and apologized for not getting up to show him honor. She told him that she was menstruating and he didn’t question her. He also didn’t look underneath her. He didn’t find his idols.

At this point Jacob’s angered flared. He called out Laban for all of his treachery. He reminded him of the 20 years he was with him. Fourteen of them he was with Laban in order to have his wives, and 6 that he worked for his sheep, and during all of that time the goats never miscarried and he never ate any of Laban’s flock. He did not give Laban mangled animals, he would bear the loss personally. As for the quality of life he endured, he was in the scorching heat all day long and the frost at night. He didn’t get a decent night’s sleep while he was there! (On this I will point out that the shepherds only stayed with the flocks at night if it was lambing season and they were giving birth, otherwise the reasons for his not getting a decent night’s sleep are likely more familial but even that was because of Laban’s deceptions).

Jacob reminded Laban that he had changed Jacob’s wages 100 times and if it wasn’t for God defending him Jacob knows that Laban would have sent him away empty handed a long time ago. Jacob pointed out that in the case between Laban and Jacob it was Laban God had warned in a vision the night before.

Laban’s arrogance was still great. He told Jacob

The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children and the flock is my flock, and all that you see is mine.

Laban then pretends that it is for the sake of his daughters and children that he won’t continue fighting for his rights. Instead of fighting Jacob, who Laban knew had God’s favor, Laban suggested a covenant between them.

Jacob took a stone and created a monument. He had his sons gather stones as well and they created a mound. Laban called the monument Jegar-sahadutha, and Jacob called it Galeed. They both mean the same, but Jacob used Hebrew while Laban used Aramaic. Both names mean, “The mound is a witness.”

The terms of the covenant

The agreement that they made at the mound is this

May Adonai keep watch between me and you when we are out of each other’s sight. If you will ill-treat my daughters or if you will marry wives in addition to my daughters — though no man may be among us–but see! God is a witness between me and you. Here is this mound, and here is the monument which I have cast between me and you. This mound shall be witness and the monument shall be witness that I may not cross over to you past this mound, nor may you cross over to me past this mound and this monument for evil. May the God of Abraham and the god of Nachor judge between us — the god of their father.

They prepared and ate on the mound and sharing a meal with Laban and his men signified the mutual acceptance of the terms of the covenant.

In the morning Laban awoke early, kissed his sons and his daughters and blessed them. Then Laban returned home.

Jacob continued toward home and angels of God encountered him. When he saw them Jacob declared the place a Godly camp and called the place Mahanaim.

Tomorrow we will continue with Jacob on his journey home and explore Jacob’s experience wrestling.

Thoughts from the Sukkah 2016 Edition — Day 4

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3


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 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.


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


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’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


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.


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