Sunday, January 18, 2015
Shabat Thoughts: Unpacking
In the Talmud, it is stated that Abraham's father, Terah, was a shopkeeper who sold idols. We know Abraham, or as he was known at that point in history, Abram, was a man whom God promised to father nations, with generations as numerous as the stars in the heaven descending from him. He is often referred to as the Father of Faith, namely the Christian Faith. Yet his father was a maker of idols...
Skip ahead two generations and we find that Jacob, his grandson has returned to the house of his mother's peoples, also descendants of Terah. Though he has been there many years, his uncle Laban does not deal fairly with Jacob. At last Jacob determines that he must leave that land and return to his own country. He takes his wives, children, cattle and sheep. Rachel however takes more than her own belongings. She steals her father's idols.
This has always puzzled me. Jacob was a son of Isaac and a grandson of Abraham. He was raised to believe in one God, the true God and not to worship idols. Laban had obviously been raised to worship the idols and this was taught to his children.
Jacob had never been treated as much more than a servant by Laban and Laban never allowed him to become a son of the household. He treated his daughters' poorly as well. One scholar opines that in stealing the idols, Rachel is taking something of import from her father in order to elevate Jacob's status. Furthermore she lies to her father when he overtakes them and searches for his idols. She sits upon them in her tent, refusing to rise, offering the excuse that it is her womanly time.
Perhaps Rachel was being rebellious and defiant of her father in taking his idols. Perhaps she felt the idols were a symbol of the respect due her husband, which had not been forthcoming in all those years of labor. Perhaps she was frightened of leaving home and all she knew to go to a strange country and live amongst strangers. I know only that she took the idols of her father with her on this journey, fleeing in fright and in secrecy, away from a father who had demeaned and frustrated every good thing promised to them.
When his search proves futile, Laban tells Jacob that all he has taken is his and not Jacob's, although Jacob had kept his word in every matter of agreement. Later, when he and Jacob come to a final agreement, Laban swears by Jacob's God, by the god of Nahor and by the gods of the idolmaker Terah. Jacob refuses to swear by any but God.
They travel to Jacob's homeland where he is greeted with love and respect by his brother. After a little while they are troubled. God speaks to Jacob in a dream and tells him to go to Bethel. It is then that he says to his wives: "Put away the images of strange gods among you and purify yourselves and change into fresh garments. Then let us arise and go to Bethel, and I will make there an altar to God Who Answered me in the day of my distress and was with me wherever I went." So they gave to Jacob all the strange gods they had and their earrings which were worn as charms against evil...And Jacob buried them...Genesis 35:2-4 (Amplified Bible)
How willingly they gave up these things when Jacob told them to! In doing so they showed their respect for Jacob, but also that they were willing to believe and accept his God as their God. They were ready to put away their past. "Put away the images of strange gods among you." "Purify yourselves," was akin to confession of their sins. "Put on fresh garments." They were new men and women. It is all very like "Repent. Confess. Be born again into newness with Christ," isn't it? What weight they must have left behind them, how refreshed they must have felt!
Jacob hid them, buried them under the oak that was by Shechem. And they journeyed...(Genesis 35:4-5)
We all bring things forward from the past with us. Regret, shame, guilt, bitterness. Nursing old wounds and treating them like idols, visiting them over and over again and bowing before them as we recall our humiliation and hurt and pain. But we're being called to move on. Isn't it time to unpack the old baggage and be made over, fresh and new, once again? Even this far along in my spirit life I must cry out "Yes, Lord. I am unpacking!" I need to travel light now. I am ready for the next leg of this journey.