Focal Passages: Gen. 31:1-9,
17-21, 25-26, 36-42, 51-54
Boundaries exist because of
conflict — potential or actual. If all things were bliss there would be no need
for boundaries. The saying is true: “Good fences make good neighbors.” Why?
Fences are helpful because neighbors are fallible human beings whose instincts
for self-interest are powerful. Currently our nation is engaged in a strident conversation
about what to do about our national boundaries. One group wants to create
stronger boundaries to slow the wave of illegal immigration coming across the
border from the south. Another group wants to loosen the boundaries and offer a
“pathway to citizenship” to those who came to our country illegally.
The saga of boundary-making,
boundary-breaking Jacob continues in Genesis 31 presenting Jacob on the run
again from someone and to a place he hopes will become a refuge. This time
Jacob is running from the father of both his wives, Rachel and Leah. After 20
years, the relationship is breaking down. Laban’s sons have grown resentful of
Jacob and the growth of his flocks. Jacob feels threatened by them and doesn’t
trust Laban, for good reason. Again and again Laban has altered the contracts
they had with one another. Jacob believes it’s time to go, so in the middle of
the night, he packs his bags, grabs his wives, and drives his flocks back to
the land of Canaan. When Laban learns that his son-in-law has run away he
pursues him and ultimately catches up with him.
After a heated argument and
a thorough search for stolen property Laban and Jacob agree to a truce. They
create a boundary. They heap up stones that would serve as a “witness” between
the two of them. They agree not to transgress the boundary and cross to the
other side to harm the other.
It would be great if Jacob
and Laban could’ve reconciled, signed a peace treaty, and agreed to a free and
fair trade deal.
It would be a foretaste of
the Christian ethic for them to kiss, hug, and declare, “What’s mine is yours
and what’s yours is mine.” But most relational, international, and political
outcomes fall short of God’s glory. The next best thing, in the meantime, is a
recognizable boundary that enhances the prospects of peace.
If Sunday School class has
become boring, take a risk and have a discussion about national immigration
policy with this text in mind. Only remember we have an Old Testament and
temporary solution in this chapter that doesn’t pretend to follow the ethic of
Jesus. Do a word search for “alien” using blueletterbible.org to prepare for a
healthy discussion (esp. Ex. 22:21, Lev. 19:34, 23:22).