It's interesting that the names of all the children born either by Rachel or on her behalf (through Billah) have somewhat ambiguous names, while the children born to Leah and, for the most part even to her servant Zillah, have definitively positive names. Here's how it breaks down.
Seen, Reuben - Leah
Heard, Simeon - Leah
Attached, Levi - Leah
Praise, Judah - Leah
Judged, Dan - Rachel (Billah)
Wrestled, Naphtali - Rachel (Billah)
Good Fortune, Gad - Leah (Zillah)
Happy/Blessed, Asher - Leah (Zillah)
Wages/Payment, Issachar - Leah (for mandrakes)
Honor, Zebulun - Leah
(Judged/Vindicated, Dinah - Leah) [Note this is just the female form of Dan.]
May he add/taken away, Joseph - Rachel
Son of my Sorrow/Son of my Stregth, Ben-Oni -Rachel / Son of my Right Hand, Benjamin - Jacob
Rachel is a perplexing figure. Beloved and beautiful, mother to the the savior Joseph, yet tricky and rash in a way seemingly less virtuous than Jacob's wise-as-a-serpent cunning by which he evades those who would thwart the Promise or the Covenant. But then it's always ambiguous. She steals Laban's household gods, but is that a bad thing? She certainly doesn't seem to honor them, sitting on them when "the way of women" is with her (or so she says). Perhaps it was a last effort to cleanse her father's house of idolatry as she left? Or was it just a case of plundering a father whom she felt betrayed by? She certainly seems spiteful toward her sister at times, even naming one of her sons after her mental/emotional wrestling match with the envy she felt over her sister's good fortune in the child bearing department. I'm never sure what to think of Rachel.
And in Leah I can't help but see a bit of Mary and Hannah, the poor that are remembered and raised up by the Lord with children whose significance will astound.
“Then Abraham drew near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?... Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?’” --Genesis 18.23
Abraham, our forefather, thought that it would be unjust, and thus out of keeping with God’s character to destroy a city if there were even a few righteous people in it. Think about that. He presumed to tell God what was just, presumably because it was obvious to him. And God agreed, going farther even than Abraham had dared to ask, removing all of the “righteous” (even those whom he knew would apostatize) before destroying the cities.
Now before we go trying to apply such a lesson we have to make a few distinctions, if only to maintain our street cred. A) We’re not God, so we can’t know exactly who the righteous are, nor can we as easily shepherd them out of harm’s way (although we could protect churches and the like). B) We don’t have divine sanction for any particular military action, so we don’t know that the wickedness of a particular nation has sparked an angelic outcry such that God wants that place utterly destroyed like Sodom did. This means that we are not in a position to presume to be carrying out some sort of divine judgement.
What this leads to is a realization that we should be very, very careful in our pursuit of war. If we have no divine sanction, and we know that God believes that killing even a few righteous persons in an attempt to destroy a “wicked city”, much less one that simply opposes our interests, is unjust, we should be extremely cautious in our pursuit of war.
More particularly we should certainly avoid wars that involve the killing of large numbers of innocents. That was precisely the issue at Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham had just been involved in a battle whereby he rescued his nephew Lot, and there is no doubt from the text that many died in that affair. But there are two important facts that help us understand the distinctions between that action and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. First, it was a defensive action. Abraham’s nephew had been captured and Abraham sought to redeem him. Second it was a war fought between soldiers or fighting men.
The difference between Abraham’s reaction to the battles for Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is the fact that one was a defensive war between armies and the other was the destruction of a civilian population.
The lesson to be learned from this is that if you engage in war, and particularly offensive or “pre-emptive” war, in such a way that you start killing righteous people “for the greater good” it seems to me that you have to reckon with Abraham and the divine sanction of his belief that killing the righteous along with the wicked is unjust and ungodly.
Finally, I would say, that even if we pretend that the United States is an obvious force for good in the world (with her hundreds of thousands of child murders per year, Bible burnings by the military, assassinations, and wholesale embrace of statism) we must reckon with the fact that even the greatest “force for good” there is, YAHWEH himself, did not believe that “collateral damage” of the righteous in an offensive action was simply one of the cold hard realities of war that must be accepted.
Foreign policy is not just a side issue.
1. The call for Abram to leave Ur wasn't really all that much of an uprooting. His father had already brought them away from their original home in Ur, quite some distance to Haran. With his father and brother dead, moving on wouldn’t seem that odd. So, not to undermine lots of sermon points, but it wasn't like Abe was leaving everything he’d ever known.
2. I think the key to understanding the Abrahamic blessing/covenant is seeing that when God blesses Abram it results in Abram being a blessing. This hasn't changed. When God blesses us, as he surely has all Christians, it is so that we can be a blessing. Abram was blessed so that he could be a blessing by bearing the chosen seed through whom God would bless the earth. That seed became Israel. Israel was blessed so that she could bless the world. When she failed to do so and became an insular, grumbling people God chastised her by allowing her to be overcome by the ungodly who, by the way, he is perfectly capable of using for his purposes. Nevertheless, despite their hardheartedness God did bring the seed through them in the most weak and lowly form imaginable. We should remember this. The church is blessed in order to be a blessing, and when we cease seeking for all the families of the earth to be blessed (including those in foreign nations that our secular government may have issues with), God is perfectly willing and able to disperse our influence and chastise us by means of the ungodly. The Abrahamic covenant has not been nullified but fulfilled. Christ came tearing down barriers and dividing walls in order that the distinction between Jew and Gentile, between God’s particular chosen people (through whom would come the Savior of the world), and all the families of the earth might be obliterated in order that God’s good news that sin has been overcome and that the way to peace between God and man has been opened might be made known. If we forget this, and become insular grumblers we stand in danger of God’s chastisement which may well come at the hands of the wicked.
While I find a chiastic approach to the days of Genesis most fruitful as an overall structure I have no doubt that there are numerous layers of structural significance to such a complex and elegant passage. The following stood out to me recently. There are only two days on which God explicitly does two separate things.
On Day 3 God does two things:
- He separates the land from the waters.
- He makes the land bring forth seeding plants.
On Day 6 God does two things:
- He makes the land bring forth animals.
- He brings forth man from the land.
I'm not sure what to do with this but it's an interesting progression. Perhaps there's something to the fact that in between he fills the skies, the seas and the heavens with their respective hosts/rulers. But the land is for man, and from it's first appearance it is being prepared for him. Though he is brought out from it he will rule and shepherd it's bounty and inhabitants.
Genesis 1 divides the animals into swarming things, flying things, livestock, creeping things and beasts of the field. Interestingly, in Genesis 1.26, where God lists all that mankind is to have dominion over, each of these categories is explicitly mentioned except for the beasts of the field (i.e. the wild animals). Now of course the verse does say that they are to have dominion over “all the earth,” and later on God commands the man and woman to have dominion over “every living thing that moves on the earth.”
But I wonder if the dominion that they were to have over the beasts of the field was to have an eschatological character? The question becomes even more pointed when we remember that according to Genesis 3.1 the Serpent was not always a creeper, but began as a beast of the field: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.” It was only after his treachery that the serpent was cursed “above all livestock and above all beasts of the field,” to be a creeper and go on his belly. Eve didn’t talk to a snake, but a dragon.
Moreover this highlights a central theme of the Adam and Eve narrative. Adam’s failure was an eschatological failure. He was made as one who had dominion, particularly over the lesser souls/nephesh (the fish, birds and creepers) and over the helper nephesh (livestock). But to have dominion over the beasts of the field (the wild nephesh) was part of his work of maturation. Just as God gave man the fruit bearing plants for food at the first, but waited until he was there to work the ground before the “bushes of the field” and “small plants of the field” came up (Gen. 2.), so God gave the man dominion over the swarmers, flyers, creepers and livestock but intended for the man to go out and mature both himself and creation through the subduing and shepherding of the beasts of the field.
Unfortunately Adam failed at this task, and instead of taking dominion over the beasts of the field, he allowed his wife and himself to be dominated by one of them.