Walking Through Genesis- Chapter 31

Sometime (we are not told how long) after the agreement between Laban and Jacob a strife began to rear its ugly head. Laban’s sons were becoming jealous as Jacob was receiving all the material wealth their father had (of course we know that God was blessing Jacob, but apparently Laban and his sons did not see this, though Laban would soon find out that God was with Jacob). After the command came from God for Jacob to leave and return home, the discussion initiated between Jacob and his wives about the treatment they had received from Laban. Apparently, though Laban had made an agreement with Jacob, he changed it ten times. Additionally, Laban had squandered his daughters inheritance creating an even larger division in the family.

Understandably, then, Jacob attempts to leave without notifying Laban. Of course Laban becomes angry and then pursues Jacob, not only to find out what he was doing but also to find his daughters and many grandchildren. During the pursuit God appears to Laban in a dream and warns him not to speak good or bad. Finally Laban overtakes Jacob. A lengthy discourse takes place between the two. Rachel even made the mistake of stealing Laban’s idols but gets away without her father finding out. Jacob and Laban then make an agreement never to seek the ill of the other and then they depart, never to meet again.

Thankfully we are out of the whole childbearing battle from the previous two chapters! But we are still in the midst of family strife. Now the strife involves “extended” family. Boy could we spend a great deal of time here! Suffice it to say, we must be careful how we interact with family, and that includes extended family. A great deal of hurt can come from a foolish word, an action that was done in the wrong spirit, or even the disapproval. I have experienced this kind of hurt, and it takes a long time to heal, and the pain is still there. So as we live our lives, let’s work hard at avoiding the strife that Jacob and his family had the unpleasant experience of dealing with at this time.

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Walking Through Genesis- Chapter 30

The family feud continues from the previous chapter. The battle back and forth between the wives of Jacob continues. It almost reminds us of something that would be off a reality TV show! After Leah and Rachel stopped bearing children they then gave Jacob their servants, Zilpah and Bilhah, in order to have more sons. It’s  mockery of how things should be done! There is even an exchange where Rachel “allows” Leah to sleep with Jacob for some mandrakes Reuben gave her. Finally the two (or really four) stopped giving birth to children.

The story then makes a huge move where Jacob requests to be able to leave Laban and return to his homeland. Laban and Jacob work out a deal and then Jacob retrieves what he and Laban had agreed to for his service.

The lessons here are pretty much the same as the previous chapter. The wild events that are taking place in Jacob’s family would be comical if it weren’t so sad. At any rate, it should become apparent to us that the best way to have a balanced family life is not to have more than one wife, to not play favorites, and to not to attempt to circumvent God’s plan.

The other lesson, as with the previous chapters, is to simply be honest. Just work out your details with your fellows before there is a problem. In Jacob’s case, Laban had turned into what Jacob was turning away from, a cheat. So in your dealings with others, be honest!

Walking Through Genesis- Chapter 29

In chapter 29 Jacob arrives at his destination, finds the woman of his dreams, and then through a series of events begins what had to be the most dysfunctional family in the Bible.

To begin, he makes his way to a well where shepherds have gathered to water their sheep. Whenever Rachel arrives he is love struck. I can sympathize with him, for whenever I see my wife I feel as though I could move a mountain. And that is just about what Jacob does! He moves the stone away and begins to help water the sheep. Then after some crying and kissing, he goes on to meet Laban, Rachel’s father (who also happens to be Rebekah’s brother and Jacob’s uncle).

After the emotional meeting of the families, the real trouble begins. I don’t know about you, but I almost enjoy seeing Jacob get a little taste of his own medicine. Laban and Jacob reach an agreement on the price for Rachel’s hand in marriage. Jacob serves his time and works for his goal. The day finally came and Jacob is married. The next day he discovers that he had been deceived! Laban switched daughters and gave Jacob Leah instead! I always am reminded of how Jacob had deceived his father and cheated his brother, how Isaac lied about Rachel being his wife, and how Abraham started it with his lies about Sarah.

Either way you look at it, the whole situation is messy. Laban then agrees to allow Jacob to work for Rachel (again). Jacob serves his time (again). He finally is awarded with his precious wife! They marry and then more trouble comes. Of course the time span that takes place in this chapter is large (14+ years!) but eventually the two wives (and their concubines) give birth to twelve sons to Jacob.

What can we learn from all this? A whole lot!

To begin with, as the old saying goes, what goes around comes around! The Bible calls this “sowing and reaping” (see Galatians 6.7-8). In Jacob’s case his deception of his father brought about his being deceived. How often do we do someone wrong or commit some unknown sin, only to have the same thing done to us in the future! This is a good initiative for us not do things to others just for the simple fact that it will come back to bite us. (Not that this should be a main reason, but it is a good motivator!)

Another lesson we can learn is that we should deal honestly with people. If we make an agreement we should avoid any future changes. We should be up front and state our business plainly. Jess said it this way, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matt. 5.37, ESV)

Perhaps the biggest lesson we can learn is to keep the family the way God intended, one man and one woman (see Genesis 2.24). Imagine the grief that Jacob would have avoided being satisfied with one wife! (I understand that Leah is not the one he loved nor the one he had worked for, but the fact that he consummated the marriage without knowing it was not Rachel is a little odd.) When we attempt to overstep the boundaries God has placed on us we place ourselves on the top of a slippery slope.

Let’s place ourselves on firm ground and not make the same mistakes that these people did! What are some things you see in this account in Jacob’s life that we can learn from? Please feel free to share!

Walking Through Genesis- Chapter 28

The chapter continues the story from chapter 27. Jacob had just deceived his father, included God in his lie, and caused his brother Esau to want to kill him. After a short exchange between his parents, Isaac then bids Jacob to return to the homeland and find a wife there (as did his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac).

The writer of Genesis then includes an almost parenthetical paragraph of Esau’s marriage  to another wife. So he married again, in addition to the wives he had already married (see 26.34).

So Jacob set out to travel back to Harran to find a wife. During this journey he rests, placing his head on a rock for a pillow. As he was sleeping the vision of the ladder reaching to heaven and angels ascending and descending on it comes to him. Then God grants the same blessing upon Jacob that he had previously given to Abraham and Isaac. Upon waking Jacob realized that he was in the presence of God. He then made a vow to become a follow of God if God would provide for his needs and bring him safely back to his home.

This journey for Jacob would prove to be one that would have a significant effect on the rest of his life. He is slowly beginning to change from the heel catcher to the prince of God. Now before we are too harsh on Jacob, let’s remember our own spiritual journey. I imagine that most of us are like Jacob, at first we were dirty scoundrels. We were the trouble makers, the liars. But slowly, as Jacob was, we are being made more like Jesus. So as we walk through the rest of this book, we are really walking by a mirror. It is my hope that as you and I look at our reflection that we see our own journey from being heel catchers to princes with God.

Intermediate Hebrew Assignment- Translations and Methods

This assignment included an evaluation of several sections of books written on translations and approaches. The reading assignments were specifically geared toward the translation of the Hebrew Bible, but the principles and methods can apply to the Greek Bible as well. Enjoy!

The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.[1] In order to make God’s Word available to all men and women translation must occur. As with any work of translation, certain methods and practices must be followed in order to achieve the desired goal.[2] But before the methods can be discussed, the discussion on how to translate must take place. In other words, what constitutes a proper translation? Is it enough to simply translate word for word without regards to a logical and coherent sense? For instance, if one were to translate a paragraph from Hebrew to English, word for word, would the English translation convey the information found in Hebrew? These are difficult questions, and questions that many scholars and translators have sought to answer.[3] The presence of debate and questions does not negate the fact that a balance must be reached between conveying the meaning of Scripture while also following the structure of the Hebrew and Greek languages.[4] Duvall and Hays described what they believed to be the goal of translation when they wrote, “Translation is nothing more than transferring the message of one language into another language.”[5] However, as Fox pointed out, there is more to translation than simply conveying a meaning.[6] So translators must be able to convey both the message, the way it would have been received, and the method by which it was communicated.

To begin with, translators are faced with the barrier between what Duvall and Hays called the “receptor language” and the “source language”.[7] In Grasping God’s Word, the two provide an example from a verse in the New Testament in which a literal, word by word translation is given.[8] To the common English speaking person the verse would make little to no sense. Because of this, they wrote, “Is a translation better if it tries to match each word in the source language with a corresponding word in a receptor language? Could you even read an entire Bible ‘translated’ this way?”[9] The answer is a qualified no. Because the differences in languages it would be rather difficult to translate every nuance found in the original languages.[10]

This problem is particularly acute in the Hebrew Bible. The gap between the meaning of the Old Testament Hebrew and the translation into English led one author to state that modern translations “have placed readers at a grotesque distance from…its original language.”[11] Perhaps the issue of the translation of the structure of the “source language” is no more significant than in Old Testament narrative prose.[12] The difficulty lies in balancing the ability to communicate the meaning without sacrificing the beauty and the nuances of the Hebrew language. For example, Alter raised the point that English translations fail to properly translate the “waw conversive.”[13] In Genesis 24.16-21 Rebekah draws water for Abraham’s servant. She then proceeds to provide water for all his camels. The waw conversive is used “to denote sequences of consecutive actions…” which would have provided the English readers with the impression that Rebekah did not stop getting water for the camels for a long time.[14] The idea the Hebrew author was attempting to convey is that Rebekah continuously filled her bucket in order to rehydrate the camels. This particular example is not found in many English translations.[15] There are additional examples, but it should become apparent that there are shortcomings in many English translations that fail to produce an accurate reflection of Hebrew thought.[16]

The next text of the translator is to determine the method of translating. There are predominately two main lines of translation: “dynamic equivalence” and “formal equivalence.”[17] The selection of these two methods depends upon the translator’s goal, i.e. meaning or accuracy in regards to the original.[18] While some translations aspire to be “more functional”, they often failure to communicate the nuances similar to the examples provided above.[19] Others strive to present the most accurate reflection of the original languages but fail to provide the reader with a comprehensible piece of literature.[20]

No doubt the business of translation is extremely demanding. On one hand the translator must be able to provide a meaningful transition between two languages; on the other hand he must also be able to communicate the original message in its original literary structure. But there are safe guards that some scholars have developed in order to protect the integrity of the original language while allowing the message to be communicated in modern vernacular. Fox provides a lengthy discussion on how Hebrew translation can be accomplished with the above goal.[21] And Thomas lists the several steps of the “deviation test” in which translators have the ability to objectively examine their own as well as other translations.[22]

Using the methods provide by scholars in conjunction with the balanced approach of dynamic and formal equivalence, translators today can provide the English speaking world (or any language) with an accurate version of God’s Word.

[1] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-on Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2001), 23.

[2] Robert L. Thomas, How to Choose a Bible Version: An Introductory Guide to English Translations (Fearn: Mentor, 2000), 89-100.

[3] See, for example, Grasping God’s Word; How to Choose a Bible Version; and David Horton, The Portable Seminary (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House, 2006), 76, 463, 506, and 569.

[4] Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy ; a New Translation with Introductions, Commentary, and Notes (New York: Schocken Books, 1995), xii; xxiii.

[5] Duvall and Hays, 23.

[6] Fox, xiv-xxi.

[7] Duvall and Hays, 33. The “receptor language” is the language into which the translation is being made; the “source languages” are the original languages, i.e.: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

[8] Ibid., 33.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Duvall and Hays provide several of those difficulties by quoting D. A. Carson, 33-34. From D. A. Carson, The Inclusive-language Debate: A Plea for Realism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1998), 48-51.

[11] Robert Alter, Genesis: A Translation and Commentary (New York: W.W. Norton, 1996), x.

[12] For a detailed treatment of the topic, see Fox; Thomas; and Alter.

[13] Alter, xix and xxi; see also Gary Davis Pratico, and Miles V. Pelt, Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2001), 192-194.

[14] Referring to camels ability to consume large amounts of water, “The body rehydrates within minutes of a long drink, absorbing over 100 litres (25 gallons) in 5–10 minutes.” Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “camel,” accessed September 21, 2014, http://www.britannica.com.proxygsu-lrb1.galileo.usg.edu/EBchecked/topic/90756/camel.

[15] Alter, xxxi.

[16] Alter raised this point, writing, “the translator’s task, then, is to mirror the repetition as much as is feasible”, xxviii. He went on to discuss the importance of word order and word location that is often lacking in English translations, xxxi and xxxiii.

[17] Thomas, 89-90. Duvall and Hays use the descriptions of a “more formal approach” and a “more functional approach”. Duvall and Hays, 35. They point out the necessity of balance when they write, “Formal translations run the risk of sacrificing meaning for the sake of maintain form.” Ibid., 35. Referring to the functional approach they warn, “The functional approach is not always as sensitive as it should be to the wording and structure of the source language.” Ibid.

[18] Scholars seem to agree that a balance is needed. See Fox, xxiii; Duvall and Hays, 34-38.

[19] Duvall and Hays, 35. They list the following translations utilizing this method of translation: New Living Translation and the Good News Bible.

[20] Ibid., 35. They list the following translations that practice this method: New American Standard Bible, Holman Christian Standard Bible, and the English Standard Version.

[21] Fox, xx-xxv.

[22] Thomas, 90-100. There are five steps: number approximately 30-50 words in the original language; translate the words into the English equivalent as closely as possible; arrange the words in compliance with the original word order until the words make sense (Thomas calls this “minimal transfer”); compare the numerical values to determine the deviation of the translations; one additional step is to complete the process again until a sufficient amount of samples has been obtained to provide an accurate representation of the deviation value of a given translation.

Walking Through Genesis- Chapter 27

Here is, to me, one of the saddest chapters in Genesis. Esau made the mistake of selling his birthright (see chapter 25), but now Jacob (through the leading of his mother) deceives both his father and Esau. What’s worse is that Jacob does so using the Lord’s Name (27.20). Eventually Jacob achieves his goal, receiving the blessing from his father, but at the cost of lying and destroying any semblance of family unity. Perhaps Jacob’s future favoritism was in part due to the favoritism of his own parents. Needless to say, this time Jacob created such a hostile atmosphere that Rebekah had to tell him to go to her brother’s land and stay there until Esau cooled off. Unfortunately for both Jacob and Rebekah, the two would never meet again. Let this be a lesson for us today, that when we try and do things our way rather than allowing The Lord to either open a door or completely take care of the issue, it will result in unnecessary hardship.

Walking Through Genesis- Chapter 26

The book has shifted it’s focus from Abraham to Isaac. Isaac now has the same blessing pronounced upon him by God.

Following in Abraham’s footsteps, Isaac instructs his wife to lie in order to protect him. Abraham wanted Sarah to say she was his sister in order to save his own hide (see chapter 20.2, 12). Abraham was telling a half-truth, for they were in fact related. In Isaac’s case, however, he was not telling the truth at all. While they came from the same family, he was not her brother. And so we see the sin of the father visiting the son. As with Abraham, Abimelech eventually found out and rebuked Isaac. And the thing Isaac feared (death at the hands of Abimelech or his people) was the means by which he was protected!

The next big thing in this chapter involves conflict. Isaac meets with a similar event when the herdsmen of Abimelech argue with his own. Unfortunately Isaac did not display the same ability to address and correct this conflict. It was not until later in the chapter that the issue was fixed (26.28-29). We would do well to practice Abraham’s approach rather than that of his son.

And lastly we see how closely the heart of a parent is tied up in the children. In Esau’s case, he broke his parents hearts by marrying outside their family. This was a much more serious offense than may meet the eye, for marrying another tribe or country typically involved taking on their idol(s). For Isaac and Rebekah, Yahweh was THE God to worship, and to include anything else was a grave sin. So with Esau’s decision came great heartache. And with us today, we have the ability to make or brake our parents hearts, and our children have the same.