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Note that Jacob, later known as Israel, erected his pillar stone as a dwelling place for a spirit being (Genesis 28:22). For anthropology this is indicative of his culture and the animistic beliefs of his day. For theology this tells of the limited state of his spiritual knowledge about the nature of the God, Yahweh, who he encountered and who began to reveal himself to him. Moreover, as the account in Genesis progresses, Jacob, who enters into cross-cousin marriages with Leah and Rachel, provides bridewealth for his two wives by working for his father-in-law Laban for 14 years (seven years for each bride). His life, full of high drama which he later describes to pharaoh of Egypt as "unpleasant" (Genesis 47:10), includes the acquisition of  two concubines owing to the seeming inability of Rachel to have children.

When Jacob leaves Laban to return to his own family and country Rachel steals the household gods belonging to her father (Genesis 31:19, 31:30). Presumably these were small idols for spirits to reside in on visiting the household. Today people tend to see these idols as inanimate representations of mythical gods for purposes of worship but in reality the people in this Semitic culture believed that spirits routinely visited household idols

Rather than serving as exclusive objects of worship the idols were a practical means of keeping spirits from possessing other objects in their dwellings and from hounding members of the household for not providing suitable quarters for visits by their spirit guests. Also, recognize that Jacob's coming to understand the reality of the one God was a process that took time in a world where the natural and supernatural were intimately intertwined. Today we live in a secular world having bifurcated the natural and supernatural and it is difficult for us to conceive of the alternative.


Page last edited: 02/02/06 05:51 PM


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