Monday, August 12, 2013

The Illusion of Cleverness

There is a part of the Bible that has always embarrassed me.

It's that part in Genesis (Gen. 30:37-42) where Jacob has a claim on spotted goats and sheep, and he tricks the livestock into producing mottled offspring by placing spotted posts in front of them when they're mating.  That has always embarrassed me, since genetics doesn't work that way, and it seemed Scripture was being undermined a bit here.

But I've been driving a lot lately (I'm in Duluth, Minnesota all this week), listening to David Higbee's Scripture Studies.   David points out that the meaning of that story is that Jacob congratulates himself for being clever (as usual), while obviously the mottled offspring are entirely God's work.  It's not Jacob's accomplishment; it's God's blessing.

We shield ourselves from the pain and awe of existence by telling ourselves how clever we are and by using our wiles to gimmick situations.  But we are entirely dependent on His Divine Mercy.


Kevin Tierney said...

I always loved Jacob, because he was the first truly "human" character in Scripture. Not good, but not evil. Really a mixed bag, but one thing remains constant: he really has enormous self-worth, and more often than not, that gets him into a lot of trouble.

Yet God doesn't abandon him, and in the end, Jacob gets it right. It just takes several decades!

Del said...

Moses' readers knew that Jacob was being foolish, attempting to practice an ineffective form of "sympathetic magic." ("You see those spotted sticks? Now deliver some spotted kids!")

So it was by the providence of God, Who stepped in fulfill the promise that He made to Abraham, re: the multiplication and blessing of Abraham's progeny.

This sort of thing happens often in the Old Testament -- An event is reported, which a well-catechized Jew would immediately recognize as sinful. So, the sacred writer does not explicitly mark the event as sinful.

And centuries later, a naive Christian comes along and says, "Look -- this is in the Bible! It must be okay for me to do this."