The 24th

Curious, isn’t it, how in the 24th of Genesis the chap asks God for a sign and then when he gets it he sits there wondering if it really is true. When afterward Rebekah tells him her lineage we have one of those pauses in her speech that indicate something of significance has silently taken place. What? The dropping of our hero’s jaw is what.

Well, not so curious that he wonders, after all. We don’t usually believe those things. Take the chap who while waiting for his date asks God that if this is the one she come out in a pink dress with purple shoes and her hair in pig tails. The girl comes out with her hair unbound, a green dress and white shoes and what does lover-boy say? I don’t believe that stuff anyway, and he says it every single time whether it works or not.

Of course! And on the occasions when it works out, do we believe it? No, we say what a coincidence, but we know we can’t rely on that kind of thing because it is extrinsic to the criteria for deciding. We know we have a moral responsibility to reach the decisions before us without evading our responsibility to understand the situation and judge correctly. People routinely pray for God to remove from them the moral responsibility of making their decisions well, but I don’t think they do it according to the will of God.

Arrive, make inquiries, locate the relatives, put it to them–that’s all he has to do. But there is something Abraham did say about God’s messenger going before him, and maybe that’s how our chap thought it should work.

You can say it showed Rebekah was a hard worker. I take a more cynical view of Laban’s sister. If the well is the equivalent of a gas station, to what are ten camels equivalent? A Rolls Royce. I take that view because I remember that when it came to swindling Esau for the second time, it was not exactly Jacob who took the initiative.

Calvin has a problem with what the chap does, praying like that, but he’s awfully dodgy in his comment, isn’t he?

Therefore we must know, that although a special promise had not been made at the moment, yet the servant was not praying rashly, nor according to the lust of the flesh, but by the secret impulse of the Spirit.

We must understand such is the case, Calvin believes, because what other sense can we make out of a pious man praying with such presumption? But what if he isn’t so pious to begin with? And then Calvin explains the part where it doesn’t convince our chap like this:

There is, therefore, no absurdity in supposing that the servant of Abraham, though committing himself generally to the providence of God, yet wavers, and is agitated, amidst a multiplicity of conflicting thoughts. Again, faith, although it pacifies and calms the minds of the pious, so that they patiently wait for God, still does not exonerate them from all care; because it is necessary that patience itself should be exercised, by anxious expectation, until the Lord fulfill what he has promised. But though this hesitation of Abraham’s servant was not free from fault, inasmuch as it flowed from infirmity of faith; it is yet, on this account, excusable, because he did not turn his eyes in another direction, but only sought from the event a confirmation of his faith, that he might perceive God to be present with him.

From the Logos.

Dodgy, Calvin. Moment of exegetical weakness, I’m afraid. The secret impulse is entirely putative. And it didn’t really serve its purposes there, did it? What did it accomplish if it didn’t persuade him? Why suggest it? See: Law of Parsimony.

What if he asked on no secret impulse other than a weak grasp of theology and a general ignorance of the life of faith and was silly to do it? What if an awful lot of what’s going on here isn’t actually normative at all, but simply descriptive?

Yes, God granted the request, but the question is why? No, I don’t think it is because God put in him a secret impulse to make a rash prayer and with presumption tell God how to do his errand rather than trusting that the angel went before him as Abraham believed. And I think the answer is in the use the servant can make of the episode in his persuasion of the family.

Leaves old Laban in a tough position, along with Bethuel: outmaneuvered by the gods, in this case the strangely named god Abraham seems to have picked up. (We are pretty sure Laban is an idolater.) Well, we can’t comment, they reply. Obviously the thing is from YHWH. [Do you think Moses’ use of the Tetragrammaton is a deliberate anachronism?]

And I think God did it to persuade Laban and Bethuel, but not our unnamed chap. Obviously the thing is from the Lord: out the girl pops like a jack-in-the-box and says, Hey mister, looking for someone to wash the windshield on that? But what would our chap be missing if he hadn’t prayed that way? Not more security about the decision, because he didn’t get it by doing that. What he would have been missing is the persuasion; and negotiations with Laban, as we later find out, can be tricky.

The angel of the Lord was going ahead and with the old oil to make things smooth for our dubious and not to eager chap, his weaknesses notwithstanding.


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