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B'resheet/Genesis 31:18 And he led away all his livestock and all his possessions that he had acquired; the purchase of his livestock that he had acquired
The Hebrew text here is full of repeated words, so bears some analysis to find out what is being said. The verse starts with the verb , an ordinary enough Qal prefix 3ms form in the vav conversive structure; this is normally translated in the past tense. The root is used for driving cattle, to lead or conduct or, most interestingly here, to lead or carry away as spoil. Given that 'he' is Jacob, that this text comes in the narrative of Jacob leaving his uncle Laban after twenty years of what was at best frustrating and at worst acrimonious service to return to his father Isaac in Canaan, and Laban's later somewhat bitter comment that, "The daughters are mine, the children are mine, the flocks are mine, and everything you see is mine!" (31:43, CJB), it is significant that the verb has at least one meaning that is suggestive of taking spoil or plunder. Might the text be hinting that Jacob - helped, of course, byHaShem, has triumphed over Laban's dishonesty and double-dealing, that Jacob's work-ethic and integrity during those years have, metaphorically, tied up the strong man so that the house may be plundered (Matthew 12:29).
The root generates the noun , present in two forms, and the verb - from the basic meaning of "to get, acquire; to buy, purchase". So means a possession, riches or wealth, but chiefly consisting of cattle or flocks. , here as two verbs and a noun, has a similar meaning: "to get, gain, acquire", but with more of an emphasis on non-livestock possessions. Together the words suggest a wealth that is substantially in livestock, but that also includes other material possessions that had been purchased by the sale of livestock.Hirsch suggests that both words are present to emphasise that all Jacob's possessions did belong to him, because even though the previous narrative only records Jacob being paid in livestock, he had traded some of his animals in order to purchase other non-stock possessions. Indeed, Rashi, quoting the Sages, "that which he acquired with his possessions" (B'resheet Rabbah 74:5), goes as far as to specify "slaves, slave-women, camels and donkeys". The whole cluster of words leads Nahum Sarna to comment that this "underscores Jacob's claim to absolute and rightful ownership of all his possessions, thus refuting in advance Laban's assertion in verse 43."
Comparing Jacob's departure from Padan Aram with his grandfather Avraham's departure, we see a similar pattern. Avraham had been told to leave his country, his family and his father's house, yet the text records that "Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran" (B'rehseet 12:5, NASB); that sounds like a fairly comprehensive description of "everything". So too, Jacob, sensing that the L-rd was now calling him back to the Land of Canaan after twenty years building a family and a financial base, after consulting with both Leah and Rachel, took absolutely everything that was indisputably his and set off for home. In a nomadic society, you own everything that you have and can drive or carry; you don't own the land or facilities on the land - such as wells - even if you dug or built them yourself. Wherever a nomadic people travel, therefore, they take everything with them as a matter of course; they leave nothing behind. Jacob and his family were going home, that was where their hearts were calling; they felt that they had no ties to where they were currently living, so everything that could be moved was! Even the kitchen sink!
During the Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua taught his disciples and the crowd who had flocked from all over the Galil to hear him, a different view of material possessions. In the centuries since Jacob's time, although nomads were still a part of the Israelite society - as indeed the Bedouin still are today - many people had settled down and lived in houses or permanent structures, the houses were clustered in villages and towns and the majority of the population was much less mobile than before. Matthew records: "Do not store up for yourselves wealth here on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and burglars break in and steal. Instead, store up for yourselves wealth in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and burglars do not break in or steal. For where your wealth is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21, CJB). Yeshua is saying that wealth that is secure against the routine depredations of this life is not physical possessions accumulated here in our houses or barns, but investments of time, money and possessions that are made in the Kingdom of Heaven. He is not saying that we shouldn't have material wealth or possessions that we need and use in our daily lives, but that they should not be regarded as real wealth. Just as Jacob traded some of his livestock, which would inevitably grow old or get diseases and die, for other possessions that might last longer or perform a different task, so we are to trade our money and possessions as investments in people, ministries and Kingdom opportunities in order to gain eternal holdings that will never perish or be destroyed. Our riches in heaven, held by Messiah Himself, are proof against the worst stock-market crashes or downturns.
In a story that Yeshua told, according to Luke's account also during the Sermon on the Mount, He said, "There was a man whose land was very productive. He debated with himself, 'What should I do? I haven't enough room for all my crops.' Then he said, 'This is what I will do: I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and I'll store all my wheat and other goods there. Then I'll say to myself, "You're a lucky man! You have a big supply of goods laid up that will last many years. Start taking it easy! Eat! Drink! Enjoy yourself!"' But G-d said to him, 'You fool! This very night you will die! And the things you prepared- whose will they be?' That's how it is with anyone who stores up wealth for himself without being rich toward G-d." (Luke 12:16-21, CJB). Once again, see what Yeshua is saying - it isn't the possessions themselves that are the problem, it is the attitude towards them and the fastness with which we hold them. Jacob had to take all his stuff with him because there was nowhere else to put it. Middle Eastern culture in those days held possessions lightly; hospitality and provision for family, strangers and the poor were acts of charity or righteousness that were a part of the fundamental fabric of society. The West is now an almost exclusively resident society; although we may move for a job or family reasons, and travel on a daily basis to work, many people own houses and have lived in them for many years - in some cases, generations. Our basic society now owns land, even if in tiny parcels, or rents ownership rights; unless invited in, even government officials require a court warrant to enter private property or seize material goods. This has created walls and barriers between people and broken down the patterns of sharing and hospitality; instead of taking all our stuff with us and being an open people, we have become a closed people, locking our stuff up in our individual fortresses.
Today G-d is challenging people to come back to a more open and flexible attitude. Yeshua promised "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of G-d, who shall not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life." (Luke 18:29-30, NASB). G-d does not steal from us; He wants to give us much more than we could ever gain for ourselves; He even provides the security guard and a receipt for the deposit as we cash in our valueless (from the point of view of eternity) earthly possessions to buy "gold refined by fire, that you may become rich, and white garments, that you may clothe yourself" (Revelation 3:18, NASB). Open homes, hands and hearts are the way of the Kingdom of Heaven!
Further Study: Ezekiel 18:4-9; 1 Timothy 6:17-19
Application: Are you going through stress to maintain or keep your finances or material possessions at the moment? Are you uncertain of their real value and unclear how to handle their investment? Why not ask the only truly independent financial adviser what He would recommend?
© Jonathan Allen, 2008
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