Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.
It is not uncommon for disciples of Christ to use scriptures out of context. This article addresses Genesis 31:49 that is used incorrectly more often than it is used correctly.
Laban said, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me while we are absent one from another." There are several clues in that one scripture to prove that it is wrong to use it as a benediction when congregants are dismissed from a worship service even though it is used as one in many churches.
Background of Genesis 31:49
It is never good to quote a scripture without knowing the background or context of it. The background of Genesis 31:49 is about Laban and his nephew Jacob.
After Jacob cheated his twin brother Esau out of his birthright in Genesis 27:36, his mother Rebekah sent Jacob away to live with her brother Laban. This was to get Jacob to distant himself from Esau who was angry with him.
When Jacob went to live and work for his uncle Laban, he fell in love with his daughter Rachel. He asked Laban for Rachel's hand in marriage. Laban told Jacob he would give him permission to marry Rachel after he worked seven years for her. When the seven years were up, Jacob appeared at the altar and married a woman, but it was Leah and not Rachel. Laban had tricked Jacob into marrying Leah because she was older, and he said the older daughter should be married first.
Jacob loved Rachel and Laban said he could marry her after he and Leah had completed their honeymoon. However, Jacob was required to work another seven years to satisfy Rachel's father.
Jacob and Laban
Jacob continued to work for Laban while married to his two daughters. Leah gave birth to many children while Rachel had none at the beginning of the marriage because she was barren.
Laban continued to cheat Jacob every chance he got. When Jacob could take it no longer, he packed up his two families, his own sheep, cattle, and other belongings and headed back to his father's hometown in the middle of the night. He was still afraid of his brother Esau so he divided the families into two groups just in case Esau tried to harm one of the families.
When Laban discovered that Jacob had left with his two daughters, grandchildren, and animals, he set out to find them. His idol gods were missing and he thought Jacob had taken them, but Rachel was the one who took them.
Laban did catch up with Jacob seven days later. They had a conversation and agreed that there would be no more disputes between them. They set up stones in the place as a boundary and called it Mizpah. Because no one was there to witness the agreement, Laban prayed to God. He said what some believe is a benediction, but it is not.
The request for prayer was named as the place and is known today as "The Mizpah."
Let's Examine Genesis 31:49
First of all, Laban is the one who said, "May the Lord watch between thee and me while we are absent one from another." Laban's words have no power over us. He was not talking about us at all. Laban was a cheater talking to God about a cheater. Even so, he was using God as their watchtower.
We should know that the scripture is not a benediction for the following reasons.
- "Between thee and me" indicates only two people. More than two people are usually in a church service to receive a benediction. Therefore, this couldn't be a benediction. The "between thee (Jacob) and me (Laban) did not include us (disciples of Christ). Therefore, it is futile to use Genesis 31:49 as a benediction.
- Laban was requesting a prayer from God to be a watchtower over him and Jacob when they were not in each other's presence.
- The pile of rocks was a boundary that the two men agreed not to cross as they departed. There is no such boundary for churchgoers when they leave the church. So, this couldn't apply to them.
Laban's request was made because he didn't think Jacob could be trusted. In fact, he didn't think he himself could be trusted when it came to his relationship with Jacob. Therefore, he asked God to keep an eye on both of them to ensure they do not break the agreement in the future.
Mizpah is a Hebrew word for "watchtower" or "lookout" and is used to mark an agreement between two people, with God as their witness.
Jacob did not know that his wife Rachel had stolen her father’s gods. Laban accused Jacob of stealing them, and he confronted him about them. Laban was angry that Jacob had left secretly. The two men argued before coming to an agreement.
They heaped up a pile of rocks to mark the place where they agreed as a reminder. It was a boundary that neither man would go past from that day forward.
Laban tells Jacob:
"See this heap and the pillar, which I have set between you and me. This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm. The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us." (Genesis 31:51-53 ESV)
Laban’s parting words gave the place its name, Mizpah.
Use the following link to find out more about a "benediction."
- Benediction: Blessing at End of a Religious Service
People should never leave a religious service before the benediction unless it is an emergency.