Thursday, March 20, 2014

OT #11 How Can I Do This Great Wickedness?

Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #11:  How Can I Do This Great Wickedness?
Genesis 34, 37-39 (32-39)

See my previous post on this lesson, where I discuss the Testaments of the 12 Patriarchs and the connection with the lesson. 

Here, I will discuss some of the key events that unfortunately are missed in the official lesson.

Wrestling with Man The story of Esau and Jacob begins with their struggles within their mother's womb.  At birth, they fought for which would be born first, with Jacob holding onto the ankle of Esau. 

Jacob (Supplanter) was a trickster.  He tricked Esau into selling his birthright for a bowl of soup (Gen 25).  Later, with his mother's guidance, he would trick Isaac into giving him the first son's blessing (Gen 27).  Esau's true nature is also revealed, as he then sought to slay his brother.  Jacob goes on the run, where he receives a theophany, seeing God on his throne at the top of a staircase (Jacob's ladder - Gen 28).  Jacob sets up the stone he used as a pillow as a pillar/altar, and naming it Beth-El or House of God.

Jacob spent about 21 years working for Laban. He originally worked 7 years to gain Rachel as his wife, only to have Laban trick him into serving several more years for wives and a herd of his own. During this time, Jacob, the trickster, learned that what you sow, so shall you reap.

Beginning in chapter 32, Jacob enters into the Promised Land, a land he has been promised, yet has not seen for decades.

 And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.
And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God’s host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim. (Gene 32:1-2)
 Mahanaim means "two camps". This is where Jacob would divide his people into two groups.

I have oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants, and women servants: and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find grace in thy sight.
And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to thy brother Esau, and also he cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him.
Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed: and he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels, into two bands;
And said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape. (Gene 32:5-8)
 One does not gather 400 men, except to come to battle. Sending several groups before him with gifts to assuage Esau, Jacob did not demand his birthright, but only to dwell peacefully in the land with his brother.  Bowing himself before his older twin, he showed himself not as the rightful lord and heir, but as a servant. Esau, seeing that Jacob did not desire to rule over him, softened his heart and the two were able to live peacefully, though separate, in the land of Abraham and Isaac.

Wrestling with God
While the strategy to soften Esau's heart with herds and presents and humility, Jacob's main test would happen the night before he met his brother.

And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.
 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
 And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.
 And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
 And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.
 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
 And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh. (Gene 32:24-31)
 While some modern prophets have speculated that Jacob was actually wrestling a mortal man, the context is clear that Jacob believed himself to be wrestling God.  How could Jacob wrestle the Lord, who was then without a body of flesh and bone?  There are a few possibilities.

First, the Lord can take upon himself many appearances.  To Moses, he appeared as a burning bush and a pillar of fire.  To the brother of Jared, he appeared as he would in the flesh.  In fact, the Lord was able to touch the stones prepared by the brother of Jared and cause them to shine (Ether 3).  Is a spirit able to touch stone?  So, it is possible that the Lord used a temporary body of flesh, or even just his body of spirit, as spirit is also made of matter (D&C 131:7).  Who knows if a spirit can touch or be touched under certain circumstances?

The other possibility is that through the Law of Divine Investiture, a translated being stood in the place of the Lord.   As I've noted elsewhere, 11Q Melchizedek, a Dead Sea Scroll fragment, tells us:  “Melchizedek is El (God)!”  and “Melchizedek is Yahweh (Jehovah).”  It is possible that Enoch or Melchizedek, both having been translated with their cities, could have stood in the place of God.

The ancient Hebrews believed that for God to create the world, he first had to wrestle and defeat Chaos.  Chaos included the dark, the waters, and a great sea serpent (Leviathan or Rahab).  In defeating Chaos, God showed himself capable and worthy to be God of the world, and more so: God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  With Job, we shall see that the Lord engages in a contest with other sons of God, including the Adversary (Satan), using Job as the centerpiece of the challenge.  Here, in Jacob's darkest hour, after years of humbling servitude, toil, and struggles, he finds he can only return to the Promised Land by first going through his brother, whom he shamed and tricked decades before.  To defeat God in wrestling meant Jacob could also defeat Esau.

No battle is without cost.  For Jacob, it was damaging his thigh.  Yet, he prevailed, and asked for the NAME of God.  Anciently, the NAME was imbued with great power.  If one had the secret NAME of God, one could prevail upon him to remain with you constantly.  This was something that God was not willing to reveal.  Instead, God gave Jacob a new NAME, which included the name of God "EL" in it.  He was no longer Jacob, but Israel (Persevered with God).  One who could persevere with God could overcome any obstacle.  With this new name, he was no longer the Supplanter/Trickster (Jacob), but a new and powerful man of wisdom and courage and righteousness.  He was ready to return into the Promised Land and into the presence of the Lord.

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