So I was reading my Bible this morning (let me know if you’ve joined me on reading through the Bible this year), and I came to a familiar passage, what is sometimes called the Mizpah benediction:
“May the Lord watch between you and me when we are absent one from the other.” (Genesis 31:49, NAS)
I have always thought this a lovely benediction. I’ve used it at least once in the dedication of a book. Doesn’t it seem like a good thing to say to a friend? “When I’m not with you, dear friend, I want God to watch over us both—you wherever you are and me wherever I am—so that all will be well with us until we are together again.”
But I was looking some things up in my Logos 4 software about Jacob (his deceiving character was reflected in his name), and I discovered that this “benediction,” as spoken by Laban, is in fact a denunciation or a curse. Whoa! That came as a surprise to me. Laban was saying, “Because you are such a deceiving character, Jacob, God needs to keep His eyes on you when I’m not around to do so.” Of course, Laban didn’t exactly have a leg to stand on when calling somebody else dishonest. This was a pot-calling-the-kettle-black moment for sure.
One of my first pastors always said that a person must interpret Scripture with Scripture. We have to understand the context and the customs of the time and culture in order to fully understand what God is telling us through His word. That is obviously the case here.
I don’t think I’ll give up using this verse as a loving benediction, but it does give fresh insight into this scene between Jacob and his father-in-law Laban.