So, I was reading in Genesis the other day, and I had an interesting thought: Why do we take the claims of Jacob seriously in this narrative?
The question arose when I compared Genesis 30:25–43 and Genesis 31:4–11. Genesis 30:25–43 is that strange passage in which Jacob makes a deal with Laban that his wages shall be the spotted and striped goats of the heard and that Laban would keep the solid colored ones. After Laban agrees to the deal, Jacob starts putting out sticks by the water troughs when the goats are breeding, and as a result of his actions, the young goats are all spotted and striped and Jacob gets rich.
Questions of science aside, Jacob clearly intends to take advantage of Laban in this passage.
But, it's interesting how Jacob spins this in the next chapter. When he is explaining to his wives why they must leave their father-in-law and travel back to his hometown, Jacob accuses Laban of taking advantage of him and he says that the LORD appeared to him in a vision and told him that He had vindicated him by giving him wealth anyway. So, in Genesis 31, Jacob says that God gave him prosperity because Laban tried to take advantage of him, but in Genesis 30 the text says that Jacob got wealthy by taking advantage of Laban.
Typically, we try to harmonize these passages. We conclude, "Well, Laban was trying to take advantage of Jacob, and even though Jacob was trying to take advantage of Laban, too, God sided with Jacob and vindicated him over Laban."
The question that popped into my head was, "Why do we try to harmonize what the text itself says happened with what Jacob claimed happened?" Why do we take Jacob seriously when he talks of visions that he received from the Lord? After all, Jacob's name means "deceiver," and he lies to keep himself out of trouble every chance that he gets. The text never says that Jacob actually had a vision of the LORD, it just says that he told his wives that he had a vision of the LORD. What if he was lying?
So, I started reading the Jacob narrative differently. Unless the text says explicitly that God told Jacob something, I just assumed that he was lying about everything that he claimed God told him. It makes for an interesting re-read. It intensifies Jacob's character as a deceiver and highlights God's grace for being faithful to him even though he manipulated everyone he met.
I don't know that I will settle on that reading as my preferred reading, but it's an interesting exercise.
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