The Study of Holy Writing

Imagine the decisions ancient men had to make every night. Where do I sleep? Do I sleep in my own tent? Or maybe that of wife number 1? Or wife number 2? Or maybe the personal maid to wife number 1? Or the personal maid of wife number 2?

Here we have the story of Jacob grandson of Abraham. Who worked seven years to earn a wife only to find out that the wily father-in-law substituted the older daughter. And then began seven more years of work to earn the wife he wanted.

So, Jacob married Leah and then Rachel. And he had children with each. But when Leah was feeling distance from Jacob for want of another child, she had Jacob sleep with her maid Zelpha. Later, Rachel had Jacob sleep with her maid Bala.

Leah bore seven children; Zelpha two; Rachel two; and Bala two. Quite the busy guy.

Now, we could study this as a story in itself perhaps even as history of the Hebrew people. The sons became the 12 tribes of the Hebrews (it gets complicated because Joseph, the favorite who wore the coat of many colors, did not father a tribe).

Ancient writers and thinkers did not always take things so literally as we do today. The writer of the 1100s, Richard of St. Victor, took this story and applied it to describe the development of human spirituality. I cannot reproduce his essay in 300 words or less. Take this as an introduction to spiritual interpretation.

Taking words directly from the Hebrew text (although probably reading in Latin), Richard traced the development of two sides of human character.

Leah stands for affection and her maid for its complement sensuality. Leah’s children–Ruben for Fear of God, Simeon for Sorrow for sin, Levi for Hope for forgiveness, Judas for Love of the good God, Issachar for Joy in inward sweetness, Zebulon for Perfect hatred of sin, and Dinah for True shame for sin. From Zelpha (sensuality) are born Gad–Abstinence and Asser–Patience.

The other side of our personality is rationality. Rachel stands for Reason and Bala for its complement Imagination. Rachel (reason) bore Joseph–Discretion and Benjamin–Contemplation. Bala (imagination) bore Dan–Sight of sufferings to come and Nephthalim–Sight of joys to come.

We could study this story and just come away with a history which we may or may not believe to be factual in today’s way of thinking of history.

Or, we could use the story by reading the descriptions and exclamations within the story, and contemplate on these attributes for a long time.

When have you felt fear of God? Or sorrow for your sin? Or Hope for forgiveness? Or used your reason and practiced discretion in a situation?

The richness and depth of Holy writing yields great rewards. Richard would never get a Ph.D. today with his analysis. But his words have moved people for 900 years.

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