Jacob’s wives agree with his plan—Genesis 31:14-16

In Jacob’s culture, husbands held the final say. Further, God has spoken, and since Jacob has heard him, Jacob must do what God has commanded. Nevertheless, Jacob carefully presents the case to his wives. Jacob’s wives then weigh in as if he is consulting them in 31:14-16.

Why does Jacob consult them? On one level, he needs their support; he wishes to depart without Laban’s knowledge, and if his wives are not supportive it will be difficult to keep the secret from Laban.

Nevertheless, he presumably also values their support because they are his wives. This would fit a pattern in Genesis: the patriarchs often heeded their wives on matters that involved them (e.g., Gen 16:2; 21:12; 30:3-4, 9, 16). Although parents arranged marriages, even a future wife who was probably in her early teens might nevertheless be consulted on some details (24:5, 8, 57). Sometimes no consultation is mentioned, such as when decisions had to be made quickly (e.g., Gen 32:7-8, 22-23; 33:1-3). But the clearest exception to this pattern in Genesis contravened what God had spoken: the elder would serve the younger (25:22-23). Here Isaac favored Esau over Jacob, forcing Rebekah to resort to subterfuge (27:8-10), so Esau would serve Jacob (27:29, 37, 40). Yet Rebekah was the one who had heard from God in that case.

I am among those who find in the New Testament a countercultural call to mutual submission (Eph 5:21—6:9, esp. 5:21; 6:9). Nevertheless, even Christians who disagree with this reading of the New Testament would concur that the greatest is the servant (Matt 23:11; Luke 22:26), so that all of us are called to serve. Surely this should include, at the least, listening and seeking to build consensus wherever possible. After all, it is not only in war that decisions are made more safely after gathering the perspectives of different counselors (Prov 11:14; 15:22, 31; 20:18; 24:6; cf. 10:17; 18:13). Sometimes the way that seems obviously right to us is misinformed (Prov 14:12; 16:25; 21:2), requiring others’ input (12:15).

Today we do not live in a patriarchal culture. I believe that Genesis suggests, however, that even in a patriarchal culture, a husband is wise who consults his wife (or in Jacob’s case, his wives). In any culture, a work undertaken together is undertaken most effectively when undergirded with voluntary commitment.

(This continues a series of studies on Genesis; see e.g., deceiver; traveling; creation; fall.)

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