Jacob had a difficult relationship with his father-in-law, Laban. He was deceived by Laban into marrying his firstborn daughter, Leah, before Laban agreed to give Rachel’s hand in marriage to him in return for another seven years labour. After several more years of Laban moving the proverbial goals posts, Jacob had enough. After a lot of planning (actually, scheming) Jacob one night took his wives, children, and livestock and left town. Laban became aware of it the next day and pursued them.
Having found them, Laban rebuked Jacob and feigned disbelief that Jacob would be so unhappy with him. Jacob popped his cork and verbally let his father-in-law have it. He reminded Laban how he had cheated him, which was pretty rich, considering Jacob’s trickery of his own father Isaac and his brother Esau. But hey, who’s keeping score?
After some back and forth, they made an agreement to part ways amicably, albeit distrustfully. Laban exhorted Jacob to treat his daughters well and, in return, he would stay away from him. To mark the occasion, they gathered a pile of large stones to seal the deal. The monument was given three different names (even here, they simply could not agree!) with “Mizpah” becoming the most well-known of the three. The word means “watchtower” and signified, “The LORD watch between you and me, when we are out of one another’s sight” (Genesis 31:1–49).
A benediction derived from this verse pronounces, “The LORD be with you while we are absent one from another.” It is a touching sentiment but it doesn’t quite capture the context of Mizpah for, in the next verse, Laban warned, “If you oppress my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no one is with us, see, God is witness between you and me.” In other words, “I don’t trust you, and so remember Mizpah and behave yourself!” Well, brothers and sisters, in the words of another Hebrew, “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things” (Hebrews 6:9).
While we are absent one from another, the Lord is watching over us, and I believe he is well-pleased. I have heard many accounts of many church members reaching out to other members through phone calls, running errands for those unable to do so, having virtual meetings, and praying for one another. This is so encouraging and I want to take this opportunity to encourage you further.
With the extension of the lockdown we need to be even more diligent to care for one another. And while caring for others, each of us should remember the God of Mizpah who is watching over us. Let’s use this time to grow in humility before him and, where necessary, to respond in repentance.
In what ways do we need to change, both personally and corporately? Do we need to love each other better, to engage with each other more, to prioritise meaningful gathering once we able to again? Though it seems to me that Laban meant Mizpah as a threat, we should apply it in a more helpful way. That is, while remembering that the Lord is watching between you and me let’s—you and me—love him and one another much more.
May we use this Monday to muse on Mizpah.