Posted in Bible, reflections

Is the Cross our ‘Mizpah’? – Gen. 31:49

“Mike,” a friend of mine in the youth group, was head-over-heels in love with “Brenda.” They’d gone out together for several months when Brenda learned that her family was moving out-of-state. Before she left, they went to the mall together and bought his-and-her necklaces. She wore the left side of a jagged heart, and he the right side. Engraved on each of the half-pendants were these words, taken from Gen. 31:49 — “The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another” (KJV).

Love will do funny things, but it’s doubtful that verse was exactly what they had in mind. In its context, Gen. 31:49 has nothing to do with romance, and everything to do with mistrust. The employer/employee relationship between Laban and his nephew, Jacob, had been anything but positive — see Gen. 29-31 for the whole debacle. Through a series of shrewd flock breeding techniques, Jacob had prospered at Laban’s expense. Jacob took off  in the middle of the night with his own wives, children and flocks, not even saying goodbye, but Laban eventually caught up with him.  That sets the stage for a final confrontation between uncle and nephew. Laban begins:

The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do about these daughters of mine, or about their children whom they have borne? (v. 43, NRSV).

In short, Laban knows he’s been beat, but he doesn’t trust Jacob any further than he can throw a stone. So he resorts to stones. They cobble together a pile of boulders as a “witness” between them, then share a meal. This pile of rocks is a Mizpah, a “watchpost.” Laban explains:

If you ill-treat my daughters, or if you take wives in addition to my daughters, though no one else is with us, remember that God is witness between you and me (v. 50).

Every time Jacob passed by that pile of stones in the future, it would remind him of his promise to be faithful and kind to Leah, Rachel and Laban’s grandchildren.

What Laban and Jacob did on that day was an attempt – however unsuccessful – at reconciliation. In the New Testament, that’s an important theme. If Jesus had died on a pile of stones, like Aslan at the end of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, then perhaps we’d have a Mizpah at the front of our churches. But Jesus died on a cross, and so we find pieces of wood hanging there.

Yet the Cross goes far beyond what Laban and Jacob were able to hammer out that day. The Genesis 31 account gives no hint of true reconciliation. They left each other with a cloud of suspicion still hanging over their heads. But at the Cross, we are reconciled to God. When we look at its beams, we are reminded that heaven and earth embraced on a hillside overlooking Jerusalem. The Mizpah of mistrust yields to a different kind of Mizpah, a “watching” motivated not by suspicion but by love.  Jesus promises:  “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20, NIV).

Now that’s the kind of Mizpah we can all celebrate.


Reflection based on Scripture reading for Day 33, Cambridge Daily Reading Bible, 1995



Greg is interested in many topics, including theology, philosophy, and science.

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