The “Watch Word”

Jacob and Laban

I grew up as a child hearing and repeating this passage of scripture as a benediction at the end of church meetings: “May the LORD watch between you and me when we are absent one from the other.” (Genesis 31:49 NASB) And even today, many people in church still pronounce it as a benediction as church meetings are adjourned. But did you know that in its original context the passage was not a benediction at all? In fact it was far from it!

Jacob, who had lived with his father-in-law for twenty years, decided that it was time for him to return back to the land of his father and mother. So, he gathered all of his belongings and left without informing Laban; his father-in-law that he was leaving. It wasn’t until three days after the fact that Laban discovered Jacob had left. In the meantime, as they were leaving, Rachel (one of Laban’s daughters and one of Jacob’s wives) stole her father’s idols, but Jacob did not know about it. When Laban discovered Jacob had fled, he pursued him and finally overtook him after a seven-day chase! As Laban confronted Jacob, he asked him why he had left so abruptly. During the course of the conversation, Jacob became angry because Laban told him that he could understand his desire to go back to the land of his birth, but he could not understand why Jacob had also stolen his (idol) gods! Of course Jacob denied having stolen them because he did not know that Rachel had taken them. While Laban searched for his idols among all of Jacob’s belongings, Rachel sat on them, for she had placed them in a camel’s saddle-bag. She told her father that she could not get up because she was on her menstrual period, therefore she was not searched!

Well, to make a long story short, Jacob and Laban made a covenant (agreement) between the two of them, constructed an altar of stones and called upon the Lord to be a witness. The altar of stones was to serve as a boundary line between the two of them. Jacob was not to cross over the stones to go to Laban to do him harm, and Laban was not to cross over the stones to go to Jacob to do him harm!

Here is the “watch word” in context:

Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me this day.” Therefore it was named Galeed, and Mizpah, for he said, “May the LORD watch between you and me when we are absent one from the other. “If you mistreat my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no man is with us, see, God is witness between you and me.” Laban said to Jacob, “Behold this heap and behold the pillar which I have set between you and me. “This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass by this heap to you for harm, and you will not pass by this heap and this pillar to me, for harm. “The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.” So Jacob swore by the fear of his father Isaac. (Genesis 31:48-53 NASB)

So you see, in the original context, what many commonly call the “watch word” and use as a benediction (a prayer of blessing) was actually two parties invoking the Lord to keep watch between them to keep one from doing the other harm! It was a wish for the Lord to be a referee between the two of them! It was a wish for the Lord to keep a watch between them to keep them from killing one another!

Oh well, I could tell you more, but I need to go! Until next time: “May the Lord watch between . . . !” Never mind! Just be blessed!

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