Genesis 31:22-29 – THE MATADOR OF HEAVEN
The spectacle of Spain has been transported to the hill country of Gilead. There may be many historic bullfighting venues in Mexico but on this day all eyes are on this arena in Jordan (Genesis 31:21 NLT).
The Matador, Jacob, has tried to evade the horns of Laban, but today he has no choice as he turns to face his opponent, eyes wide with fear. Jacob has always sidestepped fighting but this time his escape from the ring has only attracted the attention of this bull of a man. Laban has been taunted to charge. “So he gathered a group of his relatives and set out in hot pursuit. He caught up with Jacob … in the hill country of Gilead” (Genesis 31:23 NLT).
The trumpets sound. Jacob would prefer to be at the stairway chapel, where God offered him a promise of protection, but now although he has no particular style, technique or courage, he has been thrust into the arena.
Jacob the matador is unaware that he is distinguished by the gold of his traje de luces (“suit of lights”), clothed in the assurance of God’s covenant. He can see Laban’s picador sons and servants entering the ring on horseback armed with the vara (lances), and he perceives they are not for the bull. Laban the bull is cruel, and Jacob suffers severe stress as he begins this encounter.
Over the years Jacob has observed the behaviour and quirks of Laban the bull. More reason to be afraid. Trembling, the red cape of his integrity (muleta) seems hardly defence enough as the bull snorts and kicks up the dust with his feet, preparing to make his run. Laban is enraged and restless as Jacob now stands alone to confront him.
The horns of Laban’s power glint in the sun. His authority has been challenged and he is committed to charge in and win back his control by force. Motivated by malice he moves with all his muscle in unrelenting haste, pounding the earth with his very presence toward Jacob. He is determined that Jacob’s devious actions will be met with his malevolence. Jacob has already reaped some lessons from his deceptiveness but now he can expect punishing instruction from Laban’s spite.
Jacob is a reluctant matador. Will he lose his resolve? Will he face his fears with dignity and respect? Will he stand up to Laban? He has had 10 days of looking over his shoulder before his worst dream is realized.
Laban the bull is released into the arena where Jacob stands unarmed and totally unprepared for the corrida, or fight. If not for the Bullfighter of heaven, Jacob would be at some risk of being gored or trampled but, in reality, Laban, for all his rhetoric, has been greatly weakened already.
Because of his bungling attempts at trying to help God out with His promises, Jacob has already received a succession of serious interventions to stay the hand of harm. Jacob’s family seems to have a history of bullfighting mediations (Genesis 12:17; 20:3-7). During Laban’s intense pursuit of Jacob, God once again intervenes by interrupting Laban’s sleep with a dream filled with dread, “I’m warning you—leave Jacob alone!” (Genesis 31:24 NLT).
Laban resigns himself against harming Jacob but not to be dissuaded, he proceeds with a verbal goring. He is outraged that Jacob would even think of challenging him. “What do you mean by stealing away like this?”
Intent on destroying Jacob’s character Laban launches his tactical retaliatory strike, the hot stinking breath snorting directly in Jacob’s face at his first tanda (pass). Laban demands “How dare you drag my daughters away like prisoners of war? Laban has treated his daughters as saleable commodities and so to accuse Jacob of treating them as prisoners of war is a bit hollow.
It is Laban who is the unworthy adversary, yet he parades himself bullfaced amidst pomp and pageantry, with his supporters at hand. It is unusual for the bull to have his own cuadrilla (“entourage”). The picador sons have prepared him with their discontent and stand by for the charge. A series of tandas, or “series” of passes are made, each frighteningly close.
“Why did you slip away secretly? Why did you steal away? And why didn’t you say you wanted to leave? I would have given you a farewell feast, with singing and music, accompanied by tambourines and harps. Why didn’t you let me kiss my daughters and grandchildren and tell them good-bye? You have acted very foolishly!” (Genesis 31:27-28 NLT).
All valid questions. His aggressive cross-examination of Jacob is designed to bring shame and keep Jacob off balance. His indignation runs deep with jealous rage and he is determined to shake Jacob’s confidence by challenging his integrity with each tanda.
This is not a father simply wanting to say goodbye to his daughters but an enraged, aggressive and belligerent adversary seeking to get revenge, to ruin Jacob’s reputation, to manipulate, slander and assault Jacob.
A master of character assassination by interrogation, Laban, leaves out the vital facts that would explain Jacob’s action. Jacob is a monster who has robbed his daughters and grandchildren of a farewell celebration. How selfish! How thoughtless! He claims to have integrity and virtuous intentions. He is the noble and good father and grandfather whose only concern is for his family. Not!
It is all Jacob’s fault. Laban plays the part of the innocent victim of a terrible subterfuge. He plays the martyr like a bull parading as a ballerina. This family tyrant subtly maligns Jacob’s character while trying to parade as a saint. Laban is a self-righteous bully trying to give the impression that he loves his family despite his neglect and cruel games over the last 20 years.
Do you feel guilty yet, Jacob? Jacob, you have broken up the family! You are a coward matador with no cuadrilla for support. Now comes the clincher, “I could destroy you, but the God of your father appeared to me last night and warned me, ‘Leave Jacob alone!’” (Genesis 31:29 NLT). Despite his vehemence and false offendedness, Laban is helpless to do anything to Jacob except berate him. There will be no goring from Laban’s horns this time.
Who or what is the bully in your life standing between you and the promises of God? What charges does the devil use against you as you make your stand in the ring? What are you holding onto that attracts a spiritual battle like a red rag to a bull? Listen to the promises of the Matador of Heaven not the snorting passes of the bull. Christ invites you to trust Him in the midst of the fray. He has faced the bullying taunts of the enemy before. Enter the ring as once again His whispers from the chapel shout to you in the ring “I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. … I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you” (Genesis 28:15 NLT).