(This post is part of a series. For an introduction to the topic read, “How ought we read the Bible?” To see all posts in this topic, go to “Does the Bible really say that?”) Surely you’ve seen one of these necklaces. Maybe you’re even wearing one. But do you know what it means? I know what you think it means. Actually, we all interpret it the same way. It’s a pair of simple charms. Mother and daughter, best friends, or two lovers each wear one on a chain. They are given as a symbol of “until we meet again”, or an expression of a prayer for protection.
In the picture above, you can see the phrase that is often inscribed. Sometimes the scripture reference is included as well. Here is the actual verse for context: “…May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.” (Gen 31:49, NIV)
Or is that in context? Kind of a funny way to say it, isn’t it? The Lord watch between us? Why wouldn’t we ask him to watch over us? If we are concerned for our special someone, don’t we want God to look out for them? Why are we concerned about the space between? I’m glad you asked! Let’s actually look at some context. This will require a brief story.
Once upon a time, a man named Jacob wanted a wife. In order to get a wife from among his people, he traveled to the town of his fathers called Haran. Haran would be a better place to find an acceptable bride than the foreign land he was living in. When Jacob arrived in Haran, he saw a woman named Rachel, and they fell in love instantly. Rachel ran home to tell her family about this wonderful man, and they came to meet Jacob. He soon struck a deal with Rachel’s father Laban, that he would work for him for seven years in exchange for Rachel’s hand in marriage.
At the end of his seven years, Jacob went to Laban to arrange the wedding. After the ceremony was complete, Jacob realized he had been tricked into marrying Rachel’s less desirable sister Leah! Laban told Jacob he could take her or leave her, but Rachel could not be given in marriage before her older sister. As a concession, Laban offered Rachel to Jacob a second time – he would just have to work another seven years! Jacob wanted Rachel, so he agreed.
After many years tending Laban’s sheep, Jacob’s debt was paid and he wanted a flock of his own. So he set up his own household and herds separate from Laban’s. This went ok for a while, but Laban’s sons started causing trouble between their father and Jacob. Eventually, Laban became very jealous of Jacob’s herd. Jacob picked up on this, and God told him to return to the land he had come from 20 years prior, and where his immediate family still lived. Fearing Laban’s wrath over Jacob taking his daughters and his grandchildren away, Jacob decided to sneak away without telling him.
When Laban found out what happened, he and his men left in pursuit. Over a week later, they overtook Jacob’s company and Laban confronted him. (Hold on – we’re almost to the necklace verse!) Laban was irate! “Why did you take my daughters and grandchildren without telling me?!” Jacob replied that any debt he had to Laban was long since paid off and he just wanted to move on. Laban had been warned by God that this was his will, so no matter how mad Laban was, he could not harm them. So they made a truce on that spot. They built a monument of stones as a reminder of their pact. The first part was a bit of a warning to Jacob. Here is my paraphrase: “While I may not be able to watch you, God can see everything. So if you dare mistreat my girls, don’t think you’ll get away with it!” The second part was the promise they made to each other. They agreed that this pile of stones would always be a reminder that neither party could pass that point in order to harm the other. If either one was coming with malicious intent, they would see the pillar and remember their agreement. To seal the deal they said “The LORD watch between you and me, when we are out of one another’s sight.
So, this verse was not a prayer of protection per se. It was a promise not to be the one that caused the other to have a need for protection! It was not about people being separated by circumstances of life, but out of safety from each other! If these people were near one another, someone likely would have ended up dead. But they agreed to a ceasefire, and set up a monument to memorialize the event, and to warn each other that this was the line that could not be crossed. So today, we Christians wear this verse around our neck, but I doubt that we mean it as a vow not to kill the other, or a promise to keep our distance!
If you have one of these necklaces, I wouldn’t feel guilty about wearing it. The sentiment in which it was shared is a good one. Keep it as a reminder to pray for the person who holds the other half. Even better, keep it also as a reminder to read the bible and see if it actually says what you think it says!
(And if you want to check out my version of the story for yourself, it’s in Genesis chapters 29-31!)