The Mizpah Benediction – Keeping it in Context

A common piece of Christian jewelry is the Mizpah pendant. (Google “mizpah pendant” if you don’t know what I’m referring to.)  It is usually circular and broken into two pieces. Inscribed on it is the verse from Gen. 31:49 which reads: “The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.” (KJV) The descriptions you read of them say the pendent is a token of friendship. This is a classic example of a verse taken out of its context and because of its placement in another context takes on an entirely different meaning. In this case the verse is presented as a sentiment expressed between two close friends, siblings, couples who will be separated and use this as a prayer for God two watch over them. But as John Walton points out in his commentary on Genesis this is the complete opposite from what it means in the Bible.

“Finally, a word must be said about the ‘Mizpah benediction’ in 31:49. It is not unusual today to hear this intoned by a minister as the benediction to the congregation at the end of a service or even to find it inscribed on wedding rings. In using it this way, we show our misunderstanding of the words. Here in Genesis they express suspicion. Laban does not trust Jacob, and Jacob does not trust Laban. They both agree that they will have no means to keep an eye on one another and prevent mischief-making, so they commend one another to the watchful eye of deity. A paraphrase is, “I don’t trust you out of my sight, but since I can no longer personally hold you accountable, may God do so.” It is hardly the sentiment that one would want on a wedding ring, and although a minister may feel that way about a congregation, it is not in good taste to express it so unequivocally.” (p. 592)

Let’s read the verse in a little more context. Here’s verses 49-50:

“Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” That is why it was called Galeed. It was also called Mizpah, because he said, “May the LORD keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other. If you mistreat my daughters or if you take any wives besides my daughters, even though no one is with us, remember that God is a witness between you and me.” (TNIV)

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5 thoughts on “The Mizpah Benediction – Keeping it in Context

  1. C’mon, man! What’s context got to do with anything? ‘-/

  2. I have no problem using this as a benediction, but do think that the context is very important to understanding the original use of this (not quite) benediction. Creative reuse is ok. Jesus did a great deal of it. Nevertheless, we don’t want to remain ignorant of the origins.

    • Mike,
      My chief problem with the “creative reuse” is that people eventually read the new “creative” meaning back into the text. I’m curious about your reference to Jesus doing “a great deal of it.” Can you provide an example or two?

  3. the Bible says the truth shall make you free. I believe is all way good to know the truth even though it maybe used in a different context today. Just like after 911 when our leaders unknowingly spoke a curse over America only because they didn’t have understanding of what the scripture was really saying. The scripture I’m referring to is Isaiah 9: 9,10, 11.

  4. Pingback: Top 10 Blog Posts for 2012 « Baker Book House Church Connection

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