I am now going to start the exegetical challenge to Leithart’s article. I plan on covering most of the passages which Leithart deals with in any depth. I will cover them in the order in which they appear in the article. First up is Genesis 30:33. The immediate context has clear boundaries, stretching from verse 25-43. The setting is Laban’s trickery, and Jacob’s “honesty.” Laban is motivated by greed, as is clear from the entire context of the Jacob story. He is only in this relationship for himself. He wants to keep Jacob as a hired hand, since Jacob has done such a good job, and “the Lord has blessed (him) because of (Jacob)” (vs. 27). Then follows a deal-making discussion where Laban desires to keep Jacob, whereas Jacob wants to have his own property and provide for his own family, rather than taking care of someone else’s (vs. 30). Jacob makes a condition that allows him to start providing for an estate of his own, while still looking out after Laban’s property. That condition is that any sheep that was spotted, speckled, or black, would belong to Jacob, whereas all the white sheep would belong to Laban. This would be a very easy way to tell whose sheep were whose. This point is crucial, since it informs the meaning of “honesty” (tsedeq). Laban would be able to judge Jacob’s integrity by whether there were any white sheep in Jacob’s flock. It is as sure a method of differentiation as branding would be today. The evidence of Jacob’s integrity would be the differentiation of the flocks (vs. 33).
Now, Leithart argues (pp. 210-211 of _Federal Vision_) that this passage does not take place in a courtroom setting, an opinion which is not quite as evident as Leithart believes. Jacob is invisaging the possible accusation of Laban that Jacob had stolen sheep from Laban. Jacob could, at that time, point to his innocence by pointing to his sheep. He would then be in the right in the court of common opinion. Again, there is other evidence of courtroom language here as well. The word “stolen” often appears in a judicial context. Gen 31:19 is judicial, arguably (especially after Laban tries to police Jacob into humility), and Gen 44:8 is quite judicial, as is Exodus 21:16, and Exodus 22:11. This raises the question as to whether this passage really is “covenantal” or “ethical-social,” or whether it is judicial in Genesis 30:33. However, even if we were to grant Leithart’s point here, that still does not negate the fact that he uses improper hermeneutics to arrive at a broader definition of justification. He says quite explicitly, “‘Justification’ in these passages is flexible enough to include not only ‘counting someone as legally innocent’ but also ‘counting someone as a loyal friend/servant’” (p. 211). This claim is demonstrably false. Jacob is concerned about his own integrity when accused of stealing by Laban (hardly an unlikely event, as the outcome proved). Jacob is not concerned here at all with being counted as Laban’s friend. Leithart has not proved his point with Genesis 30:33.