Trying to perceive Hebrew with a western understanding can be tricky because not everything fits.
Hebrew doesn’t really have the word evil, ra is translated bad even when in English it is translated evil, it’s still ra. The word good is tob or tov. Both words are seen as balancing each other, two poles of the same magnet. One cannot exist without the other. To the Eastern mind a balance is sought between the two and not necessarily one being chosen over the other.
Illustrate it this way, kindness (grace) and only kindness can be detrimental to proper development of a child. Meaness (regulations) and only meaness can be detrimental to proper development of a child. But a balance between law and grace is very beneficial to proper and harmonious development of a child. It’s not seeking one or the other it’s seeking the balance. That’s not to say that there are times or circumstances where only one is needed without the other.
Take light and dark. Westerners for the most part see light as good and dark as bad (extremities) but an easterner sees them as functional and dysfunctional. Light exists, darkness is its absence. Both are useful independent and separate of each other but G-d saw that light AND dark were good. Westerners understand this concept that it was good and take it as absolute but the eastern thinking is in the verse too, light and dark, day and night, morning and evening
So when Laban is told say neither good nor bad
It helps me to phrase it a little like this
- Don’t say anything functional or dysfunctional
- Don’t say anything with intention to act or without intention to act
- Don’t threaten Jacob with intention or without intention
- Don’t be overly nice or overly cruel
Considering (as far as I know) the word threaten is not in the ancient Hebrew vocabulary as a stand alone word, the aforementioned explanations and other interactions I’ve had
I feel it means ‘don’t threaten Jacob’
If someone accuses you of stealing and then only speaks really nicely to you, instinctively you are on edge or at least the accuser is ill willed. The accusation does not match with the behavior. Likewise if someone accuses you of stealing and then only speaks accusatively you instinctively understand this to be a threat. If you take these ideas and sum them up as concise as possible it would be, say neither good nor bad. Don’t threaten
Same with Absalom he didn’t threaten his brother. He said neither good nor bad. He gave his brother no reason to feel threatened.
What I don’t think it means is, ignore or indifference. While in the case of Absalom ignore might fit, it would assume Absalom never interacted with his brother at all. That in itself would warrant a reason to feel threatened. It makes sense that in Absalom’s dealings with his brother he never gave him reason to feel threatened. He wasn’t only nice to him or only repulsive. Both of these would have put him on edge. Rather Absalom displayed all manner of behavior that the occasion warranted. This idea of not threatening seems to be communicated with the phrase, “did not (in the negative) say good or bad”.
Same idea communicated here, G-d in a dream is telling Laban don’t threaten Jacob or say (in the positive) neither good nor bad.
Also if you use diacritics or niqqud texts, which came much later and are not found in the older versions of the text written by the original author, this in itself is an interpretation of the text. Diacritics are very helpful and possible to be the correct interpretation but one must allow for the possibility that the interpretation given in the diacritic text was not exactly the meaning conveyed in the original, especially ambiguous primitive texts. Therefore it’s already a second hand text. Then add to that translation to English and add to that personal biases and limited (all study is limited) studies and what you get is a guess. Granted some guesses are better than others and educated guesses are preferred but in and of themselves educated guesses are still guesses, take for instance the Big Bang guess. Quoting another educated guesser or more educated guessers generally eliminates the possibility for errors because of textual scrutiny but it can also reinforce an error and make it main stream thinking.
• An Akkadian lexical companion for biblical Hebrew: etymological-semantic and idiomatic equivalents with supplement on biblical Aramaic. Hayim Tawil
• Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible. Jeff A. Benner
• Leningrad Codex
• The Tao and the logos: Literary hermeneutics, East and West. Longxi Zhang