Genesis 29:1-30 ~ 20080302 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
3/2 Genesis 29:1-30 Deceiver Deceived
In the last chapter God made an unexpected revelation of his sheer sovereign unmerited grace toward Jacob. God made undeserved and unconditional promises to Jacob.
God made undeserved and unconditional promises to Jacob. Jacob, in return, made guarded conditioned promises to God. He demonstrated that he didn't yet understand grace. God will do what he promised to do, but he will have to put Jacob through some severe discipline to develop his character. Today we get to observe lesson number one in God's school of transformation.
Remember, Jacob is on the run for his life – fleeing from the wrath of his brother, from whom he stole the blessing of his father. Isaac and Rebekah sent him off to uncle Laban in Haran to find a wife. One night God showed up to him in a dream and made unconditional promises to bless him. Jacob was terrified at God's presence. Jacob at this point doesn't yet understand grace, so he makes a vow to God to reciprocate. Then he high-tails it out of there.
Jacob is somewhere on his journey. We get the impression that he isn't quite sure where he is. He stops at a well and asks the shepherds where they're from. When they say 'Haran' – he asks if they are familiar with his relatives. They are not quick to divulge much information. Jacob has to pry a bit; 'where are you from? Haran; do you know Laban? Yes; is it well with him? Yes – here comes his daughter'. Jacob sees his opportunity – here comes the right woman from the right family – and boy is she right!. He's just got to get rid of these other shepherds so that he can have a moment alone with this lady. He basically tells these shepherds 'thanks for the information; now get lost!' It's not the right time of the day to be gathering the livestock – go put them out to pasture. They reply 'we can't'. We're staying. The way we do it is we all gather our sheep, then we move the stone together, then we water the sheep together. That's the way we do it. So, although Jacob would like to meet this woman alone, it's not going to happen.
Jacob is a man of action. The shepherds won't move the large stone, so Jacob does it himself. Apparently he is a man of great physical strength. He comes empty handed, but he wants to make a good impression on this beautiful woman, so he shows off his physical strength. As soon as he sees Rachel, he moves the large stone and waters the sheep that are under her care. We might be tempted to picture Jacob as a hormonal teenager in this story with all the kissing and crying and feats of physical strength – but so we get the right picture in our minds, let's do some math: we're not told how old he is so we have to work backwards a bit:
Jacob's 11th son Joseph is born in the 14th year of Jacob's service to Laban (Genesis 29:20, 27 – 14 years service; Genesis 30:25-26 – Joseph born at the end)
Joseph enters Pharaoh's service at 30, and serves during 7 years of plenty (Genesis 41:26-27) and 2 years of famine before he reunites with his father (Genesis 45:6). So, Joseph is 39, and and at that time Jacob tells Pharaoh he's 130 (Genesis 47:9).
130 – 39 = 91 when Joseph born; 91 – 14 = 77 when he comes to Haran.
So we have a 77 year old guy who has just left home for the first time and now he's looking for love and trying to impress a girl.
The phrase 'Laban his mother's brother' is repeated to emphasize that God had brought him to the right place at the right time.
It is interesting to compare and contrast this event with the one recorded in chapter 24, where Abraham's servant finds a bride-to-be from Laban's family at the same well in Haran. Both travel to the distant land of relatives; both arrive at a well, a girl comes to draw water at the well; one draws water for the other; the girl returns home and reports the meeting to her family; the man is brought to the girl's house; later a marriage takes place. The similarities set these two passages up to be compared, but the contrasts are striking. Abraham's servant is sent under oath from Abraham to secure an appropriate bride for his son; Isaac leaves home running for his life, sent by his father to get his own bride. Abraham's servant brings ten camels loaded with gifts; Jacob shows up empty-handed. Abraham's servant depends on God's steadfast love toward Abraham and prays, asking God to give guidance and grant success. Jacob does not pray, rather he unsuccessfully tries to manipulate the situation so he can meet the girl alone. Abraham's servant recognized the woman as physically attractive, but studied her character to see if she was the right woman. Jacob does not evaluate the character of the girl, instead he jumps into action, trying to impress this woman with his physical strength and his hard work. Abraham's servant gives her gifts; Jacob has nothing to give, but he greets her with a kiss. Abraham's servant responds by thanking and worshiping God for his steadfast love and faithfulness. He had trusted in God and God had proved trustworthy. Jacob responds with an emotional outburst, weeping aloud – probably a release of all the tension and anxiety that had built up over the course of his journey while he was alone, watching his own back, relying on no-one but himself and not knowing what lay ahead. In the first story, Laban saw the ring and the bracelets and went to greet the man. In this story, Laban apparently hears of his strength and hard work and goes to greet Jacob.
And I think it's interesting the greeting that Uncle Laban gives to his nephew Jacob - “surely you are my bone and my flesh” - as if to say 'you're a man after my own heart' or 'you're just like me'! We will see this played out in the rest of the story.
So Jacob has now been staying in Haran a month. Laban sounds generous, but he's really manipulating the situation. He should extend hospitality to his nephew, expecting nothing in return. Instead, he presumes that Jacob will serve him, and offers to enter into a hiring contract with him. This should be a relationship based on kinship and mutual trust; Laban extending gracious hospitality; Jacob gladly helping out wherever he can. Instead this family relationship degenerates into a master/servant relationship, and Laban uses his own daughter as a bargaining chip. And Laban's answer is shrewd and non-committal. He says 'better that I give her to you than to any other man.'
What a beautiful love story! Jacob is so enamored with Rachel that he offers to serve seven years for her. In that culture, a suitor had to have an appropriate bride price to offer the family of the bride to be, to demonstrate that he could indeed support a wife, to show that he would take good care of her, and to make up for the lost labor when the girl left home. [we have 5 daughters, and i'm thinking this sounds like a really good arrangement, so if any of you have boys, you better teach them how to work hard and set them up with a healthy savings account!] Jacob is in love. He serves seven years and it seems like nothing because of the love he has for her. She is his motivation; the thought of her keeps him going and makes it all seem worth it. Ladies, if a guy isn't willing to get a job and earn a living so he can provide for you, if he isn't willing to wait and put in the time, then he doesn't really love you. Jacob loves Rachel, and he waits seven years for their wedding night!
Jacob is straightforward in his request. My seven years are up, now I want to sleep with my wife. At first, this sounds a bit forward, but this is a man who has waited 7 years for the woman he loves. There's been no messing around ahead of time. They are pure, and now he is ready to consummate their relationship. This is wholesome biblical forwardness. Sex is a gift God gave us for our pleasure, and Jacob has put in the time and proved himself dependable, and now he's not ashamed to ask for her hand (and the rest of her) in marriage.
This is wrong! Laban is messing with something sacred. Laban is shuffling his daughters like bargaining chips to weasel 7 more years of labor out of Jacob. I wonder where Rachel was when all this went down. Did he have her tied up somewhere? And why didn't Leah say anything? This is not a dad that loved his daughters. He was out for his own personal gain even if it meant destroying the lives of his own daughters!
Jacob has finally met his match! This is poetic justice at its best! Actually it is the law of reciprocity in action.
Jacob had deceived his father by capitalizing on his inability to see and succeeded in swapping the younger for the older. He fed him a good meal and gave him wine to drink to dull his senses. Laban now deceives Jacob by serving a feast which must have included too much wine; then in the darkness of night so Jacob cannot see, the older is swapped for the younger. Jacob was covered in hairy skins; his mother put him up to it; Leah is covered with a veil; her father put her up to it. Isaac was conned into blessing Jacob, who was not his favorite son; Jacob is conned into sleeping with Leah, who is not the woman he loves. Jacob is understandably outraged.
I wonder if Jacob choked on the words as he spoke them; 'why have you deceived me?' Esau had said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times (Genesis 27:36). And if that weren't enough, Laban says 'it is not so done to give the younger before the firstborn'. That had to ring in his ears! That is exactly what Jacob had done –he had violated the right of the firstborn. He was the younger and he had stolen the place of the firstborn from his brother Esau. Jacob doesn't say any more. He recognizes that he's been had. He knows he had it coming. He can't accuse Laban of anything that he is not himself guilty of. So Jacob ends up being married to both sisters, and he ends up serving Laban another seven years.
Where does this leave us? God is not referred to once in this passage. And from the circumstances, we might be tempted to think that God has abandoned Jacob. Everything is going wrong for Jacob. Laban has sinned greviously against him; his promising and blossoming love relationship has taken an ugly and unexpected turn that will bring heartache for years to come. Where is God in all of this? The unthinkable has happened!
And we have to answer 'God is right in the middle of it'. God had promised in the last chapter 'I am with you and will keep you wherever you go... I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you' (Genesis 28:15) and God always keeps his promises. So where is God in this chapter? According to his promise, he is with Jacob, keeping Jacob, he is not leaving Jacob and he is fulfilling his promises to Jacob. But if God is with Jacob, why aren't things going well for him? God has promised good things for Jacob and things aren't looking so good for him! But we have to remember, God is more interested in Jacob's character than he is in his comfort. God's main purpose is not to have Jacob's life go smoothly; no, God's purpose is to break Jacob – break him of his self-reliance and self-sufficiency and pride and make him into a man of character; a man who trusts God and honors God and depends on God. God is at work in this chapter disciplining Jacob, refining his character.
God is at work disciplining Jacob for his own good. God is refining him and making him into the man he wants him to be. God is faithful. God will accomplish his good work in Jacob, and he will accomplish his good work in you and in me.