Genesis 31 ~ 20080330 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
3/30 Genesis 31 The Flight of Jacob
We've been watching God at work in Jacob's life. Jacob is by nature a manipulator and a cheat. But God has made amazing promises to Jacob – promises to bless him and through him to bless the whole world. And God has been refining Jacob's character to change him and make him into a man who fears and trusts God. In chapter 30 we saw God prospering and blessing Jacob in spite of his attempts at manipulating his situation. Finally in this chapter, Jacob shows some promising signs. Jacob is beginning to recognize the hand of God in his life and to give God the credit. But he has by no means arrived – God still has a lot of work to do in Jacob.
But we also see a great contrast between Jacob and Laban. Jacob is learning and growing and submitting to God's discipline. Laban has also experienced both God's blessing and God's chastening. God has even appeared to Laban in a dream! But Laban refuses to surrender to God in his life.
Here we see God leading and guiding and giving direction to Jacob. First, there's the inward desire. Back in 30:25, Jacob had fulfilled his contract with Laban for Leah and Rachel, and had expressed his desire to return to his own home and country. But Laban had convinced him to stay. Then, there's the outward circumstances. Jacob gets word that Laban's sons are talking and it's not good. They are saying that Jacob has cut in on their inheritance and plundered their father and gotten rich. Who knows what these men are capable of? Now this is partially true. At the end of the last chapter we are told that Jacob:
It is true that Jacob had become rich by tending Laban's flocks. But this is not the whole truth: Laban himself said in the last chapter:
And Jacob told Laban that:
I find it hard to believe that Laban ended up with less than what he started with. The business deal that they had agreed on would eliminate the possibility of Laban's property decreasing. No, Laban was indeed blessed because of God's blessing on Jacob, but that's the way with greedy people who are consumed by money. If their net worth is increasing more slowly than somebody else's net worth, then they are unhappy. Laban's sons were indeed better off because of Jacob. Laban's net worth had increased because of Jacob. But all they could see was that Jacob had become more wealthy than their dad, and rather than being thankful, they were jealous. There is no contentment when we are continually looking over the fence.
And then there's Laban himself. Jacob recognizes that Laban was no longer favorable toward him like he had been before. That's saying something! Back in the good old days with uncle Laban, back when he worked him seven years hard labor for the girl of his dreams and then good old uncle Laban swapped her out for her ugly older sister. And then he still insisted on seven more years of hard labor for the woman he had intended to marry. Those were the good old days when Laban was favorable toward him. And the last six years where Laban had cheated him and changed his wages ten times. Those were the good old days – but now -now Laban is no longer kind and generous toward me like he was before. Laban is one of those guys that treats his family and friends so poorly that you wonder what he would be like toward his enemies! So Jacob had the inward desire to leave, and the outward circumstances told him it was time to leave. And all this was confirmed to him by God's word. God instructed him to leave. And again, God confirmed his promise that he would be with Jacob.
This is an exciting passage! Jacob is finally mans up and takes charge of his family. Remember in whole account of Jacob's children through the four different women, he only gets one sentence in the whole thing. He is traded like merchandise by his wives. Now Jacob steps up! But notice how he steps up. He doesn't step up and say 'God has made me head of this home and so now you will do as I say without question'. He doesn't get on a power trip and lord it over his wives. He calls them out in the field and reasons with them. He treats them with respect and he presents his case to them. He is actually looking for their input on the family decision. And this is the most exciting part – he points them to God! Jacob is actually exercising spiritual leadership in his home! He says in verse 5 “the God of my father has been with me” - he testifies that God had made good on his promise – that indeed God had been with him to bless him these twenty years! In verse 7 he says “God did not permit him to harm me”; in verse 9 he says “God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me”; and he tells them that God had spoken to him. He points his wives to God and he gives God the credit for everything! Lying scheming deceiving Jacob acknowledges that God had done what God promised him he would do! God did it! And look at the response; remember, Jacob is asking his wives to leave their home and everything that they know and follow him into the unknown – and what are the odds that these two would agree on anything?
Jacob finally steps up as the spiritual leader in his home and his wives respond to that. They recognize that Jacob is now listening to God and they are supportive. They are beginning to recognize the character of their dad. The dowry paid by a husband was to be saved by the father of the bride as a sort of life insurance policy so if anything happened the woman would be taken care of. They say Laban had devoured their money. They are now willing to follow as Jacob steps up to lead his home.
So with the approval of his family, Jacob takes immediate action. But there's two catches to this deal. Rachel stole her dad's household gods. And Jacob deceived Laban by not being up front about his intentions to leave. More about Rachel's godnapping in a minute. Jacob moves, and he moves fast, and he moves at an opportune time while Laban is away from home and preoccupied with sheep shearing.
Three days after Jacob is on the run, word comes to Laban. So Laban rallies his troops and hotly pursues Jacob and catches up to him in the hill country of Gilead. Whatever Laban and his sons are planning to do to Jacob and his clan, it isn't good, so God intervenes with a dream warning Laban not to say anything good or bad to Jacob. And Laban lays it on thick. He says 'what have you done' – the same words Jacob used when he came out of the tent the fateful morning after. He accuses Jacob of driving his daughters away like captives of the sword. Laban had actually sold his daughters like slaves; Jacob had worked 14 years for them, and he had a family conference with them and they volunteered to leave. Then he claims that he would have thrown a party to celebrate their departure. Jacob already had a taste of Laban's parties –like when he got Jacob drunk and swapped Leah for Rachel. Laban in the same breath says he wanted to hug his kids and grandkids, and that he was on his way to hurt them. He says 'but your God showed up to me in a dream last night and warned me not to do anything'. This is like the time God showed up to Abimelech in a dream to protect Abraham's wife. This is great – he says 'your God showed up in my dream and terrified me, but my gods were stolen and I can't find them and I think you did it!
This would make a great movie. Suspense. Tension. Jacob has to own up and admit that he was afraid. But he also has a clear conscience about the theft, so he makes a confident assertion that put the life of his favorite wife at risk. He says Laban can search all his possessions and if he finds anything that is his, the person that has it will be put to death. He spoke without knowing all the facts. And Laban is the kind of guy that just might kill his own daughter if he thought it would hurt Jacob.
This is a Hebrew sitcom – Hebrew satire. God does not share his glory with idols. This is God's humorous way to show that idols are less than nothing. Laban's gods are stolen, stuffed in a camel's saddle and sat upon by a menstruating woman! Laban's false gods are helpless and humiliated and dishonored. The one true God is in control of every circumstance.
Now this is the part where the guy who has been tricked and bullied and pushed around by the bad guy through the whole story finally stands up for himself and gets in the bully's face:
Yeah! Jacob again points to God as the source of everything he has. He refers to him as the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac – the Terror of Isaac or the Awesome One of Isaac;
Laban is delusional! The daughters you treated as slaves and sold; the flocks were sold in another business transaction; the children were not a big enough concern that you made sure they were provided for. This is like Abimelech and his commander coming to Isaac saying 'I know we filled up all your wells with dirt and ran you out of town, but can we be friends? We recognize you as a formidable opponent so we want terms of peace. Jacob again takes charge of the situation and graciously concedes to Laban's request:
Again the statements of Laban are presumptuous and hypocritical. Suddenly Laban is concerned about the welfare of his daughters and doesn't want Jacob to oppress them. He's the one that has brought them so much misery. And he demands that Jacob not take any other wives! As if Jacob didn't have more than he bargained for already! It was greedy uncle Laban that had gotten him into plural marriage in the first place against his wishes. It's interesting that Laban calls on the name of YHWH to watch over them. Why didn't he call on the name of his stolen gods who were in the saddle bag? It is possible in verse 53 that Laban is calling on multiple deities to solemnize the agreement – the God of Abraham and the idols of Nahor – the gods of our fathers. But Jacob swears by the Fear of his father Isaac.
Jacob has come a long way. He has taken some spiritual leadership in his home; he has taken the initiative to obey God; he has acknowledged that God is the one to be credited with any good that has come his way – evidence of a faithful God who keeps his promises. He admits that his scheming and deceiving hasn't secured anything. He has recognized God's presence with him even through the most difficult and painful years of his life. He experiences God's hand of protection intervening on his behalf with angry uncle Laban. He honors God as awesome – one to be reverenced and feared. God is by no means done with Jacob, but God has accomplished great things in Jacob.
This is the last we see of Laban. Laban is self-centered, greedy, full of pride and hypocrisy. Laban has repeatedly acknowledged the blessing and protection of Abraham's God on Abraham's family. God has even appeared to him in a dream to warn him. And yet Laban, out of love for himself has hardened his heart toward God. Laban is a man who had opportunity after opportunity to repent, but stands without excuse.
Laban stands as an example and warning to us of the dangers of pride, love of self and love of money. Jacob, on the other hand stands as a trophy of God's redeeming grace; able to transform an unworthy sinner into a prize possession and an example to us of what a great God we worship.
I Timothy 1:15-17 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.