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O Lord, Your Word is more to be desired than gold, than much fine gold. It is sweeter than honey, than drippings of the honeycomb. By Your statutes we are warned. In keeping them, there is great reward. Keep us innocent from hidden faults. Protect us from presumptuous sins. Let them not have control over us. Let the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Our scripture passage this morning comes from Genesis, chapter 30, beginning at verse 25. Reading all the way through the end of Genesis 31. So we have to prepare ourselves. This is a long story and there’s lots of strange things. It’s a lot of verses. It’ll take a little while to read through them. Now sometimes you get to a long passage and you don’t read everything, but I am going to read through all of this.
Just to remind you, 1 Timothy 4:13, Paul tells the pastor evangelist Timothy, “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”
We can forget that Timothy’s charge was both the teaching and the exhortation and the public reading of Scripture. The only inerrant thing about every sermon is the Scripture that is read. Now often we have short passages and so it doesn’t take long and then you have the sermon, but when we have longer passages, who’s to say that what God wants most to instruct us with this morning is actually the reading of His Word.
So let’s not when we get to a long passage just think, “Oh, boy, we gotta get through this, I hope Pastor has planned ahead with the rest of the sermon, has to be shorter.” Yes, I have, and I’m going to break it up at several points, we’re going to stop and try to explain rather than read it all and then retell it all. We’re going to stop and try to explain what are the strange things going on. Then we will finish, really the shorter part may in fact be a few lessons that we take from this text.
So Genesis chapter 30, beginning at verse 25.
“As soon as Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country. Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, that I may go, for you know the service that I have given you.”
You may remember if you’ve been here that he was in the Promised Land, the land of Canaan, Israel as it would be called, and because of all of the conflict there with his brother, his mother said, “I want you to go back to my homeland in Haran, several hundred miles away, in chapter 27, said, “Stay with my brother Laban for a little while.” Well, he has stayed there much longer than a little while. He has served at least 14 years for his two wives and now he says, “The time has come. I’ve done my service here. I have my wives, I have my children. I’m ready to go.”
Well, here’s what Laban says, verse 27.
“But Laban said to him, “If I have found favor in your sight, I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you. Name your wages, and I will give it.””
Now divination is not something that’s looked upon with favor in the Bible, but through some sort of pagan mechanism he has found out, he has divined, that the reason Laban’s business, his flocks and herds, have grown so wonderfully is because of Jacob. Now we know this because of the covenant God made with Abraham. Whoever blesses you, I will bless, whoever curses you, I will curse. Now Laban, lightbulb going off, this is going to be bad if my son-in-law leaves. He’s the guy who’s making me rich. So he says, “I want you to stay. Name your wages. What do I have to pay you? I want to keep you on. You’re doing a good job for the company.”
“Jacob,” 29, said to him, “You yourself know how I have served you, and how your livestock has fared with me. For you had little before I came, and it has increased abundantly, and the Lord has blessed you wherever I turned. But now when shall I provide for my own household also?””
So read between the lines. Jacob says, “I’m not going to name my wages. I’m not going to just say here, you need to pay me this many shekels” because remember Abraham? He wouldn’t take anything from the king of Sodom. He didn’t want to be in subservience here. He’s already fulfilled his debt, so he’s not going to give traditional wages, but he’s got a different mechanism in mind.
Verse 31: “He said, “What shall I give you?” Jacob said, “You shall not give me anything.”
So I don’t want money, per se. Here’s what I want: “If you will do this for me, I will again pasture your flock and keep it: Let me pass through all your flock today, removing from it every speckled and spotted sheep and every black lamb, and the spotted and speckled among the goats, and they shall be my wages. So my honesty will answer for me later, when you come to look into my wages with you. Every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats and black among the lambs, if found with me, shall be counted stolen.””
So pause. What is this all about? Every time I read through the Bible, you know, every year or two, I get to this and I’ve read it dozens of times and every time I still scratch, what is going on? I can’t keep straight the pictures and what the speckled and the spotted and the mottled and the striped. Here’s what you need to know: In that part of the world, at that time, Jacob is asking for the abnormal animals. Sheep were normally white, he says I’ll take the dark. Goats were normally dark, he says I’ll take the speckled. In fact, there’s a play on words because Laban is the word for “white.” He’s essentially saying, “The white ones, they got your name on it. The laban ones, they belong to Laban. I’m going to take the abnormal ones.”
There wouldn’t have normally been even 20% of the sheep and goats would be of this abnormal colored variety and typically a shepherd could have asked for wages up to 20%. So he is really giving his father-in-law a great deal. “I’m just going to take the oddballs, and you can trust me.”
Verse 34: “Laban,” he knows this is a good deal. He says, ““Good!”” He’s just thinking, “I can’t believe I’m so fortunate. This guy does not know how to negotiate. This is a terrible deal for him, great for me.
““Let it be as you have said.” But,” Laban, ever the deceitful one, this is not the sort of father-in-law you want to have, men, not the sort of father you want to have, women. Even though it was a rare thing to have sheep and goats this color, Laban’s not going to leave anything to chance.
“So that day Laban removed the male goats that were striped and spotted, and all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had white on it, and every lamb that was black, and put them in the charge of his sons. And he set a distance of three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, and Jacob pastured the rest of Laban’s flock.”
Laban is getting a great deal but still he wants to make sure that the cards, the deck, is stacked in his favor. So, okay, three days’ journey, that means a long ways off. I want you to go miles and miles away. “All right, guys,” he says to his children, or to his hired servants, “I want you to take all of the colors that Jacob’s going to get,” because he figures, “If we take those out now, they’re not going to breed, they’re not going to reproduce, Jacob’s going to get nothing. Okay? This is a great deal.”
Here’s what Jacob does, verse 37:
“Then Jacob took fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the sticks. He set the sticks that he had peeled in front of the flocks in the troughs, that is, the watering places, where the flocks came to drink. And since they bred when they came to drink, the flocks bred in front of the sticks and so the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted. And Jacob separated the lambs and set the faces of the flocks toward the striped and all the black in the flock of Laban. He put his own droves apart and did not put them with Laban’s flock. Whenever the stronger of the flock were breeding, Jacob would lay the sticks in the troughs before the eyes of the flock, that they might breed among the sticks, but for the feebler of the flock he would not lay them there. So the feebler would be Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s. Thus the man increased greatly and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys.”
Jacob has a few tricks up his sleeve. Two things he does. One is this folk custom of visual impression. It was the belief that if you put this sort of visual impression in front of the animals while they were mating that then it would somehow transfer and they would have offspring that were the color of the thing they were looking at, either during conception or during birth.
Now we don’t have to think that that’s very good agricultural science, but that was the practice. We don’t know. Calvin goes so far as to say, “God revealed to Jacob that this was the means by which God was going to bless his flock.” Maybe that’s the case, or maybe Jacob’s just thinking, “This is the science of our day and this is going to work.”
Now we don’t have to believe that that’s the reason it worked, we know that God is ultimately the reason that it worked, but this was their sort of superstitious custom.
Back in colonial New England they had a tradition, they had an understanding, that your children were born on the same day that they were conceived, and there’s a little story that by the time Jonathan Edwards had like his sixth child born on Sunday that his congregation was getting very suspicious. What, and so at some point they changed that custom.
So here they have this basic custom, Jacob does it, we’re going to get the sticks that look like the animals I want to be born. And it works.
The other thing is a bit of rudimentary genetics. Ah ha, let’s get the strong animals and I’m going to try to get the strong animals to produce for my flock, the feebler animals can produce for Laban’s flock. And it works. He increased greatly.
Now, chapter 31. So fast forward. This is several years later.
“Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, “Jacob has taken all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has gained all this wealth.” And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before.”
Now, it’s questionable how much favor Laban actually had to Jacob before, but he was kind in so far as he realized Jacob was producing his great wealth. They had a sort of uneasy relationship, but he was his father-in-law, he showed some favor to him. Now Jacob senses all of that has changed. There’s a rank jealousy, suspicion.
“Then the Lord said to Jacob,” verse 3, remember or ““Return to the land of your fathers and go to your kindred, and I will be with you.”
All right, Jacob, again, time to go.
“So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah into the field where his flock was and said to them, “I see that your father does not regard me with favor as he did before. But the God of my father has been with me. You know that I have served your father with all my strength, yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times. But God did not permit him to harm me. If he said, ‘The spotted shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore spotted; and if he said, ‘The striped shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore striped. Thus God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me. In the breeding season of the flock I lifted up my eyes and saw in a dream that the goats that mated with the flock were striped, spotted, and mottled. Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am!’ And he said, ‘Lift up your eyes and see, all the goats that mate with the flock are striped, spotted, and mottled, for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred.’”
Again, Jacob gets a dream from the Lord. It is time to go, and Jacob understands. He has a good theological awareness, even though he did the whole business with the poplar branches, he understands ultimately God has had favor upon me. Whenever Laban changed the terms of the agreement, “No, no, no, you get that color sheep, that color goat.” Whatever he said, God suddenly multiplied that kind of sheep and goat. God has multiplied his flocks.
Now what will be the response of his wives? Do they want to leave the only country that they’ve known? Do they want to leave their father behind? Well, it turns out they’re eager to go.
Verse 14: “Then Rachel and Leah answered and said to him, “Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house? Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and he has indeed devoured our money. All the wealth that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children. Now then, whatever God has said to you, do.””
You might have wondered if Rachel and Leah would have put a stop sign up for Jacob: “No, this is our home, this is our family, we don’t want to go anywhere.” But just the opposite. They are kind of ticked off with Laban, too. Remember Jacob working for 14 years was his bridal payment. Now they’re not possessions, but it’s a bridal payment in keeping with their customs.
When Abraham sent to get a bride for Isaac, he brought camels and all sorts of gifts. Jacob had nothing, but what he had was his own hard work, so 14 years. So Rachel and Leah say, “What you’ve been doing all these years, now 14 plus, that was your service, that was your gift for us. We deserve some of this, and our father keeps trying to cheat not only you, but as he cheats you, he is cheating us as well. If God tells you to go, then we’re ready to go.”
Verse 17. “So Jacob arose and set his sons and his wives on camels. He drove away all his livestock, all his property that he had gained, the livestock in his possession that he had acquired in Paddan-aram, to go to the land of Canaan to his father Isaac. Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father’s household gods. And Jacob tricked Laban the Aramean, by not telling him that he intended to flee. He fled with all that he had and arose and crossed the Euphrates, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead.”
So Laban’s out in the fields, sheep shearing season, and they say, “This is the time to go.” Rachel stole her father’s household gods. That’s an operative word in this story. Seven times we have this verb “to steal.”
Actually, if you look over in verse 20 where it says that Jacob tricked Laban, you’ll notice that that word is actually “he stole the heart of Laban.” It’s a euphemism. It means he fooled him, he convinced his heart one way.
Rachel is stealing from Laban, and in a metaphorical sense Jacob is stealing the heart, he’s tricked Laban. Rachel and Jacob, they were made for each other as each one is stealing, in a way, from Laban.
Now notice, we’ll come back to this later, the household gods. The Hebrew word is “teraphim.” We don’t know exactly what they were, teraphim. Certainly they weren’t massive because she can steal them with her. Later she’ll be caught sitting on them. Teraphim, scholars debate what it means. It might be connected to the word for protection, that these were household gods of protection, a sort of good luck charm, or it might be connected to the word for healing, that they provide some sort of healing charm.
We don’t know exactly what they were, and we don’t know why Rachel stole them. Now we’ll see later, I don’t think she stole them because she thought they were of any religious value. She might have stole them simply, “Hey, these are family heirlooms, these are good luck charms.” Maybe she stole them because she thought, well, they’re made of some valuable material and we can re-sell them or melt them down. Maybe she simply wanted to spite her dad. I don’t know for sure, but that makes sense. After all that Laban has done to them, she said, “These are his prized possession, we’re taking these with us.”
So they flee. Verse 22.
“When it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob had fled, he took his kinsmen with him and pursued him for seven days and followed close after him into the hill country of Gilead. But God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream by night and said to him, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.””
This is some distance. This is hundreds of miles, maybe 350 miles from Aram or Syria in the north down to the border region of Canaan, Gilead in the north of Canaan, so this is hundreds of miles. Seven days here may be just an approximation, a week or more it would have taken for them finally to catch up. And when they overtake them, what you’re going to notice is a lot of military type language, that the way in which this describes tells us this is not so much a family reunion as it is about to be a military conflict.
Verse 25: “And Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsmen pitched tents in the hill country of Gilead. And Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done, that you have tricked me and driven away my daughters like captives of the sword?””
Now, he didn’t actually drive away the daughters. Remember, they were willing to go. They said, “Yeah, we’re kind of tired of Laban, too. Whatever you want. We’re willing to go.”
These are military terms: Overtake, driven away, captives of the sword. Even that word “pitch his tent,” it’s not the same word that’s used elsewhere in Genesis for a normal setting up a tent. This is more of setting up a military encampment. This is like one army has come to overtake another army.
Now look at what Laban says: ““Why did you flee secretly and trick me, and did not tell me, so that I might have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre? And why did you not permit me to kiss my sons and my daughters farewell? Now you have done foolishly. It is in my power to do you harm. But the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’ And now you have gone away because you longed greatly for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods?” Jacob answered and said to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force. Anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live. In the presence of our kinsmen point out what I have that is yours, and take it.” Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them.”
Laban, this guy’s a piece of work. He has come like a general on the march to overtake his own family. In fact, he gives this threatening word, “Don’t you know I have the power to harm you? I could really do you a number right there.” But before he does that, he gives this sad story, “Oh, I just wanted to just kiss my grandchildren. I wanted to throw you a party. I had gifts to give you.”
Laban has been the cheat for years and years and years, and now he just pretends to be nothing but just a wounded father. But of course, Jacob understands he’s much more than that.
“So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two female servants, but he did not find them. And he went out of Leah’s tent and entered Rachel’s. Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them in the camel’s saddle and sat on them. Laban felt all about the tent, but did not find them. And she said to her father, “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the way of women is upon me.” So he searched but did not find the household gods.”
We’re told, to exonerate Jacob, he didn’t know this had happened. He was ready to say, “Look, I didn’t steal anything from you. I left fair and square. I left when you were out with the sheep because I knew you’d never actually let me leave. You would take things by force. But I didn’t steal anything.” Of course, he doesn’t know that his own wife has stolen these household gods.
Laban can’t find them. Rachel says, “I can’t get up, I’m having the way of women during this time of the month.”
Now we don’t know if Rachel is telling the truth. Certainly wouldn’t be beyond her that she’s not telling the truth, but maybe she is. Whatever the case is, it works, she doesn’t have to get up. Laban does not find the household gods.
Verse 36: “Then Jacob became angry and berated Laban.”
Now if you were reading this next section in the Hebrew, you’d see it’s filled with short staccato phrases. What you have is the overflowing of 20 years of frustration. Okay, enough is enough. Now Jacob’s going to really tell Laban what he thinks.
“Jacob said to Laban, “What is my offense? What is my sin, that you have hotly pursued me? For you have felt through all my goods; what have you found of all your household goods? Set it here before my kinsmen and your kinsmen, that they may decide between us two. These twenty years I have been with you. Your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, and I have not eaten the rams of your flocks. What was torn by wild beasts I did not bring to you. I bore the loss of it myself. From my hand you required it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. There I was: by day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes. These twenty years I have been in your house. I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times. If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands and rebuked you last night.””
In other words, “No, no, no, Laban. I’m not buying this whole sob story about you just wanted to throw a party for us. Every time you changed my wages, you tried to cheat me. You were never going to let us go. No, we would have left empty-handed and I worked for you. I sweat for you, in cold, in heat, and when the animals were stolen or eaten, I bore the loss myself. I have been the best thing that ever happened to you. So no, no, no. I’m not hearing that, Laban. That’s why I’m leaving.”
“Then Laban answered and said to Jacob, “The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day for these my daughters or for their children whom they have borne?””
So he doesn’t get it. Remember that scene in Finding Nemo with the fish are flopping on the dock and the birds, “mine, mine, mine, mine, mine, mine, mine, mine.” That’s Laban. It’s all mine! They’re my kids, my daughters, my flocks. He still doesn’t acknowledge that any of this really rightfully, legally belongs to Jacob.
““Come now,”” then he says, ““Let us make a covenant, you and I. And let it be a witness between you and me.” So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. And Jacob said to his kinsmen, “Gather stones.” And they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there by the heap. Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed.”
So the first is in Aramaic, the second is in Hebrew, so finally though they’ve lived as family, even the naming of this place of treaty indicates they’re different families, they’re different nations, and they need to just find a way to be at peace with one another. So it’s going to give the name that is there is Aramean and the name in Hebrew. And later in Israel’s history, this borderland in the north of Israel, the far south of Syria, will be contested to whom it belongs. But here they give it both of these names.
“Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” Therefore he named it Galeed, and Mizpah, for he said, “The Lord watch between you and me, when we are out of one another’s sight. If you oppress my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no one is with us, see, God is witness between you and me.””
“Then Laban said to Jacob, “See this heap and the pillar, which I have set between you and me. This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm. The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.” So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac, and Jacob offered a sacrifice in the hill country and called his kinsmen to eat bread. They ate bread and spent the night in the hill country.”
This has many of the elements of a typical covenant ceremony. What do you have with covenants in the Bible? You have an oath, you have witnesses, you have a sign, and often you have a meal. So this heap of stones is to bear witness, the promises that they’ve made to one another and the chief promise is here’s the boundary line. Okay. You go back up north, we’ll go back down south. We are not going to cross this line.
“Early in the morning Laban arose and kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then Laban departed and returned home.”
So the military conflict is averted. They part ways not quite friends but not quite enemies. They’ve come to terms of peace that they will head their separate ways. Jacob is allowed to go with the possessions that are rightfully his, with the family that is rightfully his, and there’s at least an uneasy sort of truce as Laban says, and Jacob rather graciously allows. Okay, we’ll make a covenant with one another, say goodbye to the family, you go your way, I’ll go mine.
So what is this story about? Let me suggest to you four themes, and I’ll present them to us as four lessons that we should learn. Four themes. This story is about promises, protection, providence, and preeminence, and I’ll describe each of those as a lesson to learn. We’ll go through each of them briefly.
One. First lesson: Trust God’s promises.
We’ve seen this before in Genesis, and by the end of Genesis you’re going to say, “Oh, I get it. Trust God’s promises.” Well, that’s sort of the point. Every chapter you’re meant to be reminded, “We can trust God’s promises.” Ever chapter, especially from 12 through 50, is about God being true to His Word and His covenant to Abraham and his descendants.
Notice Laban was blessed because of Jacob. Jacob realizes that, even Laban realized it, just like God had promised to Abraham. All of the nations of the earth will be blessed through you, and we’re already seeing the outworking of that promise as the nations up among the Arameans are being blessed because of the promises to Abraham.
We also see, “Whoever curses you I will curse.” So that when Laban turns on Jacob, when he turns to curse Jacob as it were, the curses are about to fall on Laban if he does not avert course. God is true to His promises. Laban tries to cheat Jacob multiple times, but notice he cannot cheat God out of giving the promises and the blessings. Everything that Laban does to try to cheat Jacob ends up as a blessing to Jacob.
Now it may not have felt that way at the time, but he cheated him out of Rachel, and he gets Leah, and from Leah would come many children, and actually would come the promised Messiah and the promised line would come through Leah. So his cheating there redounds to the blessing.
When he changes his wages 10 times, every time Laban changes the wages, it words out better for Jacob.
It’s like if your boss keeps changing the product, “No, you get commission on the cars only, not on the warranties,” car sales through the roof. “No, you only get it on the warranties, not on the cars.” Then every time he changes it, that sale goes through the roof.
This man, Jacob, we read in verse 43 “increased greatly.” Like father, like son. Like grandfather, like grandson. God’s promises cannot but be fulfilled.
Do you trust, I mean really trust, in God’s promises in your life? Now you might say, “Well, these were sort of obvious promises. That’d be great. I’d like to have more possessions and yes, God, thank you for blessing me.”
Think about the promises that God makes to us in the Sermon on the Mount. We saw it last week, if you were here on Sunday night, the Beatitudes. Every one of those Beatitudes is a promise to God’s people. “If you are humble before Me,” God says, “I promise you the kingdom of heaven. If you weep for your sins, I promise I will comfort you. If you are gentle and dignified, I promise I will give you the world. If you long for what is good and true and beautiful, I promise that your longings will be fulfilled. If you show mercy to others, I promise I will show mercy to you. If you’re pure with your eyes, I promise your eyes will look upon Me. If you strive for peace with your brothers and sisters, I promise you will be My sons and daughters. If you are hated by people for My sake here on earth, I promise that I will keep a place waiting for you in heaven. If you are slandered and persecuted now, I promise you a great reward later.”
Every one of those Beatitudes is God’s promise to His people. Do you believe in God’s promises? Trust God’s promises.
Number two: Depend upon God’s protection.
It’s a theme running throughout this passage and throughout the entire book. Human beings will let you down. They all will. Even your closest family members sometimes may betray you. But God never will.
Notice the juxtaposition of these two things. For example, chapter 31 verse 5: Jacob says, in essence, to his wives, “Your father doesn’t look out for me but the God of my father’s does.”
Verse 7: He cheated me 10 times, but God did not permit him to harm me.
Laban comes with great power and an intent to harm Jacob, but what does God do? He appears to Laban in a dream and He says, “Mmm, check yourself before you wreck yourself, okay, Laban? You don’t want to do this.”
Laban came with malice aforethought. He was ready to do whatever it takes. God says to him, “You don’t want to do that. You do not want to lay your hand, you better be careful what you say to Jacob and to his family.” God was protecting him.
Jacob realizes, look at chapter 31, verse 42: He would have walked away from 20 years of service with nothing except that God was on his side. 20 years. That’s a long time. 20 years. And it was up to Laban, Jacob would have been booted out of there without Leah, without Rachel, without his 11 sons, his one daughter, whatever grandchildren had been born, flocks, herds, camels, donkeys, maidservants, male servants, all of those. Nothing. He would have walked away empty-handed just like he came 20 years ago except God was looking after him.
God was the good Shepherd to this good shepherd. Do you see the language there? Look at chapter 31, verse 38, Jacob’s speech to Laban: These 20 years I have been with you, your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, I’ve not eaten the rams, what was torn by wild beasts I did not bring to you, I bore the loss, for my hand you required it. There I was by day the heat consumed me, the cold by night, sleep fled from my eyes.
It’s a wonderful description of what shepherding was like in the ancient world. We hear all the shepherd imagery and sometimes we just picture just a young man with a pristine white bathrobe, sort of a Mr. Israel sash or something, just standing there, just looking out, cute little fluffy sheep, just looking out in the distance. What a glorious life it was. No, this gives us a picture. This was hard, messy, dangerous, sweaty, hot, cold work.
This actually tells us a lot about what pastoral ministry is supposed to be like. These are the sort of pastors I pray you have at Christ Covenant, the sort of pastors that you should pray for. Men who would look after the flock at great cost to themselves.
And then ultimately it’s a picture of not just Jacob, or pastoral ministry, but a picture of the Good Shepherd. Isn’t this ultimately fulfilled in Jesus? He was the One who had sleep flee from His eyes when all of the disciples around Him fell asleep. When He was responsible for none of the loss and yet He bore all of the loss Himself, when none of it was His fault. He is the absolute Good Shepherd to watch over and to protect His people.
Depend on God’s protection.
Three: Look for God’s providence.
Do you see how these stories in Genesis, week after week, are ultimately about God? Who God is, what God wants, what God is doing in the world. Yes, God loves to make promises to us. He cares for us. That’s what this is about. We’ve heard. But do you see how in the messiness of life, it is not hard for God to move the chess pieces as He wants? He’s not just a brilliant chess player who’s three steps ahead. He’s eternal infinite steps ahead.
We would be happier and more confident and less anxious in life if we could take a step back and realize that God knows what He’s doing on this chess board of life, or God is writing the story, and the main attraction in this story is not you, it’s not me, it’s God. The picture all throughout Genesis is of a massive God working everything out according to His will and His pleasure.
Think about it. There are lots of messy people and messy situations in Genesis. We got 19 chapters left to go, and there’s going to be some messier things yet to come. And if you get your head down in all of the details, it seems like everything is always going wrong for God’s people. Somebody’s always fighting, there’s always some conflict, there’s some cheating. Something is going wrong. It looks in the details like everything is falling part. But if you lift up your head and look out on the horizon, and look out with the eyes of faith, everything seems to be going right. Every step of the way in Genesis, if they would look up, the picture makes more sense.
Near where I grew up in Michigan there was a park about a half-mile down the road and it had trails and the favorite things to do when I was growing up is there was this great big map of the United States mowed into the grass. Tom Groelsma is shaking his head; he’s been there. It was, I don’t know, half a football field in length, and it had little concrete slabs separating the states and it was all sort of to scale, and it even had mountains and little lakes and so the Rockies had some little elevation. You could walk across this thing. Like I said, half of a football field. It’s kind of overgrown now, but if you’re ever in my hometown, you can go see it.
Well, they used to have a great big tower, which I think became just, you know, “Please sue us when you fall from this,” that they’ve taken it down. But it used to be you walk along and, even when I’m back home, I’ll always have my kid, they don’t think it’s nearly as interesting as I do, “Come, look at this. Do you know where we are? Do you know what we’re looking at?” Because if you’re just looking down at your feet, it’s just a bumpy piece of grass, and then with some stray pieces of concrete, but if you could walk up into that tower 20 feet in the air, you look down, “Ha, there’s actually a pattern. This is a cool-looking map of the United States and the topography and the state lines.”
What seemed to be when you stare at your feet to be nothing but confusion and mess, if you could get something of a heavenly perspective, you’d realize, “Ah, there’s order, there’s direction, there’s purpose.”
From one vantage point these 20 Laban years were sad and painful. They were filled with deception, dishonesty, theft, fear, retaliation, jealousy, enmity, accusations, strife. Maybe for some of you that’s what the last two years or 20 years look like for you.
But from another view, weren’t these an amazing 20 years? Jacob came to Haran with nothing, and he leaves with wives, children, sheep, goats, servants, camels, donkey. It’s like a man hitch-hiking to California and then leaving two decades later with a private jet, a fleet of fancy cars, bags full of money, a caravan of people working for him, and a beautiful family. Yeah, there were a lot of pain and a lot of messes, but step back, look up, God’s done an amazing thing.
Look for God’s providence.
Finally, here’s the fourth lesson: Rejoice in God’s preeminence.
There is an amazing, striking picture here of God’s superiority and preeminence. Rachel steals these household gods. Now, we’re meant I think to almost laugh at this, that Laban is so desperate to get back his household gods, but think about it. If your God can be god-napped, you need a different god. You stole my gods! Yeah, get a different god. That’s not the god that’s going to really help you.
And some god. Don’t want to get into details of what Rachel may be doing here, but as one commentator put it, Rachel demonstrates not some great religious allegiance to these household gods. No, they’re worth about as much as a sanitary napkin. That’s what she uses them for. You are meant to see a contrast – the great household gods of Laban, he would travel over heaven and earth and almost fight his own family to get these gods back, and what are they worth? You can hide them in a camel saddle, a woman having the way of women sits upon them.
Mark it very well – gods will fail you. Idols will fail you. That’s the nature of idolatry. Idols never come through for you in the end. You think they do. The idols of sex, money, career, ambition, whatever it is, it looks like they’re for you, they never come through for you in the end.
We’re meant to see the contrast between these gods and the one and only God.
At the very end, Laban swears, verse 53, “the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor judge between us.”
Now what you can’t tell is in the Hebrew the verb “to judge” is used with more than one subject. It’s used with plural. In other words, Laban is not saying “the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, that’s one God.” He’s saying, “May the God of Abraham judge between us, and the God of Nahor,” that’s his family lineage, “judge between us.” In other words, it is a typical pagan oath, a polytheistic oath. “I swear, sure, your God, I have no problem adding your God of Abraham, but also the God of Nahor,” which is why it is important to notice what Jacob does.
Jacob does not go along with his religious pluralism. He does not go along to get along. He does not say, “Okay, well, this is the last I have to see this guy, so I guess, sure, God of Abraham, God of Nahor, may He bless us both.” He doesn’t do that. He offered a sacrifice and he swore, verse 53, “by the Fear of his father Isaac.” Now that’s not the fear that Isaac had, but rather the Fear that the God of Isaac inspires, or produces.
So he is giving testimony in this last word before they part ways. “That’s okay, Laban, I haven’t changed your mind. God of Abraham, God of Nahor. But as for me and my family now, it is the God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and soon to be the God of Jacob.”
This story is about God and His preeminence. The God who cannot be smuggled in a camel’s saddle. The God who cannot be placed alongside any other God, for there are none. The God who cannot be defiled. The God who ought to be feared, and the God who cannot fail.
Amazingly, this God we know 2000 years later came to earth as a tiny baby, not much bigger than a camel’s saddle. And this God who would never be sat upon, a woman in her monthly bleeding. Well, this God came and at one point He touched the woman with the bloody issue, symbolizing that “I will take upon Myself the world’s sin and shame and defilement,” the One who only blessed became for our sakes a curse. He took upon our uncleanness, and still He proved to be the God who could not fail.
From birth to death to life to exaltation, and therefore Colossians tells us that this God, this Lord Jesus Christ, in everything should be preeminent.
Let’s pray. Our gracious heavenly Father, we come to You now and pray that as You have fed us by Your Word You would feed us at this table. Nourish us, strengthen us, bring us to see our sin and to love once again our Savior, in whose name we pray. Amen.