Description / Transcription
Your Word, O Lord, is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. Your testimonies are our heritage forever. They are the joy of our hearts. We incline our hearts to perform your statutes forever to the end. We open our mouths and pant because we long for Your commandments. Turn to us, be gracious to us, as is Your way with those who love Your name. We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
I invite you to turn in your Bibles to Genesis chapter 29. After a bit of break we are returning to our series in the book of Genesis, the very first book in the Bible. Lord willing, we’ll accelerate our pace just a bit, taking whole chapters often at a time, as we seek to make our way through the book of Genesis before break this summer.
So we come this morning to Genesis chapter 29. We have been tracing our way through the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and now the attention has shifted to Jacob and the creation of his family. Follow along as I read verses 1 through 30.
“Then Jacob went on his journey and came to the land of the people of the east. As he looked, he saw a well in the field, and behold, three flocks of sheep lying beside it, for out of that well the flocks were watered. The stone on the well’s mouth was large, and when all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone from the mouth of the well and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place over the mouth of the well.”
“Jacob said to them, “My brothers, where do you come from?” They said, “We are from Haran.” He said to them, “Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?” They said, “We know him.” He said to them, “Is it well with him?” They said, “It is well; and see, Rachel his daughter is coming with the sheep!” He said, “Behold, it is still high day; it is not time for the livestock to be gathered together. Water the sheep and go, pasture them.” But they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together and the stone is rolled from the mouth of the well; then we water the sheep.””
“While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. Now as soon as Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, Jacob came near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. Then Jacob kissed Rachel and wept aloud. And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son, and she ran and told her father.”
“As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he ran to meet him and embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things, and Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh!” And he stayed with him a month.”
“Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Now Laban had two daughters. The name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance. Jacob loved Rachel. And he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.”
“Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” So Laban gathered together all the people of the place and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and he went in to her. (Laban gave his female servant Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her servant.) And in the morning, behold, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” Laban said, “It is not so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” Jacob did so, and completed her week. Then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. (Laban gave his female servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel to be her servant.) So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years.”
I imagine many of you have heard Numbers 32:23 before. You don’t know that you’ve heard it before, you may not know where it is in the Bible. You may not know that it’s in the Bible, but I bet you, many of you, have heard that verse before. Here’s the context for that verse in Numbers. Moses is nearing the end of his life and he’s preparing the 12 tribes to cross over the Jordan to inherit the Promised Land. But once they get over the Jordan into the Promised Land, they will have to fight off the inhabitants of the Promised Land and settle on the other side of the Jordan.
And there in Numbers 32, two of the tribes, Ruben and Gad, ask if they can settle in Gilead on the east of the Jordan. They’re supposed to cross over and inhabit the west but they want to settle on the east. And Moses basically says to their request, “Okay, I’ll allow you, God will allow you to settle here on the east side of the Jordan, and you can build folds for your livestock, you can build cities and you can settle here with your wives and your children, but you have one stipulation. Before you settle here, you must cross over with the other tribes onto the other side of the Jordan, and you men must fight shoulder to shoulder with your brothers to drive out the inhabitants of the land.”
Because of course it wouldn’t be fair if they just stay here, that would be a bad precedent. All the tribes say, “Oh, we don’t want to go over and have to fight. We’ll just stay. This is a nice piece of land.”
So Moses says, “Okay. You can have this land, but first you need to go over, fight with your brothers, drive out the inhabitants, then you can cross back over the Jordan and settle down here.”
That’s the agreement. Fight with your brothers, then come back. It’s in the midst of that arrangement with Ruben and Gad that we have this verse from Numbers 32:23. Moses says, “But if you will not do so,” that is, go and fight first, “if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the Lord and be sure your sin will find you out.” It’s one of those phrases, like much of the King James Bible and Shakespeare, that have just passed down into common parlance, “Be sure that your sin will find you out.” It comes from that story in the Bible.
And we know this to be true, many of us from experience. We know it also from the great stories of movies or literature. In The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas, the protagonist Edmond Dantes is betrayed by all of the people close to him, by a jealous crewmate, by his conniving friend, by his cowardly neighbor, by a power-hungry magistrate, and the innocent, naïve Edmond Dantes then through this betrayal is forced to languish in a remote prison, the Chateau d’If. Meanwhile, as he’s there in this torturous prison, his betrayers get rich and powerful from their treachery. But if you know the story or have seen the movie, after 14 years Edmond escapes from prison, he finds this long lost treasure, he becomes a Count and he plots his revenge. The story The Count of Monte Cristo is about justice, it’s about mercy. It’s also about Numbers 32:23: “Be sure that your sins will find you out.”
Or to put it as Paul does in Galatians 6: “Do not be deceived. God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that he will also reap.”
That’s what Genesis 29 is about. What you sow you shall also reap. Be sure that your sins will find you out. We may think that when we sin we get away with it, and indeed for a time we may. And actually, it may seem as if we are better off because of our sins. But the Word of God tells us, be sure that in time your sins will find you out.
It’s one of the confusing things. It doesn’t even seem right as we go through the book of Genesis, that so often it seems as if God’s people are not just sinning and getting away with it, but they’re actually sinning and better off because of it. Doesn’t Abraham lie about Sarah when he’s in Egypt? And what happens? He gets rich. And then later he lies again. More riches.
Isaac lies about Rebekah because these Hebrew women are just reaching their beautiful prime age when they’re 80 years old. And he lies again and he gets rich.
Jacob plots and lies to get the blessing from his brother Esau, and what happens? He gets the blessing.
So maybe sin really does pay. Over and over it seems as if God’s chosen family lies, they not only get away with it but they’re actually better off because of it.
However. If we look more carefully, we can see that in every case, yes, God is blessing His people despite themselves, but in every case, even though God chooses to bless, because He has promised, trouble follows close behind.
Remember when Abraham was in Egypt and he lied, but then he got rich and one of the things Pharaoh gave him was wealth and servants. Most scholars think that one of those servants that he would have gotten was Hagar. After all, she was an Egyptian servant, and we know that having Hagar there led to this crazy, sinful plan that maybe they can get an heir, it doesn’t seem to be working with Abraham and Sarai, so let’s try Abraham and Hagar, and set in motion what would be for the rest of their lives a pattern of bitterness and jealousy and conflict.
Or think about Isaac. He gets rich, yes, but then the Philistines are jealous and so they stop up some of the wells in the land.
Or Jacob. Yes, he schemed to get the blessing, but he ends up a man in exile. And he and his mom, he was his mom’s favorite, they’re parted, never to see each other again. And in fact, for the rest of the book, and we have 20+ chapters to go, the rest of this book is about the promised family in conflict.
So, no, you cannot say that they just got away with it. In each case, yes, God blesses despite themselves, but in each case trouble follows close behind, because of their sins.
We are never better off for having sinned against God than for having obeyed Him. We are never better off for having sinned against God than having obeyed Him.
To be sure God can redeem our sins, forgive our sins, turn our failures into great triumphs of His glory. Yes, that happens.
But we are never better off for having sinned, and eventually, though it may seem like we get away with it for a time, it may even seem like we are better off because of our sin, eventually our sins will find us out.
That’s the story here. But here’s the good news. That’s not all this story is about. And that’s not all the Bible is about, and that’s not what your life has to be about. Yes, your sins will find you out, but that does not have to be the end of the story. Because God can forgive sin. God can redeem sin. God can even use our sin to accomplish His good purposes.
So on the one hand Genesis 29 is about what goes around comes around. That’s the title of the message. But it’s also about the God who disciplines those He loves. It’s about the God who confronts us with our sin but loves us too much to leave us in our sin.
So let’s walk through this story. You’ll want to have your Bibles open. Let’s understand what God was teaching Jacob and then try to understand at the end what He might be teaching each one of us.
Go back up to the beginning of chapter 29. This story has deliberate connections to the chapters that have come before. So we begin in verse 1, Jacob went on his journey. Literally, he lifted up his feet, the only time you have this expression in the Bible, he lifted up his feet. So he rose from his spot. Where was he in chapter 28? Well, he was making his way back to his ancestral home, but he had been stopped there at Bethel and received this vision from the Lord.
So he gets up on his feet, he continues on his journey to Mesopotamia. Here he is going to meet his wife. If you’ve been with us through the studies in Genesis, you should start to hear immediate connections, because in chapter 24 Abraham sent his servant where? Back to Mesopotamia, back to the ancestral home in Haran, back there to get a wife because he didn’t want to get a wife for Isaac among the Canaanite people, so you want to go back to your own family, and went and finds a wife for Isaac.
Well, now we have Jacob meeting his wife Rachel. And where did Abraham’s servant first encounter a wife for Isaac? It was at a well. And where does Jacob first encounter his wife-to-be? It’s at a well. In fact, we don’t know for sure, it could be the very same well as they come back to the land of Haran.
Think of all the connections. Remember, Laban was there the first time around when Abraham’s servant found Rebekah to bring back as a wife for Isaac. In fact, Laban was there exercising some kind of parental-like authority. So Laban probably is connecting the dots. Haven’t we seen this movie before? A man comes from a far distant land, who travels back to his family’s home, and here he will find at the well a wife and a new family for his own.
Think of all the connections. They travel to the same place, they find the same family, they stop maybe at the very same well in both stories, for a wife for Jacob and a wife for Isaac. The girl comes to draw water at the well. In both stories the girl then returns in joy to tell her father what has happened, and in both stories then the man is brought to stay at the father’s home and in both stories the man and the woman eventually get married.
Chapter 29 has deliberate echoes of the story from chapter 24. It’s also meant to be the fulfillment of God’s promise in chapter 28. The Hebrew word “hinneh” translated often “behold,” shows up three times in chapter 28; in verse 12, verse 13, verse 15. Three times there in that scene and Jacob’s dream we have behold, behold, behold, look. Then three times in chapter 29 we have the same word; verse 2, verse 7, verse 25.
Chapter 28 is God’s promise, behold, look, look, here’s what’s going to happen. Then chapter 29, three times with the same expression, look, it happened, it happened, it happened.
It’s not exactly that chapter 28 was a prophecy about finding your wife at a well, but it was the Lord’s promise to Jacob, “I will be with you, I will go with you, I will help you.”
So we’re meant to see that Jacob’s success in chapter 29 in Haran is on account of God’s promise to him at Bethel.
Now the story with Abraham’s servant in chapter 24 we’re deliberately told God is guiding the trip. Here we don’t have that, but no doubt the same sovereign hand is guiding behind the scenes. This is not just Jacob’s luck, certainly not Jacob’s ingenuity. This is all along God’s plan and promise. He told Jacob, “You don’t deserve it, but I’ll be with you. I’ll bless you. I’ll keep you wherever you go.” Sure enough, the very next place that he goes we see the Lord’s hand is with him.
Look at verse 6 of chapter 9, because the action really picks up when Rachel enters the scene: “He said to them, “Is it well?” They said, “It is well; and see, Rachel his daughter is coming with the sheep!””
I don’t know if this was a movie what you would have. You would have the strings in a crescendo or you’d have some very magical heart music. Something would indicate, ah, this is going to be good as Rachel enters the picture.
Now verses 7 and 8 are a bit strange because we seem to be taking a pause from the action as Jacob then says, “Ah, um, shepherds, what are you doing? It’s still high day. It’s not time for the livestock to gather. Why don’t you water the sheep and go pasture them?” And they say, “Well, we can’t do it because we need all the flocks together to move this stone.”
What exactly is Jacob doing here? Some say, well, this is Jacob showing how diligent he is, ready to get to work, and they’re lazy and just waiting around. Or others say, no, this is Jacob being arrogant, trying to boss them around. He just got to the land and he’s already telling them what to do. Or, and I think this is most likely, maybe just because I want it to be most likely, it may be a plot on Jacob’s part to get these men away so he can talk to Rachel. Wouldn’t be the first time that a young man sets his eyes on a young woman, tries to, “Just the rest of you, just get away from here. I don’t need all these wing men here, okay? Just leave. I want to talk to her.”
Whatever it was, Jacob is smitten with Rachel. It is truly love at first sight.
Three times we have mentioned here in the next paragraph that she is the daughter of Laban, his mother’s brother, the sheep of Laban, his mother’s brother. Why belabor this point? Because we’re meant to see that he’s found the family he’s looking for. Yes, this was the plan that his mother had. Go back to my family, you’ll find my brother Laban, and there you will find a family for yourself. So he’s made it.
Now one of the most bizarre stories in Genesis, it’s tucked away here, maybe you didn’t notice it before, but Jacob’s incredible feat of strength. Did you notice this? Look back up at verse 2: “He saw a well in the field and three flocks of sheep lying beside it, for out of that well the flocks were watered. The stone on the well’s mouth was large.”
Verse 3 says, “When all the flocks were gathered the shepherds would roll the stone from the mouth and put it back to its place.” So a well is a very valuable possession, and you don’t just leave the well uncovered because maybe travelers by try to draw from the well or maybe animals drink from it, or someone falls into it, so you’d need to protect your well, so there’s a large stone on the ground protecting this well. We’re told in no uncertain terms it is a very large stone. In fact, it’s so large that you need three different flocks together at the same time so you can multiple shepherds to roll this stone away.
But you notice, what does Jacob do? Verse 8: “They said, “We cannot do this until all the flocks are gathered.”” But verse 10: “As soon as Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, Jacob came near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother.”
I don’t mean to be humorous with the Bible, but sometimes the Bible is so realistic in telling us what humans are like. This is not going to be the last time that a young man wants to show feats of strength for the young woman that he’s fallen in love with. “Stand back, shepherds.” “But Jacob, it takes several men.” “Or one man.” Whether it’s Samson-like strength from the Lord, this is God being with him, or Jacob is just such a strapping young man, or it’s just hormones pulsing through his body, “I just saw her, there she is, stand back,” he’s given to do super-human feats of strength. What took many men, now Jacob does by himself and he pushes off this stone and waters the flock. He says, “That’s nothing. You see that? Oh, Rachel was looking. I didn’t even notice.”
He’s overwhelmed at the sight of Rachel. He knew this was Laban’s daughter. He had made it. This is love at first sight. We’ll read down in verse 17, beautiful in form and appearance. We’ve seen over and over again. It is a mark of the matriarchs here in this family that they are beautiful, they’re outwardly beautiful and that’s meant to reflect an inward beauty.
Verse 11, he kisses her. Now before we think too much of this, this is something inappropriate, you notice that the very next scene he and Laban are kissing, so this is a greeting more than probably, you know, a passionate embrace with, you know, a little lobster or crab singing “Kiss the Girl” behind them in the distance or something. This is just, “I made it” and he gives the greeting, the kiss, and he weeps aloud.
It’s okay, manly men, to show emotion. You have this strapping man who can move the stone all by himself, then he’s so overcome with Rachel and kisses her and weeps aloud. Because he’s made. He’s made it to his mother’s family. He anticipates already, no doubt he’s thinking to himself, “This is the woman that I want to marry.” He’s overjoyed. God has been with him, has guided him.
So he goes back and he stays for a month with Laban. Laban eventually says, verse 15, “You’re my kinsman. Why should you serve me for nothing?” Now at this point we may think, “Wow, Laban is just a real stand-up, generous guy. He wants to pay his nephew.” But reflecting on Laban’s character in total, we see that Laban is probably using this as a way to say, “I want to have some sort of ownership. I want you to be my hireling. I don’t want you to be able to just come and go as you please, but if I can insist upon paying you, then I have some authority over you.”
So he says, “Well, what would you like for your wages?” and Jacob says that he would like to marry Rachel.
Now let’s not think that this means that the daughters were considered property or possessions. That’s not what is going on here. But rather the familiar practice of paying some sort of bride price. Remember when Abraham’s servant came? He came loaded with Abraham’s wealth. It said in chapter 24 he came with camels and choice gifts. Well, Jacob doesn’t have anything. He has literally the shirt or the cloak on his back. So he doesn’t have anything, he doesn’t have some great bridal price. He didn’t come with the wealth of his family. He has himself.
So he says, “Here’s what I can do. I can work.” And incidentally, men, if you want to impress your girlfriend’s father, you don’t need money, you don’t need fame, you don’t need credit card to ride this train. You need to work hard, that will impress a young woman’s father. Okay. “There’s a lot of things I don’t have, but here’s what I’m willing to do. I’m willing to work hard. I’ll do it seven years.”
Now Laban doesn’t even counter. Laban probably understands he’s getting quite a good deal. We don’t know why Jacob set the bar so high to say seven years. Perhaps Rachel was very young and he knew he needed to wait a few years before she would be of marriageable age. We can’t be sure, but he says, “Yes, I will give this woman to you.” Not because she is some sort of property that he is purchasing, but with the bride price it is the necessary gift in that culture that then the father would be able to give this woman to this man.
And we see a reflection of this, don’t we, at most weddings? “Who gives this woman to be married to this man? Her mother and I do.” That there is a giving away of the bride to the groom.
We read that Leah’s eyes, verse 17, were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance. You can read all the commentaries discussing what does it mean that Leah’s eyes were weak. Remember women prior to marriage would often be veiled in public and so you might not see much more of them besides their eyes, so what their eyes look like was very important.
Many people think “weak” is a derogatory term, that she wasn’t as attractive as Rachel, but we don’t have to see “weak” as a negative statement. In fact, most of the time “weak” in the Old Testament means “soft, delicate, tender.” So it may very well be a positive attribute about Leah, but simply as Jacob sees compared to Rachel, he sees nothing but absolute perfection in this woman Rachel. Leah’s eyes were weak, whether that’s a pejorative term or a compliment, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance.
We have this deception which comes on the wedding night. Jacob finally says, in verse 21, seven years have elapsed. We don’t have any record of that, just the narrative moves forward, seven years have elapsed. He says, “I’m ready. I’ve paid your bridal price and I’m ready to be married to my wife Rachel.”
Now notice there’s some drama in the storytelling here because verse 21, Jacob says, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her for my time is completed.” Now very shrewdly, Laban does not say yes or no, because if he said “yes,” well, then he’s going to be lying. If he says “no, I’m not going to give you Rachel,” then Jacob will wonder what’s going on. But instead, as the narrative unfolds, Jacob says, “All right, I’m ready. I’m ready to get married to Rachel.” And Laban, I imagine, sitting back, stroking his chin, says, “Let’s have a party.”
And so he throws a party, it’s a bridal party, very normal. But as a part of this bridal feast, there’s drinking, and there’s too much drinking. And we seem to read between the lines that Jacob had too much to drink. The bride, remember, would have been veiled. The tent would have been dark. And if Jacob has had too much to drink, you can understand how he may not know who he was with.
We’re not told how Leah feels about all of this. Did she go along with it? Did she think it was a good idea? Is she another victim of Laban’s wickedness? We’re not told. Later the Mosaic law will forbid being married to two sisters, Leviticus 18:18. But here Laban literally pulls the wool over Jacob’s eyes.
Laban seems to come out way ahead with these shenanigans. Now he has both of his daughters married plus he gets hard labor from his muscular nephew for another seven years, and it will be a little bit later in the story when we realize that God has different plans for Jacob with relationship to Laban.
But here’s the heart of the matter: Jacob is getting what he deserves. Be sure that your sins will find you out.
Go back to verse 16. If you know the rest of the story from earlier in Genesis, verse 16 should sound in your ears a very ominous note. Laban says, “Tell me what your wages shall be?” and before Jacob can answer, we are given by the narrator in verse 16, “Now Laban had two daughters. The name of the older was Leah, the name of the younger was Rachel.” Oh, she’s not his only daughter. In fact, she’s the younger daughter.
Don’t we know from the rest of Genesis that there are certain cultural expectations for the older child to come first, for the older child to receive first, and then the younger? Laban is reversing the trick on Jacob that Jacob played on his father and his brother. There the younger supplanted the older. Jacob was the younger, Esau was the older, and Jacob got from him the birthright and the blessing. Jacob is his name because that is what he is, he’s a trickster.
Ah, but now the tricks have fallen upon Jacob. And again, it has to do with older and younger. Jacob, you thought that the younger could supplant the older. Well, not so fast. The older must come before the younger.
Now it’s not that Laban would have known what he was doing. There’s no texting and no messages back and forth to know everything that’s transpired down in Canaan, so Laban in verse 26 says more than he knows. Verse 26: “Laban said, “It is not so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.” And there’s the word “firstborn.” And after that Jacob has nothing more to say because he knows that there’s nothing more he can say. The player has been played. Jacob’s past has caught up with him. Laban spoke more than he knew.
Look at verse 25: “In the morning, behold, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then did you deceive me?”” Deceive me. That the same Hebrew word used in noun form in chapter 27, verse 35 relative to Jacob’s action: “Why did you deceive me?”
Jacob surely in that moment is brought to his painful memory: “I was the deceiver. I was the one who supplanted younger for older.”
It’s not unlike David when he’s confronted by the prophet Nathan: “How could you do this? How could that man steal the poor man’s one little lamb?” And then suddenly David sees it, and Nathan says, “You’re the man. You’re the one who stole the lamb.” In the same way, Jacob surely is seeing, “I was the deceiver, now I’ve been deceived. Younger does not come before the older.”
This is an example of Jacob reaping what he has sown. But here’s where we should not misconstrue the point of chapter 29, either for Jacob or for us. We should not think of this, first of all, as punishment, as if God in heaven is just sort of cracking His cosmic knuckles and laughing some maniacal laugh with pointy eyebrows, “Ah ha ha, how do you like it? There. See?” No, God is not some caricatured villain. God has more in store than to teach Jacob a lesson. He wants to discipline those He loves.
Why did Jacob have to work so hard for Rachel? Here’s surely one of the reasons: Because God had so much hard work to do on Jacob. Twenty years of labor; seven turns out for Leah, then a week and he gets Rachel as a wife, but he has to work another seven years for Rachel, and then he’s going to work six more years for the flocks. Twenty years with his scheming, sometimes deceiving father-in-law because Jacob needed to see something about himself. He would have a lot of years working the fields, working the flocks, for God to work out the rough edges on him.
So don’t see this as wasted time in Jacob’s life. It wasn’t wasted when Paul was sent out to Arabia. It wasn’t wasted when Moses lived among the Midianites for 40 years. It’s not wasted as Jacob goes for 20 years to serve with Laban. God had work to do, and it starts by showing Jacob, “Be sure your sins will find you out. You thought the little ruse with the younger and the older switcheroo, you think I didn’t see that? You think that you just got away with that? Yes, I blessed you. Yes, you have the birthright. Yes, you’re my promised one. I love you, Jacob, but you think I didn’t notice that? You think you just got away with that? No, I see it.”
And when God shows up, He wants Jacob to know and wants Jacob to see it. Then He wants to work on Jacob. He wants to not only show him, He wants to transform him.
So here’s a question for us as we close. You know, Jacob probably wasn’t the last person to need a Laban in his life. Now I know some preachers say you’re not supposed to preach this sort of way, but it’s true. The New Testament says the Old Testament is there, at least in part, to be an example for us. So I feel justified in asking you this question: Do you have a Laban in your life right now?
Now don’t say yes, don’t nudge, don’t say, “Yes, and I will point him out.” Do you have a Laban in your life?
What do I mean, a Laban? Someone who seems to be making your life miserable. Someone who won’t give you a fair break. Someone who is working you to the point of exhaustion. Someone, if truth be told, you’d rather never see again. Do you have a Laban in your life?
Of course, we’re not saying that you just take it and you don’t seek justice or you don’t sometimes have to seek a change of circumstances or depending upon the sort of injustice, you don’t tell people or seek authority, so it’s not a blanket statement.
But here’s the point: Consider the possibility that God did not bring that Laban into your life by accident. Maybe, here’s the painful part, maybe God wants you to see that you’re kind of like that Laban. Jacob didn’t want to see that. Who is… This is my father-in-law? He’s cheated me. What kind of father does this with his daughters? Cheats his son-in-law? And then in an instant, Jacob says, “Oh, like father-in-law, like son-in-law.”
Maybe the Laban in your life is there to show you that you have a little too much Laban in your life. Or maybe simply to refine you. Either way, let us not be so fixated on getting rid of Laban that you fail to miss what God is doing. It’s easy to think, “Why am I around these people? Why do I have to deal with these difficult people at work, at school, at family, people who work for me, the people I work for?”
Well, consider, the difficult people in your life, do you have any of the qualities of those difficult people? Sometimes the most difficult people are that way because they’re most like us. Well, that may not always be the case, but then consider, might God be intending not to punish you, but to shape you, to transform you, to discipline you, even if it means putting up with hard labor. Even if it means being cheated at times.
So note very well, as we close, that this episode in Jacob’s life was not an instance of cursing. Go back to chapter 28. We see this very plainly, when God meets him at Bethel. Verse 14: “Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth. You shall spread abroad to the west and to the east, to the north, to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you. Wherever you go, I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
That is a lot of blessing. So do not mistake chapter 29 as God’s cursing on Jacob. Just as you and I should not mistake the Labans in your life, the sins finding you out. Well, now I’m cursed. Now God has left me. Now God is punishing me. Now God is making up for all the bad things that I did and He’s going to turn the knife in my back. Chapter 29 is an instance of God blessing Jacob, not cursing him. He loved him enough to show him his sin. What He promised at Bethel, “I will bless you, I am with you, I will keep you,” is coming true in chapter 29, even though it is a hard set of circumstances.
So here’s the lesson for Jacob and for us. Yes, Jacob’s sins found him out. But just because your sins find you out, does not mean that the Lord has lost track of you.
Let’s pray. Gracious heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word. Would You work by Your Spirit? Surely there are some here whose sins are finding them out, whose sins need to find them out, for whom it would be a great mercy that You would open our eyes to see our sins. We think we’ve gotten away with it, we think it’s not a big deal, and it is. There are others here who know all too well of their sin, and they need to know of their Savior, they need to be reminded that You showing them their sin is blessing, not cursing, and that what You do and what You begin, You mean to complete. Shape us, change us, forgive us, heal us. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.