Beginning in chapter 32, we open a new chapter in the life of Jacob. The first seven decades were summarized in a few stories about his lying, deception, and preying on weaknesses. Then came the second chapter that began with the vision at Bethel of the ladder going up to heaven. For the next twenty years, Jacob was in the school of hard knocks as he struggled under the thumb of his uncle Laban. In this chapter of Jacob’s story, we see some great highs but some equally deep lows for his family. Such is the life of a follower of God. We have seen throughout Jacob’s life God’s presence and work in this man. And that continues in chapter 32. In the first two verses of the story, we read of an angelic visitation as Jacob begins to make his way back to his homeland. Before Jacob enters Canaan he sends a delegation to Esau which we find in verses 3 through 8. Esau’s reply is not what Jacob wanted. This drives Jacob to pray in verses 9 through 12 as he asks for help. Finally, Jacob sends a gift in an attempt to appease Esau. At the end of our story, we find Jacob the same as how he started out this whole journey 20 years prior: alone.
This is our third week looking at this lengthy passage about Jacob leaving Laban’s house. We have heard Jacob’s argument that he gave to his wives as to why they should leave. We also heard Rachel’s and Leah’s description of how they had been mistreated by their father and their agreement with Jacob that he should do what God has said. While Laban was away shearing his sheep, Jacob left with his family and headed for Gilead. But Laban found out what happened and chased Jacob down. Laban confronted Jacob and accused him of trickery and of theft. Laban searched through all the tents of Jacob but did not find his stolen idols which Rachel had hidden. After watching Laban go through all of his stuff, Jacob became angry and unloaded his anger in a short tirade against Laban. Jacob complained of the years of mistreatment at the hands of Laban and cited examples. In verses 43-55, we get to see what happens next. Will these two men settle their disagreements? Will there be peace between these two? We’ll see the answers today. In verses 43-44, we find a proposal for a covenant agreement between Laban and Jacob. In verses, 45-54 we read of the different elements of the covenant. And finally, in verse 55 is the departure of Laban.
Last time we looked at Jacob’s preparation and flight from Haran back to Canaan. He had been 20 years as a sojourner in the land from which his grandfather Abraham had come. But Jacob’s homeland was Canaan. That was where he belonged. For twenty years he has lived with his uncle/father-in-law. These were years filled with hard work, pain, suffering, and trials. Though Jacob was a man of many years he had to go to school. Hanah More said, “Affliction is the school in which great virtues are acquired, in which holy characters are formed.” Charles Spurgeon said, “I bear my willing testimony to the blessing that affliction and trial have been to me. I owe more to God’s furnace and the file, than I can ever describe!” William Ward commented, “We are only scholars. It rests with the Great Teacher to decide which lesson shall come next — a hard one or an easy one.” Hebrews 12:10, “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness!” These trials are hard but Jacob will learn what the Holy Spirit will reiterate many years later through the writing of Paul. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” We’ll see today, that this what Jacob has come to learn about God, and what we must learn as well.
At the end of Genesis 30, we saw that Jacob “increased greatly and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys.” In other words, Jacob was a rich man. He went from homelessness to upper class in twenty years. However, as we have seen before when God blesses his children, people get envious. They get angry and they want a piece. In our text today, we see this happening to Jacob just like we saw it happen with his father Isaac. Jacob’s prosperity was not his own doing but was because God chose to bless him. Sadly, many in the Christian world have fallen into the prosperity trap. They do what Jacob did in the story before this one and put out their magic sticks or their anointed prayer shawls, or they give their seeds money thinking that the false teachers are right and that God will bless them because of it. But these false teachers are like Labans who are just in it for the money. They promise the moon but all they want is your money. And so in this story, we see what happens as God blesses Jacob and then tells Jacob to head home. In verses 1-3 we find Jacob’s motivation to move. In 4-16, we find Jacob’s case for moving that he explains to his wives. And finally, we’ll see Jacob escape in verses 17-21 and some of the interesting questions that arise from this. So let’s begin.
As we have studied the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob I hope that you have been struck by the loving care and provision of God for these men. We have repeatedly talked about the providence of God and for good reason. It is one of the main threads that God has woven throughout these stories. You can’t escape it. God shows us how he is putting together all of these people (good and bad) and events (advantageous and destructive) together to bring about his promises. We often think of the promise of God in Romans chapter 8, as we should. “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” But how does that play out in real-time? What does that look like in the life of a normal God-fearing person? If God is working does it matter what you do then? In Genesis 30 we find the story of how God prospers Jacob. Jacob does his best to work alongside his uncle while at the same time his uncle is taking advantage of him. Jacob does what he thinks will help him. But behind this story and the actions of Laban and Jacob, God is working another story.
This is a story of a married woman who feels unloved by her husband. A woman who feels that by getting pregnant she will be able to win the heart of a husband who is cold and distant. This is a story of a wife who cannot get pregnant and desperately wishes that she could have a child. This is a story of two sisters that are so competitive and envious of each other that they will trample on other people just to one-up each other. This is a story of two women slave masters using their servants to get children for themselves. This is a story of a husband who marries four women. This is a story of a man that capitulates to the women in his life. This is a story of the Bible. In Genesis 30:1-24, we see all of this craziness and more. But most of all we see God, working out his plan and purpose in the lives of these messed up individuals. This is a real story of real people that God chose to bring about the salvation of the world. In this passage, we see the envy of Rachel and the anger of Jacob in verses 1-2. In verses 3-13, we have the wrestling match between the sisters Rachel and Leah. In 14-21, there is some superstition, more envy, and some trading of goods for services and finally, we find the Lord remember Rachel in 22-24.
Several chapters back in Genesis we read the story of the birth of Jacob and Esau. We heard God saying to Rebekah that Esau would serve Jacob, that Jacob would be the stronger and Esau would be the weaker. The reversal of the birth order would happen. This was a blessing upon Jacob that he would receive while still in the womb of his mother. What precipitated this blessing? Nothing but divine prerogative.
Then Jacob and Esau grew up and Jacob preyed on the weakness of his brother to get the birthright. Years later, Jacob lied to his father, pretended to be Esau, and managed to secure Isaac’s blessing and the conferral of the promises of Abraham to himself. And we are left thinking. Is God going to give him all these things and let him get away with all his deception and lies?
Then we see Jacob having to leave everything to leave home. A small setback because on the way God appears to him in a vision and encourages him and confirms the fact that he is the chosen one. Then he arrives and Rachel almost literally falls into his lap and he falls in love. Did God care about Jacob’s sin? Is he being rewarded for evil? Are there consequences for his sin? That’s what we find in the story today.
We look at our Western culture and we see the approval of sin that once was frowned upon. The sin was happening but it was more or less hidden. The culture decades ago, in general, said that what is happening today was immoral. And now they feel that they are throwing off the shackles of a backward and oppressive morality and are stepping into a more enlightened era. But is this true? Has culture evolved to a higher standard? No, that is foolishness.
The world has and always will be evil. The standards they live by, unless they coincide with God’s, are evil. And even living by God’s standards apart from faith in God is meaningless for it is only by faith that you can please God. Whether sin is practiced openly or in the closet, whether sin is given a month of national recognition or is still taboo to the culture matters little to the judge who sits on his throne and whose eye sees all.
Thankfully, for the child of God, he does not tread out his wrath on us, but he does discipline us as the unruly children that we are. Today we are going to see the Answer to Sin in verse 21-30 and the Blessing Amidst the Discipline in verses 31-35.
What is love? How do you define love? If you were to ask most people it would have to do with feelings. The phrase “love is love” has been offered by our culture suggesting that feelings of affection toward anyone or anything is love. All of these feelings of affection are equally valid and good. One expression of affection is indistinguishable from another. Of course, this is complete nonsense because no one actually thinks or acts according to this idea. The world’s definition of love is completely meaningless and worthless.
Love is found in the God who is love. All other loves are subservient to his love and always reference back to His love. I would argue that everyone knows this and does this even though they cover the truth with a lie. God’s love is original and exhaustive and so if any other love exists it must reflect God’s love. It is unavoidable.
In our text today, we have the beginning of a love story between Jacob and Rachel. If it is truly love then we should see much of God’s love mingled in the affections and actions of these sinful people.
As we consider the story, we will reflect on the love of God and the love of people. In verses 1-8 we will look at the providence of God in the journey of Jacob to Haran. In 9-12, we have love at first sight as Jacob meets the lovely Rachel. Finally, in 13-20, we will see Jacob’s discipline for love and how Jacob is disciplined for love.
We have been navigating our way through the life of Jacob over the past few weeks. Before his birth, his mother was informed by God who Jacob would be. “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” Jacob would receive from the hand of God blessing. This was a promise made by God. Like his father before him, Jacob would receive the promises and the blessings not because of who he was or because of his own works. These divine privileges would come to him because of God’s own will and plan. Grace is the unmerited favor of God. Jacob’s father was told flat out that he received because of the faith of Abraham. Jacob would be the recipient of God’s invading grace. Before Jacob was born we are told that he would receive more than what he deserved. As the second-born, he would not be entitled to the birthright or the blessings. As the second, his rightful place was to be subservient to his older brother. That is the natural order. That is the cultural expectation. The double portion should go to Esau. But God often does not conform to our expectations and will often challenge those expectations head-on. Jacob has lived up to his name. He took advantage of his brother’s weakness and convinced him to trade his birthright for a bowl of stew. He was willing to let his mother take a curse for him. He masqueraded as Esau to try and trick his father. He told bald-faced lies to his father. When asked directly if he was Esau he said, “I am.” His treachery would drive his brother to thoughts of murder. And now he is fleeing his home and leaving behind all that he had gained from his lies. What thoughts go through the mind of Jacob as he travels across the land of Canaan? Is he afraid? Is he angry? Does he doubt the promises of God are true? Is he thinking of God at all? The story before us is the beginning of Jacob’s journey in faith and it is quite the beginning. In the 10-12, we find the setting. Where is Jacob and what does he see? In the next section of the story, we hear God speak a message to Jacob that he needs to hear. And finally, we will see Jacob’s response to this momentous occasion.
As we have studied Genesis, we’ve been tracking several different storylines that God has been interweaving into history. Starting in Genesis 3, we’ve followed the promise of the one offspring of the woman that would crush the head of the serpent. We have watched the other promise that the offspring of the serpent would be at war with the offspring of Eve. When we read Abraham’s story we began pulling at a new part of the same thread. The covenant promises of Abraham were attached to the first promises and we have already seen that these promises were passed from Abraham to Isaac. Recently, we read through the story of how the promises were passing from Isaac on to his second-born son Jacob. In Genesis 27, Moses shows us that Isaac and his family were a mess. Isaac was trying to bless Esau against the word of God given before his birth that he would serve his younger brother. Esau was working to try to undo the earlier selling of his birthright and tried to earn his father’s approval but had no regard for God’s approval. Rebekah tried to follow the word of God but used deception and the undermining of her husband to accomplish it. Jacob wanted the blessing of God but was willing to throw everyone under the bus to get it. How easy has it been to identify with this family? They have been chosen by God. God has a plan for this family that he will work out in time. He will use their sinful choices and override them according to his will. God’s grace, mercy, and love for these people will direct their paths. In today’s passage, we start the story of Jacob’s journey from home. This is more than just a change of address for Jacob. He is about to embark on a spiritual bootcamp. God will take the one whose name means “cheat” and grow him into a man of God. Jacob will become Israel, the one who wrestles God. And by the end of this training the great El-Shaddai, the God of Abraham and Isaac, will be Jacob’s God. In Genesis 28:1-9, we will first see that Jacob is given the charge to leave home to go to Rebekah’s family and there find a wife. Then we will hear Isaac pronounce the covenant promises over Jacob as he leaves home. And finally, we’ll see the actions of Esau as he responds to his father.