Calvary Chapel – Leesville, SC – Wednesday Evening Services November 4th & 11th 2020
Preview – Psalm 104
1Bless the LORD, O my soul!Psalm 104 – NKJV
O LORD my God, You are very great:
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
2Who cover Yourself with light as with a garment,
Who stretch out the heavens like a curtain.
3He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters,
Who makes the clouds His chariot, Who walks on the wings of the wind,
4Who makes His angels spirits,
His ministers a flame of fire.
5You who laid the foundations of the earth,
So that it should not be moved forever,
6You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
The waters stood above the mountains.
7At Your rebuke they fled;
At the voice of Your thunder they hastened away.
8They went up over the mountains;
They went down into the valleys,
To the place which You founded for them.
9You have set a boundary that they may not pass over,
That they may not return to cover the earth.
10He sends the springs into the valleys;
They flow among the hills.
11They give drink to every beast of the field;
The wild donkeys quench their thirst.
12By them the birds of the heavens have their home;
They sing among the branches.
13He waters the hills from His upper chambers;
The earth is satisfied with the fruit of Your works.
14He causes the grass to grow for the cattle,
And vegetation for the service of man,
That he may bring forth food from the earth,
15And wine that makes glad the heart of man,
Oil to make his face shine,
And bread which strengthens man’s heart.
16The trees of the LORD are full of sap,
The cedars of Lebanon which He planted,
17Where the birds make their nests;
The stork has her home in the fir trees.
18The high hills are for the wild goats;
The cliffs are a refuge for the rock badgers.
19He appointed the moon for seasons;
The sun knows its going down.
20You make darkness, and it is night,
In which all the beasts of the forest creep about.
21The young lions roar after their prey,
And seek their food from God.
22When the sun rises, they gather together
And lie down in their dens.
23Man goes out to his work
And to his labor until the evening.
24O LORD, how manifold are Your works!
In wisdom You have made them all.
The earth is full of Your possessions—
25This great and wide sea,
In which are innumerable teeming things,
Living things both small and great.
26There the ships sail about;
There is that Leviathan
Which You have made to play there.
27These all wait for You,
That You may give them their food in due season.
28What You give them they gather in;
You open Your hand, they are filled with good.
29You hide Your face, they are troubled;
You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
30You send forth Your Spirit, they are created;
And You renew the face of the earth.
31May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
May the LORD rejoice in His works.
32He looks on the earth, and it trembles;
He touches the hills, and they smoke.
33I will sing to the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
34May my meditation be sweet to Him;
I will be glad in the LORD.
35May sinners be consumed from the earth,
And the wicked be no more.
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
Praise the LORD!
In Genesis 24 we looked at the story of Abraham’s servant who was sent to Abraham’s homeland of Padan Aram to find a wife for Abraham’s son Isaac from among Abraham’s family. We saw that God blessed the servant’s mission, and he returned with Abraham’s niece Rebecca as a wife for Isaac. In that story, we first encountered Rebecca’s brother Laban. I mentioned in that lesson that Laban was quite an unscrupulous fellow, saying that I was suspicious of his motives and those of his mother even in their hospitality offered to Abraham’s servant.
Later, when Isaac’s son Jacob fled from the wrath of his brother Esau to the homeland of his mother Rebecca, we again met Laban, who over the course of the next few chapters proved himself to be just as scheming as I warned. Since Jacob and Rebecca had conspired together to trick Jacob’s father Isaac into giving Jacob his dying blessing rather than his elder brother Esau (Genesis 27), the dirty tricks Laban played on him were no less than he richly deserved. In fact, Jacob also pulled some fast ones on Laban as well as we saw in Genesis 30. If things had continued as they had been between these two scalawags, one of them might well have murdered the other.
Of course all of these events were part of God’s plan to establish His chosen people – the nation of Israel – through Jacob’s twelve sons who became the heads of the tribes of Israel. Most importantly, of course, God would eventually bring forth the Messiah – Jesus – by whom God had promised Abraham all the nations of the world would be blessed through the line of Jacob’s son Judah. Eleven of these patriarchs of the nation of Israel were born to Jacob by his four wives during the twenty years he lived in Padan Aram laboring for his uncle Laban. Now in Genesis 31, we will see God’s calling on Jacob to return to Canaan and face his brother Esau once again.
Jacob Returns to Canaan
Famed TV and Internet smart aleck Bill Maher often refers to the Bible as “The old book of Jewish fairy tales,” and calls those of us who believe in the Bible “nuts.” Yet to the Christian, the Bible is and must be none other than the living Word of God Almighty. Without the Bible, we would be left on our own to ponder God’s character and directions for us. Even worse, we would be open to the suggestions of other people, and of our great enemy satan telling us their opinions on the nature of God and His purposes for and commandments to mankind. Without the Bible, we would have no means of testing these contentions about God for ourselves. Furthermore, if we accept that the Bible is God’s Word, then logically, we must also accept that God has given us His Word as we find it in its entirety. We don’t have the option to pick and choose those portions of the Bible which we personally accept, while rejecting other parts. We must either believe the Truth of God’s Word in its entirety, or not. If in our hearts we disbelieve any part of God’s Word, then every other part becomes logically subject to doubt, including the Gospel of Jesus Christ and even the very existence of God. Thus as followers of Christ, we take God at His entire Word with the realization that despite our faith in the Truth of God’s Word we may never fully understand it. But why should we believe that the Bible is indeed God’s Word – not as some have suggested the writings of ancient men designed to subjugate us to their own will?
We don’t have time here to enter into an in-depth apologetic regarding the Bible’s veracity. But let me just say in passing that one of the aspects of the Bible which firmly convinced me personally that it is His Word not mere human babbling is that, apart from God Himself, none of the characters we find in it are perfectly righteous. If Moses had written the Pentateuch without God’s direction, I think it’s unlikely he would have included the story of his murder of an Egyptian (Exodus 2:11-14) or the fact that he disobeyed the will of God at Meribah and allowed himself to become so angry that God punished him by not allowing him to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 20). If Paul had not written his epistles under God’s direction, would he have referred to himself as the chief of sinners as he did in 1 Timothy 1:15? The heroes of the Bible are liars like Abraham, and adulterers and murderers like David. It seems to me that in fairy tales the distinctions between the good guys and the bad guys are more clear cut.
We couldn’t find a better example of the Bible’s blurring of the lines between protagonist and antagonist than here in Genesis 31. As we have seen, both Laban and Jacob were schemers and cheaters who richly deserved the nasty treatment they received from each other. Here in Genesis 31 their tolerance for one another had reached the breaking point after twenty years, and God Himself intervened.
1Now Jacob heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, “Jacob has taken away all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has acquired all this wealth.” 2And Jacob saw the countenance of Laban, and indeed it was not favorable toward him as before. 3Then the LORD said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you.”Genesis 31:1-3 – NKJV
Given what we have learned about Jacob’s character – ever focused upon himself and his own personal gain in any situation – it shouldn’t surprise us that he found it necessary to elaborate upon this calling from God to return to Canaan in telling his wives about it, and in the process gloss over his own role in making himself rich at Laban’s expense. Recall that it was Jacob’s idea, not Laban’s, that Laban should give Jacob the spotted, streaked, and speckled livestock (Genesis 30:35-43).
4So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field, to his flock, 5and said to them, “I see your father’s countenance, that it is not favorable toward me as before; but the God of my father has been with me. 6And you know that with all my might I have served your father. 7Yet your father has deceived me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not allow him to hurt me. 8If he said thus: ‘The speckled shall be your wages,’ then all the flocks bore speckled. And if he said thus: ‘The streaked shall be your wages,’ then all the flocks bore streaked. 9So God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me. 10“And it happened, at the time when the flocks conceived, that I lifted my eyes and saw in a dream, and behold, the rams which leaped upon the flocks were streaked, speckled, and gray-spotted. 11Then the Angel of God spoke to me in a dream, saying, ‘Jacob.’ And I said, ‘Here I am.’ 12And He said, ‘Lift your eyes now and see, all the rams which leap on the flocks are streaked, speckled, and gray-spotted; for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. 13I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar and where you made a vow to Me. Now arise, get out of this land, and return to the land of your family.’ ”Genesis 31:4-13 – NKJV
If we read between the lines here, it seems Jacob had convinced himself that it was his little trick with the wooden rods he placed into the watering troughs of the flocks and herds (Genesis 30:35-43) that had expanded his livestock holdings rather than (or at the least in aid of) the manifest will of God Almighty. Perhaps I am being unfair to Jacob, but when I read of him telling his wives that the Angel of God had appeared to him in a dream to explain the extraordinary preponderance of speckled, streaked, and spotted offspring among the livestock, I can scarcely believe that Jacob acknowledged or thanked God for these blessings in his innermost heart. I think Jacob actually believed that it was his own cleverness (and trickiness) by which he was blessed.
We too can take a lesson from Jacob in this regard. Remember Psalm 104 which we read earlier. All the universe is God’s possession by His right as its Creator. God in His mercy and lovingkindness has chosen to give us stewardship over portions of His creation for two reasons – to provide for us the things we need to live, and to train us in proper stewardship in preparation for our coming stewardship over the Heavenly rewards He has determined to give us. A dear brother in Christ who has since gone on to his reward would often surprise people by saying, “Guess what happened to me this morning?” When they asked, “What?”, he would gleefully shout, “I woke up again!” Like my sweet brother, we need to acknowledge in our hearts that everything we have actually belongs to God – even our very lives, and of course our eternal salvation in Christ.
What we call our own possessions, and the accomplishments we take such pride in have been given to us by God as a challenge for the edification of our faith. God confirms this from the very beginning of His Word.
27So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”Genesis 1:27-28 – NKJV
Of course the manifestations of God’s will in our lives include not only the blessings He so richly rains down on us, but also the suffering He sometimes allows in our lives for His good purposes. Even at the very moment he learned of the deaths of his children, Job remained steadfast in his belief that God’s will is sovereign and righteous in all things – even in those things which cause us sorrow.
…”Naked I came from my mother’s womb,Job 1:21 – NKJV
And naked shall I return there.
The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the LORD.”
Jesus Himself summed these principles up very succinctly.
“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!Matthew 7:11
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.John 15:5 – NKJV
In His parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) Jesus gave us an inkling of His purpose in giving us stewardship over earthly things in order that we might be prepared to receive the blessings He will give us as our heavenly rewards.
‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’Matthew 25:23 – NKJV
The most important of the gifts over which God has given us stewardship is of course the very Gospel of Jesus Christ. In His great love, God has restored us to Himself by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and granted the ultimate gift of eternal life in His glorious presence to all of us who believe in His resurrection and confess with our mouths Jesus’ Lordship over our lives. But as with all His other gifts, God has not given us His Gospel to “have and to hold.” It is given to us as stewards so that we might sew the Good News among our brothers and sisters so that the Gospel might bear fruit among them. This is our very purpose for being, and the reason that God continues to give us the blessings of the breath in our lungs and the beat of our hearts – so that He may be glorified among our brethren.
So knowing that all that we have, all we have done, and all we will become are manifestations of God’s will for us, what should we do with that knowledge? We find the answer in the closing verses of Psalm 104.
31May the glory of the LORD endure forever;Psalm 104:31-35 – NKJV
May the LORD rejoice in His works.
32He looks on the earth, and it trembles;
He touches the hills, and they smoke.
33I will sing to the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
34May my meditation be sweet to Him;
I will be glad in the LORD.
35May sinners be consumed from the earth,
And the wicked be no more.
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
Praise the LORD!
But with all that said, let us now continue the story of Jacob’s return to Canaan…
Despite Jacob’s machinations with Laban’s livestock, clearly his prosperity was all in accordance with God’s plan and will. Recall as I have stated many times in our Genesis study – the purpose of the Bible is to reveal and explain the Gospel of Jesus to us. The role of Genesis within this overarching purpose is to show us God’s plan to bring forth Jesus the Messiah from the nation of Israel – none other than the descendants of Jacob. Thus we can certainly see that God’s blessings upon Jacob were all a part of His eternal plan for the redemption of mankind, even though Jacob himself scarcely recognized God’s work in his life much less God’s purposes in that work.
Nevertheless, it is clear from this declaration to his wives that the vision Jacob had seen at Bethel of angels ascending and descending to and from Heaven during his journey from Beersheba to Haran (Genesis 28:10-22) was still heavy on his mind even two decades later. In fact the return journey to Canaan which he was proposing to his wives would be the fulfillment of God’s side of the bargain Jacob had vowed to God at Bethel.
20Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, 21so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God. 22And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”Genesis 28:20-22 – NKJV
Recall from Genesis 14:20 that Abraham had offered a tithe (tenth) of the spoils from his victory in rescuing the King of Sodom and his nephew Lot to Melchizedek – the King of Salem and priest of the most high God. But here in Genesis 28:22 we find the first mention of an ongoing offering a tenth of our increase back to God in acknowledgement of God’s blessing in giving us that increase.
14Then Rachel and Leah answered and said to him, “Is there still any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house? 15Are we not considered strangers by him? For he has sold us, and also completely consumed our money. 16For all these riches which God has taken from our father are really ours and our children’s; now then, whatever God has said to you, do it.”Genesis 31:14-16 – NKJV
The inheritance that Rachel and Leah speak of here is the so-called “bride price.” It is mentioned in Exodus 22:16-17 in the context of premarital sexual relations. The bride price was never commanded nor defined in the Mosaic law, yet we can clearly see that it was a custom among the Hebrew people at least as far back as their escape from captivity in Egypt. As we learned in our study of Genesis 25 when we discussed the double-fold inheritance that was the birthright of the first-born son, daughters had no inheritance at all from their father’s estate. Furthermore, daughters did not go out to work to bring income to the family. Thus daughters were thought of as a mixed blessing.
On the one hand, of course only daughters could bear children to carry on the family, yet the daughters didn’t pass on the family name or the family’s holdings. Thus God made provision in His law that if a married son should die childless, his eldest surviving brother was required to take the widow as his own wife so that she could bear children to carry on the deceased brother’s name (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).
On the other hand, since daughters did not go out to work to bring income to the father’s house, they were thought of as a financial burden. This tradition carried on into modern times. Thus we see in Sholem Aleichem‘s story Tevye and His Seven Daughters upon which the musical play and movie “Fiddler on the Roof” was based, the poor milkman Tevye was “blessed” by the LORD with seven daughters, yet Tevye only grudgingly thought of them as “blessings.”
The custom of the bride price provided a financial solution to these “problems” of daughters in a traditional Jewish family which continues in some ultra-orthodox Jewish families even today. Traditionally, marriages of daughters were arranged by the parents of the prospective bride and groom, often through the services of a hired “matchmaker.” As part of the marriage arrangements, the bride price was negotiated which the family of the groom would pay to the family of the bride. Ostensibly, the bride price was to be held by the bride’s father and invested on the bride’s behalf in case the groom died or the marriage was dissolved for some other reason. Thus when the bride returned to her parents, she would have an income of her own from the remainder of the bride price.
The Word of God is silent with regard to what bride price (if any) Jacob paid to Laban for Leah and Rachel. Very likely it was either a small sum, or Jacob didn’t pay Laban any money, because we know from Genesis 29:15-18…
15Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what should your wages be?” 16Now Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17Leah’s eyes were delicate, but Rachel was beautiful of form and appearance. 18Now Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter.”Genesis 29:15-18
Of course, we know that Laban tricked Jacob – giving him Leah instead of Rachel after the first seven years, and that Jacob then labored for Laban an additional seven years for Rachel. This is one of the instances of Laban changing Jacob’s “wages” that we saw him complaining about to his wives here in Genesis 31. So either Jacob didn’t pay any money to Laban for his two daughters or the sum was negligible and Laban spent it himself over the years. Thus we see Leah and Rachel telling Jacob they had no inheritance from their father.
17Then Jacob rose and set his sons and his wives on camels. 18And he carried away all his livestock and all his possessions which he had gained, his acquired livestock which he had gained in Padan Aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan. 19Now Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel had stolen the household idols that were her father’s. 20And Jacob stole away, unknown to Laban the Syrian, in that he did not tell him that he intended to flee. 21So he fled with all that he had. He arose and crossed the river, and headed toward the mountains of Gilead. [גִּלְעָד Gil`ad – rocky place]Genesis 31:17-21 – NKJV
Despite Jacob’s clear guidance from God, he felt compelled to sneak away from Padan Aram without Laban’s knowledge. Perhaps Jacob was rightly fearful of what Laban or his sons might do to him. Perhaps Jacob wasn’t really convinced in his own heart that the speckled, striped, and spotted livestock were rightfully his – believing that he had actually acquired them through his own trickery with the wooden rods in the water troughs. Regardless of his reasoning, Jacob crossed over the Euphrates in the direction of Canaan. His intended destination was a mountainous area southeast of the Sea of Galilee along the eastern bank of the Jordan River, between the inflows of the Yarmouk and Jabbok Rivers. As we shall see, Jacob’s intent was to stage his family in this area until he found out the whereabouts and intentions of his brother Esau. Recall that after Jacob and Rebecca had conspired to trick Isaac into giving Jacob his dying blessing that Esau had said he would kill Jacob as soon as the days of mourning for their father Isaac were completed, so at his mother’s urging, Jacob had fled to her homeland and the house of Laban some twenty years before (Genesis 27:41-46).
Recall from our study of Genesis 24 we mentioned that although the family of Abram’s father Nahor were clearly believers in the one true and living God even in the distant past when they dwelt in Ur of the Chaldeans, they may also have partaken in idol worship even then. Clearly by the time Jacob came to Padan Aram seeking a wife and fleeing from the anger of his brother Esau, Laban at least had fallen into idol worship. This is a cautionary tale for us as well. God makes it clear in His Word that He will suffer no rivals in our worship.
4“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.Exodus 20:4-6 – NKJV
If we are to enable God to “delight in His works” as it says in Psalm 104:31, we must remain steadfast in our worship of Him and Him alone. Mere belief in God is not enough. We must commit ourselves completely to following Him as LORD of our lives. Of course few if any of us in the modern world bow down to carved images such as the “household idols” Rachel stole from her father Laban. Yet when we allow the things of the world to take precedence over or even to be coequal with our devotion to God, then we are as guilty of idolatry as Laban. Sadly, this “watered down” so-called “christianity” has become the rule rather than the exception particularly in North America and Europe over the last few centuries. We have resigned ourselves to the kind of “christian” practice that limits itself to ritual worship on Sunday mornings and possibly one other hour per week, but for the rest of our time we are clearly worldly in our thoughts, words, and actions – hardly distinguishable in our everyday lives from non-Christians. As Christians, the love of God for us and our own devotion to God in return should be all-consuming – the primary motivator of our entire being. Indeed, if this isn’t the case, we need to deeply examine our own hearts to see if we truly have surrendered ourselves to Christ’s Lordship over us.
15Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. 17And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.1 John 2:15-17 – NKJV
29But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, 30those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, 31and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away.1 Corinthians 7:29-31 – NKJV
There can be no room for compromise in our devotion to God. His Word is clear concerning our proper conduct in all aspects of our lives. We must not allow ourselves to be conformed to the ever-changing fashions of our corrupt world. Instead, we must hold fast courageously to the eternal and unchanging precepts God has established for us in His Word. This is what makes Pope Francis’ pronouncements and policies during his pontificate so disturbing. Clearly Francis does not believe that God’s Word is the only rightful basis for Christian belief and practice as he should. Tragically, many well-meaning Christians take Francis’ policies and statements for “gospel” and he is leading many away from the Truth to share in his own abject apostasy. Nor can we tolerate sinful behavior among our brethren in the name of “inclusion and tolerance.” God defines for us in His Word what He has deemed proper and what He has forbidden. In his letter to the Romans, Paul makes clear that God condemns not only sinful practices, but also tolerance and even approval of them out of a false and harmful sense of “love” and “inclusion.”
28And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.
1Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. 3And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?Romans 1:28 – 2:3 – NKJV
We must certainly strive to return our sinful brethren to repentance just as we would hope they would do for us when our roles are reversed. Yet if a sinning brother or sister refuses to repent of a sin which has become known, then we must certainly distance ourselves from them and from their sin. The leadership and congregants of the so-called “woke” churches focused entirely upon a “gospel” of social justice – the so-called “kingdom now” philosophy (I don’t honor this philosophy with the title “theology” because it focuses entirely on acts of man, not acts of God) would do well to heed the stark warning Paul wrote in his final letter to his protege Timothy concerning the times of compromise within the Church in which we now find ourselves.
1But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!2 Timothy 3:1-5 – NKJV
The apostle Paul also dealt thoroughly with this subject of compromise in the name of tolerance in his first letter to the church in Corinth. We won’t go into his entire discussion here. Suffice it to say that in God’s Word, sinfulness is often symbolized by leaven, and God’s righteousness is symbolized by the Passover lamb. Any sinfulness within the Body of Christ is a danger to all.
6Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. 8Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.1 Corinthians 5:6-8 – NKJV
We can only speculate what Rachel’s motivations may have been in stealing her father’s idols. Regardless of the reasons, she obviously felt they were of enough value to risk stealing them. The obvious assumption is that she intended to use them in the pagan worship she had learned from her father Laban. Clearly, Rachel stole the idols without Jacob’s knowledge. We can safely draw this conclusion from Jacob’s haughty response to Laban’s accusation of the theft later in this chapter (Genesis 31:31-32). It is also likely that Jacob was unaware of Rachel’s idolatry if indeed she was practicing pagan worship with her father’s idols. Almost certainly, Jacob himself wasn’t involved in this worship. Nevertheless, it is apparent that Jacob was unaware of Rachel’s presumed idolatry, and that too is a cautionary tale for the modern husband and father.
God’s Word is very clear regarding the roles of husband and wife in the family unit. Husbands are to be the leaders of the family, and wives are to submit to their husband’s will. This isn’t a popular precept in modern society, but there can be no argument that God has clearly ordained that our families are designed with this patriarchal structure. Nowhere in His Word does God rescind this idea, or command any other structure for our families. If we truly believe in the Bible as God’s Word which is the inerrant basis for all Christian faith and practice, we must accept this familial structure no matter how strongly modern society might object to it. Jacob clearly didn’t know what Rachel had done. The logical implication is that he was disconnected from what was going on inside the family God had entrusted him to lead. We men have a tendency to get so involved in our work, our hobbies, and other worldly concerns that we allow our family lives to take a back seat. When we allow that, we open the door for our families to fall victim to the whiles of our great enemy – satan – who seeks only to destroy families and cause confusion just as he had apparently been successful in doing to Jacob’s family.
22And Laban was told on the third day that Jacob had fled. 23Then he took his brethren with him and pursued him for seven days’ journey, and he overtook him in the mountains of Gilead. 24But God had come to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said to him, “Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.” 25So Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the mountains, and Laban with his brethren pitched in the mountains of Gilead.Genesis 31:22-25 – NKJV
We can only guess what Laban might have done if God had not intervened, speaking to Laban in a dream as he pursued Jacob. No doubt he was angry with Jacob. Quite possibly he – being Laban – had some scheme in mind through which he intended to cheat Jacob out of the speckled, striped, and spotted livestock, believing as his sons and even Jacob himself did that he had been tricked out of them in the first place. Neither man likely fully recognized the hand of God in it all. Certainly Laban didn’t recognize that God would use Jacob’s children to establish His chosen people – the nation of Israel, or that God would use that people to bring forth the Messiah first promised to Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15). It is doubtful that even Jacob recognized that his prosperity and his calling home to Canaan by God would be the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham to give the land of Canaan to his descendants. Perhaps most intriguing in this story is that Laban was not so embroiled in the worship of idols that he didn’t recognize and obey the command of God given to him in the dream.
26And Laban said to Jacob: “What have you done, that you have stolen away unknown to me, and carried away my daughters like captives taken with the sword? 27Why did you flee away secretly, and steal away from me, and not tell me; for I might have sent you away with joy and songs, with timbrel and harp? 28And you did not allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters. Now you have done foolishly in so doing.Genesis 31:26-28 – NKJV
Question – Who’s stuffed fuller of it than a Christmas goose?
Answer – Uncle Laban!
Have you ever heard such a load of horse hockey? We have to wonder who Laban was trying to convince with these lies. Certainly he didn’t hope to get Jacob to come back on his own. Was he hoping to get the ladies to abandon their husband, or the children their father? Maybe it was all just a show for the benefit of his own sons – training them up in the fine art of negotiation and intimidation.
29It is in my power to do you harm, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.’ 30And now you have surely gone because you greatly long for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods?”Genesis 31:29-30 – NKJV
This story is starting to read like a poorly written soap opera. Mr. Passive-Aggressive Uncle Laban having come on like a lion in chasing down Jacob and threatening him, now turns on the charm with his feigned concern that Jacob must be missing dear old Mom and Dad. It is intriguing to wonder whether Jacob had ever admitted the reason he came to Laban’s house in the first place – fleeing the wrath of his own brother Esau whom he thought was intent on killing Jacob to avenge his trickery. Clearly Laban had also found out about the missing idols. Perhaps whoever had reported Jacob’s departure to him had also told Laban about the missing idols. Regardless of how he learned about them, we read here in verse 30 that Laban mentioned them almost as an afterthought. This begs the question of the depth of Laban’s idol worship. Perhaps he kept them around as a kind of “rider” to his insurance policy, just in case the real God didn’t come through for him. Maybe Laban kept the idols merely as collector’s items, never intending them as objects of worship, but keeping them for their precious metal or gemstones. We can only speculate on Laban’s motivations.
31Then Jacob answered and said to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I said, ‘Perhaps you would take your daughters from me by force.’ 32With whomever you find your gods, do not let him live. In the presence of our brethren, identify what I have of yours and take it with you.” For Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them. 33And Laban went into Jacob’s tent, into Leah’s tent, and into the two maids’ tents, but he did not find them. Then he went out of Leah’s tent and entered Rachel’s tent.Genesis 31:31-33 – NKJV
Here in verse 31, we find Jacob being at least mostly truthful for the first time in this entire dismal episode. Very likely, Jacob actually did fear that Laban would take his family by force. It’s unlikely that Laban would have taken Jacob’s wives, but certainly he might have somehow tricked Jacob’s sons into coming to work for their uncle instead of their father. Certainly Laban would have done whatever he could to deprive Jacob of the livestock he had taken away. No doubt Jacob feared that as much as anything else Laban might do to him.
34Now Rachel had taken the household idols, put them in the camel’s saddle, and sat on them. And Laban searched all about the tent but did not find them. 35And she said to her father, “Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women is with me.” And he searched but did not find the household idols.Genesis 31:34-35 – NKJV
As for Rachel, we can see that the acorn never falls very far from the tree as she proved herself to be not only a thief, but also a liar. In this, she proved that the converse of Proverbs 22:6 is also true. Laban had evidently trained up his child in the way she shouldn’t go, and when she was older she didn’t depart from it. Jacob had always loved Rachel more than her elder sister Leah because he was smitten by her beauty when she was young, not because she was particularly honorable. Nor did Rachel apparently particularly requite Jacob’s affection for her. Recall that in Genesis 30 she had allowed Leah to have sex with him in exchange for some mandrakes Leah’s son Reuben had found. Mandrakes have hallucinogenic properties and were used in ancient black magic practices. Essentially Rachel sold her husband to her sister in exchange for drugs.
Before we move on, in the interest of completeness, just in case it wasn’t already clear, the “manner of women” Rachel lied to her father about in verse 35 in order that he wouldn’t search the place where she had hidden the idols is her monthly period. In fact many of the modern English translations say this more plainly although the Hebrew text contains the euphemism אִשָּׁה דֶּרֶךְ derek ‘ishshah – the custom of women. Thus it is more literally but perhaps less meaningfully rendered from the Hebrew in the NKJV and other word-for-word translations.
Yet even from this sordid story we can glean some encouragement. Clearly, this was one very messed up family. Nevertheless, God used them to establish the nation of Israel and eventually bring forth Jesus the Messiah by whom all mankind is redeemed out of death in our sins into fellowship with God in His perfect righteousness.
The fact that we are reading this story thousands of years later is proof that Jacob did eventually learn about Rachel stealing her father’s idols and then lying about it (or at the very least that Moses who wrote the story down learned about it somehow). We may never know what happened to the idols or what Jacob said to Rachel when he found out that she had risked their lives to steal them. I imagine he’s probably really tired of people asking him about it by now.
36Then Jacob was angry and rebuked Laban, and Jacob answered and said to Laban: “What is my trespass? What is my sin, that you have so hotly pursued me? 37Although you have searched all my things, what part of your household things have you found? Set it here before my brethren and your brethren, that they may judge between us both!Genesis 31:36-37 – NKJV
After Laban failed to find the idols he had accused Jacob of stealing, Jacob got very angry and lashed out against his father-in-law. Of course we who know the full story can see that Jacob’s anger against Laban was at least partially unfair. After all, Rachel had stolen her father’s idols and then lied to cover up the theft. But since Jacob didn’t know that, in his mind he was justifiably angry about being falsely accused. There is an object lesson here for all of us. Whenever we are tempted to anger at someone because of a perceived wrong they have done us, we should consider the possibility that we don’t have all the facts. With rare exceptions, people act and speak in the belief that they are right. In this regard, the human capability for self-deception is virtually limitless. Conversely, when others are angry with us about something, we need to consider the possibility that we may have truly wronged them without even knowing it. This is why Jesus always taught that we should remain humble even when we are actually being wronged.
38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. 43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.Matthew 5:38-45 – NKJV
These teachings of Jesus are difficult for us to obey, and even difficult for us to understand. Not that we don’t understand what Jesus is commanding us, but that we don’t understand why. Certainly these teachings fly in the face of our pride, which we know that God hates (Proverbs 6:17). So in that regard, we can understand why Jesus calls on us to swallow our pride. But Jesus isn’t just calling us to submit when we are wrong, but even when we know we are right. That contradicts our sense of justice which God after all instilled in us when He created us in His image. Why would He seemingly contradict His own justice? Firstly, as we see in this story of Jacob and Laban, we humans often make judgements without having all the facts. In commanding us as He did in this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is helping prevent us from miscarrying justice in our ignorance of the whole story. More importantly, Jesus reminds us in this teaching that the execution of judgement rightfully always belongs to God – not to us. Only God always knows the complete story, therefore only He is qualified to carry out His justice. We must come to trust so completely in God that we know without thinking His justice is always perfectly holy even when it doesn’t seem so to us in the heat of the moment.
38These twenty years I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried their young, and I have not eaten the rams of your flock. 39That which was torn by beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it. You required it from my hand, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. 40There I was! In the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night, and my sleep departed from my eyes. 41Thus I have been in your house twenty years; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times. 42Unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked you last night.”Genesis 31:38-42 – NKJV
Jacob then launched into an extended tirade of self-pity trying to justify his actions to Laban, to his own family, and if the truth be told to himself. Jacob may even have believed this whole sad story. Some of it may actually have been true. God was indeed with Jacob in all this, not for the reasons Jacob believed, but because He had already determined the roles of Jacob and his descendants in His plan for mankind’s salvation.
43And Laban answered and said to Jacob, “These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and this flock is my flock; all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day to these my daughters or to their children whom they have borne? 44Now therefore, come, let us make a covenant, you and I, and let it be a witness between you and me.”Genesis 31:43-45 – NKJV
Laban’s response to Jacob’s whine is of course complete nonsense. Jacob had worked seven years each in Laban’s service for his two wives Leah and Rachel. All of the children born to them and to their maidservants Zilpah and Bilhah had been fathered by Jacob. Clearly Laban had no rightful claim on any of Jacob’s family. As for the flock, Laban had agreed to Jacob’s proposal that the speckled, striped, and spotted livestock would be Jacob’s, and then tried to cheat Jacob out of them by having his sons take them away before Jacob could cull them out of Laban’s flocks (Genesis 30:31-36). But God had prospered Jacob despite Laban’s trickery by causing Laban’s flocks to produce speckled, striped, and spotted offspring under Jacob’s attendance. Laban knew that everything he said in verse 43 was completely untrue, but he just couldn’t let Jacob have the last word. Laban probably didn’t think he would sway Jacob with his “fake news” but maybe he was trying to justify himself to his daughters and sons.
Regardless of Laban’s protestations, he recognized that taking Jacob’s family and possessions from him would be contrary to what God had directed in the dream, so he grudgingly gave in, and suggested a covenant by which the two men would agree not to interfere any further in each other’s business.
45So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46Then Jacob said to his brethren, “Gather stones.” And they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there on the heap. 47Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha, [Aramaic – Heap of Witness] but Jacob called it Galeed. 48And Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me this day.” Therefore its name was called Galeed, [גַּלְעֵד Gal`ed – witness heap] 49also Mizpah, [מִצְפָּה Mitspah – watchtower] because he said, “May the LORD watch between you and me when we are absent one from another. 50If you afflict my daughters, or if you take other wives besides my daughters, although no man is with us—see, God is witness between you and me!” 51Then Laban said to Jacob, “Here is this heap and here is this pillar, which I have placed between you and me. 52This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not pass beyond this heap to you, and you will not pass beyond this heap and this pillar to me, for harm.Genesis 31:45-52 – NKJV
Interestingly, Laban being the eldest of the agreeing parties set the terms of the agreement.
53The God of Abraham, the God of Nahor, and the God of their father judge between us.” And Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac.Genesis 31:53 – NKJV
Having agreed on the terms of their agreement Laban and Jacob took oaths to solemnize the covenant. It is intriguing that Laban swore by the God of Abraham – the one true and living God – while Jacob swore by his own father Isaac. Nahor (נָחוֹר Nachowr – snorting) was the name of Abraham’s brother – Laban’s father, and also the name of Abraham’s grandfather (Laban’s great-grandfather). Most likely, Laban was swearing by the God of his father, not his great-grandfather, so when he said “the God of their father,” he meant the God of Terah – father of Abraham and Nahor – who is presumably יְהֹוָה Yehovah the one True God. Whether God intends any significance by the fact that Jacob didn’t swear by Him, but by his own father Isaac, I don’t know.
54Then Jacob offered a sacrifice on the mountain, and called his brethren to eat bread. And they ate bread and stayed all night on the mountain. 55And early in the morning Laban arose, and kissed his sons and daughters and blessed them. Then Laban departed and returned to his place.Genesis 31:54-55 – NKJV
After concluding the swearing of the covenant, Jacob made an offering to God, and then shared a meal and a time of fellowship on the mountain. It is unclear whether Laban and his people were included, but likely that they were. The Hebrew word translated “brethren” in verse 54 is אָח ‘ach. It can mean a brother from the same parents, but can also mean any relative or member of the same tribe.
The place to which Laban returned, was of course Padan Aram from which Jacob had fled in what is now southeastern Turkey near the border with Syria. Thus Laban was called “the Syrian” in these passages.
Having made his break with the father of his wives, Jacob continued on the return journey to Canaan after twenty years away. In chapter 32, Jacob will settle his dispute with his brother Esau before settling back in the land of their father Isaac. Although Isaac dwelt in Canaan, he did not possess land there (apart from the cave of Machpelah that his father Abraham had purchased as a family burial place). It would be several hundred more years in Egyptian captivity before Isaac’s descendants would finally conquer the land of Canaan that God had promised to Abraham.