Genesis 2011 - Lesson 31B

Chapter 31:14-29

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  • Jacob made his case to his wives that it was time to leave Laban and head to a new place

    • God had appeared to Jacob and given him the instructions to pack up and move

      • Laban had turned against Jacob because of Jacob’s success

      • And Laban was probably looking for any reason to accuse Jacob and recover his lost herds

    • But Jacob needed to bring his wives along with him in this change

      • They are Laban’s daughters, so Jacob deals with them in a respectful way, seeking their support and agreement

      • He pleads his case and waits for their response

    • Let’s take note of how these women respond and see what we can learn about their hearts today

Gen. 31:14 Rachel and Leah said to him, “Do we still have any portion or inheritance in our father’s house? 
Gen. 31:15 “Are we not reckoned by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and has also entirely consumed our purchase price. 
Gen. 31:16 “Surely all the wealth which God has taken away from our father belongs to us and our children; now then, do whatever God has said to you.” 
  • Jacob made his case to his wives in a two-part argument

    • First, he said the family’s situation was now in jeopardy because Laban had taken notice of Jacob’s gains and was hostile toward Jacob

      • In fact, Jacob’s gains were designed by God to come at Laban’s expense

      • So it was no surprise that Laban has become upset

    • Secondly, the Lord has called Jacob to return home

      • The call came in a dream, where God reminded Jacob that he had made a vow to return

      • So Jacob had little choice but to obey God’s call

  • In their response, the wives focus on the issue of the inheritance and the wealth of their father

    • First, they ask if they have any inheritance in their father’s house?

      • Since Jacob wasn’t a true son of Laban, he wasn’t entitled to any of Laban’s wealth

        • That’s why Jacob has been required to earn it

        • And since Jacob had fallen out of favor with Laban, they assume correctly that Jacob will never receive anything

      • Secondly, the daughters themselves had no inheritance since only the men could inherit property

      • So the women conclude that there is nothing to expect from their father in the future

    • Secondly, they say he has treated them as foreigners because Laban sold them to Jacob

      • Remember that normally women were betrothed with a purchase paid to the father

        • The higher the price paid, the more it honored the woman

      • But Laban allowed Jacob to buy his wives through labor

        • And the value of that labor remained with Laban

        • He alone profited by that labor

        • Thus he consumed the purchase price that Jacob paid rather than using it to bless the daughters with their dowry

      • So the wives’ second observation is that they have been treated poorly by their father all along

        • They have little reason to cling to their father’s household

    • Finally, they acknowledge God’s authority in the situation

      • They see the hand of God doing all these things to enrich Jacob

      • They tell Jacob to do as God directed

  • With that begins Jacob’s personal exodus out of Laban’s family

    • This is a fascinating story with more intrigue than meets the eye

      • As we study this section, remember the main theme of Jacob’s story:

        • The sovereignty of God working through the sin of people

    • Jacob is showing helpful signs as a man who knows the Lord’s work and trusts in Him to a degree

      • But he still has a tendency to rely on schemes and deception to make things happen

      • And his wives follow in his footsteps

Gen. 31:17 Then Jacob arose and put his children and his wives upon camels; 
Gen. 31:18 and he drove away all his livestock and all his property which he had gathered, his acquired livestock which he had gathered in Paddan-aram, to go to the land of Canaan to his father Isaac. 
Gen. 31:19 When Laban had gone to shear his flock, then Rachel stole the household idols that were her father’s. 
Gen. 31:20 And Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him that he was fleeing. 
Gen. 31:21 So he fled with all that he had; and he arose and crossed the Euphrates River, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead. 
Gen. 31:22 When it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob had fled, 
Gen. 31:23 then he took his kinsmen with him and pursued him a distance of seven days’ journey, and he overtook him in the hill country of Gilead. 
  • Jacob aims to make a midnight escape from Laban

    • He knows that Laban doesn’t want to see Jacob leave his employment

      • This is especially since Jacob will be taking most of Laban’s wealth with him

      • Therefore, Jacob makes a run for it

    • In v.20 we’re told Jacob deceived Laban by not telling him he was leaving

      • Here’s a wonderful verse to remind us that deception can take the form of withholding truthful information

      • Jacob knew that the proper thing to do in this case was to tell Laban of his departure

        • After living in Laban’s house for 20 years and having married his two daughters, Jacob would certainly be expected to inform Laban

      • In fact, he was under a legal obligation to seek the patriarch’s blessing for this action 

        • As a hired man, Jacob was bound to remain in Laban’s employment until Laban released him

    • Therefore, Jacob purposely withheld the news that he was leaving, and in not telling Laban something he should tell him, Jacob was deceitful

      • Reminding us of James’ instructions

James 4:17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. 
  • We don’t need the Bible to spell out godly living down to the last detail of life

    • The Holy Spirit living in each of us provides a compass in our heart true enough to point out right from wrong in any situation

    • When we know what is right, we sense it by God’s grace and by that knowledge, we instantly become obligated by God’s word to do the right thing

    • When we go against that knowledge, we sin

  • Jacob was right to leave Laban, but he was wrong to do it in this way

    • Once again Jacob relies on deception, complicating his obedience to God

  • Meanwhile, Rachel makes a move of her own

    • Laban is out shearing the flock, which is a multi-day endeavor involving many men

      • This leaves the homes empty of men, so Rachel takes the opportunity to steal Laban’s household idols

    • Among pagan worshippers, each household would adopt its own idols

      • These idols could take many forms, and were represented as small figurines a few inches high

      • The idols became associated with the household’s identity, protecting and blessing the house

        • They might be inscribed with the family name

      • The patriarch of the family held these idols

        • They were passed down to the next patriarch of the family

        • So the idols also indicated family authority and the right to rule the inheritance

        • Nuzi tablets of this era have been found with instructions that whoever possessed the family idols could lay claim to be the legitimate heir

      • So whoever possessed these idols could assume ownership of Laban’s estate upon his death

    • Reading that Rachel took these idols leaves us wondering if her intentions were to worship them

      • The suggestion is that she didn’t have a faith in God but retained her pagan religious views

        • While this is possible, the issue of inheritance is much more likely

      • Rachel took these idols as leverage against her father and protection against his threats

        • She took the “keys to his kingdom,” which would have left Laban very vulnerable

        • Perhaps she wanted some insurance that Laban wouldn’t attack them

        • Or maybe she intended to use them to claim some of the estate that Laban has withheld from her and Leah when he denied them a dowry

  • Regardless of her reasons, her actions mirrored those of her husband

    • While Jacob was deceiving Laban, Rachel was stealing from Laban

      • Aren’t these two tempting God by their actions?

      • As readers we know the Lord has promised to act in Jacob’s best interest, but will their mischief cause God to go back on his promises?

    • It’s important to remember that at this early point in the Bible, a reader is still trying to understand the character and nature of this Creator God

      • And Moses is teaching us about God by recording God’s responses to men in their sin

      • In the first part of Genesis, God showed that sin has consequences

        • Adam and Eve received consequences for failing to keep God’s word

        • So God is a God who responds to sin

      • Then later in the face of worldwide rebellion, God judges men through a worldwide flood

        • But God promises to preserve a family of godly people if Noah builds an ark

        • So God is a God who executes judgment while offering mercy to those who hear Him

      • Now we watch as God makes covenant with men, covenants that hold no requirements for men

        • And as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob experience sin in their lives, God has shown Himself faithful regardless

        • So God is a God who honors His promises unconditionally

    • Clearly, the relationship we want with this God is one based on His promises, and not one based on our performance

      • When our relationship with God depends on man’s performance, the outcomes are disastrous

      • When we turn to God’s mercy, rescue will come

      • And when we rest in God’s promises, nothing can shake God’s faithfulness

    • Still, even if our sin won’t break God’s covenants, it will bring consequences

      • We’ve seen this throughout the story of the patriarchs, especially in the story of Jacob

        • He continues to introduce deception into the work of God

        • God is preparing to show Jacob a better way, but for the time being continues to rescue Jacob

    • So Jacob reaches Gilead, which is directly east of Bethel across the Jordan

      • Jacob has crossed the desert directly, which is the hardest way to travel but it indicates how quickly he was trying to move

Gen. 31:22 When it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob had fled, 
Gen. 31:23 then he took his kinsmen with him and pursued him a distance of seven days’ journey, and he overtook him in the hill country of Gilead. 
Gen. 31:24 God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream of the night and said to him, “Be careful that you do not speak to Jacob either good or bad.” 
Gen. 31:25 Laban caught up with Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsmen camped in the hill country of Gilead. 
Gen. 31:26 Then Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done by deceiving me and carrying away my daughters like captives of the sword? 
Gen. 31:27 “Why did you flee secretly and deceive me, and did not tell me so that I might have sent you away with joy and with songs, with timbrel and with lyre; 
Gen. 31:28 and did not allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters? Now you have done foolishly. 
Gen. 31:29 “It is in my power to do you harm, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful not to speak either good or bad to Jacob.’ 
  • It takes three days before Laban hears that Jacob has left with his family

    • Remember that Laban made his sons move their flocks three days journey away from Jacob

      • This distance is the reason for the three day delay in the news reaching Laban

      • But as soon as Laban hears, he rushes to catch Jacob

    • Moses offers no commentary on what is motivating Laban’s haste to catch Jacob, but is there really any mystery?

      • More than likely Laban intends to kill Jacob and take his daughters and the herd back

      • Jacob’s escape is reason enough in the ancient world for Laban to take this action, and he would love nothing better than to have an excuse to reclaim his herds

    • Before Laban reaches Jacob, the Lord appears in a dream to give Laban a warning

      • This is the first time we’ve seen the Lord appear to Laban and the second time in Scripture that we see the Lord speaking to an unbeliever

        • As such, it’s a remarkable moment, and it’s proof that saving faith isn’t simply a matter of knowing about God

        • Like Abimelech before him, Laban has come to know about the living God and even receive a vision from Him

        • Nevertheless, they remain outside God’s mercy since they have not received a promise and rested in it by faith

      • Instead of a promise, Laban is given a stern warning not to say anything good or bad to Jacob

        • This is a strange command

        • We might have expected God to say something like “don’t raise a hand against Jacob” or maybe “don’t say anything bad”

        • Why does God tell Laban not to say anything good to Jacob?

  • God is intent on protecting Jacob, but he’s also intent on teaching Jacob a lesson along the way

    • The protection of God is evident in the instruction not to say anything bad

      • The command not to speak anything bad implies not doing anything bad either

      • A man’s word was his command, so Laban has been prohibited from commanding anything negative against Jacob

    • But the chastisement of the Lord will become evident in His second instruction that Laban say nothing positive either

      • Laban might have been inclined to make an offer to entice Jacob to return or to tempt Jacob to stay longer

      • God wants Jacob to rest entirely in His promises and not on the mercy of unbelievers

  • So as Laban catches up, he gives Jacob a sob story of concern and hurt feelings

    • Laban says Jacob deceived him, which is true

      • And Jacob denied Laban the chance to say a proper good bye to his daughters, which is also true

    • Now it’s Laban’s turn to deceive

      • He says had he known of Jacob’s departure, he would have celebrated the event in songs of joy

      • Finally, Laban accuses Jacob of denying him the chance to kiss his daughters goodbye

    • After living with Laban for twenty years, Jacob wouldn’t have possibly been fooled by this show

      • But the show must go on, because saving face and posturing was built in to the culture

  • Finally, Laban declares it is in his power to do harm to Jacob

    • The Hebrew word for harm is ra, which means evil or disaster

      • Clearly, this would have been Laban’s choice, by his own words

      • For if God had not stopped him, he would have gone forward in this act

    • Clearly, this man has understood the power of God

      • But notice he describes God as the God of your father in v.29

      • Laban hears from God, knows God’s power and obeys God, yet he doesn’t have a personal relationship with God 

James 2:19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder
  • A relationship is based on more than knowing about God or even hearing from God or even conforming to God’s decrees

    • The demons do all these things at times but to no good outcome…they still shudder

    • The only test that matters is whether we have entered into a personal relationship with God

    • And only through a covenant can man have a saving relationship with God

  • Here we see God acting according to His word through a covenant with Jacob to protect Jacob

    • God said:

Gen. 28:15 “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 
  • In v.19 we see God at work as Laban reveals that God is holding him back from bringing harm to Jacob

    • God’s protection is both a result of His promises and the natural consequences of Laban’s behavior

      • Laban’s hatred of Jacob and his poor treatment of Jacob have left God no choice but to bring calamity upon Laban

      • God’s word was to deliver Jacob back safely and to curse those who curse him

    • Jacob has done wrong things to Laban, but nothing in Jacob’s behavior could cause God to go back on His word

      • Nevertheless, Jacob has deceived Laban and his wife has stolen from Laban

      • And will God deal justly with these mistakes?