Genesis 31: A New Beginning.
In verses1-3: we see that Jacob perceives the resentment and change in attitude of Labans sons and Laban himself toward Jacob. Word has come to Jacob that Labans sons were complaining and bitter over Jacobs prosperity and that the wealth Jacob had gained- rightfully belonged to their father Laban. Then in verse 3, God tells Jacob it is time to go back- to leave this place.
Did you ever ask your parents to get you something for Christmas or your birthday and that you would be so content you would never ask them for anything else again?
Did you ever want to a job, a position, to earn a certain amount of money and think if I only had that kind of job making that kind of money it would be all I would ever need?
Let me ask you- once you got those things, once you achieved those goals were you content? Or did the pride of ownership, did the excitement of the new position, the feeling of accomplishment soon not satisfy you as you thought it would?
Of course we have all had those experiences. Let me be clear- there is nothing wrong with having goals, desires and ambition. Remember this: a goal is simply what we do to accomplish an objective in a period of time. Purpose is why we do what we do. In other words, the goals are the what we do ; the purpose is the why we do it. Purpose is by nature long term. Goals are what we do to achieve our purpose.
Jacob had two goals soon after he arrived at Labans home.
- Marry Rachel.
- Get Rich.
Now after 20 years he has it all and then some. He not only has Rachel, he has Leah and two concubines, 12 children, (11 sons and daughter) plus the last 6 years he has gained great wealth. You see Jacob had two goals- which he achieved but unless the goals are part of the accomplishment of the purpose- they will not satisfy for long.
Do you know what is the purpose of man according to God? What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Here in what is called the Westminster Catechism we find Gods eternal purpose: to enjoy Him forever and His earthly purpose: to glorify Him. Jesus told us how to do this and not get caught up in the worlds value system. He told us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all the thing we need would be given to us. ( matthew 6:33)
Is Jacob happy? Fulfilled? No. His life has become miserable. God has allowed Jacob to become wealthy- but now God allows the world and its riches to turn sour for Jacob. They are not the lasting fulfillment Jacob thought they would be.
When God allows the things of the world which attracted us to become sour, even bitter and unfulfilling it is actually a blessing. For now we are willing to listen to God and what God has to say to our souls. The deceitfulness of sin is that a little sin is good for you, fun, fulfilling and not harmful. But we discover sin is not only deceptive- it is a cruel taskmaster. The wine that sparkled in the cup- stings like an adder in the end.
After God instructs Jacob to leave, Jacob calls Leah and Rachel to come out to the fields where he can tell them of the plans God has for them. This is the wise thing to do. Jacob needs for his wives to understand what they are about to do. Marriage has its difficulties because both husband and wife come with parents to whom they are loyal. Many problems in a marriage have come from the parents of the husband and wife. But Rachel and Leah exhibit where their loyalty and allegiance must be- with their husband.
In verses 5 13 Jacob tells Rachel and Leah exactly what is going on. He tells them of the change in attitude of their father and brothers. The threat is real that they would come and take away what Jacob has worked for and what God has provided. He tells them about the dream that God gave him regarding how to increase his flocks, Jacob recalls how their father has changed his wages 10 times.
In verse 13: We notice Jacob in looking back sees how it has always been God who was at work in his life. God in the dream reminded Jacob that He was the God of Bethel. He reminded Jacob of his vow to God at Bethel.
God reminding Jacob of his Bethel experience is important. When we, like Jacob get caught up in the rat race of life in pursuit of happiness and those things of the world we believe will make us happy, we can get off course cant we? Like Jacob when we lose our way- we need to turn around and go back to where we got off the path and made the wrong turn.
Lets go back to Jacobs Bethel experience and remember that as Christians Paul tells us in Galatians 3- if you belong to Christ, then you are Abrahams seed and heirs according to the promise.
Listen carefully to this promise made to Jacob by God at Bethel, for this spiritual promise is also ours- we can claim this according to scripture. God tells Jacob and you and me: I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go and I will bring you back to this land(home). I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you. Jacob responded with a vow- which God reminds Jacob of his vow- that if God did those things- God would be his God and I will give you a tenth of everything- meaning I will recognize that all I have gained comes from you.
So Jacob begins the race that God would have Jacob run. Just as we begin the race that God would have us to run after we got saved. Then something happens. We get caught up in the rat race, the routine of setting goals, making lists and checking them off. But the goals of achievement the world recognizes and rewards can distract us from the race God had laid before us. Listen to this verse from Galatians 5:7: You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?
What Jacob wanted and what we want, I can describe in three words: The Good Life.
Here in lies the dilemma: who gets to decide what is the good life? Confusion exists about how to achieve the good life. It is not that we should not want to improve our standard of living and as Jacob declared to his father-in-law- I have nothing for my household. Jacob wanted something to call his own- and God not only did not condemn Jacob for wanting something for his household- God also helped Jacob get it.
You see the world has a definition of the good life and what it entails and what it looks like. And God has a definition of the good life and what it entails and what it looks like. And we get caught in the confusion of this rat race and the tension between living the Christian life and life in the 21st century. In other words, will we live the good life according to Gods view or the worlds view? Or like a lot of us we come up with a hybrid good life that combines the two. We are constantly bombarded by messages, seemingly innocent messages that if we have this type of car or live in this neighborhood or belong to this club- we are living the good life.
Jacob had been caught up in a rat race for 20 years. After an encounter with God at Bethel twenty years before, Jacob pledged his allegiance to God and begin a personal relationship with him. But in the years that followed, Jacob got caught up in the pursuit of the good life.
What God is going to have to do with Jacob- He will have to do with us. When we get caught up in the rat race and let the world and its desires cut in on us and keep us from obeying the truth, God will get our attention. He will have to tell us it is time to go back to where we got out of the race and get back in it. And He will allow circumstances often adverse ones to direct us and steer us and get our attention.
The choice between the Christian life view and the worlds secular life view is the difference between Gods race and the rat race.
What do we need to do? We need to throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and run with perseverance the race marked out for us. ( Hebrew 12:1)
So at this point in his life Jacob will do what we most often do as God intervenes in our lives
we must, like Jacob, make a New Beginning.
Jacobs wives are in agreement with Jacob regarding their father, Laban, and his mistreatment of Jacob and so plans to leave immediately begin. In fact Rachel and Leah both tell Jacob do whatever God has told you to do.
Should Jacob have left the way he did? Not sure. But they left soon thereafter. But Rachel does something that at first glance confused me. Why did Rachel go steal the household idols? Did she still believe in them? Or did she do this out of spite because of her fathers behavior?
Can we identify with Rachel as an immature believer? She believed Jacobs God, she trusted Him. But she was also reluctant to completely give up some of her previous beliefs, superstitions and ways of life. Rachel like all of us had been conformed by the world, her beliefs had been shaped over years by the world in which she lived. Rachels attitude is little different from that of many a new Christian today, happy to know the Lord but not yet willing to enter a life of separation from the world.
In verse 22, we read it was not until the third day Jacob had fled that Laban discovers he has left- with his wives, children and flocks. Laban and his sons take off in hot pursuit. Even though Jacob has a three day head start, he has large flocks and herds and women and children so his travel is slowed.
In seven days of hard travel, Laban overtakes Jacob and his entourage in the hill country of Gilead. Laban spends the night and will confront Jacob and his family in the morning. But as so often happens in the Bible we read this phrase.. Then God
Then God came to Laban, a pagan in a dream and warns him not to do anything to harm Jacob.
Interesting that Laban did not know God in a personal way, but knew enough about God to know he had better do what God says. James says you believe there is one God..Good! Demons believe that and tremble. ( James 2)
In verses 20-27 we see Jacob accused of being a deceiver three times. Surely he lives up to his name. As Jacob was counting all the offenses of Laban against him over the last 20 years, he seemed to not be bothered by any of the offenses he had committed against Esau.
In verse 26, Laban reveals his hypocrisy as he tells Jacob he left and did not even give him the opportunity to tell his daughters and grandchildren good bye and throw them a going away party.
But then Laban asks a question that catches Jacob completely by surprise for he does not know what Rachel has done when Laban says why did you steal my household gods?
Rachel must have started to get very nervous and begin rehearsing her lie.
Jacob tells Laban he left the way he did out of fear that Laban would take his daughters away from him After all, Laban had used his two daughters to get 14 years of work out of Jacob. But Jacob is indignant that Laban would accuse him of stealing his household gods. Jacob says if you find anyone who has your gods, I will execute them. Rachels heart rate must have zoomed to over 180!
Laban and his sons begin a search of Jacobs camp. Rachel has hidden the gods in her camels saddle. She had evidently brought the saddle into her tent and was sitting on the saddle like it was a piece of furniture. She refuses to stand when her father approaches her and explains she is having her period. So Labans search ends without uncovering the stolen gods.
Just a thoughtwhy would anyone want to worship a god( small g) who can be stolen.?
Having been cleared of any wrongdoing- in fact it speaks to Jacobs integrity they found nothing belonging to Laban in Jacobs possession, Jacob vents 20 years worth of being mistreated.
You might say this is one exit survey his former employer had rather not have heard.
Jacob begins to talk about what he had done for Laban and how he born the loss for animals killed or damaged by paying for them himself. Jacob recounted how for 20 years through heat and cold and sleepless night he had been a faithful, productive employee. And how in return, Laban had changed his wages 10 times.
Then Jacob talks about how God had been with him and protected him and provided for him and even rebuked Laban. The names he uses to describe God are interesting- the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac.
Fear of Isaac- the only time this name is used to describe God. But think about Isaac and what Jacob must have known about his father, Isaacs relationship with God.
Fear here does not mean a physical fear- like being afraid of a snake. It refers to a holy fear , a reverence of an awesome God. Isaac first learned about God from his father Abraham. A day he would remember forever was the day his father took him as a young man to Mount Moriah. There Isaac was bound and lay on the altar where Abraham appeared to have every intention of killing him. When Isaac asks his father where was the lamb- his father replied God would provide. It was on that day I believe that Isaac intimately in a few moments knew both the terror of a God who would instruct his father to sacrifice him and in the same moments come to reverence for the rest of his days the One would save him.
Jacob used this name, the Fear of Isaac, to remind Laban that God was not to be taken lightly.
Laban then proposes a covenant with Jacob.
God desires for us to be reconciled to Him.
God desires for us to forgive others who have sinned against us.
But sometimes the best way to get along with someone is to separate yourself from them.
Sometimes two people need God to stand between them who cant seem to keep from doing harm to one another. Perhaps one person is unreasonable and refuses to give in or neither party seems to be able to reach a compromise. We are told to make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
Sometimes I believe it is in the best interests of two parties to let God send them to opposite corners of the ring- like a referee in a boxing match.
Laban and Jacob offer us a prime example of restoration in terms of forgiveness and good will but not togetherness. There is a restoration and forgiveness without togetherness.
I remember once when we were driving in the car for a long period of time- probably from a vacation. Something occurred that upset one of our children. He was probably 8-10 years of age but already exhibited a strong will, a quick mind and a way with words. Upset, he began to say he was leaving home- and moving to Fun Town. There he said you could do anything you wanted, and he made a list of things that little boys like him would like. It was funny and he got caught up in describing Fun Town and we all had a good laugh.
But in those little boy terms- he really described what is at the heart of our desires-to live the good life- to live in Fun Town.
Have you ever heard this statement: If at first you dont succeed change goals. It was meant to be facetious but there is actually a truth hidden there.
You see- we have succeeded in accomplishing some goals in our life- only to find they did not please us- did not give us the lasting satisfaction we thought they would . Fun Town wasnt that much fun after a while. So having gained some wisdom we change our goals in pursuit of contentment.
We are told the secret of contentment by the Apostle Paul. I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. ( Philippians 4:11-13)
The Lord is our source of contentment. The Holy Spirit is given to each and every believer. If we will allow the Holy Spirit to control and direct our lives we will find contentment. There in lies the problem- are you daily seeking His guidance? His Strength? His Wisdom? Or you still in the rat race trying to get to Fun Town?
I Timothy 6: 6-10. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing out of this world. But if we have food and clothing we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptations and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many
griefs. So much for living in Fun Town!
If our purpose is to glorify God- then our goals must be toward that end. Decisions then become clear- will this action, words or thoughts glorify God. If not- change your goals.