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Oct 21 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 20, 2013 – Genesis 31

Genesis 31

The Story

Jacob had worked hard for several years, but all-in-all, things had gone well for him. Then one day, he noticed a change. He began hearing things and seeing things. He heard his brothers-in-law talking about him, “Jacob has made himself rich by taking everything that belonged to Dad.” When Jacob looked at Laban, his face mirrored his son’s suspicion and hostility. Simply put, Jacob’s father-in-law no longer liked him.

This change was inevitable and it is every con-artist’s greatest fear; that one day his scheme will be uncovered and he will be exposed.

No words were spoken directly–the new cold front was never addressed, but there were looks, there were facial expressions in unguarded moments. Laban’s attitude was different. The son-in-law who had arrived as a wonder-worker was now treated as an intruder. Overnight Jacob was no longer safe with his in-laws.

Then God spoke to Jacob–or perhaps God had been speaking for awhile, but finally Jacob heard him. “Go home,” God said, “return to your own family.” Then, as if God anticipated Jacob’s worry and fear, he added, “I will be with you.”

Leaving Mesopotamia and Laban’s home would be a huge project. Jacob’s first challenge was to convince his wives that this was the right thing to do. So he sent for them to meet him in the open fields where he pastured the livestock and where no one could hear their conversation.

“Your father has turned against me,” Jacob began, “but he hasn’t been able to hurt me, because the God of my father has been with me. The whole time I’ve been here, I’ve worked hard for your father, but in return for my labor he has cheated me repeatedly. All along, I’ve played by your dad’s rules, but every time he changed the rules, God worked it out in my favor, so I’m the one who wound up getting richer.

“I had a dream in which I was like a spectator, watching God take your father’s property and give it to me. Then God spoke to me in the dream. ‘I am the God of Bethel,’ he said, and reminded me of the encounter I had with him on the journey that brought me to your home. After he appeared to me in Bethel, I worshiped him and swore a vow to serve him. He told me that it’s time to go home.”

Until now, there had been all sorts of secret manipulations and maneuvering, but here Jacob brings this to the surface and puts a label to it–he had been “cheated.” Of course, he had done his share of cheating also, but why bring that up?

When Leah and Rachel answered Jacob, there was a bitter edge in their voices. They had been feeling abandoned and betrayed by their father. “There’s nothing keeping us here,” they said. “Dad treats us like foreigners rather than daughters. He sold us like slaves and then spent every penny of our dowry rather than hold it in reserve for us and our children. It’s God’s justice that our father’s wealth has now become ours. So do whatever God has told you. We’re with you.”

Jacob began making preparations as he waited for the right time to make their get-away. It came when Laban went to shear his flock. These were festive occasions, like the grape harvest, which was celebrated with feasting and song, so this was the perfect diversion.

Jacob did not know it, but Rachel also saw this as a perfect opportunity to slip into her father’s home and steal the small figurines that sat in a niche in the eastern wall of her father’s home. These magical objects represented the spirits or gods Laban relied on to make him prosper. Maybe Rachel thought they would bring her family good fortune. Or, perhaps, they represented a symbolic claim to the family’s inheritance. Or it is possible that she wanted to get her hands on something that she felt was owed her.

Rachel, however, was not the only thief. In not telling Laban that he was running away with his daughters and grandchildren, Jacob stole the heart of his father-in-law.

Jacob and his migrating family had been on the road three days before word reached Laban that they had fled. Immediately, he called for his sons and male relatives, and they set off in pursuit of Jacob. Moving quickly, it took them only seven days to overtake them. But the night before Laban caught up with Jacob, God caught up with Laban. All God told Laban was, “Be careful that you do not say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.” Obviously, Laban had intended to do Jacob harm–most likely kill him and retrieve his daughters and all Jacob’s property. When a cheater is caught in his own game or someone skips out on him, it is not unusual for him to turn violent.

The next morning, Laban confronted Jacob. “What were you thinking, stealing from me and carrying off my daughters like prisoners of war? Why did you sneak away, stealing from me the opportunity to bless you and kiss my family good-by?” Laban had obviously put his own spin on Jacob’s actions. But Jacob had not been willing to allow Laban near his family. No one allows special privileges to people they do not trust–they especially do not allow them near their children. He continued to berate Jacob, “You know, I could hurt you right now. In fact, your life is in my hands. But last night, the God of your father told me to leave you alone. Okay, I get it, you were yearning to return to your mother and father, but why did you have to steal my gods?” (So now Laban’s  little idols are gods!)

Jacob began by answering Laban’s first question, “I took off without telling you because I was afraid–afraid of this very thing! That you would take my wives from me by force.” Jacob then responded to Laban’s accusation, not knowing what Rachel had done. He said, “Now go ahead and look through our stuff, and if you find your gods, bring them here and set them before us all. Whoever has them will be put to death and you can take what belongs to you.

Laban then began to enter each tent and rifle through Jacob’s belongings. When he entered Rachel’s tent, she was sitting on the bundle of cloths she had used for a saddle. Underneath those cloths, she had hidden the small idols. “Forgive me, father,” she said, “but I can’t get up and move, because I’m on my period.” Very clever. Having no understanding of this feminine mystery, there’s not a man on earth who wants to even question it. Meanwhile, what are we supposed to think about little gods that can be stolen, hidden, and sat upon. No doubt, the Hebrew people had fun with this story for many years as it was told and retold.

Laban returned to the circle of men empty-handed, and that is when Jacob tore into him. Opening his speech with poetry gave his words greater force:

What is my crime?
What have I done so wrong that you had to hotly pursue me?
You’ve torn my camp apart,
What have you found that belongs to you?
Place it on the ground in front of us,
And we’ll let our relatives decide who is in the wrong.
For twenty years I have taken good care of you,
Replacing any of your sheep or goats that were lost,
Whether from  miscarriage or the teeth of predators.
You demanded that I compensate you for any animal,
Even if stolen by day or stolen by night.
So it has been for all these years,
That I was withered by the drought of the day
And frozen by the frost of the night,
Never having enough sleep.

Jacob wrapped up his diatribe by reminding Laban that even now he was treating him unjustly and that it took an act of God to prevent him from doing any more harm. Oddly, Jacob referred to God as “the fear of Isaac.” Perhaps he meant to say, the God whom Isaac revered. But it is also possible that he wanted to reinforce the effect of Laban’s dream. Laban had admitted to Jacob that it was the God of his father that spoke to him. Jacob’s final word was that he did not need for the witnesses who were present to render a verdict, because God had already vindicated him.

Laban finally broke. He felt that everything he looked at belonged to him, but there was nothing he could do to retrieve it. The last option open to him was to strike a deal. So there in the hills of Gilead, he and Jacob made a covenant. They used stones to mark a boundary between them and swore they would not cross it to do the other person harm. Then, after Laban kissed his daughters and grandchildren good-by, they parted company for the last time.

INTRO: Most of us need a better family than one in which we grew up

There are reasons Leah and Rachel felt no loyalty toward their father

Milan and Kay Yerkovich (How We Love), “In the chaotic home, connection is not just unavailable or sporadic. It’s dangerous! While securely attached, mature parents can soothe and relieve their children’s stress, chaotic parents are often the source of constant stress for their kids. In healthier homes, parents help when their children are anxious, but in chaotic families, the children become the target of many of their parents’ negative emotions.” “Under such circumstances they can’t learn a strategy for dealing with stress. Such a home environment presents ‘unsolvable paradoxes or overwhelming feelings without solutions.’”

But going out on our own can be scary
– and how do we find a better family?
– more importantly, how do we become better family members
– otherwise, we just start over with the same old habits and create another dysfunctional relationship

At some point we have to absorb the promise

V. 3, “I will be with you”
– by “absorb,” I mean we have to internalize – own it
• “Lord, what if I lose my job?” “I will be with you”
• “And if I can’t make rent?” “I will be with you”
• “If I end up on the street?” “I will be with you”

Until we believe and practice this into reality, I’m not sure we can get very far in our spiritual journey
– it’s not about what we can accomplish or achieve
• it’s what God wants to make of us by his grace
– a thorough education in the Bible cannot do as much for us as the certainty that God is with us

God with us, enables us to make sacrifices, let go of things

“But what shall we do for the hundred talents which I have given to the troops of Israel?” And the man of God answered, “The LORD has much more to give you than this.” (2 Chronicles 24:9)

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

Rumi, This world is a trap, and desire is its bait;
escape the traps and quickly
turn your face toward God.

But a second concern rises out of the first

When God told Moses to liberate his people, the dialogue went like this:
Moses asked: “Who’s going to listen to me?”
God answered: “I will be with you”
Moses replied: “Okay, but who are You?”

In Jacob’s dream, God identified himself as God of Bethel
– why?
• he knew it would mean something to Jacob
• not the location, but the event–the encounter
○ heaven touched earth at Bethel
○ God revealed himself to Jacob at Bethel
– but it’s not only that Jacob would remember that experience, but God remembers is
• those moments are meaningful to him
○ so he reminds us – he brings us back to them

CONC: I was reading in Mark’s gospel yesterday

In chapter 3:
Jesus’ family thought he had lost his mind
Theologians attributed his success to occult connections
– but in spite of the horrifically bad press,
• people were still thronging to him
• because he helped them
• because they experienced him
○ they knew he couldn’t be a bad person

Jesus became the center around which a new family formed

When his mother and brothers arrived at house where he was teaching they stood outside and sent him a message
– they demanded that he come out to them
• they felt they had a special claim to him
– but Jesus asked the messenger, “Who is My mother? And who are My brothers?”
• then looking at those sitting around him, he said,

Take a look at these people. Here is My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.

He was identifying and owning his new family
– now he invites us into his new family
• it can be challenging, it can be scary
• and it will demand that we face our issues and become better people

But if Jesus wants us, then he is where we want to be



One Comment

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  1. Debbie Naude / Oct 26 2013

    We seem to be a month behind on the videos… The last one that I could find that was uploaded was September 15th.Am I doing something wrong?? I was away last week and would have loved to watch the video too.
    See you on Sun.

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