It had been at least 14 years since Jacob started working for Laban to “earn” his wife, Rachel. The agreement has been fulfilled, Joseph has been born, Jacob’s wife is happy, at least one of them, and he is ready to go. But I like the fact that Jacob just doesn’t just slip away in the night with his 4 wives and his 11 sons and 1 daughter. He goes to his father-in-law and asks him to release him. “Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country…you know the service that I have given you.” It was a show of respect for his father-in-law even though it sounded like a demand. Laban then appeals to Jacob for a favor but notice how these two men acknowledge the truth and its source.
Laban says he has learned “in divination” that the reason he has been blessed by God is because of Jacob. Divination will be prohibited by God in Deuteronomy 18, because it was an attempt to find truth in ways that bypass God and his revelation. Consulting a medium, reading tea leaves, interpreting omens or dreams can sometimes reveal truth, but they are not the means by which God directs his people. They can also open worlds of danger. He alone is the source of truth and God has given us his Word. Laban came up with the right idea, that he was blessed only because God’s hand of blessing was on Jacob. But what Laban says he “divined” somehow, Jacob simply stated as fact. He said to Laban, “The Lord has blessed you wherever I have turned.” Emphasis mine. Hey, Laban, you are 100% correct that you have been blessed but don’t miss the connection between God and me to you. Jacob was a great employee because he had a great work ethic, no doubt. But Jacob was also blessed by God, and that blessing had benefitted others.
How should we acknowledge to a watching world that our work ethic and any blessing on us that spills over to others is because of God? We don’t need to say “I’m blessed” every time someone asks us how we are. You certainly may do that, but that’s not enough. We don’t need to put up a poster at work that says, “No God, no peace. Know God, know peace.” Again, not enough. We don’t need to wear a cross around our neck or put a bumper sticker on our car. Especially one that says, “In case of the rapture, this car will be unmanned.” Please don’t put that on your car, for lots of reasons. You may start seeing one on your neighbor’s truck that says, “In case of rapture, can I have your car?”
Ok, so what should we do, instead of trite sayings or posters or bumper stickers? We should speak about him. Use our words. Acknowledge God at every opportunity that is appropriate. Talk about God and God’s truth as the source of life. Be a witness in the fullest meaning of that word. You say, hold up! If I do that in my job or at the club or with the guys or at (fill in the location)…I will get nothing but grief! Maybe even persecution! You may be right, and Peter has a word for you:
“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is God’s will, than for doing evil.” -1 Peter 3:13-17
The green-eyed envy monster entered stage left as Rachel, who desperately wanted children, envied her older sister Leah for having 4 already. She commanded Jacob to give her children or watch her die. Clearly, envy can twist our logic and provoke others to sin. Jacob rightly said that it is God who gives or withholds children, but he reacted to his wife with anger. One helpful hint heard in marriage counseling is that we should respond, not react when triggered. If Jacob had responded instead of reacting to Rachel, what would he have said? Maybe…he would have thought first about what she had said and why she had said it. Maybe…he would have seen Rachel’s accusation as coming from her grief and pain at being childless. Maybe…he would have acknowledged her pain as real and told her he loved her whether she was able to conceive or not. And maybe…he would have prayed with her that God would open her womb. Instead, he got angry and gave her a theology lesson. Theologically correct and relationally all wrong. Can anyone relate? Ouch.
Rachel then takes matters into her own hands, just like Sarah had done years earlier when she was not able to give Abraham a son. Instead of going to the Lord, Rachel goes to her servant. Rachel gives her servant to Jacob, and Bilhah becomes his third wife. As if he didn’t have enough trouble being a good husband to the TWO he already had. Three wives and later four wives were not God’s plan any more than two wives were, but once again we see the grace and mercy of God. He blesses his people, not because of their wrong efforts but in spite of them. God gives Rachel two sons through her servant, and she names the first one Dan, which sounds like “judged” in Hebrew because Rachel believes her barrenness is God’s judgment. The second she names Naphtali which sounds like “wrestling” in Hebrew. And incredibly she gloats after this birth, saying, “I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed.” Bless Rachel’s heart. Her struggle was not with Leah but with God, and even if it were with Leah, she has not prevailed! Not unless her math is way different than the way we would normally count.
The soap opera plot continues when Leah says in effect, “Oh yeah? Two can play this game,” and she gives her servant to Jacob as his 4th wife! In that culture, if a woman gave a servant as a substitute to her husband and that servant conceives, that child belongs to the woman, not to the substitute or surrogate. So count two more boys for Leah, Gad and Asher, because she considers herself to have good fortune and because she is happy. Or at least, she says that is what other women say of her. Hey, you must be happy! But is she, really?
After a brief commercial break, the soap opera takes a really strange turn, as soaps often do, I am told. Leah’s oldest son Reuben finds mandrakes in the field and brings them to his mom. It was a flower considered to have fertility-inducing qualities. That was and is superstition, not science. So a trade takes place with Rachel giving Leah permission to spend time with her husband in exchange for the mandrakes. Seems like Rachel, the favorite wife, had authority over who got to bunk with Jacob. The irony is that Rachel was hoping the mandrakes would help her conceive and win the birthing war, but they did nothing for her, but the “man-date” Rachel traded to Leah ended up in older sister having baby boy number 5. And on it went. Read Genesis 29-30 for the complete saga.
What do we learn from this story that is filled with strife and envy, sadness and joy? Mainly this: the blessing of God is given by his divine will. Leah did not have what she wanted, the affection of her husband, but was a woman of strong faith who was blessed by God in childbirth. God even exalted her as the mother of the kingly tribe of Judah. Rachel had the affection of her husband but did not have what she wanted, children. Weaker in faith than Leah it seems, Rachel tried to get what she desired by human means, sacrificing the spiritual for the worldly and the temporal. But God intervened for the favorite wife who seemed at first to be haughty and impatient and gave her a son. She then blessed God, perhaps having learned that God’s gifts are not gained by bargaining or scheming, and instead prayed for another. Finally? These two women, with the help of their servants, produced the 12 sons who would become the twelve tribes of Israel.
God can hit a straight lick with a crooked stick. He still does, with you and me!
Way before Linda Ronstadt sang “Just one look, that’s all it took, yeah,” Jacob belted it out. He took one look at Rachel and jumped up to move the stone away from the well by himself, a stone that would normally take more than one man to move. He not only moved away the stone, but he watered Rachel’s flock. A sure way to a woman’s heart, guys, is to water her flock of sheep if she happens to have one. Keep a sharp eye out for those. Allen Ross writes, “Jacob must be contrasted with the lazy shepherds. (The ones who did not jump up to water her flock. Or even their own.) He was generous, zealous, and industrious—spurred on to a magnanimous act. He had a mission, a quest.” Jacob understood that the Lord was with him and when believers know that God is at work in their lives, they will work hard and give generously in service to others.
Not recommended on a first meeting, guys, but Jacob then kissed Rachel and cried like a baby. The kiss was probably a middle eastern greeting, on the cheek not the lips, the same kind of smooch Jacob will get from Uncle Laban later in the story. The tears? Well, they must have come from joy that the Lord had indeed led him to this place and to this woman. It is the only time in the Bible when an unmarried man kissed a woman who was not his mother. When Jacob told “Cousin Rachel” who he was, she ran to tell Laban her father, who dropped everything and ran to the well. A family of runners. I like that. Next thing we know, Jacob has lived with his Mesopotamian family for a month, apparently working for Uncle Laban the whole time.
“Tell me,” Laban says to Jacob after he had been serving his uncle for a month for free, helping out on the farm, “What shall your wages be?” You know why Laban said that? Because he had seen Jacob’s work ethic and solid character of diligence and punctuality and thoroughness for 30 days now, and he did not want to lose him from the company. Jacob did what every person should do who is working for another: he made himself indispensable to the point that he could almost command his own salary. But in this case, Jacob wasn’t as interested in wages as he was in a certain young woman. So he tells Laban he will serve him for seven years for his younger daughter Rachel. It was a high bride price, and you wonder why Jacob didn’t lower it some, but he was letting Laban know how much he valued his daughter. There were two daughters, but Jacob only had eyes for Rachel. (This is when he wrote a song for The Flamingos).
Jacob loved Rachel. He was willing to wait and willing to work to have her as his wife. The Africa Study Bible has this commentary: “The Banyamulenge community of the Democratic Republic of Congo require an expensive dowry (cows) from a bride’s suitor, or, if he does not have a dowry, (he must) serve as a shepherd before taking a wife. Marriage in most African communities includes elaborate requirements meant to test the degree of love and commitment the man will have for his future wife. It tests the man’s ability to provide for, take care of, and protect his wife once they are married…We can tell true love because true love waits, is patient, and endures to the end. A Rwandan proverbs says, ‘A bride is not given on a silver platter, rather by hard work.’”
It’s a great love story, but not without many challenges for the next 20 years. Read Genesis 29-30 for more!
The old joke goes like this: How can you tell when a lawyer is lying to you? Answer: His mouth is moving. I apologize to all of you lawyers and those who have a lawyer friend or relative. The real question is, “How can we tell when a Christian is lying?” The answer is: we can’t.
Paul wrote in Ephesians 4, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” Why does Paul start this section that directly follows the description of the new man in Christ with this admonition: put away lying?
Perhaps on the one level, Paul started with this command because it is something that is so pervasive, even in the church. We learn as children that if we tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, sometimes that means punishment. Sometimes there is pain attached to the truth, so we learn to lie. When we get saved, we know it’s not good to lie, so we try not to lie, technically. But it is like riding a bike. Once you learn to do it, you never forget. We can lie to one another and not think twice about it. We can lie about how we are doing. We can lie about our sins. We can lie about our marriages. We can lie about our kids. We can lie about our financial struggles. We can lie about our fears. We can lie about our insecurities. We can lie about our loneliness. Not only can we lie about anything and everything, we can lie in so many different ways. We can lie with what we say. We can lie with what we don’t say. We can lie with a look. We can lie with a hug or a handshake. We can lie with a laugh. We can lie with a tear. We can lie with a big ol’ grin on our faces. We can lie with our presence. We can lie with our absence.
Speaking of absences, I remember when I was in the 11th grade, and I got it into my head that I really didn’t need to go to school every day, so I started skipping. It was easy to lie to my parents about it, since they were gone to work by the time my ride came to take me to school. It was easy to lie to my friends who came to pick me up: I would just stick my head out the door and shake it, with this sad, sick look like I didn’t feel well. It was easy to lie to my teachers. I just wrote them a note each time and signed Dad’s name to it. It was easy! After lying to my parents, friends, and teachers, I would go and lie on the couch all day and watch game shows. Talk about a sick puppy. I stayed home from school for “Let’s Make a Deal?!” Well, the Bible says your sins will find you out. It just so happened that my English teacher bumped into my dad at a meeting one night, about half-way through the year. “I’m so sorry that Mark has had such a problem with sickness this year,” he said, while looking at my dad to see his response. Just as he suspected, this was big news to my father. Dad sat me down that night and spelled it out for me. “You will stop lying to me about this. You will go to school every day and stay all day. Or…you will pack your bags and move out. As long as you’re living under my roof, you will do what I say. Finishing school is non-negotiable.”
Do you see what happened? As long as that thing was in the darkness, I could go on in my sin, even though it was eating away at my soul, while the TV programs were turning my brain to mush. But when it was brought into the light, it had to die. I don’t think any of us realize how much bondage and baggage comes along with every lie we tell. So, what should we do, starting yesterday?
Put away lying.