I love Broadway musicals don’t you? One of my all-time favorites is Annie, life of little orphan Annie, one of my favorite songs is it’s a “Hard Knock Life” describing the misery of growing up in an orphanage. WATCH VIDEO Without the song and dance, if we were going to describe this period in the life of Jacob, it would be his “hard knocks”
Scriptures tell us Jeremiah 18/Romans 9 that we are like clay in God the potter’s hands. He can mold us, make us, refine us as He chooses, “shaping as seemed best to him”
Last week we saw Jacob’s deception, his scheming, his manipulating to get the Blessing but even in those wrong methods God saw the potential in Jacob that never seemed to be in Esau, the potential to value the spiritual and yet God also saw in Jacob the strong will that was bent on doing things his way. It was that strong will that God took and put back on the potter’s wheel and through a series of hard knock life lessons, difficult circumstances, God is refining Jacob, God is using the 20 years of hard knocks in Laban’s household to prepare him to return home, to fulfill His purposes for this man.
I. Jacob deceived has double wedding - Genesis 29:1-30
II. Jacob divided has children - Genesis 29:31-30:24
III. Jacob dealing bargains for wages - Genesis 30:25-43
IV. Jacob determined flees from Laban - Genesis 31:1-55
A. Meeting family Genesis 29:1-14
Jacob finally reaches Paddam Aram (MAP) sees a well, sheep, shepherds waiting around to water the animals. To him this is unusual, thirsty animals and a covered up well, so he starts a conversation, where you from= Haran. do you know my relatives= yes, here comes his daughter Rachel. why aren’t you watering the animals= we can’t yet, whether the well belonged to Laban or it was the custom to wait until all the herds were there we don’t know but Rachel finally gets to the well, the first thing Jacob does is roll the top off the well and water her flocks and then READ Genesis 29:11 insight into Jacob’s character, tender and affectionate man, looking at Rachel perhaps thinking this is my mother’s family, this is my cousin, here is my uncle Laban, hugs, kisses but in about a month the party over.
B. Matchmaking READ Genesis 29:15
Sounds generous of Laban but actually saying “if you’re going to stay here, you’re going to need to work” Jacob was used to hard work but it was in the position of being the wealthy son of Isaac, now he would be the servant of Laban, his hard knock life begins.
Jacob came w/nothing, says he’ll work 7 yrs for Rachel. Laban has 2 daughters Genesis 29:16,17. Oldest Leah, weak eyes=poor vision(nearsighted), pale eyes, light colored= in a culture that valued dark, fiery oriental eyes, eyes were best feature compared to her beautiful sister, Rachel had a great figure( how could you tell under all those clothes?) Willing to work 7 yrs= seems incredible in our instant gratification culture to wait, for anything that long, but he does because READ Genesis 29:18-20 this should be a foreshadowing, he has to remind Laban, time’s up, I want to get married.
C. Wedding night Jacob is going to learn a lesson in the school of hard knocks. “Reap what you sow” READ Genesis 29:22-25. Poor Jacob has the wrong wife and we’re still wondering why he didn’t figure this out until morning, maybe she was about the same size, dressed in some of Rachel’s clothes, a lot of perfume, veils, still don’t get it…my only conclusion is “we know how observant men are” ie cartilage earring. Why did you deceive me? Genesis 29:25 it’s our custom, older daughter marries first, Jacob is trapped, Laban’s new deal: wait a week marry Rachel, work another 7yrs for her.
Deceiver Jacob was deceived. Tragic that this repeated family sin hangs on with different family members. Biblical truth shows up in so many stories: Pharaoh (Exodus 1:22) has every Hebrew male child drowned, in the end his men were drowned in the Red Sea. Evil King Ahab caused innocent Naboth’s death and “dogs licked up his blood” (I Kings 21:19) when Ahab died in battle, his chariot was brought back to Samaria, when they washed it in the pool “the dogs licked his blood” (I Kings 22:38) Haman prepared gallows for Mordecai was hanged upon them himself (Esther 7:10). Not always do we see the close connection between doing something wrong and its consequences, but God says we will reap what we sow, eventually. Application: What are you sowing right now in your life? What are you reaping from what you sowed earlier? What will 5, 10 years from now look like because of your current behavior? In your family, at work, are you sowing trust, love, encouragement, support, honesty, justice, understanding, peace? Or something else?
This section records the births of 12 children, should be a time of great happiness, but as we read we’re disappointed w/all the domestic fighting, envying, jealousy. See Leah, wife not loved, does bear children but she frustrated longs for Jacob to love her. Rachel, beautiful, favored wife, barren, jealous of her sister’s ability to have children, complainer. Just like today, all this family infighting left its mark on these children.
A. Leah Genesis 29:31 “not loved”, this is really all the commentary we have about the relationship between Jacob/Leah. Counterpart today=neglected wife, one who is in a “less than perfect” marriage, marriage seems like no marriage at all, going separate ways. In a culture where divorce was not an option, no getting away, Leah’s marriage seemed to drive her to depend on the Lord.
NLT© Psalms 27:10 Even if my father and mother (HUSBAND) abandon me, the Lord will hold me close.
We see her dependence on the Lord in the names she gives her sons, look @progression
Reuben “see a son” Genesis 29:32 Covenant name Yahweh, for Lord has seen, husband will love
Simeon “hearing” Genesis 29:33 Lord heard, how did he hear, thru her prayers,
Levi “attached” Genesis 29:34 not what happens
Judah “praise” Genesis 29:35 possible that Leah has stopped seeing the births as a means to get Jacob’s love, praised God for his gift of her children
Leah had a bad situation, one that God didn’t change, but instead he gave her the grace to live in that situation, her joy came from the Lord and the gifts He gave her. He gave her sons that would become the fathers of the Jewish Tribes of Israel, through her son Levi, priests would come. Judah her son of praise would be the tribe that Messiah Jesus Christ would come. She was definitely a Covenant mother, Covenant Keeper.
B. Rachel-she seems every bit as miserable as Leah, more, couldn’t get pregnant in a society that demanded that of her. Maybe she wondered “would she lose Jacob’s love because she couldn’t give him a child? Would he begin to love Leah more? Her worries led her to acts of despair:
1. Genesis 30:1 demanded children from Jacob: Jacob doesn’t seem to have a problem making babies. Jacob’s response= sees her irrational behavior gets angry READ Genesis 30:2. Comment to all unmarried, engaged getting ready to marry: in every marriage, even the love story of Jacob/Rachel, point when the honeymoon is OVER. Glimpse here of marital fighting.
2. Rachel gives her maid Bilhah. Hard to imagine she didn’t know about Hagar/Ishmael, Jacob did, he should have warned her, wait let’s do it God’s way, let’s pray like my dad did. Jacob goes along, Dan is born “judged” v6; that worked so let’s try it again, Naphtali Genesis 30:8 “my struggle”
C. Leah plays same game Genesis 30:9-13 her maid Zilpah, Gad Genesis 30:11=“good fortune” Asher=Happy.
D. Mandrakes Genesis 30:14-21 story of the mandrakes, seems a strange insert. Reuben, small boy found them=Mandrakes are the fruit of the Mandragora officinarum, a member of the Solanaceae or potato order, closely allied to the Atropa belladonna. It is a common plant all over Israel, flourishing particularly in the spring and ripening about the time of the wheat harvest (Genesis 30:14). The plant has a rosette of handsome dark leaves, dark purple flowers and orange, tomato-like fruit.
‘love apples’ thousands of years regarded as an aphrodisiac. Rachel begs Leah. Insight into these sister wives relationship Genesis 30:15 whatever else was happening Rachel had nothing to do with that, in fact the opposite happened, Leah took Rachel’s husband, but we see how desperate Rachel is to get pregnant, she barters sleeping with Jacob for the mandrake hoping they would solve her problem. Instead ironically Leah gets pregnant with #5 son Issachar Genesis 30:18 “reward”, Zebulun Genesis 30:20 “honor” Leah gives all the credit to God for sons, daughter named Dinah “judgment”
E. light in this darkness for Rachel Genesis 30:22-24. God listened to her prayers, He answered. This birth had nothing to do with mandrakes, nothing to do with manipulation, nothing to do with demands, everything to do with God’s timing, God’s will. Rachel had to stop trying to control her life and turn it over to God.
Whether you marry or don’t marry, have children or don’t have children, get that job or don’t, move or stay, STOP striving in your own strength to get your way, give it up holding so tightly and open your hands to receive the good things God has planned.
Application: Basically both Leah and Rachel had to learn the same lesson. Their sufficiency, their happiness could not come from their husband or even their children. Their jealousy, sibling rivalry, bitterness, envy over what they did not have, did not lead to happiness. Only when they saw, at times, that their source of true fulfillment was in Yahweh, the Lord and his blessings did they find peace.
A. 14 yrs pass. Jacob wants to be released from contract and permitted to go home. In this culture, it was necessary to get the father’s permission to release his wives/children because they were still technically part of his household. Jacob talks with Laban, stay, I’ll pay you, work out a deal, more lessons in this hard knock life for Jacob.
B. Jacob really needed to think about this. Been there 14yrs working hard, nothing to show for it except 2 wives/2 maids/12 kids. Ie Troy at rehearsal dinner, wife, 3 kids, mortgage
Jacob had a family but didn’t have any money, no flocks, herds of his own, no capital, if he left how could he support them? Negotiates w/Laban, they decide his wages will be the abnormal colored animals that are bred, deviant colored ones. Today as back then, the dominant color of Bedouin sheep is solid white, dominant color of goats is dark brown/black. Spotted, striped are the minority. This agreement seems to favor Laban but Jacob has the blessings of God promised to him. Life lessons to learn:
Protect your integrity. At this point Jacob had been working for 14 yrs to pay off the dowry, no doubt he had opportunity to put away something for himself, didn’t. conscientiously worked as Laban’s servant, no complaining, quietly working hard, honestly, so that he could say Genesis 30:32,33 my integrity will testify for me. No matter who you work for, even if it’s Laban, protect your integrity.
Mature your work ethic. If Jacob had not wanted to work hard he could have found many excuses: Laban cheated me, now he owes me or God promised to bless me so I don’t have to put in too many hours. That wasn’t his attitude READ Genesis 31:38-41.
See your success as from God. Jacob is going to acquire great wealth in these few years, yes he works hard, yes uses unusual to us breeding techniques, but in the end Jacob knows his prosperity is from God. Genesis 31:10-13 I had this dream God told me I see what Laban has been doing to you, remember I’m the God you met at Bethel, remember the promises I made to you, to be with you, to bless you.
Prosperity can have one of two effects on people. Some view their success as a trust from God and put it to good use for him. Others, however see it as a personal accomplishment and the means to personal power. Such an independent, self-sufficient attitude is harmful to the faith, for it robs God of his honor by attributing the prosperity to human ingenuity.
Allen P Ross 1
Finally it’s time to go home
With his prosperity comes conflict, increasing animosity between households of Laban/Jacob.
God comes in a dream, “leave, time to go” Jacob decides to have a family meeting, calls his wives out the field- no wiretaps, no one can listen, secret meeting. Shared his intentions of leaving, reviewed details of his long service to their father, dream, God’s instructions to leave. You can see the estranged relationship these sisters have w/father, no hope of inheritance, they were treated as slaves, felt no love for him, ready to go.
A. Preparations to leave are made, while Laban is away spring sheep shearing, pack up/
Rachel stole father’s idols, Genesis 31:19 easy to do with Laban gone, why? 1. Word “teraphim”=to inquire, w/o them, father couldn’t inquire where they had gone 2. She believed in them 3. Custom of the day=possession of family gods carried w/then inheritance rights, she wanted them for Jacob.
B. Laban heard, raced home, organized search party, that’s when he saw the gods gone. Jacob had children/flocks to slow him down, Laban traveled faster, caught up w/them. Swaggers into camp, Genesis 31:26-29a switch in his speech, perhaps he saw Jacob/his daughter standing staring at him, boasted of his strength, ability to harm Jacob, but God warned him in a dream, leave him alone, so you left, why did you take my idols?
C. must have hit a nerve Genesis 31:31 but we don’t have your idols go ahead and search us, tense scene, we know Rachel did it, but Jacob doesn’t it, when she heard “death penalty” really scared her, needed a plan, amazing kept her composure, at least long enough to hide them under her clothes, so Laban never found them. Now Jacob is really
D. Angry Genesis 31:36-42 accuses his father-in-law of treachery in all their business dealings for the last 20 years, gives all the credit to God for intervening on his behalf Genesis 31:42.
E. Laban is speechless, almost. Knew he was beaten, one last hurrah Genesis 31:43, what can I do? Offers to make a covenant Genesis 31:44-45, nonaggression pact-Laban’s main purpose= keep Jacob from any retaliation in the future, if Jacob would become so powerful, so rich that he would want to return and reclaim Laban’s estate. Jacob didn’t want to return, but he also didn’t want Laban to follow him. Gathered stones, made a pile, as a testimony to their pact. Laban used the Aramaic =Jegar; Jacob used Hebrew= Galeed. They swore by names of God. Laban Genesis 31:53 Jacob=Fear of father Isaac=his designation for Yahweh. Last we hear of Laban.
It’s been a hard knock life for Jacob for 20 years, living with Laban, learning life lessons, learning to depend and trust on the God of Abraham, Isaac. God was preparing him to return home, return and live as heir of the promise. Return and live following God. These 20 years were hard knocks- there was deception, dishonesty, fear, distrust, jealousy, through it all, God was with him, God kept his promises, God was bringing him home, a different man, a man who through adversity was learning to be a Covenant Keeper.
Application: God uses hard knocks in our lives too for similar purpose= Covenant Keeper
1 Allen P. Ross, Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI:Baker Books, 1988) p. 517.