Genesis 30 & 31
When we left off last week, our trickster Jacob had been tricked. He
thought he had struck a deal with Laban to marry Rachel, but got her sister,
Leah. But, with some further wheeling and dealing, including remaining faithful
to Leah, the ugly sister, and agreeing
to work an additional seven years for Laban, Jacob ended up with both sisters
There is an old saying: “happy wife; happy life.” But what happens when you
have more than one wife? More isn't necessarily better...
As you might expect, the sisters get into some serious competition for Jacob’s
attention and affection.Leah
remembers that night of passion with her husband; sure that she had pleased
him and that somewhere he must have feelings for her.Rachel, angry that she had to share the love
of her life with anyone, let alone her older sister.Let the games begin!
However, as furious as Jacob was about waking up married to the ugly sister,
apparently she is not so "ugly" after all- during the first few years
of the marriage, she and Jacob have four sons. Good for Leah, right? It
would be, but with each birth, the text
tells us Leah says “Maybe now my husband will love me.” It’s sad- truly- but
Jacob loves Rachel, not Leah- and that doesn’t change for the rest of their
But as much as Jacob might love Rachel, so far, she has nothing to show for
it. She may be beautiful, but she is barren- ancient women's status was
gained and secured by bearing children. Frustrated, angry and scared for her
own future, she goes to the love of her life and says “Give me some kids now or
I will die!” And Jacob, answers, “What am I... God? It’s not my fault…”
And that is true- Jacob
has no problem siring children- evidenced by Rachel's next move. She decides to
pull a "Sarah"… and she sends her maid to be with Jacob- and guess
what? She ends up with a couple of sons herself.
Leah, not to be outdone, sends her maid to Jacob as well and they have
two more. (DANG! Remember this story when someone brings up the Biblical
view of marriage between one man and one woman)
Rachel is so jealous she can't stand it, and she starts looking for dirt on
Leah.Lo and behold she finds out that
Leah has been taking the ancient version of fertility drugs, and she strikes a
deal with Leah to get some. What is the deal? Jacob will spend a night with
Leah of course!
And from that deal (wink) Leah ended up with a couple more kids, including a
daughter, and again she mutters sadly "surely my husband will love me
now."But again, that was not to
be- Rachel finally has a son of her
own, and she prophetically names him Joseph, meaning, “God will add”
So for those of you who have lost count in all of this, in the seven years it
took Jacob to work off the marriage debt for Rachel, he has 12 children. Talk
about the father of a nation!
But something about Joseph’s birth changes Jacob, and he knows it’s time to finally
leave Uncle Laban; to take his family and start a life on their own- to go back
home and begin living out the future God has planned for him in line with the
To arrange his departure, he goes to Laban. Remember, fourteen
years ago he came to Laban’s house with nothing. If Jacob wanted to take
anything more with him than just the two women he would have to pay for it.
As you might suspect,
Laban has grown pretty darn rich off of Jacob’s hard work; everything has
increased since Jacob has arrived- his flocks, his family and his
finances.Laban is going to make it as
difficult as possible for him to leave.
After long negotiations, the two men come to an agreement. Jacob would
stay on and care for Laban’s sheep for a while longer, in order to build a
flock of his own.However, only the sheep
who were born speckled or striped, would become Jacob’s. He would own those
sheep outright. All solid black or white sheep- would belong to Laban.
Laban figured this was a great way to keep Jacob on board for a long time-
after all, sheep were primarily black or white- speckles and spots and stripes
were rare. And, as an extra measure of security, Laban went out into the
fields that night and took all the speckled, spotted and striped sheep out of
the flock, and gave them to his sons who lived about three days away,
so that Jacob couldn’t cheat by breeding the speckled sheep. (Well, you didn't
think it he was going to make it easy, did you?)
But Jacob isn't worried. He has a way of getting sheep to breed the way
he wants them to-(ancient genetic engineering) to make them speckled, spotted
or striped, depending on his mood, and before you know it, Jacob has flocks of
strong speckled sheep. Laban's flocks however, aren't doing so well- and his
sons grow angry with Jacob.
After six years, Jacob has another
dream.God tells Jacob "I have seen how Laban has treated you. 13 I
am the God who appeared to you at Bethel,[a]
the place where you anointed the pillar of stone and made your vow to me. Now
get ready and leave this country and return to the land of your birth.’”
Jacob calls a family meeting- and following God's direction, decide to just
leave- no good-bye- to take what they have earned, pack up and go home.
It doesn’t take long
for Laban to hear Jacob's family has up and left, and on top of that, he finds
that the clay gods he kept in his tent were also missing. Laban is
furious! He gathers a group of relatives (a possy) and goes out to retrieve what’s his! (in hot
When he catches up with Jacob, things get ugly: “Jacob… Why did you steal my
daughters like they were prisoners? And…Why didn’t you tell me you
were leaving? I would have given you a going away party! You’re an
idiot! On top of it, my Gods are missing!” Now, in this culture, stealing
another person's gods was a huge crime, one punishable by death.I wa's a line that people just didn't cross.
Jacob is both angry and offended to have been accused: “What? You think I took
your Gods? Search everything and everyone here! If you find them, then
the person who took them will die for it.”
Now, Jacob didn’t know it, but none other than the love of his life, Rachel,
had taken Laban’s gods out of his tent. She had hidden them in her saddle
bag and was sitting on top of them…
Why did she do it? Your guess is as good as mine. Was it payback
for her father’s ill treatment Jacob? Or of her and her sister- lowering their
status to that of foreign women (text)? Or maybe because of the way he had
switched them on her wedding day? Perhaps…
Or was Rachel not so 'sold' on the God of her husband? Earlier the text
said that when she had given birth to Joseph, that God had heard her prayer…
but was the birth of her child enough to let her leave behind the gods of her
own father- the gods she grew up with- the traditions of her family?
You know as well as I do, that in marriage, or any relationship, we may leave
our mother and father and cleave unto our spouse… but that cleaving also
comes with a lot of baggage. We bring all sorts of things from our family
of origin- some good, some bad into every relationship. We have learned
what to value, what we think about the world, what we think about ourselves, and
what we worship, primarily from them. And sometimes even the things we
wish we could leave behind, sometimes end up hidden in our saddle bag… amen?
So after Laban searches the whole camp and he finds nothing… he comes to
Rachel. And not for nothing, here’s where she shows that she really is
a perfect match for Jacob- and as she sits atop of the stolen goods, she says
to her father… “Gee, I’m sorry I can’t get up, Daddy… it’s my time of the
What’s a father to do? The gods stay “hidden in the saddle bag,” Laban feels
like he has been duped, but Jacob has had it, and he lets loose!
“Are you done? You know what Laban? Twenty years I have been with you; you’ve
gotten rich off of me… I served you for fourteen years for your two daughters,
and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times. If God
hadn’t been on my side, you would have sent me away with nothing!”
And Laban, believe it or not, begins to fight back but then drops his head and
says, “enough… enough…” And they make a covenant, a promise, to initiate the
peace between them- Jacob takes a stone, sets it up on it’s side and they get
some rocks and put them in a pile and the two men agree that Jacob, in the
future, won’t go past the heap of rocks…
And Jacob offers
a sacrifice on the newly erected altar, and he vows to God that he will keep
the covenant, (this time with no strings attached) and they go their separate
Twenty years have passed since Jacob first left home. He’s all grown up, and
facing the world for the first time on his own, and for the first time, reliant
on the God of his father to guide him.
He has a ways to go, and struggles yet to come where he will want to retreat
back to his old ways and do the things that served to protect him in the past.
(And sometimes he will) But he is finally stepped out on a journey of
faith- he is following what he feels God is directing him to do.
Not easy by any means... lets look in his sadlle bag for a moment-
Jacob has been saturated with
insecurity his whole life, and learned to use deceit and manipulation to gain protection and
position. His family of origin is dysfunctional- the family he marries
into is dysfunctional… there is no perfect world that he either has come from
or is going to. And everywhere he looks there are reminders of his past
as speckled as his sheep…And God isn’t
asking him to deny any of it, but God did have him face it- and set boundaries
around it, (for Jacob it was symbolically that rock pile that he could not go
past again) and God asked him to walk forward into a future that wasn’t
Many times when we talk about following God, we talk about leaving the past
behind, (at least those of us with speckled pasts) and we talk about going
forward into the spotless future. But you know as well as I do, that
there are reminders of where we have come from and what we have done,
everywhere we turn. And it doesn’t go away… your past always catches up
with you and sometimes threatens to overtake you... Rachel will always
want another child… Leah will always be after our attention; The Labans in our
lives will always turn up to accuse and threaten us- especially when we
are taking a step of faith…
But eventually Jacob, we have to make a choice; to walk back and let them
dominate us, or to confront them; accept them for what they are, (maybe even
learn from them…) but then put them in perspective and to walk forward with a
strong flock of 'speckled sheep.'
In other words, the things you travel with- all you have lived through and been
through- they are all a part of what makes you and your journey unique! Even
the things we would rather leave behind... things we would rather forget,
have served to make up who we are. And believe it or not, we have actually
gained and grown from those things; even the painful ones or the ones we are
ashamed of- because God has been working through all of them to bring you to
exactly this place.
And most of all, God will use all of those things to better equip you for the
future- they are a part of your individual call!
And for most of us, there is a long way to go in our travels toward embracing
all we are and allowing God to use all of us. (We only like to
show God the black or white part of ourselves... not the speckles) But in this
moment, right now… the future is spotless. It's unwritten.
And by putting our faith in the one who has never left us, who never gives up
on us, and who has promised to never leave us, there is no end to the
possibility that lies ahead.