On the Run
Genesis 31:1 – 55
On the Run
On the run ...
Do you remember back in 2009, a New Zealand petrol station owner, went on the run, got on a plane to Hong Kong, after he discovered that 10 million dollars had been mistakenly put into his bank account!
He’d applied for a 10 thousand dollar overdraft, but thanks to a bank worker with slightly trigger happy zero finger, he was given 10 million!
Quick as he could, he transferred money into other accounts, before going to the airport, and buying a ticket to Hong Kong.
Eventually, he was tracked down, charged with various counts of theft, and was sentenced to 4 years and 7 months jail.
Just so you know, in 3 weeks I’m getting on a plane to Hong Kong. But it’s because I’m doing some teaching and having some holiday in South East Asia, not because someone’s mistakenly put 10 million dollars in my bank account!
Well, this is another long section of Genesis, and it’s about, Jacob going on the run.
Not because he’s got some spare cash, although he is quite wealthy, but, as we’ll see, he’s living in the light of God’s promises.
This is another long chapter in Genesis, but we’re going to focus mostly on 2 interactions Jacob has;, the conversation he has with Leah and Rachel, and then the conversation he has with his father-in-law, Laban.
The right time is when God has accomplished his purposes (v 1 – 3)
And if you’ve been with us over the last couple of weeks, it certainly won’t surprise you to see that chapter 31 opens with family strife.
Jacob heard that Laban’s sons were saying, “Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.”, 2 And Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him was not what it had been.
Which certainly makes you wonder how bad things must had got!
From the very beginning Laban took advantage of Jacob
Cheated him out of his wages multiple times,
Tricked him into marrying the wrong daughter,
And now Jacob says, “well, things aren’t as good as they used to be!”
Things got off to a bad start, and went downhill.
But notice that simply this change in his circumstances and relationships isn’t enough to make Jacob pull up stumps.
It’s not until God says, verse 3 “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives,”, that’s when Jacob starts packing his bags and booking his plane tickets.
I think the idea of comfort and ease have become so all consuming for us, dare I say, idols, that the moment things are not comfortable and easy, we think;,
“This is not where I’m supposed to me.
My relationship isn’t ticking all the boxes I think it should,
My church doesn’t fill me with excitement,
Bible Study Group isn’t meeting every single one of my personal needs,
Therefore, God doesn’t want me here, it must be time to move on.”
I can remember in a church I used to work at, I had a number of conversations where people came to me and said, “I’m no longer passionate about this particular ministry I’m involved in, so I’m going to quit.”
And every time I wondered, “Why do we think that as Christian people we’re only called to things and situations, and ministries that we’re passionate about or that are enjoyable?”
We often seem to completely discount the possibility, that y maybe God’s trying to teach me something through this.
Maybe God wants to use this situation, not only for what I can contribute, maybe into the lives of others, but to make me the person he wants me to be.
God has promised to prosper Jacob, he’s growing him into this nation which is going to bless the world, and yet he doesn’t pull Jacob out as soon as life gets difficult.
Difficulties in life,
Difficulties in relationships,
Difficulties in ministry, are not in themselves a sign that we ought to be pulling out, we ought to be somewhere else!
Even in Jacob’s situation, a significant part of the reason he’s here in the first place is because of his poor or, sinful choices, and yet God’s not finished with the lessons that can be learnt here.
Now, I know there are some here, who exist in all kinds of difficult situations, and relationships, and you persevere in them, and so I want to commend you in that,
And I’m certainly not talking about putting yourself or others at risk by maintaining a relationship or whatever,
But I do want us, the rest of us perhaps, to guard against the thinking, that simply because life is hard,
Or we’re in a difficult situation,
Or even if we can’t see what God could possibly be doing through our difficult situation,
Then it’s not of God,
God has no hand in it,
God is not being glorified in it,
It’s not what God wants for us,
It’s been 6 long years since the end of chapter 30, and things have been hard for Jacob.
Twice here, in verse 7, and in verse 41 Jacob says that Laban changed his wages 10 times. And I don’t think we’re supposed to imagine that’s the CPI increase every year! He’s getting ripped off, repeatedly, and yet he’s exactly where God wants him to be.
We kind of get the impression, that Jacob the deceiver, the selfish, impetuous Jacob, he probably wouldn’t have lasted here.
But God’s been using the challenging situation that he’s in, to shape him into the man he wants to be, the father of the nation of Israel;, that nation that God is going to use, to bless all the world.
How do you get a faith that can persevere in difficult times? That sounds like something we’d want, doesn’t it? A trust in Jesus that holds firm when things are hard and difficult!
Well, the way to get a faith that perseveres when things are hard and difficult, is to persevere, when things are hard and difficult.
And so it’s not actually because family life is hard, but when God speaks, Go back to the land of your fathers that Jacob calls the removalists.
There might be situations, when it’s right for us to move on from a difficult relationship, or workplace, or church even.,
But simply that “this is a difficult situation”, isn’t automatically a sign from God, that it’s not where he wants me to be, as if God’s great plan for my life is for ease and comfort and anything that gets in the way of that is outside God’s will.
Now this doesn’t mean, that when we’re in a difficult situation, if we wait long enough, then eventually, when God’s used the situation to shape us into the person that he wants us to be,
To teach us what he wants us to learn about ourselves,
That he’ll speak to us, and say, “time to move on.”
We’ve got to remember that this is all unfolding as a result of specific promises that God had made.
We saw in chapter 28, when Jacob has that dream and sees the stairway to heaven, God promised him, Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth,
All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring,
I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you
God’s stepping in here, to bring about the particular promises that he’s made, and to kick his plan for salvation and blessing in Jesus into the next step.
There are two types of inheritance
Because as these 2 conversations unfold, we learn that God has spent the last 20 years doing exactly what he wanted to do in Jacob’s life.
And notice how often the author uses the word father.
8 times in the first 9 verses, 10 more times in the rest of the chapter.
And all the talk ab out my father, and your father, sets up this contrast between families, and between types of inheritance
What Leah and Rachel and their brothers, will receive from their father, is put alongside, what will come to Jacob through his father.
The author wants us to think about the differences between these 2 inheritances. And it’s not just that one’s big and one’s little.
What you might be entitled to if Laban’s your dad is material, and earthly,
But the that comes to Jacob through his family, it certainly includes, material wealth, but it’s much more than that.
And the inheritance from Jacob’s father, doesn’t come to him because of where he sits in the family line,
Jacob is heir to this, because of God’s promise.
And because it comes from God’s promise, it’s guaranteed.
What’s the problem with the inheritance for Laban’s sons and daughters? It’s basically gone, there’s nothing left!
Verse 1, “Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father. The how is not entirely correct, but the outcome’s the same.
Or verse 14, 14 Then Rachel and Leah replied, “Do we still have any share in the inheritance of our father’s estate, he has used up what was paid for us.
This inheritance is temporary,
It can be taken away,
It’s subject to the wishes and schemes of others,
But God’s command to Jacob to go back to the land of your fathers, reminds us of the permanent unshakeable inheritance that is his because God has promised it.
It can’t be taken away from him,
It can’t be used up by others,
It’s not subject to someone else’s scheming and deception.
The inheritance that comes by God’s promise is permanent and lasting.
Now, again, we need to remember that God made promises to Jacob that he doesn’t make to us. Jacob held a unique position in God’s unfolding plan of salvation.
God wanted to use a family to bless the world,
He wanted to use a nation to demonstrate else how wonderful it is to live under God’s rule,
He wanted to send Jesus into the world, to die in the place of sinful people like Jacob, and like you, and like me,
And so he made promises to Jacob in order to achieve those ends, promises that he doesn’t necessarily make to us;,
Family, wealth, many children, things like that.
The inheritance that comes to Jacob through his fathers, is not the same as that which is ours through God’s promises.
And yet the Bible still uses the language of inheritance to speak of what we get through Jesus,
If you believe that Jesus died the death that you deserved to reconcile you to God, the Bible calls you an heir.
And just as Jacob’s inheritance was firm and guaranteed, because it was rooted in God’s Word,
So the inheritance that is ours as those who have put our trust in Jesus, is also firm, and guaranteed, because it’s rooted in God’s Word and God’s work.
I’ve printed on your outline some words from the first letter of the Apostle Peter, to Christians in the Roman Empire in the first Century AD. Have a listen to how he describes the blessings and inheritance that are ours because of what Jesus accomplished through his life, and death, and resurrection.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you
1 Peter 1:3 - 5
The blessings that are ours in Christ, can never perish, spoil or fade,
No one can take away from you, what God offers you in Jesus.
It’s like the ultimate safety deposit box! It’s kept in heaven for you!
No one can get their grubby hands on it!
And yet, so often, we get caught up, don’t we, chasing the kinds of things that do perish, spoil and fade.
Well, this episode reminds us to hold up the inheritance that can be ours in Jesus, alongside whatever it is that so loudly calls for our attention,
Permanent, unshakable, rooted in the promise of God,
What God promises you can never be taken away;,
It comes to you through his Word, and it comes to you, through the finished work of Christ.
Jacob, Leah & Rachel are willing to live by faith (v 4 – 21)
Come with me back to Jacob though, as he explains to his wives that God has looked after him, and now is the time to trust that God will continue to do that in an unknown future.
See how often he speaks of God’s hand, bringing good out of the difficulties of his life.
Verse 5, the God of my father has been with me,
God has not allowed Laban to harm me verse 7,
Verse 11 is where we see that God had revealed to Jacob that he would have large flocks, which led to Jacob doing that superstitious thing with the sticks last week.
And then verse 13, which presumably is a separate dream, not the one about the flocks, but the occasion mentioned in verse 3, I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land.’ ”
That is, everything that’s happened, is in fulfilment of the promises that God made to Jacob at Bethel.
But I think perhaps the most striking observations here come from Leah and Rachel. Now I’m sorry if you weren’t with us last week and you haven’t had a chance to listen to the talk online, so much of this chapter is set up by what we saw in chapters 29 and 30.
And there’s much in those chapters that was distasteful, people treated each other appallingly,
Rachel and Leah, these sisters, couldn’t agree on anything, they battled against each other, but now look at them;,
Throwing their lot in, with the God of Jacob.
Look at how their assessment of Jacob’s increasing wealth, and their father’s decreasing wealth differs from that of their brothers.
Verse 16, Surely all the wealth that God took away from our father belongs to us and our children. So do whatever God has told you.”
Compared to verse 1, “Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.”
They’re looking at the same set of circumstances, and yet they reach very different conclusions, don’t they?
And it’s clearly not just that Rachel and Leah think, “well, Jacob’s the richer one of the 2, now, so we’ll go with him.”
Leah and Rachel see God’s hand in the events of the last 20 years.
They see God’s at work in the past, as he fulfilled his promises, and so they’re willing to trust in God with their future.
That is, they’re living by faith, aren’t they?
They’re willing to live their future, in the light of what they’ve seen of God in the past. So God says, Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you, they respond, verse 16, do whatever God has told you.
Last Sunday after church, as you drove out you may have seen on the Cornerstone electronic billboard by the driveway, the words of Psalm 34, verse 8, Taste and see that the Lord is good.
And I was thrilled to see that there, because in the last week of term, I spoke here in whole school chapel, and that was the verse that I was teaching on, encouraging the students and the teachers, not to form their opinions about God, and their need for God, based purely on what others have said, but to find out, to experience for themselves, how good God is,
To learn how God has acted for them,
To discover for themselves, why trusting in the promises of God is a great thing to do.
It’s good to hear what other people have to say about God, but better to encounter God, in Jesus, for yourself.
And so I’m not quite sure whether the school marketing team had intended to put that verse up on the billboard anyway, and it was just a coincidence that I’d spoken on it, or whether somebody thought I hadn’t actually landed the talk in chapel, and so they thought people needed some reminding!
Either way, that’s Rachel and Leah’s experience isn’t it?
They have experienced for themselves, God’s provision,
And so they’re willing to trust in God’s Word, and leave their home and their family. do whatever God has told you.
Verse 17, Then Jacob put his children and his wives on camels, 18 and he drove all his livestock ahead of him, along with all the goods he had accumulated in Paddan Aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan.
See, Leah and Rachel particularly, are good examples for us, of what it is to live by faith.
The promises of God that they trusted were not made to them in the first instance. They were spoken to Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham, at different times, in a distant part of the world.
Just as the promises that we cling to, were not made to us in the first instance, but to other Christian people, at different times, in distant parts of the world.
So what do we need to do to benefit from those promises?, to take hold of those promises? We need to taste for ourselves.
To taste and see that the Lord is good,
To see how God has acted in the past,
And therefore to have confidence that we can trust God in the future.
Those of you who conduct job interviews in your workplaces, will know the old expression that the best predictor of future performance is, past performance.
So if you’re interviewing someone for a job, you don’t ask, “What would you do in this or that situation”, but you say, “Tell me about a time when you were faced with this situation. What did you do.” And assuming the person tells you the truth, you can have some confidence about what they’re going to be like in the future.
Well, that’s Leah and Rachel, and Jacob, isn’t it? Where do they get their confidence that God can look after them in the future?
They’re heading off to Canaan,
That’s a journey on foot, or on camel back from here to Melbourne,
Leah and Rachel have never been there,
The last time Jacob was there, his brother wanted to kill him.
Why do they think it’s a good idea?
Why do they think it’s going to be alright?
Why do they think you can follow God even if you don’t know what he’s going to ask of you,
You don’t know what’s around the corner,
Why do they think it’s a good idea, to trust in God, when, in Leah and Rachel’s case they’ve never seen him,
He’s never spoken to them,
And certainly for all three of them, they don’t know what life is going to hold.
I think those are excellent questions to ask!
Why is it a good idea to follow God even if you don’t know what he’s going to require of you,
Even when you don’t know what’s around the corner,
What shape life is going to take?
Aren’t they our questions?
Well, the answer this family gives us, is that it’s a good idea because God can be trusted.
It’s a good idea, because God’s shown us that his promises come true.
It’s a good idea to trust God with our future, even though we can’t see it, because we’ve seen and tasted God’s work.
Of course, Jacob’s family really only had the dimmest, fuzziest picture, of where God’s promises would ultimately lead.
The salvation and blessing that God was working towards comes to fulfilment in Jesus.
We see the plans come to their climax in crystal clarity.
It’s kind of the difference between looking at an ultrasound picture of a baby, and the actual baby photo! You know, someone shows you their ultrasound picture and you kind of say, “OK, I’ll take your word for it that there’s a baby there somewhere!”
Of course the person whose baby it is can see what they’re looking for!
That’s Jacob, he’s got the ultrasound picture;,
He knows what’s there,
He knows what’s coming,
He can see something of what God’s planned, but it is still pretty fuzzy.
We though, standing in history where we do, we get to look at the actual baby photo, after the baby’s washed and cleaned, and wearing a cute little hat!
The past work of God that we look back on fills the pages of the Bible, and we see God not even withholding his own son, so we can enjoy peace and forgiveness and relationship.
None of us know what lies around the corner,
What next year’s going to be like,
Even what tomorrow holds.
We have even more reason than Jacob and his family, to live by faith, to trust in the promises of a God who has shown himself dependable.
But look what they were willing to do, with what they’d seen and tasted. Leave everything, and move across the world, in obedience to God.
Would we have the faith to say, do whatever God has told you,
To hold nothing back, from obedience to God and trust in his promises?
Jacob is convinced that God sees (v 38 – 42)
Of course, as we read, Laban doesn’t see the work of God, in the same way as Jacob and Leah and Rachel did.
Come over to verse 43, which is in the second of these 2 conversations, Laban answered Jacob, “The women are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks. All you see is mine
Laban thinks that everything Jacob has is rightfully his. He doesn’t see it as God’s provision for Jacob, but something that’s been taken from him unfairly.
But even what his daughters have already said back up in verse 15 puts the lie to that, doesn’t it? 15 Does he not regard us as foreigners? Not only has he sold us, but he has used up what was paid for us
The 14 years free labour, the half a million dollars each, that Jacob paid to Laban for his daughters, should have, in some way, benefitted the women. But in whatever, way, and we’re not told, Laban has wasted it, literally “devoured” it, and Leah and Rachel got nothing.
And he treated Jacob the same way.
It wasn’t that Jacob had taken from Laban, but that Laban had only prospered, because he had Jacob within his family.
Remember, God was using Jacob to bless others.
We saw in chapter 30 verse 30, Jacob pointed out to Laban The little you had before I came, has increased greatly, and the Lord has blessed you wherever I have been
That’s how God said it was going to be;, Hang around with Jacob, get blessed.
Jacob and his family are the means of all people on earth benefitting from the kindness and blessing of God.
But Laban hasn’t been content for the blessings of God to flow to him through Jacob, has he?
Jacob’s been a hard worker, verses 38 to 40, making up for what was lost, paying for what was stolen, but, verse 41, I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times
Not content for God’s blessings to flow through Jacob as God intended, Laban is determined to try and redirect all the blessings to himself, by any means possible!
But that’s how it works with God.
He’s working through Jacob, and blessing him, because he’s promised to do that, and nothing’s going to get in the way of that.
See verse 42, 42 If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you.”
That’s the bit we skipped over in between the 2 conversations, God appeared to Laban in a dream, and warned him, we might say, not to push his luck with Jacob.
Jacob is absolutely convinced that God is with him, watching over him, working to fulfil his promises to him,
Back up in verse 12 God had said I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you, and we know that Jacob believes that, God has seen my hardship,
You read this passage, and you come away, don’t you, totally sure that God sees the hardship and mistreatment of his people.
Despite Laban’s spin doctoring, could he have been any more of a scumbag to Jacob, or to his 2 daughters?
He treats Leah and Rachel as foreigners, they say, passing them off in marriage for financial gain as if they were just servants he’d picked up from some neighbouring nation,
He demanded restitution from Jacob for anything that was stolen, verse 39, which is not not what the law required.
I was talking to a friend of mine who was working the checkout at Woolies last Sunday after church, and he was talking about losing penalty rates, which, understandably he was upset about. But imagine if Woolies demanded that their staff make up, out of their own pockets, the 2.9 billion dollars the company loses to theft each year.
That would be totally unreasonable! And yet that’s exactly what Laban has demanded of Jacob.
And then as we’ve seen, verse 41, you changed my wages ten times.
But, God, has, seen
But God has seen
God sees the hardship and mistreatment of his people.
God sees when people take advantage of you,
God sees when people mistreat you,
God sees when people abuse you, or hurt you, or harass you.
God sees when you suffer for being God’s faithful person in your family, or workplace, or classroom or wherever it is.
Abby, our 5 year old asked me one morning this week, “Why are some people mean to you just because you’re Christian?” That was a surprisingly difficult question to answer, at 5 year-old level!
But this is what we need to bear in mind in the background to that question.
Jacob has absolute confidence, that a loving and just God has seen his hardship and toil and mistreatment, and will do something about it.
Which is exactly what happens, isn’t it?
God does see, and God keeps his promises, and already, by the end of this chapter, the first steps have been taken towards Jacob becoming a nation that is going benefit the whole world.
But, you know I’m going to say this, once again it’s important we understand the different position in history that we inhabit, compared to Jacob.
The fact that God sees when people mistreat you, well, that hasn’t changed from the time of Jacob,
This is the God you can worship today,
This is the God who makes himself known in Jesus,
He’s still sovereign,
He still sees.
But the fact that God sees, doesn’t mean that he’ll always step in, intervene, respond in this way.
My young friend who works at Woolies, you know, he’d love God to step in, to appear in a dream to the CEO of Woolworths and tell him not to abolish penalty rates!
And of course, those of us here who face hardship and endure mistreatment, we’d love God to step in and directly intervene in our circumstances.
And sometimes he does, but often he doesn’t.
But that’s where we need to remember that Jacob inhabits a different place in salvation history to us.
And if God doesn’t step in, and stop your mistreatment, that doesn’t mean your less valuable to God than Jacob was.
If God doesn’t step in, it doesn’t mean you’re loved any less.
If God doesn’t step in, it doesn’t mean that you’re a failure and Jacob was a success. If you’ve been with us over these last few weeks you’ll know there’s hardly any measure on which Jacob is a success!
No, it just means Jacob was a step towards a family,
Towards a nation,
And because God fulfilled his promises towards Jacob as he did, then through Jesus, all those centuries later, God can offer you permanent and eternal relief from hardship and suffering.
Because God does step in,
Maybe not into your particular circumstance on that particular day, but God stepped, in Jesus, so that the sin that keeps you from God can be dealt with, and so you can one day take hold of your inheritance, when mistreatment and hardship will be but a distant memory.