Though his mother Rebekah never did send for Jacob to let him know that his brother Esau’s anger had dissipated making it safe for him to return home,[1] nonetheless, having worked fourteen years for his uncle Laban—seven years for each of his daughters—Jacob was ready to leave. Therefore we read in verses 25–26, “25 After Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, ‘Send me on my way so I can go back to my own homeland. 26 Give me my wives and children, for whom I have served you, and I will be on my way. You know how much work I’ve done for you.’” Laban, however, wasn’t ready to send Jacob back but responded, verse 27, “If I have found favor in your eyes, please stay. I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you.” Now divination is a practice that was later prohibited by the LORD, along with sorcery, witchcraft, and mediums, among others, calling them “detestable” in his sight.[2] These practices were forbidden because they divert allegiance from the one true God to things that are not gods. One commentator notes, “Laban’s use of divination is sinful, even though the information obtained is accurate.”[3] So though the information Laban learned turned out to be correct, this practice is condemned for it encourages us to depend upon something other than the God who made us. Laban’s reliance upon divination is a reminder that it was not only Terah, Abraham’s father, who followed other gods[4] but this practice of worshiping false gods had passed down to Nahor, Terah’s son, down to his son, Bethuel, who was father of both Laban and Rebekah.[5] And, as we’ll note next week, Rachel, Jacob’s wife, too, went so far as to steal the idols from her father’s house.[6]

Even so, what Laban had learned by divination was what the LORD had previously promised Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather: “I will bless those who bless you.”[7] Since up until to this point Laban had treated Jacob well, he had been blessed—as evidenced in this instance by his material prosperity. It’s no wonder that he didn’t want Jacob to leave. Therefore he said to him, verse 28, “Name your wages, and I will pay them.” However, Jacob pointed out that the increase that had occurred in Laban’s wealth because of him, verses 29–30: “You know how I have worked for you and how your livestock has fared under my care. 30 The little you had before I came has increased greatly, and the Lord has blessed you wherever I have been. But now, when may I do something for my own household?” In other words, after fourteen years the main thing Jacob had to show for his efforts was two wives, two concubines, and eleven children. But he had no material wealth nor means of sustaining his family.

Therefore Laban asked him, verse 31, “What shall I give you?” Jacob presented him with a proposal, recorded in verses 31–33:

Don’t give me anything…. But if you will do this one thing for me, I will go on tending your flocks and watching over them: 32 Let me go through all your flocks today and remove from them every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb and every spotted or speckled goat. They will be my wages. 33 And my honesty will testify for me in the future, whenever you check on the wages you have paid me. Any goat in my possession that is not speckled or spotted, or any lamb that is not dark-colored, will be considered stolen.

Now for starters, it’s difficult not to notice that Jacob the deceiver had declared, “my honesty will testify for me in the future, whenever you check on the wages you have paid me”! Yet honesty had certainly not been a part of his track record up to this point. Too, for those of us who aren’t familiar with shepherding practices from the ancient Near East, it’s helpful to learn that most sheep would have been white whereas goats were usually black[8] or dark brown.[9] Therefore, dark speckling or spotting on white sheep would have been unusual as would a dark-colored lamb (that is, a young sheep). Conversely, white speckling or spotting on black or brown goats would have also been rare so Laban really didn’t have much to lose here.

Even so, although he immediately agreed to a proposal that was so favorable to him, verse 34, Laban sought to tip the scales in his favor. As stated in verses 35–36, “that same day” he attempted to trick the trickster by removing all of the existing streaked or spotted male goats as well as all of the speckled or spotted female goats along with all of the dark-colored lambs. All of these he took and “placed…in the care of his sons.” He then put “a three-day journey between himself and Jacob”—no doubt so Jacob wouldn’t know that he had stolen these animals from him. This in effect left Jacob to tend “the rest of Laban’s flocks,” that is, all of the goats and sheep that were left belonged to Laban because not a single one of them met the spotting and color criteria needed for Jacob to take them. Jacob would have to start from ground zero.

This, however, wasn’t Jacob’s first rodeo. Despite his declaring that his “honesty” would testify for him “in the future” (verse 33), he sought to deceive Laban. As one commentator observes, “As Jacob had gotten the best of Esau (whose other name, Edom, means ‘red’…) by means of red stew…, so he now [tried] to get the best of Laban (whose name means ‘white’) by means of white branches.”[10] Jacob attempted to deceive Laban by putting into play what might best be described as magical animal husbandry. Verses 37–39 describe how this was intended to work:

First he “took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches” (verse 37);

“Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink” (verse 38).

Jacob’s magical thinking was that when “the flocks were in heat and came to drink” and “mated in front of the branches,” they would bear “young that were streaked or speckled or spotted” (verse 39). This, at least, was his initial reasoning although as we’ll see momentarily, the reality of what occurred was quite different.

However, Jacob also practiced some cunning genetic animal husbandry. As stated in verses 40–42:

He “set apart the young of the flock by themselves, but made the rest face the streaked and dark-colored animals that belonged to Laban” (verse 40). So he separated out the animals that were too young to mate;

The remainder of verse 40 goes on to note how “he made separate flocks for himself and did not put them with Laban’s animals.” So Jacob began to siphon the speckled, spotted, and dark-colored sheep and spotted and speckled goats;

But he didn’t simply accept any sheep or goat. Instead whenever “the stronger females were in heat, Jacob would place the branches in the troughs in front of the animals so they would mate near the branches” (verse 41). Jacob focused upon mating the stronger females that met the coloring criteria;

Conversely, “if the animals were weak, he would not place them there.” He discouraged the mating of the weaker females that met the coloring criteria.

Therefore, by means of selective breeding Jacob engineered a form of survival of the fittest thereby creating two flocks—a strong one for himself and a weak one for Laban. As stated at the end of verse 42, “So the weak animals went to Laban and the strong ones to Jacob.” This is how Jacob, verse 43, “grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and female and male servants, and camels and donkeys.” As his flock of sheep and goats grew, his wealth increased so that he was able not only to hire servants but also purchase camels and donkeys. As one scholar notes, “Having arrived in Paddan-aram with only his staff (see 32:10), Jacob becomes very rich.”[11]

Not surprisingly, such growth in wealth led to grumbling among the non-wealthy in Laban’s family. As Genesis 31 opens we read, “1 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.’” What the sons weren’t acknowledging was that though Jacob did gain this wealth from the animals produced by Laban’s herds, he had done so in accordance with the agreement the two men had made. Yet it wasn’t only Laban’s sons who were grumbling but, verse 2, “Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him was not what it had been.” A relationship that had begun with Laban embracing and kissing Jacob, inviting him into his home and declaring him to be his very own “flesh and blood,”[12] had now begun to sour.

It’s at this point, twenty years after he had first appeared to him,[13] that the LORD again came to Jacob saying, verse 3, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.” Though his mother Rebekah had never sent for him to let him know that it was safe to return home and that Esau’s anger had assuaged, the LORD was nonetheless sending Jacob home promising him yet again, “I will be with you.” If you’ll recall, when the LORD first appeared to Jacob in a vision at Bethel, part of what he promised him was, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”[14] Naturally, God was keeping his promise to Jacob and now his time in his mother’s homeland had come to an end; it was time for him to return home.

Consequently, Jacob informed his wives telling them “to come out to the fields where his flocks were,” verse 4. He told them how their father’s attitude toward him was “not what it was before” and contrasted this with how “the God of my father has been with me” over the course of these many years, verse 5. After stating how their father had cheated him “by changing my wages ten times”—another way of saying “often”— by way of constantly changing the terms of their agreement, verses 6–7, notice how many times Jacob acknowledged that the LORD had intervened on his behalf:

Beginning with the end of verse 7, he said concerning Laban, “God has not allowed him to harm me;”

After noting the unlikely occurrence of the flock giving birth to speckled and streaked young, respectively, Jacob testified, verse 9, “So God has taken away your father’s livestock and has given them to me.” Although Laban had once treated Jacob favorably and therefore became the recipient of God’s blessings, for having turned on Jacob he now had become the recipient of God’s curses as the LORD took away his livestock and gave them to Jacob­. And, again, this was nothing other than what the LORD had declared to Abraham, “whoever curses you I will curse.”[15]

Finally, we should notice next that in stating the reason for his prosperity, Jacob acknowledged that it wasn’t due to his superstitious or magical animal husbandry but because the LORD had provided for him. As recorded in verses 10–13, Jacob went on to tell his wives:

10 In breeding season I once had a dream in which I looked up and saw that the male goats mating with the flock were streaked, speckled or spotted. 11 The angel of God said to me in the dream, “Jacob.” I answered, “Here I am.” 12 And he said, “Look up and see that all the male goats mating with the flock are streaked, speckled or spotted, for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. 13 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.”[16]

This passage makes clear, by Jacob’s own testimony, that although he initially may have thought that his success in breeding Laban’s flock was due to the branches of the almond and plane trees he had stripped as the flocks drank from the watering troughs, he was now admitting that this wasn’t the case at all. No, the LORD had made clear to Jacob that his success was due solely to God’s provision. Notice, too, that though at his initial appearance to Jacob the LORD had identified himself by declaring, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac,”[17] here he identified himself with his previous self-disclosure to Jacob, “I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me.”[18] Notable in all of this as well is the fact that Jacob obeyed the LORD for when God told him to return to the land of his fathers (verse 3), Jacob sent for his wives to inform them (verse 4). By his obedient response, we see that Jacob was slowly transitioning from believing in the God of his father and grandfather, to believing in—and obeying­—that very God as his own.

Well, having heard what Jacob recounted, both Rachel and Leah agreed with him, noting how their father had not left them an inheritance but had treated them as foreigners, selling them off to Jacob and using up what was paid for them, verses 14–15.[19] And they similarly concluded by contrasting the poor treatment and neglect at the hands of their father with how God had treated them saying, 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.” And so it was, verses 17–18, that “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.”

So what are we to make of all of this? Well, at the end of our New Testament passage, the first part of verse 4 from Romans 15 states that “…everything that was written in the past was written to teach us,…”[20] Now why is this? How is it possible that everything written in Scripture has been written to teach us? The reason is because all of Scripture has come from God and therefore Scripture is the foundational way God uses to teach us about himself and his desires for us. As Paul wrote Timothy, his son in Christ, “16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”[21] If all of Scripture has come from the God who made us, then we would do well to learn, study, and meditate on it day and night![22]

Next, having stated that “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us,” the second part of verse 4 goes on to state “so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” If this is so, then as we consider this portion of the story of Jacob, what might be some of the ways that we can see this account teaching endurance and providing encouragement that we might have hope? Well, in no particular order, our morning’s account might be seen doing so in the following ways:

First, by allowing us to see that the people God uses to bring about his purposes aren’t perfect but are just like us! Consider that Laban, a man who relied on divinization rather than on God, wasn’t able to foil God’s plans; or how Jacob was on a journey from disbelief to belief in God despite being deceptive and superstitious himself; or, as we saw last week, how Leah and Rachel treated each other more like adversaries than the sisters they were and yet God’s Messiah, Jesus Christ, was born from the line of Judah, Leah’s fourth son.[23] In this manner we can derive encouragement knowing that a perfect and great God is able to work with and through imperfect and small people;

Second, though earthly fathers like Laban—and earthly mothers like Rebekah—may lie and deceive, God who is our heavenly Father will never lie or deceive but will keep every promise he makes;

Third, we continue to see in Scripture how patient God is in fulfilling those promises. Consider that from the time that Jacob arrived in Paddan-Aram to the time he was able to return home to Canaan, twenty years had passed. In weeks past we saw that it also took twenty years from the time that Isaac married Rebekah to the time they bore Esau and Jacob.[24] Before that, it was twenty-five years from the time the LORD promised Abraham and Sarah a son to the time they bore Isaac.[25] As Peter reminds us, “8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”[26] This was the case in Jacob’s life; this is the case in all of our lives and so we should have hope;

Fourth, despite the fact that he was chosen by God, Jacob’s life was far from easy. True, some of this was his own fault—he tricked his brother and thereby placed his life in danger; but some of it was due to living in a fallen world. Therefore, for example, as a result of being tricked by his father-in-law Laban, Jacob was married first to Leah, whom he didn’t love, and then to Rachel, whom he did love. And when Jacob agreed to stay with Laban beyond the time he had worked for his wives, Laban continued to deceive him, constantly changing his wages and the terms of their agreement. Yet Jacob endured. And so should we for endurance is part-and-parcel of the life of those who seek to follow and obey God;

Fifth, through all of these events, God was with Jacob just as he had promised. For God promised to be with him when he first appeared to him at Bethel and twenty years later he promised to be with him as he returned home to the land of his father. And though we must never assume that specific promises given to those in Scripture can automatically be applied to us, the promise of God being with us is one we can claim for one of the ways God has disclosed himself is by referring to himself as Immanuel. Specifically, Christ Jesus’ birth was a fulfillment of God’s promise for in Christ, “God is with us”—the meaning of the name Immanuel.[27] Paul applies this by saying, “If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”[28]

Indeed, the hope God gives reaches its highest peak in Jesus Christ who, as verse 3 in Romans 15 teaches, “did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’”

Jesus did not please himself; he did not live for himself but instead said, “My food…is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”[29]

Jesus did not please himself; he didn’t live for himself but became a high priest who was tempted just as we are. And yet he did not sin. [30]

Jesus did not please himself; he didn’t live for himself but “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”[31]

For “…God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”[32] Jesus didn’t please himself; he didn’t live for himself but instead he died him on the cross for those who would believe in and receive him.

Jesus did not please himself; he didn’t live for himself but rather he who had no sin was made “to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” [33]

Therefore, he calls us to follow his example. As stated in verse 1 of Romans 15, Paul exhorts those who are strong to bear with the failings of the weak and not please ourselves; not live for ourselves. And goes on to state, verse 2, how we should please “our neighbors for their good, to build them up.”

Dear brothers and sisters, God has given us his word that we might learn endurance—and find encouragement—and have hope. Though we, like Jacob, are imperfect people living in a fallen world, our heavenly Father is perfect and true. In his own patient way and time, he will fulfill every promise he makes. Knowing this, we can endure and have courage and hope for we know that through and because of Christ Jesus, our loving and kind heavenly Father is ever with us and for us and that by his indwelling Holy Spirit,[34] he will never leave us or forsake us.[35] Therefore let us live in a manner that pleases and serves him; let us live in a manner that pleases and serves others.

Let us pray.

Benediction

Romans 15:5–6: May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

[1] Genesis 27:42–45: 42 When Rebekah was told what her older son Esau had said, she sent for her younger son Jacob and said to him, “Your brother Esau is planning to avenge himself by killing you. 43 Now then, my son, do what I say: Flee at once to my brother Laban in Harran. 44 Stay with him for a while until your brother’s fury subsides. 45 When your brother is no longer angry with you and forgets what you did to him, I’ll send word for you to come back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?”

[2] Deuteronomy 18:9–13: 9 When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. 10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. 13 You must be blameless before the Lord your God.; Leviticus 19:26b: Do not practice divination or seek omens.

[3] Crossway ESV Study Bible note on Genesis 30:27–30.

[4] See Joshua 24:2. “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods.’”

[5] Genesis 22:20–23: 20 Some time later Abraham was told, “Milkah is also a mother; she has borne sons to your brother Nahor: 21 Uz the firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel (the father of Aram), 22 Kesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph and Bethuel.” 23 Bethuel became the father of Rebekah. Milkah bore these eight sons to Abraham’s brother Nahor.

[6] Genesis 31:34: Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them inside her camel’s saddle and was sitting on them. Laban searched through everything in the tent but found nothing.

[7] Abraham: Genesis 12:3a: I will bless those who bless you,…

[8] Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on Genesis 30:32.

[9] Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Genesis 30:31–34.

[10] Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on Genesis 30:37. See Genesis 25:25, 30: 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau…. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.[Edom means red]).

[11] Crossway ESV Study Bible note on Genesis 30:43. Genesis 32:10 is part of Jacob’s prayer to God: “I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps.”

[12] Genesis 29:13–14: 13 As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he hurried to meet him. He embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his home, and there Jacob told him all these things. 14 Then Laban said to him, “You are my own flesh and blood.”

[13] As Jacob reminds Laban in Genesis 31:38–42: 38 “I have been with you for twenty years now. Your sheep and goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten rams from your flocks. 39 I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself. And you demanded payment from me for whatever was stolen by day or night. 40 This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes. 41 It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household. I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times. 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.”

[14] Genesis 28:15.

[15] Abraham: Genesis 12:3b.

[16] Emphasis added.

[17] Genesis 28:13.

[18] See Genesis 28:18–19: 18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.

[19] Genesis 31:14–15: 14 Then Rachel and Leah replied, “Do we still have any share in the inheritance of our father’s estate? 15 Does he not regard us as foreigners? Not only has he sold us, but he has used up what was paid for us.

[20] See also 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11: 6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did; 11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.

[21] 2 Timothy 3:16–17. See also 2 Peter 1:21: For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

[22] Psalm 1:1–2: Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.; Joshua 1:7–9:7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

[23] As recorded in Genesis 29 Judah (verse 35) is born after Reuben (verse 32), Simeon (verse 33), and Levi (verse 34).

[24] Genesis 25:20–21, 24–26: 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean.21 Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant….24 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.

[25] Genesis 12:4: So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.; Genesis 15:4: Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.;” Genesis 21:5: Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

[26] 2 Peter 3:8. See also Psalm 90:4: A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.

[27] The promise is found in Isaiah 7:14: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.; The fulfillment os this promise is found in the birth of Jesus Christ found in Matthew 1:22–23: 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

[28] Romans 8:31–32.

[29] John 4:34.

[30] Hebrews 4:15: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

[31] Hebrews 2:15.

[32] Romans 5:8.

[33] 2 Corinthians 5:21: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

[34] Ephesians 1:13–14: 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

[35] Hebrews 13:5–6: 5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”[Deuteronomy 31:6] 6 So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”[Psalm 118:6,7]