Genesis 29 January 21, 2018
I like reading about our beginnings in the book of Genesis. It is interesting to read about the relative chaos out of which God brought his people into the nation that God calls God’s people. As I read chapter 29, I saw the family dynamics out of which we were called.
In chapter 29, we enter into a story that is already in progress. Jacob (the grabber) is on the run from his older twin brother Esau. Jacob got his name because he was born second, grabbing on to Esau’s heel. He continued to earn his name when he stole Esau’s birthright in exchange for a bowl of lentil stew. Now he was on the run because together with his mother Rebecca he fooled his father into giving Jacob the blessing that was reserved for the firstborn, for Esau. This was the last straw for Esau and he swore that he would kill his brother as soon as their father Isaac was dead and buried. When Rebecca heard of this she convinced Isaac to send Jacob back to the old country, back to Uncle Laban to find a wife and to be safe from his brother. On the way, Jacob dreamed that he had found the gate of heaven and named the place Beth-El. At Beth-El Jacob made a conditional agreement with God that if God would bless him, Jacob would worship God. Jacob was bargaining with the God of his father to see if that God would be his own.
When Jacob arrived in Haran, he met Laban’s younger daughter, Rachel and they fell in love. Laban welcomed Jacob into his house warmly as a long lost family member. Laban probably remembered when Abraham’s servant had come to Haran and had taken Laban’s sister Rebecca to be Isaac’s wife. The servant came because Abraham forbade Isaac from returning to the old country and being taken in by the old way of life out of which God had called Abraham. Laban probably remembered the gold and other gifts that Abraham’s servant gave in exchange for Rebecca’s hand in marriage. He probably remembered the stories of how God had blessed Abraham and Laban probably decided then that if he ever got the chance, he would get some of those riches for himself. So when he saw Jacob the grabber, the deceiver, coming, I think that Laban saw his chance. He welcomed Jacob as a family member and asked him to work for him as a shepherd. Jacob agreed to work for seven years in exchange for the privilege of marrying Rachel. Laban agreed and Jacob hard as he looked forward to the marriage. At the end of seven years Jacob got married and Laban threw a huge wedding feast. The only problem was that the morning after the wedding night, Jacob found out that he had married Rachel’s older sister, Leah. Jacob complained to Laban, and Laban explained that in the old country, the rule was that the older daughter had to be married first. The Deceiver had been deceived! He had been deceived in the same way that he had deceived his father to grab his older twin’s blessing.
Laban allowed Jacob to marry Rachel as well as Leah in exchange for another seven years of work. While Jacob got what he wanted, the resulting marriage to two sisters resulted in rivalry where the sisters competed for their husband’s love. Since Jacob loved Rachel more, God intervened and gave four sons to Leah. These four sons grew up to be the heads of the first four tribes of Israel.
This story explains the origins of the nation of Israel and helps us to understand why the tribes often didn’t get along, but there are lessons that apply directly to us as well.
Families have been dysfunctional since—well, since forever. We often think as we argue with brothers and sisters and put up with the failings of parents, aunts, uncles and other family members that we are alone. We think that ours is the only family with problems. The story of Jacob and Laban shows that these problems and these arguments are a part of what forms all families.
These problems come from many of the same sources. Unequal love from parents and other family members results in strife and jealousy between brothers and sisters and an unhealthy competition to be the one best loved. While we expect these problems in our human families, we rejoice that as children of God, our heavenly father love us based on our popularity or our beauty, but on the fact that we are all God’s children.
This story also shows us the danger of returning to our old ways. Abraham forbade Isaac’ return to the family God called Abraham to leave because he knew how great the temptation would be to resume the old way of life. Jacob learned that lesson the hard way as he did return and got caught up in the old, deceptive ways.
Jacob is only one example our desire to return to the old places that seem safe. The Israelites longed to return to Egypt when life got difficult. They were willing to exchange their freedom for the comfort of the old familiar ways.
We do the same thing when we encounter uncertainty in our future, in our finances, in our traditions and our way of life. We want to return to the old ways. We want to return to our worldly ways when our spiritual lives become difficult. We want to abandon the God’s ways and return to the ways of the world. We remember the comfort of the old country, but we forget that its ways were based on greed, and power, and status. We forget that the old ways were based on prejudice and exclusion. We forget that the old ways are self-centered and only accept God conditionally—we loved God only in proportion to God’s blessing. We want to go back, but we can’t. When we chose to follow God, we made a clean break.
But God commands us to make disciples. For that we need to go to the old country, to people who are still living in the world. We need to go carefully, realizing that those who live in the world are experts at playing worldly games. We cannot let ourselves get drawn in. We go back to bring others out and show them the better way; the way of Christ. The only way we can do this is by imitating Christ in our lives and in our love for others. We are here for one purpose: to call others to live in the Kingdom of God. We can only do this through the grace of God in our own lives. Amen.