Friday, Dec 15th

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Genesis 31

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“… the God of Bethel…”

This section of Genesis continues to intrigue me. The God Who hates all forms of sin is found to bless Jacob, though he sinned. He blessed him when he was being crafty. He also blesses those who are not his own, such as Laban (see explanation below). To the human mind this is perplexing.

Yet, who are we, but mere mortals? Why do we expect God to submit to our image of Him? My responses to these texts is one of ineptitude. I have come to certain conclusions regarding God and How He responds to human beings, especially when they sin. To a certain extent this is justified. But, in these chapters I am coming across a God Who is not conforming to my ideas of Him! (Ed. This continues into 2014!).

This is both disconcerting and refreshing! If God is showing me something new, then I must just accept it… how it fits in with the theology of men is not His problem, but ours! We come across God blessing seemingly wrong behaviour and attitudes. How can this be? It can only be that one of my basic beliefs is correct – that whilst God does and will punish sin, when we sin He scrutinises not the acts or beliefs themselves, but the inward workings of our hearts. He does not condone our behaviour, but He continues to bless His elect people.

That is, the sins we commit are, if you wish, peripheral (though not acceptable or condoned by God). They are the fruit of the ‘old man’ (in Christians, that is), not of the ‘new man’. The New Man in all Believers is predominant, and it has to be, for without it we would surely die and end up in hell. But, we have been promised entry to Heaven, come what may. Therefore, when God views with a sigh all those sins we commit whilst still on this earth, He also looks beyond those sins to what is in our very souls, the New Man. What He sees is not our sins, bad though they are, but His own Son, Jesus Christ, Who is uncondemned by the Father!

He is uncondemned for eternity because He is perfect, the sacrifice Who stood in our stead and Who procured our salvation. Thus, when God sees His only Son, He accepts all Who are saved by that Son, Who promised that whoever He has in His hand will always be safe.

In this text, then, we are seeing a prime example of the doctrinal fact of predestination and election. Jacob is accepted because He was chosen to be saved before the world began. Despite his failures and sins, then, he was bound for Heaven. His heart was with God, even if his behaviour and thoughts strayed at times… just like our own. I repeat, that this is very reassuring. I also repeat that this is not a charter to do what we like – it just shows us that God is greater than our meagre notions of Him. Rest in these fabulous truths and be assured!

Verses 1-7

  1. “And he heard the words of Laban's sons, saying, Jacob hath taken away all that was our father's; and of that which was our father's hath he gotten all this glory.

  2. And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, behold, it was not toward him as before.

  3. And the LORD said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee.

  4. And Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field unto his flock,

  5. And said unto them, I see your father's countenance, that it is not toward me as before; but the God of my father hath been with me.

  6. And ye know that with all my power I have served your father.

  7. And your father hath deceived me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me.”

Jacob spent quite some time carefully grooming the flocks so that he had the best and strongest animals, leaving Laban with only the weakest. It was all legitimate, but devious. Eventually, as Jacob came to hear, Laban’s own sons realised what was going on and started to talk amongst themselves.

The sons were incensed that Jacob was becoming very rich on their father’s back, even though it was Laban who had been devious in the first place. Obviously, this all got back to Laban, for Jacob saw by his face that he knew what was going on. Put simply, the relationship became distinctly frosty.

But, we must ask if there was any real loss here. Laban used Jacob to achieve his own ends. He abused the special ties of marriage by forcing Jacob along a road he did not ask to be on. Now, he was angered by Jacob’s increase in wealth after he himself had made a promise regarding what flocks he could keep and what he could not.

This is very typical of those who use deceit – when others take advantage of them, they turn in anger, if not utter fury! At this point, God spoke to Jacob and told him to return quickly to his own land. It was time for Jacob to leave the abusive (and dangerous) situation.

Jacob sent a messenger to get Leah and Rachel, who went to join him in the fields where he was keeping the flocks (his own as well as those of Laban). He told them that his relationship with their father had broken down, but that God had always been with him. He reminded the two sisters that for many years he served their father well, and thus Laban prospered. But, Laban deceived him, changing his wages no less than ten times! Thankfully, Laban did not do him physical harm, but his deceit was obvious.

Very often, Christians have to work in an abusive situation, yet they work like slaves for their employers. God knows they have been loyal and true. But, there comes a time when they must be careful and crafty, and then leave to start afresh.

Verses 8-18

  1. “If he said thus, The speckled shall be thy wages; then all the cattle bare speckled: and if he said thus, The ringstraked shall be thy hire; then bare all the cattle ringstraked.

  2. Thus God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me.

  3. And it came to pass at the time that the cattle conceived, that I lifted up mine eyes, and saw in a dream, and, behold, the rams which leaped upon the cattle were ringstraked, speckled, and grisled.

  4. And the angel of God spake unto me in a dream, saying, Jacob: And I said, Here am I.

  5. And he said, Lift up now thine eyes, and see, all the rams which leap upon the cattle are ringstraked, speckled, and grisled: for I have seen all that Laban doeth unto thee.

  6. I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred.

  7. And Rachel and Leah answered and said unto him, Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father's house?

  8. Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath quite devoured also our money.

  9. For all the riches which God hath taken from our father, that is ours, and our children's: now then, whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do.

  10. Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon camels;

  11. And he carried away all his cattle, and all his goods which he had gotten, the cattle of his getting, which he had gotten in Padan-aram, for to go to Isaac his father in the land of Canaan.”

Jacob went on to repeat the promise made by Laban, that he could keep all the animals that were spotted or striped. By careful mating procedures, Jacob increased his share of the flocks considerably, and now Laban was disgruntled.

Jacob said that when the flocks were due to mate, he had a dream, in which he saw rams mating with nanny-goats, and rams mating with ewes that were spotted or striped and ‘grisled’ (barod – another word for spotted or marked). He recalled how an angel had spoken to him in the dream, telling him that the vast increase in Jacob’s flocks was given by God, because God saw how Laban abused his position as employer, defrauding him of proper wages.

The angel spoke from God, Who said He was the God of Bethel, the place where Jacob erected a pillar as a monument to the Lord when he made a vow to follow Him. This was enough to let Jacob know that what he was doing was approved by God. And, God specifically commanded him to get away from Syria and to return to his home land. All of this was related to Jacob’s two wives.

The two sisters were obviously worried – they asked if they had anything left as an inheritance, if their father was acting so badly and his wealth was endangered. Would their father now treat them as outcasts? After all, they said, it was he who sold them to Jacob and had now squandered his (here referred to as ‘ours’ by the sisters) money or managed it badly.

Finally, the sisters accepted their lot and agreed to leave, with whatever riches Jacob had legitimately but craftily accrued. As soon as possible, Jacob cleared his camp, put his wives and children on camels, and left.

Verses 19-23

  1. “And Laban went to shear his sheep: and Rachel had stolen the images that were her father's.

  2. And Jacob stole away unawares to Laban the Syrian, in that he told him not that he fled.

  3. So he fled with all that he had; and he rose up, and passed over the river, and set his face toward the mount Gilead.

  4. And it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob was fled.

  5. And he took his brethren with him, and pursued after him seven days' journey; and they overtook him in the mount Gilead.”

It was the time to shear sheep, so Laban went out with his men to get on with it. In verse 19 we see that whilst Laban and his family had respect for Jacob’s God, they were not themselves committed totally to the same God. We read that Laban’s daughter, Rachel, stole some of his ‘images’. These were t@raphiym, or small family idols used in home worship. The word can also refer to seraphim, but as these had not yet been identified, but were known to later Hebrews, the meaning is clear. The most likely reason for this theft was Rachel’s anger that Laban had left them bereft of their inheritance.

The text suggests strongly that Jacob was unaware of this theft. In his mind he had obtained all his wealth by ordinary means. Jacob’s retinue passed over the river toward Mount Gilead. Three days after they left, Laban was told of Jacob’s sudden departure, and he started out after him with a group of armed servants. On the seventh day they caught up with the caravan ‘in the mount Gilead’.

Verses 24-32

  1. “And God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said unto him, Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.

  2. Then Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the mount: and Laban with his brethren pitched in the mount of Gilead.

  3. And Laban said to Jacob, What hast thou done, that thou hast stolen away unawares to me, and carried away my daughters, as captives taken with the sword?

  4. Wherefore didst thou flee away secretly, and steal away from me; and didst not tell me, that I might have sent thee away with mirth, and with songs, with tabret, and with harp?

  5. And hast not suffered me to kiss my sons and my daughters? thou hast now done foolishly in so doing.

  6. It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt: but the God of your father spake unto me yesternight, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.

  7. And now, though thou wouldest needs be gone, because thou sore longedst after thy father's house, yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods?

  8. And Jacob answered and said to Laban, Because I was afraid: for I said, Peradventure thou wouldest take by force thy daughters from me.

  9. With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live: before our brethren discern thou what is thine with me, and take it to thee. For Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them.”

Laban made camp a distance away from Jacob’s camp and went to sleep. Next day he would wreak vengeance. God, however, had different plans. Weak and with flaws, Jacob was still God’s man, and God promised to protect him. God spoke to Laban in a dream and warned him to leave Jacob alone; not to harm or threaten him in any way. Next day, Laban reached Jacob and entered his camp, pitching his own camp nearby.

Laban approached Jacob and demanded to know why he had left in such a hurry, taking away his daughters and grandchildren like captives in a battle. ‘If I had known you were leaving’, he complained, ‘I could have given them a good send-off, with a feast, merriment, songs and music!’ (Given his past naughtiness, this was very unlikely). ‘Instead’, he said, ‘I did not even have time to kiss them goodbye… you have been very foolish’.

He continued: ‘I have sufficient people with me to do you great harm, but your God warned me to leave you alone and not to threaten you. So, you can go unmolested… but why did you steal my gods (referring to the idols)?’

Jacob’s responses are in two parts. The first reply is connected with the reason why he left suddenly, and not with the stolen idols. ‘I left suddenly’, he explained, ‘because I feared that you would take back your daughters (and, probably, their children).’

His second response is to the charge of theft. He had nothing to hide and said so: ‘Search my camp, and whoever has the idols (if they are here), you can put to death’. He said this “For Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them.” Obviously, if idols were found, it would not just be a blot on the thief, but also a blot on Jacob’s name and family. And so the search began, tent to tent.

Verses 33-35

  1. ”And Laban went into Jacob's tent, and into Leah's tent, and into the two maidservants' tents; but he found them not. Then went he out of Leah's tent, and entered into Rachel's tent.

  2. Now Rachel had taken the images, and put them in the camel's furniture, and sat upon them. And Laban searched all the tent, but found them not.

  3. And she said to her father, Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise up before thee; for the custom of women is upon me. And he searched, but found not the images.”

Laban searched the tents of Jacob, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah and found nothing. Then, he went to Rachel’s tent and searched. By that time Rachel had hidden the idols amongst the ‘camel’s furniture’, that is, the kar or saddle and reins etc. When Laban entered the tent she was already sitting on the items.

When he had almost finished searching, she apologised to Laban for not standing, explaining that it was the time of her monthly period, “the custom of women is upon me”. At that time it was held that a woman was polluted when menstruating, as was anything she touched or sat upon. So, Laban left the tent.

Verses 36-42

  1. “And Jacob was wroth, and chode with Laban: and Jacob answered and said to Laban, What is my trespass? what is my sin, that thou hast so hotly pursued after me?

  2. Whereas thou hast searched all my stuff, what hast thou found of all thy household stuff? set it here before my brethren and thy brethren, that they may judge betwixt us both.

  3. This twenty years have I been with thee; thy ewes and thy she goats have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flock have I not eaten.

  4. That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee; I bare the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it, whether stolen by day, or stolen by night.

  5. Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes.

  6. Thus have I been twenty years in thy house; I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle: and thou hast changed my wages ten times.

  7. Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely thou hadst sent me away now empty. God hath seen mine affliction and the labour of my hands, and rebuked thee yesternight.”

When Jacob saw that Laban was empty-handed after such a thorough search, he was furious, charah, and complained bitterly (chode =riyb: quarrelled/strove against). He demanded to know what he had done wrong against Laban, that caused him to chase him for a week through the desert.

Jacob challenged Laban to lay on the ground anything that he had found belonging to him, so that everyone could judge the case! Obviously, this was rhetorical, for Laban had found nothing, but Jacob was making a point. Jacob then gave Laban a ‘potted history’…’I was with you 20 years, and I looked after your flocks, and ate none of them or allowed them to be damaged. If any animal was attacked by wild beasts, I paid for the cost of it myself, because I was responsible for animals, day or night…

I was out in all weathers looking after them, thirsty by day and frozen by night. On many occasions I did not sleep for fear of losing some of the flock. I have been in your household for 20 years, and worked for you for the past 14 years. To buy your two daughters and 6 years to buy my own animals from you. And in that time you changed my wages no less than ten times!’

(Note: the words ‘twenty’ and ‘fourteen’ are capable of several other meanings, but, taking the whole context and time-line into account, I have given the most probable interpretation).

Then, Jacob added, ‘If it had not been for the God of Isaac and Abraham, Who was with me, you would have sent me away without a penny, poor. God has seen how afflicted I have been, and how much hard work I have done for you, and that is why he rebuked you last night!’

God indeed watches over His people. Even when we sin, He looks after us. It is true that when we sin we lose peace of mind, and God might withdraw slightly as a judgement, but He never forsakes us or leaves us totally. When we repent, it is as if we had never sinned, and the relationship is again restored. At times we will have ‘residual effects’ from sin, such as legal penalties applied by earthly judges, illness caused by things like drink or sexual immorality, and so on. But, otherwise, He remains with us, sure and loyal. Let us all thank God for His mercy toward us!

Verses 43-46

  1. “And Laban answered and said unto Jacob, These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and these cattle are my cattle, and all that thou seest is mine: and what can I do this day unto these my daughters, or unto their children which they have born?

  2. Now therefore come thou, let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee.

  3. And Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar.

  4. And Jacob said unto his brethren, Gather stones; and they took stones, and made an heap: and they did eat there upon the heap.”

Laban listened to Jacob’s angry retort, a response brought on by Jacob’s genuine belief in his own innocence. Of course, he was innocent, and knew nothing of his wife’s silly actions. Then, Laban responded. ‘Look’ he said, ‘what you have once belonged to me – my daughters, the animals, everything. So, let us come to an agreement that will stand true as a witness.’

Jacob approved and found a suitable standing stone, just as he had done 20 years before at Bethel, and set it upright on the ground as a memorial. Jacob then commanded his servants to make a table out of stones, which they did, and everyone had a meal, sealing the pact.

Verses 47-50

  1. “And Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha: but Jacob called it Galeed.

  2. And Laban said, This heap is a witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed;

  3. And Mizpah; for he said, The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.

  4. If thou shalt afflict my daughters, or if thou shalt take other wives beside my daughters, no man is with us; see, God is witness betwixt me and thee.”

After that, Laban named the place of the standing-stone Jeqarsahautha, which is Aramaic for ‘witness heap’. Jacob’s name for it was in Hebrew, Galeed – but both words mean exactly the same thing. It was symbolic for a promise they were making together.

Laban reminded Jacob that the stone was a marker, a witness – hence its name. He also called the place Mizpah or ‘watchtower’, because he wanted God to look after them both when they were apart. He was probably thinking that if God blessed him for the sake of Jacob when they were together, God might also remember him later, when Jacob moved away.

But, he warned, the contract of friendship would cease if Jacob took more wives or if he caused them harm. God is our witness, he said. ‘No man is with us’ said Laban, meaning that whilst nobody might witness any wrong done by Jacob (or himself), God was witness and would see any harm done to the daughters, and He would judge.

It is a truism that many of us might sin when we think it is in secret, or even within our own minds and hearts… but, God knows and is witness to our sins, secret or not. We must live in the knowledge that we are never alone, for God is always with us, witnessing every jot and tittle of our lives, thoughts and actions.

Verses 51-53

  1. “And Laban said to Jacob, Behold this heap, and behold this pillar, which I have cast betwixt me and thee;

  2. This heap be witness, and this pillar be witness, that I will not pass over this heap to thee, and that thou shalt not pass over this heap and this pillar unto me, for harm.

  3. The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge betwixt us. And Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac.”

‘Look at this heap we have just set up’, Laban reminded Jacob. ‘The pillar is our witness, as are the stones. Neither of us must violate the promises we have just made, and act as though this heap and pillar did not exist! Neither of us may do the other harm, so long as this testimony stands. The God of Abraham, Nahor and Isaac, is our judge in this matter.’ When this was said, Jacob made a solemn promise to that effect, “by the fear of his father Isaac”. That is, by the dread, or pachad, known by Isaac, of God’s judgements. He knew of the terror God can bring. The word also means the object of dread, e.g. God. He was therefore saying that he, too, feared to cross his Holy God.

Verses 54&55

  1. “Then Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat bread: and they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the mount.

  2. And early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his daughters, and blessed them: and Laban departed, and returned unto his place.”

When both had made their solemn vows to each other in the sight of God, Jacob offered a sacrifice to God, followed by a meal with those around him. After the meal everyone settled down for the night, safe. Early next day, Laban and his servants left the camp, after kissing his daughters and grandchildren and blessing them. Then, he went home.

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Published on www.christiandoctrine.com

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