Learning About God’s Faithfulness

Explore the Bible Series

March 9, 2008

 

Background Passage: Genesis 29:1-31:55

Lesson Passage: Genesis 29:16-17. 21-23, 26-27; 31:1-3, 38-42

 

Introduction:

 

After a lengthy journey, Jacob finally arrived in Paddan-aram and joined himself to Rebekah’s  family.  For twenty years he remained a part of Laban’s household, contracted two marriages, amassed significant wealth, and raised a large family.  In Laban, the young deceiver met his match.  While Jacob seemed to mature  in his faith, he fell victim to the deceptive practices of his father-in-law.  We learn some valuable lessons from this passage.

 

  1. Sometimes God chastens his children by subjecting them to their own weaknesses.  Jacob had deceived his brother and father, but, when he came to Haran, he became the victim of Laban’s deceit.  Jacob grew in grace after his experience at Bethel, and the Lord seemed to use Laban’s deception to teach Jacob some valuable lessons.
  2. Again, we observe the tragedy of a divided household.  Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Leah. Jacob, of course, resented Leah, and inevitable rivalry resulted from Jacob’s subsequent marriage to Rachel.  Leah, sensitive about her physical appearance and her secondary status in the family, deeply resented her beautiful and favored sister.  In time, the sisters competed for Jacob’s attention and used their children as pawns in their competition.  Foolishly, Leah believed she could earn Jacob’s affection by bearing sons to her husband, but the sad rivalry continued.
  3. God graciously blessed Jacob.  We would all agree that Jacob did not deserve the Lord’s favor; yet, God protected guided, and provided for him.  God’s grace made Jacob a better man, and we cannot help but notice Jacob’s growth in this lesson.

 

Lesson Outline:

 

I.                   Jacob’s First Encounter with the Family of Laban (29:1-30)

A.    Jacob met Rachel (vv. 1-14): When Jacob arrived in Haran, he met a group of shepherds at a well.  He asked the men if they knew Laban, and, as they spoke with Jacob, Rachel approached with her family’s flocks.  It seems unusual that Rachel served as a shepherd in her father’s household, especially in light of the fact that Laban had sons. Perhaps she had an independent strength that suited her well for this task.  Jacob, suddenly aware of Rachel’s identity, greeted his kinswoman warmly, inquired about Laban’s well-being, and revealed that he was the son of Rebekah.  The young woman ran to tell her father of Jacob’s arrival. The text seems to indicate that Jacob had an immediate attraction to Rachel.

B.     Jacob taken into Laban’s home (vv. 13-14): Rachel’s message about the unexpected visitor excited Laban, and he ran to greet his nephew.  The relationship got off to a good start.

C.     Laban’s deception (vv. 15-30): After a month’s sojourn, Laban offered to compensate Jacob for his contributions to the provision and well-being of the family.  Apparently, Jacob’s initial attraction to Rachel moved the young man to ask for Rachel’s hand in marriage. In response Laban contracted to give Rachel’s hand if Jacob would work for seven years.  Jacob, smitten by his love for the beautiful Rachel, worked gladly for his uncle.  Finally, the day came when Jacob hoped to claim his “wage”; however, the deceiver was deceived.  After the wedding feast, Laban sent his oldest daughter Leah into Jacob’s arms.  Genesis makes clear that Laban waited until evening to carry out his deception, and, in all probability, Leah was veiled.  Thus, Jacob remained unaware of the ruse. Whatever the case, Jacob awakened in the morning to discover that he had married Rachel’s older sister.  Jacob angrily confronted his father-in law about the deception, and Laban agreed to give Rachel in marriage on the condition that Jacob would work for seven more years.  The sad situation deteriorated even more because Jacob understandably loved Rachel more than Leah. Also, the text reveals that Leah had “weak eyes”. This may refer to an optical deficiency, or it could mean that Leah was not attractive.

 

II.                The Family of Jacob (29:31-30:24)

A.    Leah’s sons: As a result of her forlorn situation, God mercifully helped Leah conceived several sons, indeed, she proved quite fertile and immediately bore four boys.  The text reveals that Leah foolishly believed that her fertility would “buy’ the love of her reluctant husband (see v. 34). Sadly, I suspect that this scenario has played out many times in troubled homes.  A wife (or a husband, for that matter) cannot coerce the love of an unresponsive, disaffected spouse.

1.      Reuben: “see, a son”

2.      Simeon: “heard”

3.      Levi: “attached”

4.      Judah: “praise”

5.      Issachar: “wages”: This son was conceived in the aftermath of this strange episode with the mandrakes (See 30:14f).  Reuben, the oldest son, brought his mother a vegetable called a mandrake.  These people apparently had some superstitious regard for the aphrodisiac power of this plant, and Leah bargained with Rachel for Jacob’s sexual attentions.  Frankly, Jacob appears, in this section, as a weak pawn in the reproductivel competition between his wives.    Genesis, however, clearly states that Issachar’s conception occurred as a result of God’s work.

6.      Zebulon: “honor”

B.     Bilhah’s sons: Rachel grew jealous of Leah’s fertility and gave her servant as a concubine to Jacob. 

1.      Dan: “judged”

2.      Naphtali: “wrestling”

C.     Zilpah’s sons: Son-bearing became a competitive sport in this household, and Leah, in response to Rachel’s action, gave her servant to Jacob. Zilpah bore two sons.

1.      Gad: “good fortune”

2.      Asher: “happy”

D.    Rachel’s son: Finally, Rachel bore a son and she named him Joseph (“may he add”), and later she gave birth to Benjamin.

 

III.             Jacob’s Agreement with Laban (30:25-42)

A.    Jacob’s Plan to Leave Haran (30:25-36): After the birth of Joseph, Jacob decided to return to his homeland, and he bargained with his father-in-law about his rightful wages for twenty years of work. The two men agreed that Jacob would gain ownership of all the goats and sheep that had any markings. Laban agreed to the deal and immediately separated his white flocks from the speckled animals.  Also, shrewd Laban moved his flocks so they could not breed with Jacob’s stock.

B.     God’s blessings on Jacob (30:37-43): Again, we note some apparent superstition in Jacob’s practice of husbandry.  He used poplar rods to induce his flocks to reproduce, but the text indicates that God blessed Jacob’s flocks (See 31:9 f). 

 

IV.             Jacob’s Flight from Haran (31:1-55)

A.    The soured relationship between Jacob and Laban (vv. 1-16): Laban grew jealous of Jacob’s prosperity, and their relationship grew tense.  God spoke to Jacob and instructed the patriarch to return to Canaan.  Jacob conferred with his wives and alerted them to God’s instructions.  During their discussion, Jacob appears to have a low regard for the business practices of his father-in–law.  Rachel and Leah took up the theme and accused their father of cheating Jacob.

B.     Jacob’s deception (vv. 17-24): While Laban was away shearing his sheep, Jacob fled from Paddan-aram.  Rachel, perhaps as an act of revenge, stole her father’s household idols.  Three days after Jacob’s departure, Laban discovered his son-in-law’s deceit, and, along with an army of kinsmen, pursued Jacob for a week.  Shortly before Laban overtook Jacob’s company, God appeared to Laban and warned him not to threaten Jacob. 

C.     Laban’s encounter with Jacob (vv. 25-55): Laban overtook Jacob’s family, and he confronted his son-in-law about leaving secretly and stealing the household idols.  Jacob had no idea Rachel had stolen the gods, and he insisted that Laban search the encampment.  When Laban entered Rachel’s tent, she hid the images under a saddle.  She deceived her father by telling him that she was having her cycle, and, in doing so, managed to conceal the stolen images.  Then, Jacob grew angry, and heatedly recounted his rocky relationship with Laban.  The father-in-law countered that Jacob’s wealth came at Laban’s expense, but the two men made a covenant to settle their differences. Clearly, Laban did not trust Jacob, especially in regard to Jacob’s treatment of Laban’s daughters.  Essentially, the two men agreed to peacefully depart from one another.