HOPE CHAPEL - Sunday, March 21, 2021
Teaching Series - “Our Family Tree–Through the Bible in 2021"
Weekly Topic - “Can’t Run Away from Your Problems”
Text – Genesis 28-33
We left Jacob last week heading off to his uncle Laban’s in Haran with Isaac’s blessing to find a wife from amongst his cousins, a deployment orchestrated by Rebekah to save Jacob from Esau’s revenge for having been cheated of his father’s blessing. The maneuver may very well have saved his life, but it did not come without its consequences. Jacob must now travel to Haran leaving not only his revenge-seeking brother, but also his mother and father and everything he has ever known up to this point in his seventy years of life.
This week, I was struck by the fact, that though we find Jacob running away at this point in the story, twenty years from now he will still need to ‘face the music’ so to speak, as he comes face to face with his brother. How like all of us at times. Haven’t we all wanted to run away from our problems? Conceal mistakes we’ve made? But Jacob’s story reminds us that there really is no true running away. Consequences follow us in the form of guilty conscience, regret and even in the repetition of the same mistakes.
In Jacob’s story we find God ‘popping in’ at times—revealing Himself through dreams, providing guidance and blessing, even appearing as a man for a night-time wrestling match; but in much of Jacob’s story, God’s engagement is buried under the surface as the characters of the story scheme and compete in their attempts to come out ahead. However, I believe God was working out three aims unbeknownst to the human players in the life of Jacob—knowledge of God, development of character and the need for restoration and restitution made possible only through humility.
As we go through our lesson this morning, I would encourage you to think of a situation in your own life that may hold some similarities. Is there an event in your past that you have run away from or buried, but that continues to have a hold over you in the form of a guilty conscience, regret or where there is still a balance owing in the way of restitution and /or restoration? God absolutely forgives us when we ask him to, but that does not negate the consequences in human relationships. As you think about that, let’s begin…
GOD’S AIMS—KNOWLEDGE OF HIM – Genesis 28:10-22
“Meanwhile, Jacob left Beersheba and traveled toward Haran. 11 At sundown he arrived at a good place to set up camp and stopped there for the night. Jacob found a stone to rest his head against and lay down to sleep. 12 As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.
13 At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. 14 Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. 15 What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.’
16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!’ 17 But he was also afraid and said, ‘What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!’
18 The next morning Jacob got up very early. He took the stone he had rested his head against, and he set it upright as a memorial pillar. Then he poured olive oil over it. 19 He named that place Bethel (which means ‘house of God’), although it was previously called Luz.
20 Then Jacob made this vow: ‘If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, 21 and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God. 22 And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.’”
We often assume that the people of the Bible were Christians or Christian-like…that’s a mistake.
We live in an incredibly privileged point of history. Living on this side of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, we have been granted a much fuller manifestation and understanding of God and his purposes in this world. Not so in the time of the patriarchs, which may be why God appeared to them far more frequently it seems that he does to us. Whereas we have the Bible, theirs were the stories that would direct the narrative we have such easy access to. Nothing would be written down until the time of Moses, a number of centuries after Jacob lived. Sure, they may have had some oral stories passed down through families, but it is unlikely that those revealed very much of the actual person of God or of the notion of having a relationship with the One who had the power to create and/or destroy.
In this night-time dream, we see how little Jacob knows of God. He believes he has stumbled onto the doorstep to God’s house. And he is terrified at the prospect of having trespassed inadvertently onto God’s domain. He sets up a memorial stone, makes an offering of olive oil and promises to give God a tenth of all he acquires, should God keep his word in the dream to prosper him and bring him back. In essence, he is making a business transaction with God…‘help me and I’ll give you a commission.’
Have you ever found yourself making deals like that with God? You’re in trouble, but if God will help you out of this jam, you’ll do something in return…like serve Him better, read his word more faithfully, try to be a better person, give up a particular habit. Bargaining with God, however, shows up the immaturity of our faith. Sometimes he will honour our request despite our manipulation, but placing conditions like these on our relationship with God, as though we can coerce a desired response from him, demonstrates a weak faith and lack of understanding of God entirely.
As we read about Jacob’s life and those of his family, their partial understanding of God is also revealed through their worship of false gods and their superstitious beliefs. We read how Jacob believes he can influence the look of the sheep and goats born by placing strips of bark in their drinking troughs (Genesis 30:37-40). And when God calls Jacob to return to Canaan, one of his wives can’t part from her family’s household gods and ends up stealing them from her father, Laban, and bringing them with her (Genesis 31:30-35).
Speaking of Laban, let’s move onto our next scripture reading.
GOD’S AIMS—DEVELOPMENT OF CHARACTER – Genesis 29:13-30
“3 As soon as Laban heard that his nephew Jacob had arrived, he ran out to meet him. He embraced and kissed him and brought him home. When Jacob had told him his story, 14 Laban exclaimed, “You really are my own flesh and blood!”
After Jacob had stayed with Laban for about a month, 15 Laban said to him, ‘You shouldn’t work for me without pay just because we are relatives. Tell me how much your wages should be.’
16 Now Laban had two daughters. The older daughter was named Leah, and the younger one was Rachel. 17 There was no sparkle in Leah’s eyes, but Rachel had a beautiful figure and a lovely face. 18 Since Jacob was in love with Rachel, he told her father, ‘I’ll work for you for seven years if you’ll give me Rachel, your younger daughter, as my wife.’
19 ‘Agreed!’ Laban replied. ‘I’d rather give her to you than to anyone else. Stay and work with me.’ 20 So Jacob worked seven years to pay for Rachel. But his love for her was so strong that it seemed to him but a few days.
21 Finally, the time came for him to marry her. ‘I have fulfilled my agreement,’ Jacob said to Laban. ‘Now give me my wife so I can sleep with her.’
22 So Laban invited everyone in the neighborhood and prepared a wedding feast. 23 But that night, when it was dark, Laban took Leah to Jacob, and he slept with her. 24 (Laban had given Leah a servant, Zilpah, to be her maid.)
25 But when Jacob woke up in the morning—it was Leah! ‘What have you done to me?’ Jacob raged at Laban. ‘I worked seven years for Rachel! Why have you tricked me?’
26 ‘It’s not our custom here to marry off a younger daughter ahead of the firstborn,’ Laban replied. 27 ‘But wait until the bridal week is over; then we’ll give you Rachel, too—provided you promise to work another seven years for me.’
28 So Jacob agreed to work seven more years. A week after Jacob had married Leah, Laban gave him Rachel, too. 29 (Laban gave Rachel a servant, Bilhah, to be her maid.) 30 So Jacob slept with Rachel, too, and he loved her much more than Leah. He then stayed and worked for Laban the additional seven years.”
One of God’s aims in Jacob’s life was to further develop his character and his uncle Laban acted like a mirror for Jacob. It appears that conniving and manipulation were family traits on his mother’s side, including his uncle Laban. Jacob had left home to get away from trouble, but in some ways ended up jumping out of the pan and into the fire. Early in their acquaintance they strike a deal. Jacob will work seven years for Laban in lieu of a dowery for the hand of his beautiful cousin, Rachel. He works hard and this man who ‘was content to stay at home among the tents’ (Genesis 25:27), finds himself working hard outside contending with the elements and wild animals as he tended to his uncle’s flocks of sheep and goats.
I suspect that as the time of the seven years was nearing completion, Laban sought a way to keep Jacob in his indentured servitude. This would explain the switching of the brides on the night of the wedding. When Jacob complains, Laban explains that it is not their practice to have a younger daughter married ahead of an older one, but I think that was just his excuse to keep Jacob working for him longer. He tells Jacob that everything can be easily sorted out. He is to spend the wedding week with Leah and at the end of it, he can have Rachel too…in exchange for another seven years of work. The deceiver becomes the deceived.
Jacob agrees, somewhat reluctantly to this arrangement I’m sure, and marries Rachel in addition to Leah…and sets himself up for a lifetime of family strife. The sisters, every bit as rivals as Esau and Jacob had been, give him a bit of a taste of how he had treated his own father—as a means to an end. He had deceived his own father in his bid to gain the upper hand over his brother by stealing the blessing and now found himself treated as the means to an end in a contest between his sister-wives.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with their story, let me read Genesis 29:31-30:24 for you.
“31 When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he enabled her to have children, but Rachel could not conceive. 32 So Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, ‘The Lord has noticed my misery, and now my husband will love me.’ 33 She soon became pregnant again and gave birth to another son. She named him Simeon, for she said, ‘The Lord heard that I was unloved and has given me another son.’ 34 Then she became pregnant a third time and gave birth to another son. He was named Levi, for she said, ‘Surely this time my husband will feel affection for me, since I have given him three sons!’ 35 Once again Leah became pregnant and gave birth to another son. She named him Judah, for she said, ‘Now I will praise the Lord!’ And then she stopped having children.
30 When Rachel saw that she wasn’t having any children for Jacob, she became jealous of her sister. She pleaded with Jacob, ‘Give me children, or I’ll die!’
2 Then Jacob became furious with Rachel. ‘Am I God?’ he asked. ‘He’s the one who has kept you from having children!’ 3 Then Rachel told him, ‘Take my maid, Bilhah, and sleep with her. She will bear children for me, and through her I can have a family, too.’ 4 So Rachel gave her servant, Bilhah, to Jacob as a wife, and he slept with her. 5 Bilhah became pregnant and presented him with a son. 6 Rachel named him Dan, for she said, ‘God has vindicated me! He has heard my request and given me a son.’ 7 Then Bilhah became pregnant again and gave Jacob a second son. 8 Rachel named him Naphtali, for she said, ‘I have struggled hard with my sister, and I’m winning!’
9 Meanwhile, Leah realized that she wasn’t getting pregnant anymore, so she took her servant, Zilpah, and gave her to Jacob as a wife. 10 Soon Zilpah presented him with a son. 11 Leah named him Gad, for she said, ‘How fortunate I am!’ 12 Then Zilpah gave Jacob a second son. 13 And Leah named him Asher, for she said, ‘What joy is mine! Now the other women will celebrate with me.’
14 One day during the wheat harvest, Reuben found some mandrakes growing in a field and brought them to his mother, Leah. Rachel begged Leah, ‘Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.’ 15 But Leah angrily replied, ‘Wasn’t it enough that you stole my husband? Now will you steal my son’s mandrakes, too?’ Rachel answered, ‘I will let Jacob sleep with you tonight if you give me some of the mandrakes.’
16 So that evening, as Jacob was coming home from the fields, Leah went out to meet him. “You must come and sleep with me tonight!” she said. ‘I have paid for you with some mandrakes that my son found.’ So that night he slept with Leah. 17 And God answered Leah’s prayers. She became pregnant again and gave birth to a fifth son for Jacob. 18 She named him Issachar, for she said, ‘God has rewarded me for giving my servant to my husband as a wife.’ 19 Then Leah became pregnant again and gave birth to a sixth son for Jacob. 20 She named him Zebulun, for she said, ‘God has given me a good reward. Now my husband will treat me with respect, for I have given him six sons.’ 21 Later she gave birth to a daughter and named her Dinah.
22 Then God remembered Rachel’s plight and answered her prayers by enabling her to have children. 23 She became pregnant and gave birth to a son. ‘God has removed my disgrace,’ she said. 24 And she named him Joseph, for she said, ‘May the Lord add yet another son to my family.’”
As you listened to this portion of the story, what did you notice?
In the battle for status between Rachel and Leah—a contest to be won by having the most sons for their family—Jacob is treated as a ‘stud for hire.’ We know that he loved Rachel, but did his wives love him back? Leah had given up trying to earn his affection and, in her rejection, contented herself with the possibility that he would at least have respect for her as the mother of six sons.
It’s a messed up story for sure! And the familial favouritism that was responsible for wrecking his own upbringing—with Isaac and Rebekah dividing their sons through favouritism—now divided his own family, as he showed overt favouritism to Rachel and her sons, over the others. History has a way of repeating itself when we attempt to run away from problems rather than address them.
Which brings us to God’s third aim…
After twenty years of serving his uncle Laban—14 years for his two wives and 6 years in order to build up his own flocks—God tells Jacob to return to the land of his upbringing, which will now bring him face to face with the unfinished business of his past—Esau.
GOD’S AIMS—RESTORATION and/or RESTITUTION – Genesis 33:1-11
“Then Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming with his 400 men. So he divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and his two servant wives. 2 He put the servant wives and their children at the front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last. 3 Then Jacob went on ahead. As he approached his brother, he bowed to the ground seven times before him. 4 Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. And they both wept. 5 Then Esau looked at the women and children and asked, ‘Who are these people with you?’
‘These are the children God has graciously given to me, your servant,’ Jacob replied. 6 Then the servant wives came forward with their children and bowed before him. 7 Next came Leah with her children, and they bowed before him. Finally, Joseph and Rachel came forward and bowed before him.
8 ‘And what were all the flocks and herds I met as I came?’ Esau asked. Jacob replied, ‘They are a gift, my lord, to ensure your friendship.’ 9 ‘My brother, I have plenty,’ Esau answered. ‘Keep what you have for yourself.’ 10 But Jacob insisted, ‘No, if I have found favor with you, please accept this gift from me. And what a relief to see your friendly smile. It is like seeing the face of God! 11 Please take this gift I have brought you, for God has been very gracious to me. I have more than enough.’ And because Jacob insisted, Esau finally accepted the gift.”
We don’t know what was going on in Esau’s mind when he heard the news that Jacob was returning, but the fact that he gathered an army of 400 men to meet Jacob on the way, strongly implies he was not intending on the kind of reunion that took place. Finally, here was a chance to get even! Strike the blow before Jacob had a chance to reach Isaac and Esau’s revenge would be complete without his father being any more the wiser. The liar had finally returned to assume his position as the birthright holder and Esau now saw his chance. But something took place that changed his mind.
Jacob set about making amends immediately before they met, sending gifts of 200 female goats, 20 male goats, 200 ewes, 20 rams, 30 female camels with their young, 40 cows, 10 bulls, 20 female donkeys, and 10 male donkeys, all with a carefully crafted greeting, “When my brother, Esau, meets you, he will ask, ‘Whose servants are you? Where are you going? Who owns these animals?’ 18 You must reply, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob, but they are a gift for his master Esau. Look, he is coming right behind us’” (Genesis 32:17-18).
Esau’s plan for revenge twenty years earlier had been to kill Jacob after their father, Isaac, passed away. However, upon seeing one another, with Jacob bowing in abject humility, Esau runs to embrace him. His act of unbegrudging restitution has demonstrated for Esau that his brother, whatever he may have been or done, has changed. And because of the restitution that Jacob made to his brother and the resulting restoration of their relationship, we read that both brothers were there to bury their father when he dies at the age of 180 years (Genesis 35:29), now being 120 years old themselves. I don’t know how close they ever were as brothers, but I suspect that in their final years they enjoyed a much healthier relationship than they had had in their first 90 years. It really is never too late to make amends!
Is there a situation from which you’ve been running away or someone to whom you need to make amends? When we are wronged Jesus calls tells us to forgive—whether the individual in the wrong ever chooses to make amends or not; however, if we’re the one who has perpetuated the wrong, it is on us to make restitution. We cannot change another’s heart, but tangible demonstrations of humility can go a long way. It’s what made the difference for Esau and Jacob, and can for us as well.
God’s aims for Jacob as seen in this episode of his life, are the same that he has for each one of us…
· A growing understanding of who he is, and a relationship that is based on faith and trust.
· Ever-increasing development in our character – God does not wipe away consequences just because he forgives us; if he did, it is unlikely that we would learn the lessons we need to help us mature in our walk of obedience to Him.
· The people in our lives are at times God’s refining tools—those we appreciate and especially those we struggle to.
· God’s forgiveness does not eliminate our need to work to bring about restitution and restoration of our relationships as God makes possible; restoring trust between people is a work of forgiveness, humility, timing and God’s mercy.
For further study:
Sunday, March 28, 2021- “Palm Sunday – The King is Here!” - Communion and Sharing - ONLINE Only
Pastor Jane Peck, Hope Chapel
(Collingwood EMCC Church)
"Learning and Living the Way of Jesus!"
First licensed for pastoral ministry in 1994, Pastor Jane Peck has served in camp and church ministries in three denominations, five provinces and in a variety of roles. Her most recent position is that of Pastor at Hope Chapel which she began in 2020. She is excited to see what God can and will do in the days to come!