Saturday, October 31, 2009

Jacob Seeks to Leave His Father-in-law’s Genesis 30:25-30

Now it came about when Rachel had borne Joseph, that Jacob said to Laban, "Send me away, that I may go to my own place and to my own country. Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, and let me depart; for you yourself know my service which I have rendered you." But Laban said to him, "If now it pleases you, stay with me; I have divined that the LORD has blessed me on your account." He continued, "Name me your wages, and I will give it." But he said to him, "You yourself know how I have served you and how your cattle have fared with me. For you had little before I came and it has increased to a multitude, and the LORD has blessed you wherever I turned. But now, when shall I provide for my own household also?"

The text indicates that Jacob gets his first son directly from his beloved Rachel and then approaches Laban with a proposition. We need to note that these two actions are not necessarily connected as cause and effect. It is possible that Jacob realized that he was not getting any younger and he still had not set up his own independent household. In any event, Jacob asks Laban to “send him away”. He clearly wants to go to his own country and in particular where his family lived. Was this strictly because of the fact that his family lived in Canaan or was it because he believed that Canaan was indeed the “land of promise” that God had given to his grandfather, Abraham and then his father, Isaac? Haran was nice to visit but not home. Perhaps there is a lesson here for us as well. As believers we need to realize we are just visiting this world. By virtue of our personal relationship with God and His Son, Jesus Christ, we are citizens of heaven and our desire should be to return there.

You may also remember, many years previously, Jacob’s mother Rebekah had promised Jacob he would only be going to his uncle Laban’s home until things improved between him and his brother Esau. For some reason, Esau may not have gotten over his anger with Jacob as quickly as everyone had hoped he would have. Rebekah never sent word to Jacob to return.

What gave rise to the request ‘send me away’? Did Jacob really need Laban’s permission? Was Jacob asking for Laban to do it so he and his family would be bestowed with gifts? He ‘asks’ Laban for his wives (and their maids we would assume) and the children they bore him. I believe this was more of a request of a ‘blessing’ or at least a concurrence. He points out to Laban that he has already worked to pay for Laban’s daughters (fourteen years in total) and that he has been a most valuable servant of Laban’s all these years (while some try to calculate the years beyond the fourteen, there is no sure evidence as to how many they would have been to this point). Jacob’s eldest son,
Reuben, would have been at least a young teenager and the other at least eleven children (ten sons and at least one daughter) were all younger right down to Joseph who would have been a toddler.

Laban however was not prepared to let him go without at least an attempt to keep him, his daughters, and grandchildren, not to mention the valuable worker that he had found in Jacob. So he asks Jacob to stay if he would. And the reason he gives for that request tells us a lot about the situation Jacob was in. The text says Laban had “divined” that the Lord had blessed him because of Jacob. The King James Version says he knew this “by experience”. The actual Hebrew word used is nachash which is translated to mean to practice divination, divine, observe signs, learn by experience, diligently observe, practice fortunetelling, and take as an omen. The translations are pretty split on the use of divination, experience, or observation with the later translations moving towards divination and observation rather than experience. It is possible that Jacob still had one foot in the occult practices of those that were not worshipping the true God alone. I have experienced that with my own ethnic people as they move from their state religion (Greek Orthodox) to becoming Protestant. They continue to celebrate and observe many of the Greek Orthodox festivals and practices. It makes, in their minds, for greater security or social integration. In reality it weakens their testimony and perhaps their reliance on, and relationship with, God.

What we do know is that Laban was aware that his good fortune was due to Jacob’s presence. He knew that his stock had handsomely increased under Jacob’s management. He had indeed learned by experience as we all can. Sometimes the sources of learning are godly and sometimes they are the consequences of our own selfishness, stubbornness, worldly gain and pursuits, and even evil.

We also must point out that Laban does credit God with blessing him regardless of how he arrives at that conclusion. I am often surprised in life to hear otherwise deceptive men and women thank God for their good fortunes and indeed they are right. Many have observed that oftentimes God blesses people with so many worldly goods who have, by their own choice, no claim to eternal rewards. I do not know the reason for that but I am sure that almost everybody reading these words can name people who fall into that category. Perhaps God’s decision to do so has less to do with those He is giving worldly success to, and more to do with us whom He is preparing to reign with Him.

For all these reasons, Laban tries to persuade Jacob to remain as his lead man mentioning how he took Jacob in when he came to Haran, adding that if this meant anything to Jacob, he should stay.

Laban was willing to pay Jacob whatever wages he wanted if he remained with him. What an opportunity. The sky was the limit. Jacob could name his price and just continue the life he had. That was a real deal. What would you have done? Sometimes people get opportunities like that in life. Someone really wants to go and serve God as a missionary, but the boss comes along and gives him/her a promotion with a sizeable salary increase. Or someone knows that he/she should not be getting involved with a certain person, but is then offered a sweetener to the relationship deal and he/she sticks around in a deal one should have refused.

From Laban’s dealing with Jacob we can learn that selfish men know how to talk sweet when they must to satisfy their greed. Laban knew it was because of Jacob’s belief in God that he himself was blessed. Two questions stem from this. The first is “am I being blessed by God because of someone else’s faith in God?” Is there a parent, sibling, friend, or even a child to which I matter a lot that has a personal relationship to God and thus God is blessing me because of them? If so, and if I realize it, does it not make sense that my blessing from God could be greater if I too had that relationship with Him?

The second question that arises from our knowledge that Laban’s blessing was due to Jacob’s relationship with God is, “Is someone else being blessed because of my relationship with God?” If I believe that is the case, then how do I best convey that to the one being blessed if indeed they are not aware of it? For example, how many employees of a Christian-owned company are blessed with continuous employment, good salaries and benefits and a healthy work-life balance because their employer has a personal relationship with God? How many children have been blessed because their parents have had a relationship with God that has enabled them to succeed and bless others? I am sure you the reader can provide more examples. The question is how do we let those being indirectly blessed know it if they do not already?

I believe there are several things one can do. First, we acknowledge publicly our own blessing by God. Secondly, we express that these people share in that blessing which is from God. Thirdly, we invite them to have a personal relationship with God and thus be blessed directly so that they too can be a means by which God can bless others.

Also, as we look at the Laban and Jacob account, we realize this indirect blessing of
God’s because of those who have a personal relationship with Him, may often be enjoyed by otherwise bad people. That is not for us to judge or complain about. As the dealer of the blessings, God is not bound by any rules whatsoever. His blessings are strictly His to give to whomever and whenever and however He wishes. Personally, I have felt more blessed as I realized and accepted that fact.

So Laban tells Jacob to “name his wages”. Whatever Jacob would have asked for, Laban was willing to pay in order to keep him. Jacob tries to explain that it’s not that simple. He reminds Laban that his herd of cattle grew from a few to a multitude and that it was he that was blessed because of Jacob, while Jacob himself was not establishing his own means to provide for his family and household. Jacob, being a smart and experienced man by now, realized that working for someone else all one’s life had its limitations and that there were advantages to being self-employed or at least self-dependent when it came to take care of one’s own.

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