Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Cost of Honesty/Dishonesty -- Genesis 31:31-32


Then Jacob replied to Laban, "Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force. The one with whom you find your gods shall not live; in the presence of our kinsmen point out what is yours among my belongings and take it for yourself." For Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them.

Jacob begins to answer Laban’s question but first addresses why he left like a thief in the night rather than why someone may have stolen Laban’s idols. In his answer, Jacob admits fear and that if he had tried to leave openly, Leah and Rachel would not have been allowed to go with him. Sometimes we do things out of our fear. We’re afraid that if we do things the way we want to do them, we’d lose out on something or someone that we value greatly. As we study Jacob we need to remember that he, as with Abraham and Isaac before him, was not perfect by any means. God did work with and use them all in spite of their own stubbornness and often their fear which caused them to take matters into their hands. Sometimes by lying as to ‘who their wife really was’ and sometimes by ‘fleeing in the night’ as in Jacob’s case. This does not change the fact that the preferred way to live is to do the right thing in our fear, trusting God to get us through any situation. I understand this is often easier said than done. I believe much of it has to do with how far we have moved in our journey from being in the wilderness as a saved but carnal Christian to being in the land of milk and honey across the river Jordan as a spiritual man or woman of God, where He alone rules in our lives.

The next thing we notice is that Jacob was not aware of the fact that Rachel had stolen her father’s idols when she fled with Jacob. In fact, he was not even aware that the idols had been stolen at all. We note two things: As much as Rachel may have loved Jacob and vice-versa, they certainly were not totally open and honest with each other when it came to their actions. Rachel had kept the theft from her husband. This past week, my adult family and I watched a movie on television entitled Duplicity with Julia Roberts – some of you may have seen. It was an excellent depiction of just that – the fact of being deceptive, dishonest, or misleading. The pursuit of duplicity was being carried out between corporations, individuals, and even those who were supposed to be in love with each other. In the end, the key characters were left with nothing.

Secondly, I wonder whether Jacob would have been as readily agreeable to have the individual with whom the idols would be found be put to death had he known they were indeed stolen by a member of his own household. Would Jacob have indeed allowed Laban’s relatives to search his caravan? Perhaps he believed Laban was just bluffing. No matter what his reason was, with this offer, the plot certainly thickens.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Laban Demands Answers -- Genesis 31:25-30


Laban caught up with Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsmen camped in the hill country of Gilead. Then Laban said to Jacob, "What have you done by deceiving me and carrying away my daughters like captives of the sword? Why did you flee secretly and deceive me, and did not tell me so that I might have sent you away with joy and with songs, with timbrel and with lyre; and did not allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters? Now you have done foolishly. It is in my power to do you harm, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, 'Be careful not to speak either good or bad to Jacob.' Now you have indeed gone away because you longed greatly for your father's house; but why did you steal my gods?”

Can you imagine all the things running through old Laban’s mind as he and his relatives pursued Jacob? What were his original plans of action? What did his relatives expect? What, given God’s warning, will he do now? What would he say to Jacob and to his daughters? What feelings would he have towards his grandchildren? This reminds me a little of the times I’ve been very angry with someone and I was on my way to deal with the matter. I rehearsed in my mind exactly what I would say or do. I could never get it just right. And when I finally would get to where I really had to take action, my so-called plan had to contend with the other person’s words or actions as well. If only somehow we can discern what God would have us do in each case, how much easier that would be.

In this passage, Laban catches up with Jacob’s caravan. They had pitched their tents in the hill country and Laban does likewise close by. Then he goes to Jacob.

It should be easy for us to understand Laban’s approach. He can’t be hard on Jacob, but he can ask “why?” and he did. “Why have you deceived me by stealing away my daughters? Why did you go secretly without giving me a chance to send you off with a feast? Why wasn’t I allowed to kiss my grandchildren? Jacob, you acted very foolishly.”

There are two interesting points of view brought out here. First, when we do what God tells us to do and it affects others, we can expect to be asked ‘why?’. Parents or relatives, or employers, may even have a natural right to ask that question. Certainly, if our actions have impacted them in what they consider to be a hurtful or negative manner, they have that right. And we need to be ready to respond.

Secondly, we need to be prepared for the eventuality that, in their estimation, what we are doing is deemed foolish. After all, as Christians we are acting from and on a totally foreign worldview from their own. Our value systems are non-comprehensible to them. Finally, we’re acting out of obedience to God and motivated by our desire to please Him. They’re expecting us to act out of self-gain motivation and a desire to take the kind of steps that they would. There is no doubt they will have difficulty understanding.

Not only does Laban ask why, and tells Jacob he was foolish, but he goes on to make sure that Jacob knows what Laban could have done to him. He could have done him harm (which was likely his original intention). Men who use other men for their own purposes and even trick them into marital relationships with their own daughters will not stop at harming them if that would get them what they want. Unless of course, God stops them as He did in Laban’s case. And Laban accepts that. He even offers a plausible excuse as to why Jacob did leave, saying it was because he “longed greatly” for the house of his father. That may have been true, but it is not why Jacob fled. Sometimes people cannot accept our reasons for taking certain actions. Then they provide their own rationale just so they can accept what has taken place. Laban was doing just that. But there are things he still does not understand. One of those was why someone (he thought Jacob) stole his gods.

Before we move to the next section to get an answer from Jacob, we must point out that while we surmised what role these statues played in Laban’s house when we addressed Rachel’s taking them, we now have the additional information that to Laban, they were indeed perceived as being his ‘gods’. This further clarifies our thinking with respect to the whole situation between Jacob and Laban. It is important for us to know at all times where people stand before God before we consider what may and may not be right in any given action we could take in such a situation. We would do best to consider this before we even try to determine why they themselves acted or did not act in a given way.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Laban Pursues and Catches Up to Jacob -- Genesis 31:22-24


When it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob had fled, then he took his kinsmen with him and pursued him a distance of seven days' journey, and he overtook him in the hill country of Gilead. God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream of the night and said to him, "Be careful that you do not speak to Jacob either good or bad."

The first thing we notice in this passage is that Laban did not hear Jacob was gone for three days. That timeframe causes us to wonder about several things: how far away did they live from each other? how soon did anyone notice Jacob’s entire family was gone? if they did notice early on, why did it take them so long to tell Laban? and finally, if Laban’s idols stolen by Rachel when she fled were used in Laban’s worship, how often did he consider them as he had not missed them for three days? Interesting questions left for us to ponder on our own.

What we do know is that as soon as Laban found out Jacob and his family had fled, he gathered a number of his relatives to join him and they took off in pursuit of Jacob. In fact, the text indicates they chased him a distance of “seven days’ journey”. By my calculation, that means Laban used four days to travel the distance Jacob did in seven. Of course, that’s doable considering there were no women and children in Laban’s group to slow him down and he was a man on a mission.

This episode reminds me of Abimelech and his officers pursuing Isaac as recorded in Genesis 26 because he wanted peace with Isaac. Abimelech had seen that God was with Isaac and feared that he could overpower Abimelech if he chose to. Now Jacob is being pursued but for a slightly different reason.

The scripture says “God came to Laban…in a dream of the night….” Clearly, even Laban’s group had to rest for a while each night as they pursued Jacob’s caravan.

There are at least two things to notice and learn from this event. First, God does not only speak to His followers but he communicates also with those who yet do not know Him personally. Recently we were driving in South Carolina and listening to the radio. Someone who gave no evidence or credit to God in his account of his experience, was saying he had a dream about a murder that had indeed occurred two days later. I turned the radio off and asked my wife this question: “Suppose one does not believe in God at all, where would such premonitions, dreams, feelings, come from?” I continued, “If they stopped to think long enough, they would realize that there’s a God who actually does this.” She wisely responded, “They would tell you it is ESP, energy forces in the mind, the body, etc. But I know what you’re saying. You’re saying, there has to be a Supreme Being behind all of that – connecting it and making it happen.” Yes, that’s exactly it. Both believers and unbelievers can have a spiritual communication with God, but the latter just do not realize who is on the other end of line.

Secondly, God can give direction to both believers and unbelievers. In this case He warns Laban not to say anything good or bad to Jacob. It is possible that Laban had different plans as suggested by the fact that he took a posse with him and pursued Jacob at great speed. Perhaps he wanted to take back everything by force. But God instructs him otherwise. He was not even to say anything negative or positive to Jacob, let alone do anything. I believe that God protects His own by directly communicating to our enemies. His awesome power works wonders on changing their plans.

The likelihood of Laban having intented to harm Jacob physically is very small. You will remember that Laban had clearly admitted earlier that he knew it was because of Jacob that God had blessed Laban. So that would still be in his mind and he would be careful not to anger God by acting violently towards Jacob. Nevertheless, it is safe to assume he intended some very strong words. Except now, God says “Be careful not to....”

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Jacob Leaves Laban -- Genesis 31:17-21


Then Jacob arose and put his children and his wives upon camels; and he drove away all his livestock and all his property which he had gathered, his acquired livestock which he had gathered in Paddan-aram, to go to the land of Canaan to his father Isaac. When Laban had gone to shear his flock, then Rachel stole the household idols that were her father's. And Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him that he was fleeing. So he fled with all that he had; and he arose and crossed the Euphrates River, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead.

With the full support of both of his wives, Jacob packs up the family on camels, takes all his livestock and other possessions he had acquired while working for Laban in preparation for the trip to the land of Canaan from whence he had come many years ago.

To a certain extent this was reminiscent of the trip that Abraham his grandfather (called Abram at the time) took as recorded in Genesis 12. It too was at God’s command. He took his family and all his possessions. But Abram also took Lot, his nephew, along although God had specifically told him to go alone with only his own family. Still God blessed him.

In one verse we have Rachel telling Jacob that he needs to obey God and in the next, she steals the household idols (or teraphim) that were her father’s. The Bible does not tell us why she does that. Many have offered different reasons including: the possibility that she worshipped them herself; she wanted to prevent her father Laban from using them to divine where Jacob had taken the family and come after them (you will remember there is reference to divination in Genesis 30:27); because such items were used as deeds to property and somehow Rachel wanted to cause difficulty in this regard later on; or simply because she wanted to get back at her father for the way he treated his daughters and son-in-law all these years.

It’s interesting to note that as small statutes, some think they were representations of ancestors of the family whom Rachel was very fond of and she simply wanted something of her history with her. Recently, I remember helping my son-in-law and eldest daughter place an old travel trunk on a huge front hall shelf in their home. It was one my father built in 1950 to store his carpentry tools as he crossed the Atlantic by boat the next year to start a new life in North America. Besides being a fan of antiques, my daughter wanted to keep a bit of her history close by.

Finally, others think that by taking the ‘gods’ she could convince her father that worshipping idols that cannot protect themselves was indeed folly. Jewish tradition supports this option, indicating Rachel wanted to keep her father from idolatry. Given her response to Jacob when he told his wives about his plans, I doubt this to be a plausible conclusion. Simply put, we can only assume, but not know, why Rachel took the seraphim.

Meanwhile Jacob, like his grandfather and father before him, now employs his own version of deception. He flees from his employer without any notice when Laban is absent shearing his flock.

Here is Jacob, his two wives Rachel and Leah, their children, servants, livestock, and earthly possessions fleeing from the only home they knew together, across the Euphrates River and on towards the hills of Gilead, heading for the home of Jacob’s people where he left his father, mother, and brother’s family many years previously. He does not leave well, but perhaps he had no choice. One of his wives, the chosen one, Rachel, has also stolen from her father as they fled. Certainly, there would not be much chance of a family reconciliation in the future under these conditions. Yet, Jacob himself must have been very excited about the prospect of seeing his mother and father again.

This is also the first mention of “Gilead” in the text. The area is a rocky, mountainous region bounded on the west by the Jordan river, on the north by Bashan, on the east by the Arabian plateau, and on the south by Moab and Ammon. We will be reading more of Gilead as a place or people later as it is used 132 times in the NASB version of scripture.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Laban’s Daughters Respond -- Genesis 31:14-16


Rachel and Leah said to him, "Do we still have any portion or inheritance in our father's house? Are we not reckoned by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and has also entirely consumed our purchase price. Surely all the wealth which God has taken away from our father belongs to us and our children; now then, do whatever God has said to you."

You have just poured your feelings out to your wives about their father and told them that you want to take the families away and back to the land of your parents. Now you wait for their response. Just how will Rachel and Leah react? What’s the best you could hope for? What’s the worse? What’s the godly response?

As I read this short passage, I noticed a number of interesting things. Note that except for the first phrase, the rest of the words in these three verses are all in quotations. But notice the first phrase before the initial quotation mark. As you do that, you may be challenged about your beliefs regarding how Scripture is to be interpreted at times. Take a closer look. The Bible says, both Rachel and Leah said to him. And then my New American Standard Bible at least proceeds to give us sixty (60) words that these two sisters reportedly uttered in unison out loud. Now, I do not know about you, but personally while I believe that God could have had them do exactly that, I believe it is unlikely that this was indeed the case. There is no real need for it to be the case. Is the Bible less true because it may not be the case? I do not think so. What I believe the author is trying to get across to us is that both Rachel and Leah expressed similar feelings and ideas and basically, each in their own way, and one after the other, responded to Jacob along the same lines. So the quotation does not need to be taken literally as spoken in unison by the two women. But we would miss out on Scripture’s intent if we failed to agree that both women were of one mind as to their response to their husband. The reality is that this example of Scripture text is one of many where we need to take a similar approach.

And what exactly was the reaction of the sisters? Furthermore, was it a surprise to Jacob? It certainly was a surprise to me. Maybe I have been tainted by the awareness of so many women who today would not yield agreeably to those types of wishes from their husbands. But Rachel and Leah did so for their own reasons. This text gives us some insight to the questions we asked earlier in our study when we wondered how Rachel felt being passed over by her father Laban in order for him to marry off Leah first. Or, how Leah may have felt to be part of a marriage of trickery knowing that her husband Jacob was getting her instead of Rachel, the woman he expected and loved. Perhaps they responded the way they did because they too had realized, before Jacob told them, how their father had cheated him time and time again. So they respond the way they did.

The first concern that was verbally identified was whether or not either of them had any inheritance coming to them from their father. What exactly did that mean? The way the question is asked and especially when considered with the next question “are we not considered as foreigners to him?” clearly implies that Rachel and Leah have not been happy campers as Laban’s daughters. When a child considers him/herself a “foreigner” to his/her father, the implication is that the father has stopped being a true father. He stops showing any fatherly affection towards his child. A modern day example comes to mind and it is that of Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza’s father in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and later a play/movie entitled My Fair Lady. Clearly, Alfred P. wanted to be known as Eliza’s father only when she had came across some considerable means of financial support.

As far as Laban was concerned, his daughters no longer considered him the father he should have been. Although they were not looking for any financial gain from him, it ws clear he had nothing more to offer them emotionally or socially. In fact, they felt used by him, considering themselves as having been sold in a marriage for his own welfare. Rachel and Leah feel that way since Laban had been handsomely rewarded for them over and over again through Jacob’s labors.

Jacob’s wives believed the wealth they now had that originally may have stemmed from their father, was indeed theirs, and his losses were indeed warranted. They believed this was God’s doing. They saw His hand in all this and they now count their blessings, not the least of which was their households and children. Because of this, both Rachel and Leah give their whole-hearted consent to Jacob following the voice of God.

Here in these verses, we see a family that has strived for many years (from Jacob’s striving with his brother Esau and then with his uncle Laban and his cousins to Rachel and Leah striving and competing for Jacob’s affection and for children) becoming a family that is finally united in God’s purpose. Together they agree to move back to the land of Jacob’s family. What a goal for all of us with our own families. But it takes for each of us to see in fact the blessings that God has given us and what He has brought us through and protected us from before this can happen where it currently does not exist.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Jacob Tells His Wives What God Told Him -- Genesis 31:4-13


So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to his flock in the field,
and said to them, "I see your father's attitude, that it is not friendly toward me as formerly, but the God of my father has been with me. You know that I have served your father with all my strength. Yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times; however, God did not allow him to hurt me. If he spoke thus, 'The speckled shall be your wages,' then all the flock brought forth speckled; and if he spoke thus, 'The striped shall be your wages,' then all the flock brought forth striped. Thus God has taken away your father's livestock and given them to me. And it came about at the time when the flock were mating that I lifted up my eyes and saw in a dream, and behold, the male goats which were mating were striped, speckled, and mottled. Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, 'Jacob,' and I said, 'Here I am.' He said, 'Lift up now your eyes and see that all the male goats which are mating are striped, speckled, and mottled; for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar, where you made a vow to Me; now arise, leave this land, and return to the land of your birth.' "


Jacob hears the murmuring of his cousins against him, sees the change in his uncle’s attitude towards him, hears God telling him to return to his homeland, and now he has to act. How many times have we been in that kind of situation? We know what’s happening in our own little world and it’s not good, we know what God wants us to do about it, and now what’s left is for us to act. Of course that’s not always easy. For starters there’s other members of the family to consider. What will they say? How will they feel and react? What about my work? My friends? My comfort? My routine? Can I really change my environment as much as God wants me to at my age? And so on.

Lately, many of us have started using the name ‘Christ-follower’ where we otherwise would have used ‘Christian’ in the past. Many use it interchangeably but to those who prefer the term ‘Christ-follower’ there are more and more distinctions being identified between the two nomenclatures. I believe a true mark of a Christ-follower is the desire to act, once we have clearly and unambiguously heard the direction God wants us to take, in a way that exhibits total acceptance of, and obedience to, that instruction, no matter what the cost or the inconvenience to ourselves or to those that we have accountability for.

So how does Jacob act? He calls (likely through others) Rachel and Leah to come and join him in the fields. That makes sense as they are sisters and this is very much about their father and brothers. And besides why have to go through the whole story twice. The fields are a good place to meet since we have no idea when the two sisters likely last saw each other. The most likely alternative location would have been either Rachel’s or Leah’s house; probably not a good move as the two sisters have really been competitors for Jacob’s love and attention for years.

And Jacob begins to tell his story to his wives. He relates not only how he perceives Laban’s attitude is no longer friendly towards him, but also that God, who has kept His own eye on the situation, is with him. That’s the privilege of a Christian – to know that no matter how we see and feel about what is happening to us, we realize that God is aware and is with us, we need not fear life, or death.

Jacob tells Leah and Rachel what they already likely know – that he has served their father well but that Laban has cheated him many times. These are harsh words for daughters to hear, especially when it comes from someone they love. In so doing, we learn his wages had been changed many times, not just the times we read about as recorded in the earlier text. (Recognizing this helps us understand how Scripture’s truth and verification is sometimes explained or proven by what is missing in the manuscript or story, rather than always looking for what is included only. What is included is something we know with one hundred per cent certainty. What sometimes seems to be missing in order to make an account believable to many may in fact have occurred and we need to allow for that possibility. Perhaps another way of getting this across is that in either case, the Bible’s authenticity may not always be proven to man’s satisfaction, but it can never be disproved. The person of faith then can and does accept it as God wrote it.)

Jacob also sees that God did not allow Laban to hurt him in any way, either physically or economically, as ultimately Jacob became very successful while working for Laban. God also worked around whatever decisions Laban made to assist Jacob. In fact, God used Laban’s trickery against him and arranged it so that Laban’s livestock were taken from him and given to Jacob. And then Jacob tells his wives, Rachel and Leah, about the dream that he had.

God spoke to him in that dream and called him by his name, “Jacob”. And Jacob answered God saying, “Here I am.” Then God told Jacob that He was fully aware of what was going on, how Laban had treated him all this while, and his current attitude towards Jacob. Then God says, “Listen to Who I am Jacob. I’m the same God that you met at Bethel where you anointed a pillar before you made a promise to Me.” You will remember in Genesis 28:18 we read how Jacob had slept under the stars with a stone as his pillow and the next morning he poured oil over that stone, named the place Bethel, and gave thanks to God. Now God reminds him again of that experience, telling him that He is indeed the same God.

Sometimes God has to remind us of experiences in our past when we knew or felt beyond any doubt not only God’s existence, but also His presence with us. It is as if He is saying, “If I was real then and I was with you, and you believed in me then, you can trust me now and do whatever I tell you to do.” And Jacob did trust God now.

Jacob tells his wives he has no choice but to get up, leave this land (of their father’s), and return to the land of his birth. Now, imagine for a moment how these two daughters felt when they heard that.

How would you react? Had the man already made up his mind? Was he asking for their input or concurrence? There’s no evidence in support of either. What if you didn’t want to leave you father’s land? The fact of the matter was that in those days a woman had very little choice but to do what her husband wanted to do.

Today in the twenty-first century, Christians still hold on to New Testament teaching that says “Wives, obey your husbands.” But neither the New Testament nor full followers of Jesus Christ stop there. The passage they refer to goes on to say, “Husbands, love your wives” or as some translations have it, “Husbands, consider your wives.” Husbands can have the final say in a decision, but not until after they have considered the impact of the decision on their wives. They do this by evaluating the various options available against the welfare of their wives. And each husband knows what his wife wants by asking for her input, listening to what she has to say, and then exercising his love towards her in all that he decides.

Recently, I had the sad experience, as President of a Mission, to hear that one of our missionary couples had separated. While no such circumstance is ever simple to explain, nor can we assign blame to one party over the other, there was something in that situation that is relevant to our discussion here. In my talking with both of the individuals involved, it came to light that one of the main reasons for the wife leaving the husband was that he made all the decisions in their almost three decades of married life. He saw a problem, or an opportunity, and he simply announced to the family what they were going to do about it starting immediately. No discussion, no input, no consideration. The wife could no longer live like that. The husband admits to this and wishes he had acted otherwise, but unfortunately it seems to be too late.

Wives do indeed obey your husbands. But husbands give full consideration to your wife and children as you make decisions. This is how your love for them will show.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Jacob Learns of His Cousin’s Complaints -- Genesis 31:1-3


Now Jacob heard the words of Laban's sons, saying, "Jacob has taken away all that was our father's, and from what belonged to our father he has made all this wealth." Jacob saw the attitude of Laban, and behold, it was not friendly toward him as formerly. Then the LORD said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”

Jacob heard about what was going on behind his back. We all hear sooner or later. Those of us who have an ear for this kind of thing, who stop long enough to think about situations, and have a knack for putting two and two together or finding ways to join separate clues into a bigger picture, sooner or later find out what is going on.

It’s one thing to get a wind of what’s going on behind one’s back, but it’s another to actually correctly assess the right cause. Experience has taught me that many times, it is either conscious or unconscious jealousy. That was certainly the cause behind what Laban’s sons were saying. For starters, they accuse him of “taking away all that was (their) fathers”. The real jealousy comes in when they detest the fact that Jacob’s wealth was built on what originally was their father’s. They completely leave out the reality that what Jacob got was indeed part and parcel of a fair trade and an arrangement with Laban.

As I spend some portion of my time each day communicating what I am passionate about on various social media networks, I realize how easy it is for people, myself included, to have incomplete and sometimes erroneous perspectives on things. Sometimes these are unavoidable. What is crucial for success, however, is that once these are identified, we are willing to take the different or additional perspective into consideration and not only revise our thinking accordingly, but also our actions. Not doing so, not only limits our ability to see the external world correctly, but also impacts our relationships and influence on others in the future.

In the case of Laban’s sons, we note that greed is one of the key driving forces behind the faulty or incomplete perception. Were they really worried about the fact that Jacob may have taken their father’s herds for their father’s sake, or was it for the sake of their inheritance?

Interestingly enough, most children are impacted by the attitudes of their parents. Girls in particular are impacted by what they see their mother say, do, and feel. Boys likewise often end up mimicking their fathers in taking on certain attitudes. But here in Genesis we see that the father Laban was indeed impacted by what his boys were saying and feeling. As a result his attitude changed towards Jacob. He became unfriendly and Jacob was fully aware of it. Another reason why perception must be as close to reality as it possibly can is that it impacts relationships. One or both of the parties involved have stopped many a great friendship in its tracks because of blurring perceptions. This often happens in marriage as well if we do not take the time to bring the perceptions into a clear and common focus to the extent possible.

I once shared on one of the social media the following, crediting Bill Hybels with the idea: “Are people of your past still living in you, rent free? Kick them out. Do ‘forgiveness business’ with God today and be set free. I dare you to forgive those people.” One reader replied, “Once we’ve forgiven are we prepared to invite them to dinner?” It was a very good point, but the answer I would provide may not have been what you would expect. I wrote, “I believe there are times when that is most necessary and there are times, when it is best not to. Remember, it's just you that has forgiven them. So, if it's family, you take the risk and have them for dinner. If it's some other scenario, and having them for dinner will only hurt them and you more, just forgive them.” Another reader said it much better, “Sometimes you just have to forgive and move on - it is not acceptance. You do not have to spend time together but you can choose not to hate, and dwell in the hurt.” I think she was right. There are times like that. And I believe our passage supports it for look what happens next.

Just when Jacob was feeling down in the dumpster given the change of attitude that his uncle and cousins had, God speaks to him and gives him divine direction. God says, “Jacob get home where you belong and I am going to be with you.” That is all the instruction that anyone can ever need. The source is God; the directive is clear; and the promise is God will go with him so we know he’ll make it there.

Have you ever felt so low in life that you wish you had a message like that? I have and I am sure if you were honest, you would say you have as well. Well, the good news is that you and I have a message just like that. Yes, from God. The entire Bible is God’s rescue message as well as His love letter for us. All we ever have to do is “return home” where we belong. He created us and He wants us to be in close relationship with Him. We need to leave “where we’re at” in trying to run our own life and “go home”. And here’s the greatest part of this direction – we get to “go home with Him”.

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Jacob Grows His Own Flocks -- Genesis 30:37-43


Then Jacob took fresh rods of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white stripes in them, exposing the white which was in the rods. He set the rods which he had peeled in front of the flocks in the gutters, even in the watering troughs, where the flocks came to drink; and they mated when they came to drink. So the flocks mated by the rods, and the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted. Jacob separated the lambs, and made the flocks face toward the striped and all the black in the flock of Laban; and he put his own herds apart, and did not put them with Laban's flock. Moreover, whenever the stronger of the flock were mating, Jacob would place the rods in the sight of the flock in the gutters, so that they might mate by the rods; but when the flock was feeble, he did not put them in; so the feebler were Laban's and the stronger Jacob's. So the man became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks and female and male servants and camels and donkeys.

This passage is one that you either get right away or you need help in understanding it. I have always, and still do, need the help. So let’s take it one step at a time. Jacob takes branches or rods from poplar, almond and plane trees. A ‘plane-tree’ is said to refer to either very tall trees, hence the name, or trees that are already stripped of their bark. Another expositor interprets them as chestnut trees. For purposes of this passage, the first and last interpretations are the better translations. From these trees, Jacob peels off bark in vertical lines in such a way that the whiter color of the tree is exposed in vertical rows, alternating with rows of bark having a darker color. He then takes these striped rods and sets them in front of the flocks where they are watering.

The text then says, “and they mated when they came to drink.” While there is a temporal connection between what Jacob did and the fact that the animals mated, we are not certain as to whether there is a cause and effect one. The text also says that the result of their mating was indeed “striped, speckled, and spotted” offspring. Is it possible that the power of imagination associated with staring at those multi-colored sticks might influence the type of young that they have? Some believe this custom was common to the shepherds of the area at the time if they wanted to have cattle of a motley color. Whatever the phenomenon behind all this, we do know that we are called to become proficient in the trades that we apply ourselves to. To learn as much about it as we possibly can and to apply what we have learned with great diligence to improve our products and services for the good of mankind. This is exactly what Jacob was doing.

What happens next is not perfectly clear but here is the version I have put together based on my understanding of the text and the reading of some bible commentators. Once Jacob’s flocks (or sheep) started getting the motley offspring he was hoping for as a result of his little experiment with them, he continued the practice, this time with the new lambs. He separated the lambs and made them face the striped and all black sheep that he had acquired from Laban’s flocks, so they too would be influenced by what they saw and keep reproducing similar spotted and speckled offspring. He also kept any of his own herd’s offspring that were all white away so they would not influence the mating of the others. At the same time, he always made sure all his flocks were kept separate from Laban’s personal herds.

Perhaps it is important to stop for a moment and point out that the text implies that, at least for the animal kingdom, the eyes are very impressionable. That is what the animal sees can influence his or her behavior. It strikes me that as humans, we were created in a similar manner as far as this goes. It behooves us therefore to be careful as to what we set before our eyes but also to guard what we set before the eyes of our young children and grandchildren. There is no doubt they will very clearly be impacted by it.

So, by using a form of selective breeding as well as physical stimuli, Jacob became very good at his job and God blessed his repeated efforts to end up with a much stronger herd than Laban. He continued repeating the process using the striped rods when the stronger of his herd were mating and didn’t use them for the weaker one’s who ended up being Laban’s.

It does not take rocket science to figure out that ultimately Jacob becomes exceedingly prosperous with some of the largest flocks around, and very large numbers of both male and female servants, and camels and donkeys to transport all his people and goods. The man had definitely arrived. And he did this relatively quickly.

Was it just his skills at husbandry? I would suggest that he kept his deal with Laban honestly, but applied his own special skills to his own herds. However, as a good steward and as the head shepherd of his boss’s flocks, did he have an ethical responsibility to have applied similar techniques to them? I believe he did. I believe that if God places us under the working authority of someone else, we have a responsibility to be as diligent in our work for them as we do in our own industrious endeavors, especially if those endeavors have initially been made possible by our employer. At the same time, others look at this passage of scripture and feel that God blessed Jacob because of the very fact that he was faithful to Laban and his property for all those years. I do not disagree that he was and that indeed, this possibly played a part in what God did for Jacob, but that does not deny the fact that he had a responsibility, as long as he remained in Laban’s employ, to develop all his herds in the same manner.

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Jacob Makes Laban Another Offer -- Genesis 30:31-36


So he said, "What shall I give you?" And Jacob said, "You shall not give me anything. If you will do this one thing for me, I will again pasture and keep your flock: let me pass through your entire flock today, removing from there every speckled and spotted sheep and every black one among the lambs and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and such shall be my wages. So my honesty will answer for me later, when you come concerning my wages. Every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats and black among the lambs, if found with me, will be considered stolen." Laban said, "Good, let it be according to your word." So he removed on that day the striped and spotted male goats and all the speckled and spotted female goats, every one with white in it, and all the black ones among the sheep, and gave them into the care of his sons. And he put a distance of three days' journey between himself and Jacob, and Jacob fed the rest of Laban's flocks.

Laban does not miss the opening that Jacob gives him when the latter posed the questions, “when will I be able to provide for my own household myself?” Laban quickly responds, “What can I give you?” He was basically saying, “Look it is important for me to have you stay and take care of my herds and I’m willing to give you something over and above your wages so that you can call it your own, thereby establishing a household that stands on its own independent of what may happen to me in the future.” Wow. This is a model that is followed by many a father for their offspring even today – helping their sons and daughters to establish themselves and become independent of their parents. In my case, my mom and dad provided the down payment for Chrysogon and I to buy our first home in 1973 when there was no way we could ever afford it ourselves. Likewise we have been able to supply all of our children with funds, both as gifts and as loans in order for them to buy homes, a business, pay off debts, a car, etc. With this kind of assistance from the older generation, the younger generation can get established and hopefully someday pass the kindness forward to their own children, our grandchildren. In my father’s case, he even took care of his grandchildren through what he left them. And to think we first saw this model as being suggested by Laban to his nehphew Jacob.

Laban of course, based on his observation of Jacob’s personality all these years being one of honesty and good-naturedness, expected Jacob to be most reasonable in his requests. In fact, Laban may have well figured better to have Jacob happy giving him what he wanted rather than he offering him more than was necessary. Thus, “What shall I give you?”

And Jacob does not miss the opportunity to take advantage of Laban’s offer. He immediately comes back with a proposition. Whether this was something that just came to him on the sport or it was pre-determined, we do not know. He tells Laban that if he did what he was about to propose, that would be sufficient, and he would remain to manage Laban’s flock.

Jacob would check every animal in Laban’s flock. Whichever one was a speckled and spotted sheep, a black lamb, and a spotted and speckled goat, Jacob would take them as his wages. Now it is not clear whether or not this was all the wages he would get, or whether this was the “signing bonus” for continuing to manage Laban’s flock. I would assume the former if we accept the text at face value.

The proposal also had a secondary benefit. As the animals that Jacob would take were marked by their spots and speckles, or were black in color, any animal among his future flock that wasn’t like that, would clearly be a sign of having been stolen from Laban. Thus Jacob’s integrity could also be checked on from time to time. Their individual flocks would be distinguished. Laban gains in that his flocks will remain pure since the marked ones are removed. Jacob will always have marked flocks but trusts God for his blessings.

Laban immediately accepts the offer, making me feel somehow that both these men were moving way too quickly given what was at stake here – location of Jacob’s family, working for his uncle indefinitely, etc. Laban held Jacob to his word and that day, Jacob started removing all the marked animals as agreed to. The text here also adds the word ‘striped’ when it comes to the goats, although that description was omitted in the earlier portion of the passage. Its inclusion becomes significant in the verses that follow.

Jacob, who had indirectly been accused of having taken advantage of his uncle’s goodness and now wanted to take off, shows fairness and restrain in the terms of this proposal. The proposal was also in keeping with the practice of Eastern shepherds who did receive their wages in a similar form, that is, some percentage of the growth of the flock.

Jacob then gives the marked animals to his own sons to take care of, as young as the boys may have been. I am reminded of my own father who as young as six years of age was a barefoot shepherd in the hills of his native land. But in this case, Jacob removed his marked animals from Laban’s own flock. That distance away is described as requiring three days travel. Yet he himself continued to feed Laban’s flocks. So here we have Jacob’s family’s flocks being three days away with his young sons minding them and Jacob being with Laban’s flocks. Where exactly in relationship to these two locations of the different flocks, Jacob’s wives established their homes, is not known. The complications of the arrangement for the family continued.

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