A Dangerous Trend.
Genesis 29-30, Matthew 15
But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone. – Matthew 15:18-20 ESV
The pattern of deceit and deception found in the story of Jacob and Esau will follow him as he attempts to escape the wrath of his brother Esau. Jacob’s arrival in the land of his uncle, Laban, would appear to be a positive turn in the story of Abraham’s descendants. But we continue to see the sin of man polluting the stream of God’s divine plan. And yet, in spite of it all, God remains faithful to His covenant promise, providing blessings on and through Jacob.
What does this passage reveal about God?
While God seems to be silent throughout much of this portion of the story, He is always there, behind the scenes, orchestrating the outcomes of Jacob’s relationships and circumstances. The men and women in these passages continue to sin, acting selfishly and treating one another contemptuously. Their actions, for the most part, are unrighteous and far from godly. Everyone is looking out for themselves. And yet, in the midst of this competitive and conflict-saturated atmosphere, God is there.
God orchestrates the arrival of Jacob at the well at just the same time that Rachel arrives with her father’s sheep. Jacob, whose very name means “trickster” or “deceiver” is himself deceived by his own uncle. It seems that Laban and Jacob were cut from the same cloth, a detail that had not escaped God’s plans for Jacob. God would use Laban’s deception to bring about the birth of the twelve sons who would make up the future tribes of Israel. All the bickering, bartering, deceit and deception would be redeemed by God for His divine purposes. The passage tells us that “When the Lord saw that Leah was ‘hated,’ he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren” (Genesis 29:31 ESV). God was in control. Even the very names of the children reflect this fact. Reuben means “sees” and refers to God’s recognition of Leah’s situation. Simeon means “hears” and speaks of God’s awareness of Rachel’s hatred for Leah. Judah means “praise” as a reminder of Leah’s gratefulness to God for all He had done for her. Each of the names of each of the children in some way reflect a character quality or attribute of God. God “remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb” (Genesis 30:22 ESV).
And God blessed Laban. Even though this man had lied to and cheated his nephew, God blessed him because of Jacob’s very presence. God had promised Abraham that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him, and this was a partial fulfillment of that promise. And God blessed Jacob. He prospered him and caused his flocks to increase. Jacob thought his unique attempt at genetic engineering was the cause of his success, but in reality, it was all the work of God. And while Laban once again tried to cheat Jacob, God was blessing him. “Thus the man increased greatly and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys” (Genesis 30:43 ESV). God was at work. And while the cast of characters in this story bring little in the way of virtue or redeeming qualities, God is still able to accomplish His divine will – for His glory and the ultimate good of man.
What does this passage reveal about man?
Once again, it is not a pretty picture. In Laban, Jacob met his match. He ends up looking in the mirror and sees himself. This entire story is a virtual repeat of what has happened before. Jacob gets cheated by Laban just as Jacob had cheated Esau. Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah, just as his mother had loved him more than his brother Esau. God opened Leah’s womb just as He had Sarah’s. Both Leah and Rachel follow the example of Sarah and give their maid servants to their husband in an attempt to provide him with children. Throughout the story there is an unhealthy competition that results in increasing conflict. Leah bargains with Rachel for the rights to have sexual relations with Jacob, using fruit as the currency of the day. Just as Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of stew, Rachel sells her “rights” to have sexual relations with Jacob – for a handful of fruit.
All throughout this story, we see men and women who are controlled by their flesh or sin natures. They respond to one another selfishly and sinfully, with very little regard for the name of God. You see little in the way of remorse, let alone repentance. They acknowledge the hand of God when it works out in their favor, but respond in anger and resentment when things don’t turn out well. They fight, feud, deceive, cheat, and constantly strive to make sure that everything works out for their own selfish advantage – all the while, unaware of God’s greater plan and the bigger picture He is painting for all mankind.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
Like Jacob, Rachel, Leah and Laban, I can become so myopic and short-sighted, that I fail to recognize all that God is doing behind the scenes in my life. I can become so self-consumed that I no longer see God’s bigger plan for the human race. I want to make it all about me, but it’s not. It’s all about God and His divine plan for mankind. I find it fascinating that the companion New Testament passage for today’s reading is Matthew 15. In it, we read these sobering words from Jesus Himself. “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:18-20 ESV).
That’s the story of Genesis. That’s the story of man. What we see happening in chapters 29-30 of Genesis is the effects of heart disease. As Isaiah wrote and Jesus quoted, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8 ESV). Jacob may have been a descendant of Abraham and heir of the promises of God, but at this point in his life, his heart was far from God. He was in self-preservation mode. His lived by the code: “every man for himself.” And far too often, I can find myself living that very same way. The amazing thing is that God continues to bless me in spite of me. He continues to fulfill His promises to me, not because I deserve it or have earned the favor, but out of His amazing grace. Leah, Rachel, Laban and Jacob all gave God lip service. They tipped their hats to His obvious influence in and around their lives. They gave their children names that reflected God’s involvement in their lives. Laban acknowledged God’s influence over his life. But their hearts were far from Him. They failed to truly worship and fear Him. They were incapable of seeing His sovereign plan at work among them. I want to learn from their mistakes and recognize my own spiritual shortcomings as I read about theirs. So that I might become a willing participant in God’s divine plan, not just an unknowing passenger who is along for the ride.
Father, I see myself in this story. I share so many of the qualities and characteristics of Jacob, Rachel, Leah and Laban. I don’t want to be guilty of honoring you with my lips but having a heart that is far from You. Open my eyes and let me see the reality of my own sin nature and my ongoing need for Your Son’s saving and sanctifying work in my life. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men