A Spiritual Wake-Up Call

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:9-16 ESV

In an attempt to encourage the Ephesian believers, Paul paraphrased a verse from one of King David’s psalms.

You ascended on high,
    leading a host of captives in your train
    and receiving gifts among men… – Psalm 68:18 ESV

As a former Pharisee and a student of the Hebrew scriptures, Paul knew that this passage was written by David as a praise song to God, thanking Him for His divine assistance against Israel’s many enemies. In verse 18 of David’s psalm, he describes gifts being given to God as an expression of gratitude and praise for His divine intervention in their military affairs. But Paul takes this Old Testament passage and repurposes it to drive home his point about God having given the gift of grace to all who believe in His Son (Ephesians 4:7).

“Paul made a valid application of Christological significance to the Old Testament passage. On the one hand, according to Psalm 68:18, God ascended Zion as a victorious king worthy of being the recipient of gifts of homage. On the other hand, according to Ephesians 4:8, Jesus also ascended to the heavenly Zion as the victorious Lord who lovingly bestowed on His church the gifts of ministry essential to her future well-being.” – Bibliotheca Sacra 148:591 (July-September 1991):335-36

In Paul’s application of this verse to the Ephesian context, he portrays Jesus as the one who, having accomplished a mighty victory over the enemy, ascended back into heaven. But rather than receiving gifts from men, Jesus poured out the gift of the Spirit on His church. This gracious outpouring of the Spirit resulted in the provision of divinely-enabled gifts to assist the church in its ministry. Paul mentions just a few of those gifts in verse 11 and explains their purpose.

…he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-12 ESV

In his other letters, Paul provided a series of lists that contain other gifts provided to the church. They include the speaking gifts such as apostleship, prophecy, teaching, evangelism, exhortation, discerning of spirits, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues. But he also lists gifts of service that include leadership, helps, mercy, giving, faith, healing, and miracles. Paul fully believed that Jesus had provided His church with everything it needed to not only survive but thrive.

Paul was reminding his readers that Jesus, the Son of God, had descended from on high and taken on the role of a lowly servant. He had left His rightful place at His Father’s side and chosen to take on the form of a man. Paul eloquently described the “descent” of Jesus in his letter to the church in Philippi.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
   he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:6-8 NLT

And as a result of His incarnation and crucifixion, God raised Jesus from the dead and “elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names” (Philippians 2:9 NLT). And Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell and equip His followers with the power to use their God-ordained gifts and display the fruits of a righteous life – all so that the body of Christ might be built up or edified. In his letter to Timothy, Paul described the church as the household of God and “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 NLT). Jesus poured out gifts on the church so that all of its members might be adequately taught and prepared to carry out His mission on earth.

And, according to Paul, the goal of this “work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12 ESV) is the spiritual maturity of every believer. It will continue unabated and uninterrupted until “we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NLT). This is a lofty and seemingly impossible goal. But Paul’s point is that it is the work of the Spirit, not the flesh. God sent His Son so that sinful humanity might be restored to a right relationship with Him. But Jesus sent the Spirit so that redeemed men and women might have the power they needed to experience the full potentiality of their new nature. Their spiritual transformation was to be ongoing and evidenced by an ever-increasing capacity to thrive in a hostile and often harmful earthly environment. 

In verse 14, Paul telegraphs where he is headed with this line of reasoning. He is preparing his readers to receive a stern but loving lecture regarding false teachers. And he does so by reminding them that their ongoing spiritual maturity is both non-optional and extremely vital. When the members of Christ’s body are growing effectively, they “will no longer be immature like children…tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching,” and they won’t be easily deceived by those who try to trick them “with lies so clever they sound like the truth” (Ephesians 4:14 NLT).

This was all intended as a set-up for Paul’s main point. He is preparing the Ephesian believers to receive his not-so-flattering assessment of their current spiritual condition. In a sense, Paul is describing them as immature children who are being tossed about by every wind of new teaching. Rather than growing up in their salvation, they have remained like helpless and defenseless children who lack discretion and discipline.

According to Paul’s assessment, the Ephesian church was not where it needed to be spiritually. The leaders of the church were not effectively doing their job of equipping “God’s people to do his work” (Ephesians 4:12 NLT). And, as a result, God’s people were not edifying one another and strengthening the body of Christ. Paul calls them to course correct, demanding that they “speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 NLT). They needed to express their love for one another by being honest in their assessment of one another. There is a sense in which love must be hard and unforgiving, pointing out the flaws and failings of one another so that the body of Christ might be healthy and whole. Paul is recommending the truth found in Proverbs 27:6: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” He is echoing the sentiment expressed by King David in another one of his psalms.

Let the righteous man strike me; let his rebuke be an act of loving devotion. It is oil for my head; let me not refuse it.

Paul’s heartfelt desire was that the Ephesians would experience all the gifts that Christ had poured out on their behalf. He wanted them to experience the unity that Christ had died to make possible. He longed for them to display the spiritual maturity that the Spirit made available. And he prayed continually that their lives would reflect the character of Christ that God’s grace had made attainable. As far as Paul was concerned, there was no reason for the Ephesians to be living in doubt, fear, immaturity, disunity, or impurity. God had provided everything they needed. He had done His part. He had sent His Son and His Son had sent the Spirit. Now, it was up to them to live out what God had ordained for them.

He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. – Ephesians 4:16 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Revenge, Greed, and Deceit, Oh My!

13 The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. 14 They said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. 15 Only on this condition will we agree with you—that you will become as we are by every male among you being circumcised. 16 Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters to ourselves, and we will dwell with you and become one people. 17 But if you will not listen to us and be circumcised, then we will take our daughter, and we will be gone.”

18 Their words pleased Hamor and Hamor’s son Shechem. 19 And the young man did not delay to do the thing, because he delighted in Jacob’s daughter. Now he was the most honored of all his father’s house. 20 So Hamor and his son Shechem came to the gate of their city and spoke to the men of their city, saying, 21 “These men are at peace with us; let them dwell in the land and trade in it, for behold, the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters as wives, and let us give them our daughters. 22 Only on this condition will the men agree to dwell with us to become one people—when every male among us is circumcised as they are circumcised. 23 Will not their livestock, their property and all their beasts be ours? Only let us agree with them, and they will dwell with us.” 24 And all who went out of the gate of his city listened to Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city.

25 On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. 26 They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away. 27 The sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. 28 They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. 29 All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered.

30 Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” 31 But they said, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?”  Genesis 34:13-31 ESV

One of the things that stands out in this whole affair is the silence of Jacob. As head of his clan, he had a responsibility to defend his daughter’s honor and to manage his sons’ behavior. But he appears to have said little and done nothing. And his silence regarding Dinah’s rape was unacceptable to her two brothers, Simeon and Levi. They were furious with Shechem for his dishonoring of their sister. And they were appalled that Jacob would consider signing a treaty that would sanction the marriage of their sister to her abuser and promote further unions between the two clans. So, they came up with a plan of their own.

As has been evident throughout the story of Jacob’s life, deceit and trickery come into play once again. The sons of Jacob have inherited their father’s deceptive ways and are determined to use them for their advantage. They even pull the wool over Jacob’s eyes, tricking him into believing that their efforts are sincere. Yet, Moses uses very precise language when describing their response to Hamor and Shechem.

The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. – Genesis 34:13 ESV

The Hebrew word translated as “deceitfully” is מִרְמָה (mirmâ) and it describes the use of guile, falsehood, or craftiness with the intent to deceive. The practice of deceit is repeatedly condemned in the Scriptures. Even David, a descendant of Jacob, wrote:

But you, O God, will cast them down
    into the pit of destruction;
men of blood and treachery (mirmâ)
    shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in you. – Psalm 55:23 ESV

Even King Solomon, another descendant of Jacob, penned the following assessment of those who practice deceit.

Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence,
    but a false witness utters deceit (mirmâ). – Proverbs 12:17 ESV

Notice that David links treachery or deceit with bloodshed, and that is exactly what takes place in this story. The lies of Jacob’s sons were intentional and, ultimately, deadly. Their plan all along was to deceive so that they might enact revenge. They had no intention of keeping their agreement with Hamor and Shechem. And nobody seems to see through their wicked scheme, including their own father.

Amazingly, Hamor and Shechem agreed to the rather bizarre conditions that Jacob’s sons added to the treaty. All the men of Shechem would be required to undergo the rite of circumcision in order to seal the agreement. And when Hamor and Shechem shared the terms of the treaty with their constituents, they received a unanimous affirmation.

So all the men in the town council agreed with Hamor and Shechem, and every male in the town was circumcised. – Genesis 34:24 NLT

This was a radical and painful concession on the part of the Shechemites. But it was not unprecedented. The Israelites were not the only nation to practice the rite of circumcision, and it was most commonly performed on male members of the community. There is some evidence that circumcision was practiced as premarital initiation. There is no indication from the text that Jacob’s sons were suggesting the mass conversion of the men of Shechem. They had no intention of welcoming these men into their faith community. It was simply a ploy, a cleverly disguised trick designed to lull the Shechemites into their trap. And it worked.

But it is important to note why the men of Shechem were so willing to endure such a painful procedure and allow themselves to be placed in such a vulnerable condition. Hamor and Shechem had been successful in persuading their countrymen because they had added an important caveat.

“…if we do this, all their livestock and possessions will eventually be ours. Come, let’s agree to their terms and let them settle here among us.” – Genesis 34:23 NLT

Greed was the impetus behind their decision. By agreeing to the terms of the treaty, the men of Shechem believed they would eventually assimilate the clan of Jacob into their own, and gain control over all their possessions. Intermarriage would result in great wealth and circumcision was a small price to pay for such a reward.

But little did these men know that Jacob’s sons had no intention of keeping their word. There would be no marriage between Shechem and Dinah, no blending of the two clans, and no sharing of livestock and possessions. All the Shechemites got out of the agreement was the pain associated with circumcision, followed by the penalty of death. They were slaughtered like helpless, injured animals.

But three days later, when their wounds were still sore, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, who were Dinah’s full brothers, took their swords and entered the town without opposition. Then they slaughtered every male there, including Hamor and his son Shechem. They killed them with their swords, then took Dinah from Shechem’s house and returned to their camp. – Genesis 34:25-26 NLT

Fueled by their anger and vengeance, Simeon and Levi left no man alive. They paid back the Shechemites for the defilement of their sister, delivering a devastating blow that would leave their father shocked and dismayed. And, to make matters worse, their brothers would join in on the action, looting and plundering the defenseless town. They even took the women and children of Shechem as slaves. And having heard the news of what his sons had done, Jacob confronted Simeon and Levi.

“You have ruined me! You’ve made me stink among all the people of this land—among all the Canaanites and Perizzites. We are so few that they will join forces and crush us. I will be ruined, and my entire household will be wiped out!” – Genesis 34:30 NLT

It’s interesting to note that Jacob was worried about his own reputation but never seems to have considered what Dinah’s rape had done to her social standing. Her virginity had been stolen from her, leaving her as little more than a social pariah. Her defilement had left her as “damaged goods” with little hope of ever being married. And Jacob’s willingness to give her to Shechem, the very man who had raped her, seems to indicate that he knew she had no other options. She either married Shechem or remained an unmarried woman the rest of her life.

But Jacob’s failure to deal with the egregious nature of Shechem’s sin left a leadership vacuum in his family, and his sons willingly filled it. And, in response to their father’s reprimand, Simeon and Levi defended their actions by angrily declaring, “But why should we let him treat our sister like a prostitute?” (Genesis 34:31 NLT).

It’s clear from the text that Jacob had already given Dinah to Shechem because the two brothers rescued her from his house. In Jacob’s mind, the deal was done, the treaty had been ratified. But in a single day, his sons had changed all that. And Jacob feared that their actions would end up turning the rest of the nations of Canaan against him. Word would get out and he would become a social pariah in the land of promise. He even feared that their newly acquired reputation for violence would come back to haunt them, resulting in their own eradication. But of all people, Jacob should have known that God had other plans.

He should have never settled outside the city of Shechem and he was wrong for signing an agreement with the citizens of that city. God had set him apart and had promised to make of his descendants a great nation. He and his children were the chosen people of God and the land of Canaan had been promised to them as their inheritance. In a way, Jacob’s sons had done him a favor, albeit by less-than-righteous means. Their spontaneous and anger-fueled response left Jacob with no option but to vacate the region of Shechem. He was no longer safe there. And in the very next chapter, God will direct Jacob to leave Shechem and return to Bethel because, despite Jacob’s fears, his days in Canaan were far from over.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

With Friends Like This…

43 Then Laban answered and said to Jacob, “The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day for these my daughters or for their children whom they have borne? 44 Come now, let us make a covenant, you and I. And let it be a witness between you and me.” 45 So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46 And Jacob said to his kinsmen, “Gather stones.” And they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there by the heap. 47 Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed. 48 Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” Therefore he named it Galeed, 49 and Mizpah, for he said, “The Lord watch between you and me, when we are out of one another’s sight. 50 If you oppress my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no one is with us, see, God is witness between you and me.”

51 Then Laban said to Jacob, “See this heap and the pillar, which I have set between you and me. 52 This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm. 53 The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.” So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac, 54 and Jacob offered a sacrifice in the hill country and called his kinsmen to eat bread. They ate bread and spent the night in the hill country.

55  Early in the morning Laban arose and kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then Laban departed and returned home. Genesis 31:43-55 ESV

Laban’s desperate search for his missing idols proved to be a bust. So, he had no other recourse but to let Jacob continue his journey to Canaan. This meant saying goodbye to his two daughters and his 11 grandsons. And he was not happy about it. In fact, he let Jacob know that the whole affair was nothing less than a form of highway robbery.

“These women are my daughters, these children are my grandchildren, and these flocks are my flocks—in fact, everything you see is mine. But what can I do now about my daughters and their children? So come, let’s make a covenant, you and I, and it will be a witness to our commitment.” – Genesis 41:43-44 NLT

He offered no confession or admission of wrongdoing. Instead, he accused Jacob of having taken what rightfully belonged to him, including his daughters, grandsons, and flocks. But sensing that he was powerless to stop Jacob’s departure, Laban decided to bury the hatchet and offered to sign a non-aggression pact with his son-in-law. Jacob was leaving Haran a very wealthy man and Laban was reluctant to completely sever ties with him, because he stood to lose a lot more than access to his daughters and grandsons. He really did believe that Jacob was absconding with his possessions and still held out hope that he might one day get them back.

But Jacob, anxious to put as much territory between he and Laban as physically possible, agreed to the treaty.

So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a monument. Then he told his family members, “Gather some stones.” So they gathered stones and piled them in a heap. Then Jacob and Laban sat down beside the pile of stones to eat a covenant meal. – Genesis 31:45-46 NLT

They erected a monument to commemorate their agreement, then sealed the deal with a meal. But despite their mutual pledge, the two men couldn’t agree on a name for the location. Laban called it יְגַר שָׂהֲדוּתָא (yᵊḡar śāhăḏûṯā’), which means “witness heap.” B ut Jacob named it גַּלְעֵד (galʿēḏ), which means “heap of testimony.”

The terms of the covenant were simple. They basically agreed to let the stones to serve as a boundary marker, which they pledged never to pass in order to harm on another.

“I will never pass this pile of stones to harm you, and you must never pass these stones or this monument to harm me. I call on the God of our ancestors—the God of your grandfather Abraham and the God of my grandfather Nahor—to serve as a judge between us.” – Genesis 31:52-53 NLT

It was less a treaty than it was an agreement to refrain from doing harm to one another. There were no wounds healed or friendships made as a result of this act. Laban and Jacob remained distrustful of one another and were much more like enemies than co-signers of a peace agreement. Because of their mutual interest in Leah, Rachel, and the children, the two men agreed to set their animosities aside and do what was necessary to protect those whom they loved.

And it’s interesting to note that the idol-worshiping Laban was the one who chose to call upon the name of Jacob’s God as witness.

“May the Lord keep watch between us to make sure that we keep this covenant when we are out of each other’s sight. If you mistreat my daughters or if you marry other wives, God will see it even if no one else does. He is a witness to this covenant between us. – Genesis 31:49-50 NLT

While hundreds of miles would separate the two men, Laban called upon Yahweh to act as witness to their agreement and as the divine monitor of Jacob’s behavior. If Jacob got out of line and mistreated Leah or Rachel, Laban asked God to intervene and pass judgment on him. As a father, Laban grieved over the thought that he would no longer be able to protect his daughters. And it seems unlikely that he would live long enough to see his grandsons grow up and mature. He seemed to know that this would be the last time he ever saw his daughters and grandchildren.

So Jacob took an oath before the fearsome God of his father, Isaac, to respect the boundary line. Then Jacob offered a sacrifice to God there on the mountain and invited everyone to a covenant feast. After they had eaten, they spent the night on the mountain. – Genesis 31:53-54 NLT

Jacob would never return to Haran. And his relationship with his father-in-law would not end on the best of terms. They completed their covenant agreement, then parted ways. Laban returned to Mesopotamia and Jacob continued his journey back to Canaan. And Jacob must have felt a great sense of relief as he watched his father-in-law ride off into the distance. The last 20 years of his life had been a living nightmare, but now it was all over. But Jacob’s relief would be short-lived. He had gotten rid of one enemy but had another waiting for him at home – his brother Esau.

In the two decades he had been in Haran, Jacob had never received word from Rebekah that it was safe to come home (Genesis 27:45). So, he had no idea what to expect. Was Esau still harboring bitterness for him or had his anger subsided? Would he be greeted with a confrontation or a warm welcome? Every mile he traveled must have been excruciating as the distance between he and Esau diminished. His time of reckoning was drawing near. But, as always, God had plans of which Jacob was oblivious. This trip was going to end far better than Jacob could have ever imagined and it would all be in keeping with the promise had made 20 years earlier.

“Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:15 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Leaving the Past Behind

17 So Jacob arose and set his sons and his wives on camels. 18 He drove away all his livestock, all his property that he had gained, the livestock in his possession that he had acquired in Paddan-aram, to go to the land of Canaan to his father Isaac. 19 Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father’s household gods. 20 And Jacob tricked Laban the Aramean, by not telling him that he intended to flee. 21 He fled with all that he had and arose and crossed the Euphrates, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead.

22 When it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob had fled, 23 he took his kinsmen with him and pursued him for seven days and followed close after him into the hill country of Gilead. 24 But God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream by night and said to him, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.”

25 And Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsmen pitched tents in the hill country of Gilead. 26 And Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done, that you have tricked me and driven away my daughters like captives of the sword? 27 Why did you flee secretly and trick me, and did not tell me, so that I might have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre? 28 And why did you not permit me to kiss my sons and my daughters farewell? Now you have done foolishly. 29 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 say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’ 30 And now you have gone away because you longed greatly for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods?” 31 Jacob answered and said to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force. 32 Anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live. In the presence of our kinsmen point out what I have that is yours, and take it.” Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them. Genesis 31:17-32 ESV

Having convinced his two wives that it was in their best interest to leave their father’s household and return with him to Canaan, Jacob loaded his family on camels and surreptitiously snuck out of Haran. Due to the large size of his herds and flocks, and the number of servants he possessed, it would have been quite a challenge for Jacob to leave without being noticed. Yet Moses indicates that it took Laban three days before he realized that Jacob had departed.

It appears that Laban had been busy sheering sheep, but when he returned home he discovered that he was missing far more than just his daughters and grandsons. Someone had stolen one of his household gods. This would seem to indicate that Laban was not a Yahweh worshiper.

Moses uses a clever play on words when he describes Rachel’s crime and Jacob’s actions. He writes that Rachel “stole” Laban’s household god. The Hebrew word is גָּנַב (gānaḇ) and it can mean “to steal” or “to steal away, as by stealth.” That is why he uses the same word to describe Jacob’s deception of Laban. It could be translated, “Jacob stole the heart from Laban the Aramean by not telling him that he was fleeing” (Genesis 31:20 TLV).

Jacob took what was near and dear to Laban, his daughters, and grandsons. But it seems that Laban was more upset about his missing idol. Angered by this injustice, Laban formed a posse and set out to rescue his stolen god.

…he gathered a group of his relatives and set out in hot pursuit. He caught up with Jacob seven days later in the hill country of Gilead. – Genesis 31:23 NLT

But before he could begin his journey, Laban had a surprise visit from the one true God, Yahweh. While Laban’s idol was mute and had proven to be incapable of protecting himself from Rachel’s greedy hands, the God of Jacob was quite vocal and very clear in his warning to Laban.

“Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.” – Genesis 31:24 ESV

God knew Laban’s heart and was fully aware that he intended to do Jacob harm. But essentially, God warned Laban not to touch Jacob. More importantly, Laban was not to threaten Jacob or pronounce a curse on him. But this didn’t keep Laban from speaking his mind when he finally caught up to Jacob. He confronted his son-in-law, demanding to know why he had chosen to slip away in secret.

“You’ve deceived me and carried away my daughters as if they were captives of war!  Why did you run away secretly and deceive me? Why didn’t you tell me so I could send you off with a celebration complete with singing, tambourines, and harps?  You didn’t even allow me to kiss my daughters and my grandchildren goodbye. You have acted foolishly!” – Genesis 31:26-28 NET

Laban used the same word, גָּנַב (gānaḇ), to describe Jacob’s actions. By stealing away in the dead of night with his father-in-law’s daughter and grandchildren, Jacob had effectively “stolen” Laban’s heart. According to Laban, Jacob had deliberately and maliciously deceived him and, in so doing, had broken his heart.

It is difficult to feel much sympathy for Laban because he has proven himself to be just as untrustworthy and manipulative. This is a man who had deliberately taken advantage of Jacob on multiple occasions. But now that he was on the receiving end of the deception, he didn’t like it. And he let Jacob know that the only thing preventing him from getting even was the warning he had received from Yahweh. If Jacob’s God had not stepped in, Laban would be meting out vigilante justice.

But the real motivation behind Laban’s anger was not his heart for his family, but his passion for his false god. The confiscation of his household idol had been the deal-breaker. And Laban clearly believed that Jacob was the guilty party.

“I can understand your feeling that you must go, and your intense longing for your father’s home. But why have you stolen my gods?” – Genesis 31:30 NLT

But Jacob declared his innocence. He admitted that his secretive departure had been because he had feared what would happen if Laban discovered his plans to return to Canaan. Jacob knew his father-in-law well and assumed that he would do anything to prevent his daughters and grandchildren from leaving. But as far as the missing idol was concerned, Jacob knew nothing about it. And he challenged Laban to instigate a search to see if anyone had the idol in their possession. If the missing idol was found, Jacob agreed to have the guilty party executed. But little did he know that he was sentencing his own wife to death.

This entire scene provides a fitting summary of this portion of Jacob’s life. For nearly 20 years, he has lived with his uncle, Laban. During that time he had found the wife he had set out to find and had also ended up with an unexpected second wife and two concubines. The two decades had been filled with deceit and trickery as the various parties manipulated and defrauded one another in an effort to get their own ways. No one in this story comes out as squeaky clean and free from blame. They each bear responsibility for their particular sins and stand before God as guilty and deserving of His judgment.

But despite all the subterfuge and selfish scheming, God has been at work. And as Jacob faces off with Laban in the hill country of Gilead, God is preparing to end this phase of Jacob’s life of exile. He is on his way back to Canaan, the land that God had promised to give to his grandfather, Abraham. It is his divinely ordained inheritance. The days of exile are over. It is time to go home, but God wants Jacob to leave behind everything associated with his stay in Haran. From this point forward, Jacob will be expected to separate himself from his father-in-law and his false gods. He will be required to leave behind his dependence upon trickery and deceit to get ahead. From this point forward, God will be leading Jacob back to Canaan and into a deeper and fully sold-out relationship with Him. This current crisis will come to an end. But the days ahead will not be easy. Leaving behind his old ways will prove to be far more difficult for Jacob than leaving Haran. But God is preparing Jacob for another exile that will last far longer than his stay in Mesopotamia. And it will be in keeping with God’s promise to Abraham.

“You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth.” – Genesis 14:13-14 NLT

Jacob was returning to Canaan with 11 sons. And one of those sons, Joseph, would play an integral part in the fulfillment of God’s promise. What Jacob did not realize was that his entire life was to be a foreshadowing of the nation of Israel. Just as Jacob had fled to a foreign land to escape certain death, so too the people of Israel would flee to Egypt to escape a famine in the land of Canaan. And like Jacob, their forefather, the people of Israel would find themselves living as little more than captives in their new homeland. But God would eventually redeem them, just as He was doing for Jacob. He would faithfully fulfill His covenant commitment and return His exiled sons and daughters to the land of promise.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

By His Stripes

1 Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, “Jacob has taken all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has gained all this wealth.” And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before. Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.”

So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah into the field where his flock was and said to them, “I see that your father does not regard me with favor as he did before. 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. But God did not permit him to harm me. If he said, ‘The spotted shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore spotted; and if he said, ‘The striped shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore striped. Thus God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me. 10 In the breeding season of the flock I lifted up my eyes and saw in a dream that the goats that mated with the flock were striped, spotted, and mottled. 11 Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am!’ 12 And he said, ‘Lift up your eyes and see, all the goats that mate with the flock are striped, spotted, and mottled, for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred.’” 14 Then Rachel and Leah answered and said to him, “Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house? 15 Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and he has indeed devoured our money. 16 All the wealth that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children. Now then, whatever God has said to you, do.” Genesis 31:1-16 ESV

Once again, Jacob finds himself with more enemies than friends, all because of his own self-serving actions. Nearly two decades earlier, Jacob had been forced to flee Beersheba because his older brother wanted to kill him for having stolen his birthright and blessing. Now, Jacob discovers that his brothers-in-law are furious because he has managed to abscond with the majority of their father’s flocks. Through a rather stranger process of selective breeding and what appears to be a healthy dose of luck, Jacob amassed a sizeable flock of speckled, spotted, and black sheep. And this unexpected transfer of wealth has left Laban’s rightful heirs furious. Their brother-in-law has cheated them out of their inheritance.

“Jacob has robbed our father of everything!” they said. “He has gained all his wealth at our father’s expense.” – Genesis 31:1 NLT

This should all sound eerily familiar. Nearly 20 years earlier, Esau had expressed his own frustration after having discovered that his twin brother, Jacob, had not only left him with no claim to their father’s inheritance but had stolen his blessing as well.

“No wonder his name is Jacob, for now he has cheated me twice. First he took my rights as the firstborn, and now he has stolen my blessing. Oh, haven’t you saved even one blessing for me?” – Genesis 27:36 NLT

It’s quite obvious that Jacob never read Dale Carnegie’s classic work, How To Win Friends and Influence People. His penchant for self-promotion coupled with his uncanny talent for deception resulted in great success as well as a growing list of enemies. When Laban and his sons finally realized what Jacob had done to them, it was too late. He had robbed them blind. And recognizing their anger, Jacob knew it was time to go. He seems to have operated by the old American proverb: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” But while that adage promotes brave action in the face of difficulty, for Jacob it meant “run for your life.” Things had heated up, so it was time to go – again.

But somewhere along the way, Jacob received a word from God. All the while Jacob had been building his earthly empire by less-than-honest means, the Almighty had been watching and waiting. Now, God provides His young covenant partner with divine confirmation that the time has come for him to return to Canaan.

“Return to the land of your father and grandfather and to your relatives there, and I will be with you.” – Genesis 31:3 NLT

So, Jacob called his two wives and informed them of his plan to leave Haran. He begins by recounting the many ways in which their father had taken advantage of him over the years.

“I have noticed that your father’s attitude toward me has changed. But the God of my father has been with me. You know how hard I have worked for your father, but he has cheated me, changing my wages ten times. But God has not allowed him to do me any harm. – Genesis 31:5-7 NLT

Jacob is painting himself as the victim and staking out the moral high ground by claiming to have God on his side. And while all that he says is true, it still has a slightly dishonest and deceitful feel to it. Jacob positions himself as fully innocent of any wrongdoing. He insists that it never really mattered what criteria Laban established for their agreement because God would have ensured that the outcome was in Jacob’s favor.

“For if he said, ‘The speckled animals will be your wages,’ the whole flock began to produce speckled young. And when he changed his mind and said, ‘The striped animals will be your wages,’ then the whole flock produced striped young. In this way, God has taken your father’s animals and given them to me.” – Genesis 31:8-9 NLT

He wasn’t guilty of stealing Laban’s flocks. God had done it all. And, once again, while there is a ring of truth to Jacob’s claim, he appears to be using God to justify his own actions. But this is where Moses discloses an important, as-yet-unrevealed aspect of the story. It seems that Jacob had received another divine encounter in which he was given detailed instructions from God. It’s difficult to ascertain exactly when this conversation between Jacob and the angel of the Lord took place but Jacob indicates that it occurred sometime “during the mating season” (Genesis 31:10 NLT).

One night, as Jacob had been shepherding Laban’s flocks, he had a dream in which it seems he received the idea for breeding the speckled and spotted sheep.

“The angel said, ‘Look up, and you will see that only the streaked, speckled, and spotted males are mating with the females of your flock. For I have seen how Laban has treated you. I am the God who appeared to you at Bethel, the place where you anointed the pillar of stone and made your vow to me. Now get ready and leave this country and return to the land of your birth.’” – Genesis 31:12-13 NLT

This is the first time that Jacob has divulged this information. Notice that the angel doesn’t explain to Jacob how the vision will take place. Perhaps the angel had given Jacob the idea about placing the multicolored branches in the water troughs. This would provide a plausible explanation for Jacob’s actions, and portray the entire process as nothing less than a supernatural miracle orchestrated by God Himself.

So many times in Scripture, God performs His extraordinary activities on earth by using common, everyday objects. He used Moses’ shepherd’s staff to turn the water of the Nile into blood.

“Look! I will strike the water of the Nile with this staff in my hand, and the river will turn to blood. The fish in it will die, and the river will stink. The Egyptians will not be able to drink any water from the Nile.” – Exodus 7:17 NLT

That very same staff would be used to create a plague of frogs.

“Raise the staff in your hand over all the rivers, canals, and ponds of Egypt, and bring up frogs over all the land.” – Exodus 8:5 NLT

And when it came time for the people of Israel to return to the land of Canaan, God ordered Moses to use that same wooden staff to part the waters of the Red Sea.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the people to get moving! Pick up your staff and raise your hand over the sea. Divide the water so the Israelites can walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground. – Exodus 14:15-16 NLT

So, it takes no stretch of the imagination to consider that God had been the one to give Jacob the idea to use the “striped” branches.

Then Jacob took some fresh branches from poplar, almond, and plane trees and peeled off strips of bark, making white streaks on them. Then he placed these peeled branches in the watering troughs where the flocks came to drink, for that was where they mated. And when they mated in front of the white-streaked branches, they gave birth to young that were streaked, speckled, and spotted. – Genesis 30:28-30 NLT

God had miraculously used the “striped” branches to produce striped sheep. And, as always, God had a purpose for performing this inexplicable miracle in such an unlikely manner. It brings to mind the words of Isaiah prophesying the coming Messiah of Israel. In Isaiah 53, Moses presents the Messiah as the suffering servant, describing the gruesome death He would face as Israel’s Savior. He opens by describing the Messiah as being “like a young plant” (Isaiah 53:2 ESV).

Then Isaiah records in great detail the excruciating and humiliating suffering of this “young plant.”

He was pierced for our offenses,
He was crushed for our wrongdoings;
The punishment for our well-being was laid upon Him,
And by His wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

But the Hebrew word translated as “wounds” is חַבּוּרָה (ḥabûrâ), which can also be translated as “stripes.” Now, look closely at what Isaiah is saying. The “striped” young plant would be used to bring healing and restoration to the wandering sheep.

All of us, like sheep, have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the wrongdoing of us all
To fall on Him. – Isaiah 53:6 NLT

Now, look closely at verse 37 of Genesis 30.

Jacob took fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the sticks. – Genesis 30:37 ESV

The Hebrew word for “fresh” can also be translated as “new.” These were tender young shoots that Jacob “striped” and placed in front of the sheep. And the result was many offspring. Now, look back at Isaiah’s prophecy.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring – Isaiah 53:10 ESV

God performed a miracle. He guided the “wandering” Jacob and showered him with undeserved blessings. And the means by which God performed this miracle points to the future blessing that God will shower on the descendants of Jacob in the form of the “tender young shoot” – Jesus Christ. He will be “the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:10 ESV). He will be “a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jeremiah 23:5 ESV). And He will come from the line of Judah, one of the 11 sons of Jacob born while he lived in Haran.

Berean Study Bible

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

It Never Pays to Bargain With God

Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he directed him, “You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women,” and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and gone to Paddan-aram. So when Esau saw that the Canaanite women did not please Isaac his father, Esau went to Ishmael and took as his wife, besides the wives he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth.

10 Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

18 So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.” Genesis 28:6-22 ESV

After Jacob had left to seek a wife from among his mother’s family in Mesopotamia, his brother Esau decided to try and win back his parent’s favor by marrying a woman from among his own clan. Esau already had two Hittite wives, but he knew that these marriages had been a huge disappointment to his mother and father. So, when he had heard Isaac warn Jacob not to take a wife from among the Canaanites, Esau determined to make amends with his parents by marrying one of his cousins. Her name was Mahalath and she was the daughter of Ishmael, the elder son of Abraham. While Esau had been angered by his parent’s complicity in Jacob’s stealing of his blessing, he also desired their favor. Having lost his birthright and his blessing, he was desperate to win them over. But he failed to consider the fact that God had divinely ordained the separation of Ishmael’s clan from that of Isaac’s. The Ishmaelites were not destined to share in the covenant promise made to Abraham. So, Esau’s marriage to Mahalath would do little to improve his relationship with his parents or to enhance his future prospects. Yet, during his brother’s 20-year absence, Esau would build a life for himself in Canaan, raising a family and attempting to maintain a civil relationship with his mother and father.

Meanwhile, Jacob continued his long and arduous journey to Haran. But some 58 miles into his trip, he was forced to stop for the night, and it would prove to be anything but a restful evening. As he drifted off to sleep, he had a vivid and somewhat disturbing dream. He envisioned a giant flight of steps reaching from heaven to earth, and on that massive stairway, there was a host of angels ascending and descending. But Jacob’s eye was drawn to the top of the stairway, where he caught a glimpse of Yahweh, the Lord. And, considering all that Jacob had just done to deceive his father and defraud his brother, this vision of the Almighty must have struck fear into his heart. Was God going to repay him for having stolen his brother’s blessing? Was this going to be some kind of well-deserved payback for his treachery and deceit? But before Jacob could formulate any words to speak to God, he was presented with an unexpected announcement.

“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. 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. – Genesis 28:13-14 NLT

The symbolism contained in this dream is powerful and significant. As Jacob lay in the darkness, separated from his family and facing an uncertain future, a host of angelic beings were moving back and forth between heaven and earth. These messengers of God represent His divine oversight and influence over all that happens on earth. Their movement between the two realms was meant to symbolize His sovereign control over the affairs of this world. They were His celestial agents, carrying out His wishes and accomplishing His divine will among men.

While Jacob and his mother had been busily conspiring to deceive Isaac and defraud Esau, God’s will had been carried out. There was a constant movement taking place between heaven and earth, as God’s messengers carried out His orders and implemented His sovereign plans among men. But Jacob and Rebekah had been oblivious to this invisible activity taking place in the unseen realms. They had mistakenly thought that they were in control of their futures and fate. But now, Jacob was receiving a divine wake-up call, informing him that all his trickery and deceit had been unnecessary. There had been no need for Jacob to barter for the birthright or to steal the blessing of the firstborn. God had always intended for the covenant promise to be his. It had not been his cleverly conceived plan to fool Isaac that had earned him the right to his father’s inheritance. It had been the sovereign will of God.

From among all the men who lived on the earth, God had chosen Abraham. And He had given this undeserving Chaldean a promise to bless him beyond his wildest dream.

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you,
and I will make your name great,
so that you will exemplify divine blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
but the one who treats you lightly I must curse,
so that all the families of the earth may receive blessing through you.” – Genesis 12:2-3 NLT

And then, God had chosen Abraham’s son, Isaac, to be the conduit through whom this blessing would flow. God had sovereignly passed by Ishmael, the firstborn. And now, God was announcing that it had always been His plan to choose Jacob over Esau. The covenant promise would flow to him and through him. God was going to use this flawed vessel as the conduit through which He would accomplish His redemptive plan for mankind. And, not only that, God informed Jacob that he would enjoy divine protection all during his extended journey.

“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.” – Genesis 28:15 NLT

What Jacob didn’t know was that his trip was going to take much longer than he anticipated. Two decades would pass before he was able to return to Beersheba and, during that time, Jacob would experience both the blessings and the discipline of God. He would eventually find the wife for which he was searching. But, more importantly, he would discover the power and sovereignty of God. The next 20 years of his life would be filled with joy and sorrow, success and failure, hope and heartache. But his roller-coaster existence would also be marked by the constant assurance that God was with him, operating behind the scenes and orchestrating every aspect of his life. God had promised Jacob that he would remain with him to the end.

The impact this dream had on Jacob can be seen in his response when he awoke.

“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” – Genesis 28:16 NLT

Jacob could have spoken those words back in Beersheba as well because God had always been with him. He just hadn’t realized it. This divine encounter left Jacob shaken and sobered.

“What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!” – Genesis 28:17 NLT

Out of reverence for God, Jacob took the stone upon which his head had rested while he dreamed and he turned it into a sacred pillar. He named the place Bethel which means “house of God.” What’s fascinating is that this is the very same spot where, years earlier, Jacob’s grandfather Abraham had erected an altar to God.

Then he moved from there to the hill country east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and worshiped the Lord. – Genesis 12:8 NLT

Like his grandfather before him, Jacob worshiped Yahweh. But, in keeping with his bargaining nature, Jacob attempted to strike a deal with God.

“If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God. 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.” – Genesis 28:20-22 NLT

Rather than rejoice in the fact that God had just promised to bless and not punish him, Jacob arrogantly attempted to bargain with the Almighty. He placed conditions on his continued worship of God. Despite the fact that God had promised to fulfill every aspect of the promise He had made, Jacob wanted guarantees. This undeserving grandson of Abraham tried to arm wrestle Yahweh by threatening to hold his worship if his conditions were not met. Suffice it to say, Jacob had a lot to learn about God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

14 So he went and took them and brought them to his mother, and his mother prepared delicious food, such as his father loved. 15 Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her older son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. 16 And the skins of the young goats she put on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. 17 And she put the delicious food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob.

18 So he went in to his father and said, “My father.” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” 19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, that your soul may bless me.” 20 But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.” 21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.” 22 So Jacob went near to Isaac his father, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 And he did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands. So he blessed him. 24 He said, “Are you really my son Esau?” He answered, “I am.” 25 Then he said, “Bring it near to me, that I may eat of my son’s game and bless you.” So he brought it near to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank. Genesis 27:14-25 ESV

This story is meant to be disturbing. Yet, how easy it is to read it while completely glossing over the  blatant displays of human depravity it contains. No one in the narrative comes out looking like a hero.   In fact, Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Jacob each stand as guilty and well-deserving of divine condemnation for their actions. And what should make this story so disconcerting and difficult to comprehend is the knowledge that none of their behavior was justified or necessary. Moses has made it clear that God had always planned for Esau to serve Jacob. Even while the two boys were still in Rebekah’s womb, God had informed her “the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23 ESV).

The Almighty had a plan for these twin brothers. He had their futures completely orchestrated long before they took their first breaths. And while He provided Rebekah with no explanation as to how the older would end up serving the younger, it was not up for debate or worthy of doubt. God had a well-established track record of doing what He had promised to do.

And yet, these verses describe a scene in which the human actors seem to be operating according to worldly standards and in keeping with their own personal agendas. Isaac is using his capacity as the head of the household to satisfy his love of good food by requiring his son, Esau, to prepare him a meal in exchange for his blessing. In a sense, Isaac was requiring his son to earn the blessing that was rightfully his by birth.

Rebekah, in a blatant display of “helicopter parenting,” can’t help but interject herself into the scene in order to protect the interests of her favorite child. She was determined that Jacob should have it all and was willing to do anything to guarantee her preferred outcome. Blinded by jealousy and pride, Rebekah concocted an elaborate plan to deceive Isaac and defraud Esau. And her enthusiasm for the task must have been contagious because, after a brief display of reluctance, Jacob ending up jumping in with eager abandon.

According to his mother’s instructions, Jacob slaughtered the two goats, which she promptly prepared according to her husband’s favorite recipe. Rebekah had learned the truth to the old adage: The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

But Rebekah knew that she would have to employ further subterfuge if her plan was to be a success. And this is where the depth of her cunning and conniving comes into full view.

…she took Esau’s favorite clothes, which were there in the house, and gave them to her younger son, Jacob. She covered his arms and the smooth part of his neck with the skin of the young goats. Then she gave Jacob the delicious meal, including freshly baked bread. – Genesis 27:15-17 ESV

This woman was leaving nothing up to chance. Despite her husband’s old age and poor eyesight, she was going out of her way to ensure that her scheme went off without a hitch. And, sadly, she used her influence as a parent to convince her son to not only comply, but to carry out the dastardly plan. And he did so with enthusiastic abandon.

Disguised in his brother’s clothes and with his bare arms and neck covered in goat skin, Jacob approached his father. Carrying the food prepared by his mother, Jacob displayed his sold-out commitment to the plan and his full intention to deceive his own father. He was a willing participant in the deception and was essential to its success.

Jacob wasn’t just wearing a disguise, he was living a lie. He purposefully and deceitfully portrayed himself as his brother so that he might steal that which did not belong to him. From this point forward, Jacob found himself caught in a lie that would continue to escalate and intensify, plunging him deeper into a black hole of deception and condemnation. When asked by Isaac to identify himself, Jacob replied, “It’s Esau, your firstborn son. I’ve done as you told me. Here is the wild game. Now sit up and eat it so you can give me your blessing” (Genesis 27:19 ESV).

And when Isaac expressed surprise at how quickly Esau had returned from the hunt with a meal already prepared, Jacob was forced to think on his feet. But look closely at how he explains himself.

“Because the Lord your God granted me success. – Genesis 27:20 ESV

Not only was Jacob lying, but he was dragging God into his web of deceit. Essentially, Jacob was guilty of using God’s name in vain. The name of God was synonymous with His character. His name was representative of His holiness and greatness. Jacob was using God’s name in a flippant and disrespectful manner, and attempting to leverage its significance to Isaac in order to accomplish his unethical and immoral plan. Whether Jacob realized it or not, he was walking on thin ice. He was using the name of God to perpetrate fraud.

And the story of Jacob’s deception provides evidence to the old adage: “One lie leads to another.” Once Jacob went down this path, there was no turning back. His father expressed confusion when he heard what sounded like Jacob’s voice coming out of a body that appeared to belong to Esau. “Are you really my son Esau?” he asked. And with no hesitation, Jacob replied, “I am.”

Convinced by Jacob’s lies, Isaac quickly refocused the conversation to his more pressing need: His own appetite. He was ready to eat and would not give up the blessing until he had filled up his stomach.

So Jacob took the food to his father, and Isaac ate it. He also drank the wine that Jacob served him. – Genesis 27:25 NLT

Isaac feasted while Jacob watched and waited. Moses doesn’t disclose how long it took for Isaac to satisfy his hunger, but Jacob must have died a thousand deaths as he we watched the tent door, fully expecting his brother to return at any moment. And it seems likely that Rebekah was nearby, anxiously wondering why it was taking so long.

As stated earlier, the story is meant to be disturbing, but it’s also conveys a rather comical air. It’s difficult not to picture Jacob draped in goat hair, sweating profusely, and nervously watching as his half-blind father slowly consumes a meal.

The saddest character in the whole story is Esau, who was busily hunting for game so that he might prepare the meal that would earn him his long-awaited blessing. And all the while, his own mother and brother were conspiring behind his back to deprive him of what was rightfully his. And when Esau eventually returned, meal in hand, he would experience one of the greatest disappointments of his life – at the hands of his own family members.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Driven By the Wrong Desires

1 When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.”

Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me game and prepare for me delicious food, that I may eat it and bless you before the Lord before I die.’ Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you. Go to the flock and bring me two good young goats, so that I may prepare from them delicious food for your father, such as he loves. 10 And you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.” 11 But Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man. 12 Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him and bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing.” 13 His mother said to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, bring them to me.” Genesis 27:1-13 ESV

Chapter 26 ended with a brief snapshot of Esau’s life. When he reached the age of 40, this eldest son of Isaac married two different women from the among the sons of Heth. And Moses comments that Esau’s wives wives “made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah” (Genesis 26:35 ESV). This seems to be a reference to the disappointment his parents felt that he had failed to take for himself a wife from among the clan of Abraham. It is important to recall that Rebekah had been a granddaughter of Abraham’s brother. It had been highly important to Abraham that his son, Isaac, have a wife from among his own people. And when Abraham had sent his servant to Haran to seek a suitable bride for Isaac, he had made him swear an oath.

“I may make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” – Genesis 24:3-4 ESV

So, Esau’s decision to marry not one, but two, Hittite women, left Isaac and Rebekah bitter and frustrated by their son’s rebellious behavior. By marrying Canaanite women, Esau ensured that any children they bore him would be, in a sense, impure. He had married outside his clan and, in doing so, had brought dishonor to the family name.

But, as Moses revealed earlier, Isaac had a special love for Esau.

Isaac loved Esau because he enjoyed eating the wild game Esau brought home… – Genesis 25:28 ESV

This entire chapter is going to place a special emphasis on physical appetites and desires. Each of the characters seem to be consumed by what the apostle John called “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2L16 ESV). They each display an unhealthy obsession with self and allow their own personal agendas to cloud their decision making.

While Isaac and Rebekah had been grieved by Esau’s choice of wives, Isaac still appreciated his son’s culinary skills. In the waning days of his life, Isaac showed little concern about the spiritual heritage he would leave his eldest son, but instead, he used Esau to satisfy his own selfish desires.

“Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.” – Genesis 27:2-4 ESV

Basically, Isaac manipulates his son in order to get what he wants. He couches his request in the guise of a blessing, and offers Esau something that was already his by right. But Isaac has attached a condition. If you bring me food, I will bless you. And this offer appealed to Esau because, years earlier, he had mistakenly sold his birthright to Jacob, in exchange for a bowl of stew. The birthright and the blessing were two different things. The birthright was usually given to the firstborn son and guaranteed him the largest portion of the family’s estate upon his father’s death. But Esau had flippantly traded that right away. Yet, despite his reckless decision, Esau was still the firstborn and, as such, was guaranteed a special blessing from his father. So, Isaac’s request provided Esau with a chance to make up his losses. By selling his birthright, Esau had given up his right to be the chief of the tribe and head of the family, but he still held out hope that his father would reward him with a double-portion as the eldest son of the family.

Like his father, Esau was driven by his own brand of lust and desire. So, he quickly took up Isaac’s offer and headed out in search of wild game.

But there had been someone eavesdropping on the conversation between Isaac and Esau. Rebekah overhead what her husband had said and immediately went into protective-parent mode. According to Moses, Rebekah loved Jacob (Genesis 25:28), and she would do anything to protect her favorite child. So, when she heard that Isaac planned to give Esau the blessing, she saw her chance to guarantee Jacob’s future for life.

There is no way to tell if Isaac or Rebekah knew about Esau’s sale of his birthright. It would appear that they were still operating under the impression that Esau still retained the birthright and had every right to expect the blessing of the firstborn. Rebekah’s motivation is purely selfish. She desires that her favorite son be the one who inherits all the Isaac leaves behind. And she is willing to use deception to make it happen. But keep in mind, that Rebekah has already been promised by God that Jacob will be the more powerful and successful of the two sons. When she was still carrying the two boys in her womb, God had given her a prophetic pronouncement regarding their future.

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

But Rebekah decided to take matters into her own hands. She was going to do whatever it took to ensure the outcome that God had promised. While Esau was gone, she called Jacob and informed him of her plan.

“Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you. Go to the flock and bring me two good young goats, so that I may prepare from them delicious food for your father, such as he loves. And you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.” – Genesis 27:8-10 ESV

Unwilling to allow God to accomplish His will on His own terms and according to His own timing, Rebekah chose to implement her own cleverly concocted plan. She decided to help out the Almighty. And everything about her plan is deceptive and potentially destructive. She shows no concern for Esau, and displays no respect for the wishes of her own husband. In her desire to get what she wanted, she was willing to disobey God, deceive her husband, and defraud her own son.

Interestingly enough, Jacob doesn’t reject his mothers plan, but simply exposes the holes he sees in it. He displays a fear of getting exposed but not a fear of deceiving his father and cheating his brother out of the blessing. He knew his father was half-blind, but he also knew that his father was no fool. He and his brother looked nothing alike and Isaac was sure to see through their little charade. But Rebekah had a plan. She had already thought through all the variables and had come up with a fool proof strategy for pulling the wool over Isaac’s already cloudy eyes.

She even assured her reluctant son that, if they were caught, she would personally endure any curse that Isaac leveled against him. She would take the heat. If nothing else, Rebekah was committed. She was completely sold out to her son’s success and would do anything to see that he got all she believed he deserved.

At this moment, Rebekah’s desires had completely taken precedence over God’s will. Nothing she was doing was necessary. And yet, God allowed it to happen. According to His sovereign will and in line with His providential plan, He permitted each of these individuals to operate according to their own selfish agendas, without ever sacrificing a single element of His own divine will.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. – Proverbs 19:21 ESV

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. – Proverbs 16:9 ESV

Isaac lusted for food. Esau coveted a blessing. Rebekah yearned to get her own way. And Jacob craved significance.

All four of them could have saved themselves a lot of hurt and heartache if they could have heard the words of the apostle John.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Hunger for all the Wrong Things

29 Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. 30 And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) 31 Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” 32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

1 Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines. And the Lord appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” Genesis 25:29-26:5 ESV

According to Moses’ narrative timeline, Isaac was 60-years-old when his twin sons were born. If, as Moses records, Abraham was 100-years-old when Isaac was born, and he died at the age of 175, that means he would have had 15 years to watch his grandsons grow. It seems likely that Abraham and his second wife, Keturah, lived with Isaac in Beer-lahai-roi, which would have given him time to tell Esau and Jacob all the stories of his past, including God’s promise to give all the land of Canaan to his descendants as their inheritance.

For Abraham, the normal joy of seeing his grandsons born was coupled with the extreme excitement of knowing that the promise of God was going to be fulfilled. His son had been blessed with sons, and the line of Abraham was slowly expanding. But fortunately for Abraham, he died before he could witness the strife that took place within his own household. During his lifetime, he had been forced to send away Ishmael and the six sons born to him through Keturah. But little did he know that his two grandsons would end up alienated and separated for years. And it would be in direct fulfillment of the words spoken by God to Rebekah during her pregnancy.

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

The two boys, while twins, could not have been any different. For nine months, they had shared the same womb, but when they were born, their appearance and temperaments were visibly apparent. Even in the womb, the two boys “struggled together” (Genesis 25:22). And that struggle seemed to intensify as they grew older.

And the day came when the conflict between these two siblings reached a boiling point. Moses relates an occasion when Esau arrived home after a long day of hunting. Evidently, it had been an unsuccessful trip and he was famished. When he walked into the tent he shared with his brother, Esau demanded to have a portion of the stew Jacob was eating. One can almost sense that there might have been a pattern of bullying between these two young men. It seems that Esau, the older and stronger brother, seems quite comfortable bossing his younger brother around. But this time, Jacob decided to take advantage of the situation. And it appears that he had been looking for this opportunity for some time.

It’s important to recall how Moses described an unhealthy rift that had developed in Isaac’s household, not just between the two boys but between their parents. Moses states that “Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob” (Genesis 25:28 ESV). In a sense, the two parents had chosen sides and this was going to cause a further fracturing of the relationship between the two sons.

There is little doubt that Rebekah had remembered the words that God had spoken: “the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23 ESV). And, as she watched the two boys grow, she probably bristled as she watched the older, stronger Esau pushing around her more delicate and refined Jacob. And it seems likely that somewhere along the way she had shared with Jacob the words that God had spoken. So, when Esau demanded a portion of his stew, Jacob decided to use his brother’s impulsiveness and unbridled physical appetites against him. Jacob craftily offered Esau a deal he couldn’t refuse.

“All right,” Jacob replied, “but trade me your rights as the firstborn son.” – Genesis 25:31 ESV

To any reasonable person, this would appear to be a ludicrous and unreasonable offer. But Jacob knew his brother well. For years he had witnessed Esau’s tendency to allow his physical appetites to control him. Jacob knew that Esau would let his stomach override his brain. It seems that Esau suffered from what John calls a love affair with the world. Something he describes as “a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions” (1 John 2:16 NLT).

Esau’s impulsive and ill-reasoned decision is clear for all to see.

“Look, I’m dying of starvation!” said Esau. “What good is my birthright to me now?” – Genesis 25:32 NLT

He overexaggerates the “threat” to his life and, in doing so, he undervalues his birthright. So, what was it that Esau so flippantly traded away? The birthright was reserved for the firstborn son and came with the promise that he would one day become the head of the household and inherit his father’s estate. According to Deuteronomy 21:17, the birthright guaranteed the oldest son a double portion of whatever the father left behind. Driven by his love affair with food and penchant for satisfying his physical appetites, Esau made an unwise decision. And the author of Hebrews declares that what Esau did was ultimately immoral and godless.

Make sure that no one is immoral or godless like Esau, who traded his birthright as the firstborn son for a single meal. You know that afterward, when he wanted his father’s blessing, he was rejected. It was too late for repentance, even though he begged with bitter tears. – Hebrews 12:16-17 NLT

But what Jacob did was no better. He willingly took advantage of his brother’s weakness and deceived him. Before handing over the bowl of stew, Jacob forced Esau to swear an oath concerning the birthright, which Esau willingly did. And then, Esau consumed the stew and “despised his birthright” (Genesis 25:34 ESV).

It’s interesting to note that as chapter 25 ends, Esau has a full stomach but an empty future. And as the next chapter opens, Moses describes yet another “famine in the land” of Canaan (Genesis 26:1). This is the second famine to have struck the land God had promised to Abraham. During the first one, Abraham had made the fateful decision to seek refuge in the land of Egypt. That is where he had convinced Sarah to introduce herself as his sister instead of his wife. And that little white lie resulted in Sarah becoming a concubine in Pharaoh’s harem. It took a divine intervention to rescue and restore Sarah to Abraham’s side. So, this time, God warns Isaac to avoid going down to Egypt. Instead, Isaac is to remain in Canaan.

Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father.” – Genesis 26:3 ESV

Isaac was to stay right where he was, despite the famine. And God reminds Isaac that the land was his birthright. What God had promised to Abraham was now his – by right. And no famine was going to prevent God from fulfilling His promise. The close proximity of this story with Esau’s selling of his birthright is intentional. Esau, driven by hunger, made an immoral and ungodly decision. He was motivated by his physical senses rather than a devotion to God. He despised his birthright by trading it away for a meal. And God did not want Isaac to do the same thing. Running to Egypt might temporarily put bread on the table, but it would result in Isaac despising his birthright. The famine was not to be viewed as a setback but as an opportunity to see God work.

Esau had traded away his birthright for a single meal of stew. His hunger would eventually return and he would come to recognize that he had squandered away his inheritance for nothing. Esau’s famished condition is meant to coincide with the famine that Isaac faced. Esau could have rejected his brother’s deceitful offer, but he didn’t. Now, Isaac was going to have to reject the temptation to seek temporary relief in Egypt and trust God instead. Would he value his birthright and remain in Canaan? Time will tell.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Generous to a Fault

So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb.

Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord. And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land.

Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” Genesis 13:1-9 ESV

After Abram’s close call with Pharaoh, he decided to leave Egypt behind and return to the land of Canaan. The text doesn’t mention whether the famine there had come to an end, but it seems safe to assume that Abram returned because he had received permission from God to do so. According to verse 1, Abram made his way back to the Negeb, located on Canaan’s southernmost tip. But this arid region would prove to be an inhospitable environment for Abram’s newly acquired flocks and herds. He had received as a bride price for Sarai, whom Pharaoh had added to his harem as a concubine. When Pharaoh learned that Sarai was actually Abram’s wife, he released her and had Abram and his family escorted from the land of Egypt.

Abram walked out of Egypt far wealthier than when he had entered.  Despite his deception and narcissistic attempts at self-preservation, he ended up being rewarded.

Pharaoh gave Abram many gifts because of her—sheep, goats, cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels. – Genesis 12:16 NLT

And Moses opens chapter 13 with what appears to be a parenthetical statement, designed to set up and explain the rest of the chapter’s story.

Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. – Genesis 13:2 ESV

But not only did Abram have additional herds and flocks in his possession, he was still accompanied by his nephew, Lot. And the text reveals that Lot had also prospered during their stay in Egypt.

And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together. – Genesis 13:5-6 ESV

Lot had benefited greatly from his association with Abram. He had been blessed vicariously and undeservedly, just for being Abram’s nephew. But sometimes blessings can end up being a curse. Prosperity, while highly beneficial in so many ways, can also bring about unexpected conflicts and temptations. You see the potential for this outcome in Moses’ instructions to the people of Israel as they prepare to enter the land of Canaan. God has promised to bless them with a rich and fertile land filled with well-fortified and well-stocked cities equipped with modern conveniences like hand-carved cisterns designed for storing rainwater.

“The LORD your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant. When you have eaten your fill in this land, be careful not to forget the LORD, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. You must fear the LORD your God and serve him.” – Deuteronomy 6:1-13 NLT

There was high probability that the people of Israel would find their newfound prosperity to be a temptation to become prideful and forgetful. Rather than focusing on the gracious Giver, they would end up obsessing on the gifts He had given. Agur, the author of Proverbs 30, reveals an insightful degree of self-awareness when he asks God for two favors.

O God, I beg two favors from you;
    let me have them before I die.
First, help me never to tell a lie.
    Second, give me neither poverty nor riches!
    Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.
For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?”
    And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name. – Proverbs 30:7-9 NLT

Abram and Lot had both been blessed by God. Now, the question would be whether they would allow those blessings to become a curse. Would they become fat and happy, self-consumed, and overly self-sufficient? Would their good fortune lead to further dependence upon God or a growing sense of independence and self-sufficiency?

Sandwiched in-between the disclosure that Abram was “very rich” (Genesis 13:2), and Lot “had flocks and herds and tents” (Genesis 13:5), Moses states that Abram “journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 13:3-4 ESV). And Lot went with him.

Abram, despite his less-than-stellar showing in Egypt, returns to the site where he had built the altar, and he offers sacrifices to God. It seems that Abram understood that his timely departure from Egypt, with his wife by his side, had been the work of God. And he wanted to express his appreciation by offering some of his newfound wealth as a thank offering to God. There is no indication that Lot participated in this selfless display of thanksgiving. He had been equally blessed by God but displayed no awareness of God’s gracious benevolence, and he offered no gifts of gratitude. But, in time, he will display an unflattering tendency toward self-interest and self-indulgence.

Moses describes the situation between Abram and his nephew as untenable.

the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together – Genesis 13:6 ESV

This is an interesting statement because it portrays the land of promise as rather unpromising. Perhaps the famine had decimated the available pasture land, rendering the current location as an insufficient source of food for the enlarged herds of Abram and Lot. But there seems to be something more significant going on in this passage.

When God had issued His original call, He had made the conditions of that call clear:  “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1 NLT). Yet, as the text reveals, “Abram departed as the Lord had instructed, and Lot went with him” (Genesis 12:4 NLT).

The land had been promised to Abram, not Lot. In a sense, Lot should not have been there and his presence was proving to be problem. The land was sufficient for the flocks and herds of Abram, but not for both. Somewhere along the way, in keeping with the command of God, Abram should have separated himself from Lot. But he had failed to do so. Now, God was stepping in and forcing these two men to part company. As the herdsmen of Abram and Lot attempted to shepherd their respective flocks on the same parcel of land, tempers flared.

…there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. – Genesis 13:7 ESV

And, at this point in the story, Moses provides another parenthetical aside.

At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land. – Genesis 13:7 ESV

This is intended as a reminder that the land was already occupied. God had led Abram to a country where other people groups had settled and put down roots. Their presence would have further limited the available pasture land. This disclosure by Moses was also meant to foreshadow the miracle that God will have to perform in order to make this already-occupied land available to Abram’s descendants.

Verses 8-13 reveal Abram’s solution to the dilemma. In an effort to appease Lot and his disgruntled herdsmen, Abram gave his nephew his choice of permanent pastureland.

“Take your choice of any section of the land you want, and we will separate. If you want the land to the left, then I’ll take the land on the right. If you prefer the land on the right, then I’ll go to the left.” – Genesis 13:9 NLT

This is viewed by many as a sign of Abram’s magnanimity. He takes the high road and gives his undeserving nephew first dibs on the available land. But in some sense, this reflects a lack of reverence for God’s promise. God had clearly told Abram, “To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7 ESV). While Lot was Abram’s blood relative, he was not his offspring. It’s highly likely that Abram’s decision to share the land with Lot was driven by his belief that Lot would eventually be his heir.  After all, Abram wasn’t getting any younger and his wife was still barren. So, he probably believed that this young man would end up being the means by which God fulfilled His promise to make of Abram “a great nation” (Genesis 12:2).

But that was not God’s plan. And it will soon become clear that Abram’s gracious offer to Lot was going to end up backfiring on him. This young man would display a disregard for the well-being of his uncle and a myopic preoccupation with his own success. Lot was out to make of himself a great nation. He was choosing the best land so that he might enjoy the best possible outcome. But his choices would prove to be far from wise and less than beneficial. And Abram’s decision to pacify Lot by parceling out the land given to him by God would only lead to greater turmoil in the days ahead.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.