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We are studying the Book of Genesis. We come to a chapter today that is rarely preached on. You might not preach on it unless you are going through the Bible chapter by chapter. There are many familiar stories in Genesis that everyone knows (creation of the world, Adam and Eve, Cain killing Abel, Noah building the ark).
We come today to a story that is not as familiar to most people. Let’s be honest. Many chapters of the Bible are a mystery to most people. They couldn’t tell you what is in them. The average Christian does not know some of the chapters that we are going to be studying, like the one today.
Today, I am going to be a little ambitious. I want to try to cover, not one, but two chapters today, because these two chapters go together. Genesis 31 is long. It is fifty-five verses long. I am just going to do an overview of that chapter. We will be studying Jacob and Laban today.
Jacob is Abraham’s grandson and Laban is his mom’s brother. Last week, we looked at two women, two sisters (Rachel and Leah) in the first half of Genesis 30. Today, we will be looking at two men (Jacob and Laban).
In this section, Jacob makes a break with his uncle and father-in-law. He escapes from Laban. This section is all about freedom. Jacob is delivered from a really bad boss and bad work conditions. This is an interesting section. There is a lot of drama in this chapter. There is a lot of action.
Jacob is on the run again. He left Canaan in a hurry. He was running from Esau who was trying to kill him when he left Canaan and he left Haran in a hurry. He is on the run from Laban. He ran from his brother and now he is running from his father-in-law. There are some funny parts to the chapter. There is a lot of irony in it. There is a lot of suspense in the chapter. You wonder if Jacob will make it home in time.
When Laban came looking for his gods, Jacob said, “I didn’t take it and think anyone who took it should be killed” (31:32) but he had no idea that his own wife, his favorite wife in the other room, was the one who took the god and was sitting on it. There are also some strange parts in this chapter. Unbelievers mock some things in this chapter. We will look at all of this, along with some lessons that this chapter teaches. We will try to see what God is saying to us today from this chapter.
As soon as Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country. Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, that I may go, for you know the service that I have given you.” (30:25-26 ESV)
Jacob left Canaan and traveled five hundred miles to Haran, married Laban’s two daughters and has some kids. He works for him for fourteen years. Laban has mistreated him and now he wants to go home. He is in a foreign country. He is a little homesick. After Rachel gives birth to Joseph, he asks Laban for permission to leave. Laban says, “No”.
“But Laban said to him, “If I have found favor in your sight, I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you. Name your wages, and I will give it” (30:27-28).
Laban doesn’t want him to leave. Why? Laban notices says something interesting. God blessed Laban BECAUSE OF Jacob. Jacob said the same thing. “For you had little before I came, and it has increased abundantly, and the Lord has blessed you wherever I turned” (30:30).
Jacob became the source of blessing to those around him. Jacob worked for Laban during this time. He protected and cared for his flocks and apparently his flocks prospered because of Jacob. Laban doesn’t seem interested in Jacob’s God but he is interested in his wealth and he wants to keep him around.
That is interesting. There are some people that are so annoying that you want them to leave. Some have such a poor testimony that you beg them to leave. Jacob had a good reputation. He was a hard worker. He was not lazy. He is a model employee. Does that describe us? Are other people blessed because of us? That is worth thinking about.
Remember, in Genesis 12, Pharaoh told Abraham to leave Egypt but Laban wants Jacob to stay around. Laban is getting rich off of Joseph. He wants to take advantage of him and use him. He doesn’t have Jacob’s best interests at heart. He wanted Jacob to be around just for what he could get out of him. He was a great asset. His main interest is money. All he thinks about is financial gain for himself.
We learn some new things about Laban’s character in this chapter. We learned earlier that he was dishonest. He didn’t keep his agreements. He didn’t keep his word. He had absolutely no integrity. Jacob worked a long time for Rachel. He worked hard but Laban didn’t keep his agreement. He cheated Jacob repeatedly and never admits that he did anything wrong.
Here, we learn that he is also selfish and greedy. He used people. He took advantage of Jacob’s wealth for his own benefit. Have you ever been used by anyone? Jacob knew what that was like. Laban used him. He wasn’t a nice person. His own daughters didn’t like him. When Jacob said, “Let’s get out of here,” they didn’t object (31:14-16).
The Contract Negotiations
Laban tries to talk Jacob out of leaving. He says, “God has blessed me because of you. I want you to stay. Laban says, “Name your wages, and I will give it” (30:28 ESV). Someone called this “Laban’s New Deal”. Laban and Jacob negotiate a new salary contract. Laban says to Jacob, “What do you want?” (30:31)
Jacob says, “I don’t want anything” (30:31). Jacob wasn’t just being humble. He didn’t trust Laban. If Laban offered him something, he did not trust Laban to give it to him. Jacob says, “All I want is the speckled and spotted sheep and goats and the black lambs” (30:32). Palestinian sheep were normally all white and goats were normally black. Only the abnormal ones were speckled and spotted.
Jacob could have named his price when Laban said, “What do you want?” He could have tried to take advantage of Laban. Instead, he says, “You can have the regular animals. I will just take the unusual and rare ones. I will work on commission.” Where did Jacob get this idea? He got it from a dream (31:10-13).
This request was BRILLIANT. It was the perfect request. It made everyone happy. It made Laban happy because Jacob was not asking too much, since he still got most of the animals. It gave him the advantage. It almost seemed too good to be true. It sounded like a good deal to Laban.
It made it also easy to tell the difference between Jacob’s animals and Laban’s animals. Laban’s animals for the most part were all one color (black or white) and Jacob’s were all spotted or speckled. That is why Laban moved all of his speckled and spotted animals to the care of his sons (30:35). Jacob was to receive the speckled and spotted animals born after this.
Even if Laban took all of his away, some of the other animals, still had the genes to produce speckled and spotted animals. Jacob liked this idea because he could never be accused of stealing, because it was easy to tell which animals were his and which were Laban’s, just by looking at them. Jacob says, “If we do this, you can never accuse me of stealing” (31:33). It made it impossible to question Jacob’s honesty.
Jacob’s Selective Breeding
“Then Jacob took fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the sticks. He set the sticks that he had peeled in front of the flocks in the troughs, that is, the watering places, where the flocks came to drink. And since they bred when they came to drink, the flocks bred in front of the sticks and so the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted. And Jacob separated the lambs and set the faces of the flocks toward the striped and all the black in the flock of Laban. He put his own droves apart and did not put them with Laban’s flock. Whenever the stronger of the flock were breeding, Jacob would lay the sticks in the troughs before the eyes of the flock, that they might breed among the sticks, but for the feebler of the flock he would not lay them there. So the feebler would be Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s” (31:37-42 ESV).
This seems a little strange. Jacob does three things to help breed speckled and spotted sheep. Two of the things Jacob does are still done by scientists today. One is not. What is the first thing he does?
He takes some tree branches and makes white streaks in them by peeling the bark and then placed them in front of animals while they were mating. Tree branches are dark on the outside and white on the inside. Why did he do this? Apparently, he believed the color of the offspring of the animals was determined by what they saw while they were mating.
Unbelievers love to mock this. What Jacob does here seems ridiculous. It is unscientific. This is one of the strangest parts of the Bible. Striped branches causing the sheep to have striped kids. Really?
How do you answer the critics? The Bible doesn’t endorse the peeled branch or patterned wood method. It simply says that this is what Jacob did. Both Rachel and Jacob lived four thousand years ago. They were a product of their day. They both believed some things that we know today are not true. We see both of these in Genesis 30.
Rachel believed that eating mandrakes would help you have a baby if you were infertile. Jacob believed that the color of the offspring was dependent on what the animals see while they are mating. He did not know much about genetics but he did know some things.
The other two things Jacob did make a little more sense. He did a little selective breeding. It is the first recorded instance of selective breeding in history. Selective breeding is when you mate of two animals in an attempt to produce offspring with certain characteristics.
First, he isolated the animals. He separated the speckled and spotted sheep from the other sheep, so that they would interbreed and produce more of their kind. “the flocks bred in front of the sticks and so the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted. And Jacob separated the lambs and set the faces of the flocks toward the striped and all the black in the flock of Laban. He put his own droves apart and did not put them with Laban’s flock. (30:39-40)
Second, he bred the stronger animals together (31:41-42). If you are raising chickens and you want to sell fat chickens, you would not put scrawny chickens together to reproduce. God blessed his efforts. “In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and female and male servants, and camels and donkeys” (30:43 NIV) Jacob said that “God has taken away the livestock of [Laban] and given them to me” (31:9).
What did God’s blessing lead to? Jealousy. “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” (31:1 ESV).
We saw Rachel jealous of Leah in Genesis 30 and now Laban’s son are jealous of Jacob in Genesis 31. That leads to something else. God steps in and gets involved. Jacob gets a divine revelation from heaven. He gets a word from God. God speaks to Jacob. What does God tell him?
He commands him to go home. God tells him, “It’s time to go home”. Genesis 31:3 says, “Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, AND I WILL BE WITH YOU” (ESV). God does not just give him a command. He says if He does it that He will be with him, so a promise comes with the command. “If God is for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8:31).
So Jacob talks to his wives (30:4-16) and then takes off. His family begins the five hundred mile journey south back to the land of Canaan. He doesn’t make it all the way back in this chapter but the journey begins. “Jacob arose and set his sons and his wives on camels. 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” (31:17-18 ESV).
Jacob makes his escape. He does it secretly (31:20), which was wise because he was dealing with Laban. He didn’t lie to Laban. He just never told him he was leaving. He didn’t have to. God gave him a command to go. He didn’t need to get Laban’s permission to leave. He tried before. Six years earlier, Jacob sought his permission and blessing to leave and Laban just tried to talk him out of it.
This is very interesting. What happened to Jacob will later happen to the nation. It is a picture or type of what happens later in biblical history. This was Jacob’s Exodus. It was the First Exodus. It was not an exodus from Egypt. It was an exodus from Uncle Laban. It foreshadows events that will take place later.
1. Jacob was in a form of slavery to Laban. The Jews will later be slaves to the Egyptians.
2. Jacob wanted to leave Haran and his father-in-law Laban said, “No”. The Jews wanted to leave Egypt the Pharaoh said, “No”.
3. We are told that God saw what Laban did to Jacob (31:12) and God saw the affliction of the Hebrews in slavery and heard their cry (Exodus 3:7).
4. Jacob left very wealthy. Jacob arrives in Haran with just the clothes on his back (32:10) but he left Haran wealthy. “Thus the man increased greatly and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys” (31:43). Exodus 3:21 say, “And I will cause the Egyptians to look favorably on you. They will give you gifts when you go so you will not leave empty-handed” (NLT).
5. When Jacob finally left Haran and Laban finds out about it, he goes after him with in hot pursuit and finally catches up with him seven days later. When the Jews finally left, they were followed by Egyptian troops which pursued them.
6. The gods are humiliated. One of the reasons that Laban went after Jacob in hot pursuit is that he wanted to get his gods back. Here we learn something else about Laban. He was not just dishonest, selfish and greedy, he was an idolater. He was not a believer. Someone has stolen the gods. Laban raced across the desert to save his gods. It is laughable. This god was small. It is so small that you could sit on it.
It was easy to hide and it could be stolen. Laban’s gods had no power. They did not control people. People controlled them. The true God not only spoke to Jacob and controlled him, He also spoke to Laban in a dream (31:24) and prevented him from harming Jacob (31:29).
Laban’s god was humiliated in another way. Leviticus 15:19-20 says, “When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. And everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean. EVERYTHING ALSO ON WHICH SHE SITS WILL BE UNCLEAN” (ESV).
She learned something from her dad, the master of deceit. Here she tricks him. She doesn’t just hide the god, she make it unclean by sitting on it. Rachel sits on top of this pagan god when she is having her monthly period. The same thing happened during the Exodus. In the Exodus, the gods are humiliated by the Ten Plagues. Each plague mocked one of the Egyptian gods. They were a judgment on the gods of Egypt. The Nile River turns to blood. The Egyptians worshipped the Nile. They worshipped the Sun, so God sent a plague of darkness.
His plan to get to Canaan before his father-in-law found out about it. It almost worked but Laban found out about it and took off after him. God does not want domestic strife unresolved. Laban catches up to him and that led to a meeting of two angry men. Laban was angry that Jacob left in secret and accused him of kidnapping his daughters.
Jacob was angry with how Laban had treated him the last twenty years but it ends with a treaty or covenant. It is a blood covenant. It involves the sacrifice of an animal (31:54). They do not just make a covenant; they share a meal together (31:54). It was a covenant meal.
They used some stones as a monument for this covenant. Jacob makes another pillar. His first pillar was at Bethel where God appeared to him in a dream (28:18). This was his second pillar in Genesis. “So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar” (31:45 ESV). Genesis gives three different names for this pillar (31:47-49). It gives us one Aramaic name (Je-gar Sa-ha-dutha) and two Hebrew names (Galeed and Mizpah) for this pillar.
Laban traveled for seven days to find Jacob and he leaves empty handed. He didn’t get his daughters or grandkids or flocks or even his gods but he did get a covenant. Jacob and Laban don’t become friends; they just agree not to attack each other. They make a non-aggression pact. The chapter ends with Laban kissing his daughters and grandsons and blessed them before he went back home (31:55). Laban kissed Jacob when he first saw him (29:13) but not when he says goodbye to him. He does kiss his wife and grandkids.
1. Hard work
He wanted to provide for his family. For you had little before I came, and it has increased abundantly, and the Lord has blessed you wherever I turned. But now when shall I provide for my own household also?” (30:30 ESV) He worked for twenty years for Laban. He worked hard.
“These twenty years I have been with you. Your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, and I have not eaten the rams of your flocks. What was torn by wild beasts I did not bring to you. I bore the loss of it myself. From my hand you required it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. There I was: by day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes.” (31:38-40 ESV). He also used some creativity and ingenuity on the job. Jacob didn’t just sit back and wait for God to provide for him. He did some actual selective breeding. Jacob is a model employee here and he worked for someone who was unfair and dishonest.
2. Knowing the will of God
There is a lesson in this section on finding the will of God. How did Jacob know that it was God’s will for him to go back home? He had three things. First, he had a desire to go back on the inside. Second, circumstances on the outside encouraged him to go back. Conditions were bad in Haran. Third, he received a word from God. He was led by God to return. God spoke to him on the outside, on the inside and from above.
Jacob had all kinds of problems in Haran? He had problems at home with his four wives who were always fighting and competing with one another. He had problems on the job. He had a boss who cheated him and took advantage of him. What do we learn about these problems.
1) God sees all of them
God knew what was going on. He went to Haran with Jacob. He saw what was happening. He saw what Laban did to Jacob. He said, “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” (31:12 ESV).
God sees what people to do us. He sees when we are mistreated, even when we are mistreated by family members. There may be a Laban in your life. Life is not always fair. It wasn’t fair for Jacob. He agreed to work seven years to marry Rachel but he ended up with Leah instead. He worked fourteen years for Laban without any wages
When bad things happen on earth, we sometimes wonders if God sees what is going on. Does He see all of the atrocities that take place on earth every day? He does. Proverbs 11:21 says “Be sure of this: The wicked will not go unpunished.”
2) God can bless you in spite of them
God blessed Jacob in the midst of a difficult situation. “Thus the man increased GREATLY and had LARGE flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys” (30:43 ESV). Jacob arrived in Haran poor and left rich. He was rich in wives, rich in children, rich in flocks, and rich in servants. While Laban abused him, God still protected and blessed him.
3) God can deliver us out of a bad situation
That is what happens here. God delivers Jacob. God is able to protect us in a bad situation (abuse relationship, bad job, harmful addiction, etc.). He is also able to lead us out of a bad situation and that is what He does here. Jeremiah 15:21 says, “I will save you from the hands of the wicked and deliver you from the grasp of the cruel” (NIV)