Genesis 30:25-43 - Lessons in Defense

September 16, 2012 Speaker: Series: Genesis

Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Genesis 30:25–30:43

[Text: Gen. 30:25-43) “Lessons in Defense”

[This was originally to be a single sermon but the further I got in, the more I was convinced it needed to be a two part message on how Yahweh defends His people. We’ll cover the end of chapter 30 this week and turn to chapter 31 next week]

Scripture Intro: Long before this passage, Abraham (and the listening nation of Israel) learned the lesson that the faithfulness of God never fails. He keeps His promises and always defends His people. But lessons learned are often forgotten and new generations must learn again the lessons of their fathers. So Yahweh teaches Jacob, and reminds His people, about Yahweh’s character to strengthen their faith and transform them.

[Read and pray]

One of my deepest fears for my boys is the same as one of my hopes for them. I’m afraid that some of the lessons I’ve learned they’ll have to learn for themselves. Fire burns. Physics is a cruel mistress to the overconfident (and I bear the scars of proof). Hearts can be broken by words as well as actions. Running away from God is not a game.

But I also hope that my boys learn for themselves some of my lessons from life, too. Forgiveness is powerful. God’s discipline is part of His love for us. “Jesus saves” is more than a cliché. And the sovereign, steadfast love of God is fierce enough to defend us in the face of the darkest providence.

And God’s people have always needed Yahweh to be their Defender. Abraham needed a Defender when the famine struck and Abraham’s lies led him into danger. Jacob certainly needed a Defender during this season of his life. You see, the consequences for Jacob’s past sin against his brother were significant. He was exiled outside of the Promised Land – running for his life, away from his beloved home and family – for two decades. But on the way out of the land Yahweh had met him and promised to be with Jacob to bless him and bring him home again.

But after 14 years, Jacob found himself working as barely more than a slave to his father-in-law, Laban, a master deceiver – a sly old fox (as Calvin called him), a man who would give any modern, slippery spin doctor a run for their money. Jacob was helpless against such a man. Even as the longing for home stirs in his heart, Jacob is helpless to get away from Laban’s scheming power. But there was one hope – Jacob has the Sovereign God as his Defender.

Have you felt helpless against the power of this world that seems to impose its will over you at every turn? Maybe you have felt helpless as people take advantage of your hard work or your generosity. Or maybe your feelings of helplessness are simply due to the situation you find yourself in right now. “How will these bills get paid?” “I don’t know what to do about my family.” “When will I be free from this sin I feel so helpless against?”

If you have felt helpless, then learn with Jacob and the people of God throughout time that Yahweh defends His people – always and without fail. It might not always feel that way as He allows us to endure trials, but even those trials are ultimately a part of His powerful saving work because they teach our hearts of our need of a Defender like Yahweh has given in Jesus.

As we consider this issue of Yahweh defending His people, it’s helpful to break it into two parts to see what the defense Yahweh gives looks like:

- This week we’ll consider 30:25-43 - Defense looks like needs being met.

- Next week we’ll look at chapter 31 - Defense looks like protection given.

But the whole section is shaping the people of God and urging us to continue entrusting ourselves to Yahweh who promises and then delivers on His promise to take care of His people.

So first, let’s look at 30:25-43. It may be odd to describe Yahweh’s provision for Jacob and his family as “defense,” but given the situation, I’d say that’s exactly what it is. Yahweh’s defense of Jacob against Laban looks like his needs being met, otherwise Jacob and his family could have ended up with nothing and never even reached the Promised Land again.

We first find out that after 14 years and 11 children born, Jacob is longing for home. He goes to Laban and notice, he doesn’t ask for anything else. His wives were all Laban had promised for the 14 years of work and with his wives and family Jacob is content. He’s simply ready to go home.

But Laban has other plans for Jacob. He recognizes that Yahweh has blessed him because of Jacob. But when he says, “Name your wages, and I will give it.” He isn’t offering back-pay for all the past blessing that has come to him as if to say, “I know we only agreed on your wives being your wages, but I want to give you more since God has been so good to me on your account.” No, Laban isn’t that kind of man. His statement is more like, “Look, I want more and I’m willing to do whatever it takes – even pay you this time – in order to get it.”

Jacob’s response affirms that blessing has indeed come to Laban because of Yahweh. That’s how Yahweh has always dealt with people connected to His servants, like Lot, Abraham’s nephew, being blessed because of Abraham long ago. But Jacob understands that all of the blessing has been kept by Laban and none has come to him. He recognizes that his own household needs looking after.

But Laban presses him again to name his wages and Jacob suggests a deal – in fact, a poor deal for himself and a great deal for Laban.

In this part of the world, the majority of the sheep were white and the majority of the goats were solid black. So Jacob suggests the following: “I’ll keep your flocks again for a while (you’ve already seen how blessed my work is and how rich you’ve gotten so far). But now let me keep the speckled and black sheep and the speckled and spotted goats, too. You won’t be taking a big loss and I’ll be providing for my family. And you’ll be able to tell at a glance if I’m cheating you because anything that is solid colored can be counted as stolen.”

Laban says, “Okay. I’ll take that deal. The speckled and spotted are yours.” But that very day, probably as soon as he left Jacob, v. 35 tells us that Laban took every spotted sheep and goat that should have been Jacob’s and sent them three days away with his own sons so that Jacob would only get the few, odd multi-colored sheep and goats born that year from the remaining solid-colored flocks. Laban thinks he’s securing his wealth and, if you’ll pardon the pun, pulling the wool over Jacob’s eyes. But Jacob’s God is not fooled and His defensive love of Jacob is put on display. As the promise of God to Abraham now rests on Jacob – the promise that said, “I will bless those who bless you and him who dishonors you I will curse,” – Laban’s dishonoring of Jacob will come back on his own head.

What happens next is confusing in a way and it raises some questions…but there are some answers for us. What we see is Jacob executing a plan that results in a reversal of fortunes for both Jacob and Laban. Jacob comes out on the other side of all this (as v. 43 points out) with all he needs to provide for his family, indeed much more than he needs. We understand Laban’s ending position better as chapter 31 opens with angry words from Laban’s sons and dark looks from Laban toward Jacob.

There are some obvious answers. Jacob employs his trick with the peeled sticks only when the strong (that is, the spring flocks) are breeding so that the strongest offspring will be his. Then he sets them apart to keep them safely. That just makes sense (even if it is very shrewd on Jacob’s part).

But what’s going on with the peeled sticks and watering troughs? There is an old tradition that says whatever the female sheep see while mating has a profound impact on the offspring. So seeing the speckled sticks produces an abundance of speckled baby sheep and goats. Now I don’t raise sheep, so I don’t know about these things, but I’m pretty sure that our understanding of genetics might have something to say here; that a cause and effect relationship between striped sticks and baby animals isn’t very likely.

And then there’s the question “Was it right for Jacob to meet sly deception with sly deception? To take advantage of Laban as Laban had been taken advantage of him?” Calvin asks, should he not have “followed the rule which the Lord delivers…by Paul, that the faithful should (work) to overcome evil with good…”? Yes, he should not have done what he did, that is, “unless the Lord from heaven had commanded otherwise.”[1]

The whole scene, however, begins to make sense when you get into chapter 31 (which is why this was originally going to be a single sermon). As we read 31:12, we understand that Jacob’s is acting in line with the commands of Yahweh. The LORD had come to him in a dream during the breeding season and told him that, from Yahweh’s perspective, all the goats (and we can infer the sheep as well) “are striped, spotted and mottled,” (which means all their offspring will be the same and be Jacob’s wages), because “I have seen all that Laban is doing to you.” Yahweh is defending Jacob against Laban by giving Jacob Laban’s flocks. Yahweh, not a peeled stick, is the Source of the blessing. So, yes, Jacob is following human customs as he peels the sticks but he is trusting that Yahweh is behind his work to bless the results, providing for Jacob and his family as his God defends him from Laban’s abuse.

Calvin goes on to challenge anyone who might accuse Yahweh of wrong here. He writes,

“…God is the author of no fraud, when he stretches out his hand to protect [or defend] his servant. Nothing is more appropriate to him and more in accordance with his justice, than that he should interpose as an avenger, when any injury is inflicted…He [allowed] Laban to [keep] what he unjustly possessed; but in six years (while Jacob kept his flocks) he withdrew his blessing from Laban, and transferred it to his servant Jacob. If an earthly judge condemns a thief to restore [twice or four times what was stolen], no one complains: and why should we concede less to God…?”[2]

Jacob understands that Yahweh has been his defender in this situation as well as what follows. He says so himself while speaking to Laban in 31:42, “If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely (after all these years) you would have sent me away empty-handed….” But here is Jacob after serving Laban for another 6 years; he started with nothing and with the defense and blessing of Yahweh he now has everything he needs.

Think about Israel as they heard this story during the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. They wandered in the desert for what turned into 40 years! As they heard this story, they heard about their God who defended Jacob by providing for him. And they experienced that same provision for themselves and could look back – their faith being strengthened for the future – as Moses reminded them how God had plundered the Egyptians and given Israel, as they left slavery, all that had belonged to their former masters. Moses reminded them how God had said, “I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet.” (Deuteronomy 29:5) For forty years Israel ate manna from heaven every day and was given water from a rock. Yes, Yahweh’s meeting of their needs didn’t look the same as what He gave to Jacob, but weren’t their needs met? All of this was to move their heart toward Yahweh, to embrace Him as their Defender and Provider.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus taught us to pray, don’t we say, “Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread…” The very first thing we ask for ourselves from our Father, our God and Defender, is that he would give us what we need.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 104 says, “What do we pray for in the fourth petition?” It answers, “In the fourth petition, which is, Give us this day our daily bread, we pray that of God’s free gift we may receive a sufficient portion of the good things of this life, and enjoy his blessing with them.”

Shortly after teaching his disciples that prayer, Jesus went on to instruct them not to be anxious about their physical needs because “your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Jesus is shaping their (and our) hearts to trust the Father who loves to provide for the needs of his people; giving them what they need.

But doesn’t our need for “daily bread” go beyond the physical needs of human beings? Jesus went on to say, “…your heavenly Father knows that you need [clothes and food]. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”

Jesus is showing us the foolishness of our normal priorities. Normally, I just want a healthy bank account, great food on the table and to look like a million bucks. Is so that wrong? Well, yes, when I’ve ignored my deepest need as a sinner in rebellion against my God and King. Jesus shows me – shows us – reality as he says, “What you really need is not what you can work to earn – food and clothing – what you really need is what you can never earn. You don’t have the righteousness of God and you are a rebel outside of His Kingdom. That is true neediness.”

Jacob’s deepest need, this need of forgiveness and righteousness and grace, was not ignored by Yahweh. Yahweh was already at work in Jacob through the covenant relationship that had been with Abraham and now was with Jacob. In the that gracious relationship, Jacob stood before the Yahweh will ALL of his needs met, both spiritual and physical.

And the Gospel tell us that by faith in Jesus and by embracing and resting in his death and resurrection on our behalf, that which we needed most deeply has been freely given to us by Yahweh in the New Covenant established in blood – Jesus’ blood. Jesus our King has met our need of forgiveness and as we are covered by his blood and righteousness, we have a defense both from ourselves as sinners and from the Accuser who would see us perish before living in a relationship with our Maker.

And by faith in Jesus, Yahweh is with you just as certainly as He was with Jacob. That’s why Paul could write in Romans 8, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32 ESV)

Hmm, “…graciously give us all things...“ This is where many go wrong. They assume that the “all things” implies “everything I want.” But “needs met” is not the same as “what I want.” So remember these two things: (1) be careful about the pursuit of wealth. Wealth is a good and useful thing! But the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Remember that Jacob simply wanted to go home, not to get rich. (2) To have contentment with little, knowing that your loving Father will meet your needs, is a beautiful thing. Sometimes those needs will be met miraculously like Jacob’s were. Sometimes needs will be met more commonly by the community of people God has given you, who mediate His blessing to you, while it remains Yahweh’s blessing. So, let us learn to be content with what we are given! And let those who have been given wealth learn, as stewards of a great gift, what it is for.

It is important to note, however, that the LORD’s blessing of Jacob was not as Jacob lazed in a hammock and waited for Laban to give him his flocks. He says in 30:29, “You yourself know how I have served you…,” meaning Jacob’s hard work was well known by all. And Jacob had also worked for 20 long years! So let us work, and work long and hard in our callings, but all the while seeking the blessing of the Christ on whatever he has called us to do because, ultimately, the blessing of Christ is our hope. By his work, he has become our Defender and King. His blessing is what we need and all praise will go to him as he meets all of our needs.

Some of the lessons you are learning right now, these situations where you discover just how helpless and powerless we humans actually are, are deeply painful lessons. But they are not in vain for those who belong to Yahweh through faith in Jesus, our Defender. That is why Paul, a man who suffered deep need, could write, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV)



[1] Both quotes from Calvin’s commentary on Genesis, vol. 2, 155.

[2] Calvin’s commentary on Genesis, vol. 2, 156.

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