To Build a Flock
Introduction: In fourteen years, Jacob had gone from a man with no wife to a man with four wives and 12 children. But the wages of his work went to pay for the wives. He had nothing left over to provide for his family.
In today’s story, it’s not yet time for him to return home, or God would have made sure that is what would have happened. But if he is going to stay, he will need to build up his flocks in order to care for his family. Because he is staying God must intend for Jacob’s life to continue to be used as a picture of something else.
Time and time again, God is directing these things and using what happens to show us larger pictures of wondrous things that He will do later. In the book of Acts, at the establishment of the church, things started out small. There were a few followers who stood out from the rest and were separated by God to begin the work.
It looked as if the odds were against it, but in Jacob’s story today we will see hidden pictures of how what seemed improbable was actually the genesis for something great, just as it was at the founding of the church.
Text Verse: And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.”2 Corinthians 6:16
There are two overall groups of people mentioned in the Bible, Jew and gentile, but there is only one true group of God’s people, those who live by faith in God and His word. They come from both Jew and gentile and they are being built into a flock by the Great Shepherd. We will see this pictured in today’s passage and so… May God speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.
I. A New Agreement
25 And it came to pass, when Rachel had borne Joseph, that Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, that I may go to my own place and to my country.
It is now the end of the fourteen years of labor for which Jacob was indebted to serve for his family. To understand the timing, we have to go forward to the next chapter and see Jacob’s words to Laban –
Thus I have been in your house twenty years; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock… (31:41)
At the time of this verse then, Jacob is 91 years old and it is the year 2259AM. This means that in just seven years, Jacob has had at least 12 children born to him, 11 sons and a daughter. Because he worked the first seven years before getting married to his first wife, all of this family has come in the second 7-year period.
Joseph is the last son to be born out of the land of Israel and the full term for the bride price, 14 years of labor, is complete. Jacob wants to return home and start his life in the land of promise. He has every right to leave without permission, but as a courtesy he goes to Laban and asks for his leave.
26 Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, and let me go; for you know my service which I have done for you.”
Again for the second time, Jacob is being gracious to Laban. Instead of saying that he is taking his wives for which he worked, plus his children who are his alone, he makes the petition as if everything belonged to Laban and that his service should be sufficient to get them release.
In fact, it was the terms agreed on that he had met and so permission isn’t needed at all. Instead, the debt is paid and he could simply pick up and leave. It may be that Jacob is actually looking to stay and work, but doing it in a way that will make it look like it is Laban’s idea.
27 And Laban said to him, “Please stay, if I have found favor in your eyes, for I have learned by experience that the Lord has blessed me for your sake.”
In this verse, we have what is known as an aposiopesis. He says, “Please stay, if I have found favor in your eyes…” What he is actually saying is, “Then stay.” An aposiopesis is a figure of speech which is deliberately left unfinished.
By doing this, the ending is supplied by the imagination and it gives the impression of either unwillingness or inability to continue. A common example that we use all the time is, “Stop it, or else…” Or else what?
Laban’s response is like, “Ok, ummm… If it’s not too much trouble then…” And then he explains himself, “ for I have learned by experience that the Lord has blessed me for your sake.” The NIV and other versions translate it differently, “I have learned by divination that the LORD has blessed me because of you.”
The word Laban uses is nikhashti. It means either to observe closely or to practice divination. It’s the same word that Joseph will use when he tells his brothers that the cup they stole is the one that he used for divination when he is the vice reagent of Egypt.
It’s hard to tell if Laban is claiming that he actually used divination or that he merely observed Jacob’s hard work and understood what an asset he was. This second option is probably correct because he says that the Lord, Jehovah had blessed him because of Jacob.
One truth which can be found here is that worldly men, like Laban, are often the recipients of blessings because of the hard working people around them. One thing they often lack though, but which Laban figured out, is actually discerning where the blessings came from and admitting it.
In other words, the people of America have been abundantly blessed by the presence of Christians and Jews who are generally honest, hard working, and the ones who keep society working properly. But as the years have gone by, the non-Christians and non-Jews have increasingly forgotten this.
The same is true with Israel. It was a wasteland and a garbage heap until the Jews moved back and reclaimed the land, restoring it to usefulness. However, now that this has been done, those who live there want nothing more than to have them out.
After the rapture, the world will be left to turn into a state of chaos and hopelessness. And for each area of land that the Jews return to the Palestinians, that land will cease to be productive and beneficial to those who receive it.
When this happens, they will only direct their greedy eyes to take the rest of Israel as well. If nothing else, Laban has seen the source of his blessing in the hard work of Jacob and has noted it to him.
28 Then he said, “Name me your wages, and I will give it.”
Laban certainly knows the value of Jacob and he also knows the piety of him. When he says, “Name your wages and I will give it” he knows in advance that it will be less than Jacob is worth. He believes he will come out on top by making this offer.
II. My Righteousness Will Answer For Me
29 So Jacob said to him, “You know how I have served you and how your livestock has been with me.
In response to Laban’s offer, Jacob stands first on his integrity. He will use it as the benchmark of his offer and request from Laban. He’s asking Laban to reflect on the state of his wealth from the time he arrived until now which is a result of his work.
“This is the standard of my work for your daughters and this is what you can expect when I work for something of less value.” He is basically saying that the amount he could set as his wages could be huge and it wouldn’t harm Laban at all. He is resetting the tone to show he has the upper hand and he continues to show it…
30 For what you had before I came was little, and it has increased to a great amount; the Lord has blessed you since my coming.
Jacob’s words stand as testimony of the truth they convey. If what he said wasn’t true, he couldn’t make the claim. If I were to say to the church here, “You know how hard I worked at the sermons on the book of Exodus” the words would testify against me.
We aren’t in Exodus yet. It would be crazy to say something to that was blatantly false to someone who knew better. If I said, “You know how many months it’s taken to get to Genesis chapter 30” then my words actually testify to the truth of the matter. You have been here week after week to validate the statement.
Jacob uses two terms which verify his part in Laban’s amassed wealth. The first is yiprots. It means broken forth. The flocks of Laban have increased so much that it is as if they’ve broken out like a dam of water being released.
He then says, “since my coming.” This is the word l’ragli and it means “at my foot.” “Since my foot came to your door, you have prospered, even to the point of breaking forth.” If this wasn’t true, he’d be refuted as a liar. He won’t be.
When Jacob met Rachel at the well 14 years before, she tended a single flock. This was probably all the flocks he possessed and being a young girl, it probably wasn’t a very big flock. It calls to mind the words of Jesus when speaking to the people of Israel who were faithful believers in Luke 12 –
32 “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Jacob is using his words prior to making his offer to show that it will be both fair and trustworthy. It is a claim of future results based on the truth of past performance.
30 (con’t) And now, when shall I also provide for my own house?”
Ok Laban, you’ve allowed me to set the wages and I have shown you my value. What I set will be exactly appropriate to the state I am in. I have four wives (oh my… four wives!) and 12 children to take care of. When I give my price, it will have that in mind…
31 So he said, “What shall I give you?”
Laban has heard Jacob’s appeal and his answer here proves everything Jacob just said. There was no note of denial. What Jacob stated was true and accurate. Laban’s wealth had increased because of Jacob. He restates his offer, “What shall I give you?”
31 (con’t) And Jacob said, “You shall not give me anything.
Jacob’s answer is definite. He doesn’t want anything new or anything from Laban. Instead what he will propose will be something that is exceptional rather than expected. It will be hoped for as well as hard-worked for. It will be uncertain and yet it will be unconditional.
31 (con’t) If you will do this thing for me, I will again feed and keep your flocks:
Although there is nothing you can give me, there is something you can do for me that will keep me around. Albert Barnes notes that there is an elegance in the original Hebrew – asubah ereh sonekha eshmor – “I will return, I will feed, I will keep thy flock.”
Jacob had already made up his mind to leave and the permission he had asked for was his notice of resignation. To him and thus to Laban, it was already done and so from that point on you can see how the conversation has been a reinstatement, not a renewal.
32 Let me pass through all your flock today, removing from there all the speckled and spotted sheep, and all the brown ones among the lambs, and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and these shall be my wages.
Jacob makes what would otherwise be an incredible offer. He is proposing that all of the sheep that are speckled or spotted of the flock, and all of the brown among the lambs, and all of the spotted and speckled of the goats be taken out.
These were the unusual, not the norm; they are the rare occurrences. The usual colors would be white among the sheep, and the goats black or dark brown. Moreover, by taking out the unusual ones, the ones left would be more likely to breed and have offspring which resembled them.
So the norm would be to have more normal colors, not more unusual colors. Anything that was hereafter born, from this point on that was out of the norm, would be his. Because the rare ones are taken out now, there would be none at all in the flock.
It seems to be an odd proposal and of little benefit to Jacob, but he knew what he was doing, either understanding it because God told him, or something that he knew from caring for flocks in the past, that it would be the right course and it would succeed.
Only if something abnormally colored was born in the future would it belong to Jacob. Everything else would be considered as Laban’s. It is a deal which seems beyond imagination and Laban will be overjoyed at the prospect…
33 So my righteousness will answer for me in time to come, when the subject of my wages comes before you: every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and brown among the lambs, will be considered stolen, if it is with me.”
By taking out the abnormally colored animals now, anything which was born abnormally colored in the future would testify to his righteousness; it has been acquired by the hand of Providence. Whatever God gives which is out of the normal will belong to him.
If nothing has the special mark, then God withheld the blessing from Jacob, and if all of them are born with it, then God had blessed him. And every one of them which is born normal would be, as he terms it “considered stolen.” In other words, Laban could walk up at any moment and say, I am taking this; it is mine.”
To ensure that it was a deal beyond reproach, Jacob uses a phrase which means that the terms would be immediate. He says “in time to come” using the Hebrew b’yom – tomorrow. Any animal that is normally colored, starting tomorrow, is to be claimed as Laban’s.
The deal weighs so heavily in favor of Laban that he responds immediately and with the joy Jacob knew would come…
III. Come Out From Among Them And Be Separate
34 And Laban said, “Oh, that it were according to your word!”
The deal is the most unbelievable stroke of luck that Laban ever heard. So much so that he exclaims “Oh that it were according to your word!” He can’t believe Jacob will live by what he has said.
To him, it was getting Jacob for next to nothing. All of the odd colors are being taken out and so none are left. All the normal colors are his and will be tended by Jacob for nothing. And when mating season comes, they will all breed with other pure colors.
None, or very few of the offspring should come out odd colored and so every new one will belong to him too. They will all be tended by Jacob for nothing. He is being handed a bar of gold on a golden platter and he gets to keep the platter too.
35 So he removed that day the male goats that were speckled and spotted, all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had some white in it, and all the brown ones among the lambs, and gave them into the hand of his sons.
It is Laban who removes the goats and gives them to his sons, not Jacob. Jacob’s oldest son is Reuben and he’s only 7. In other words, Jacob has deferred the separation to Laban. Not only was he fair in his offer, but he is making sure that Laban alone is in charge of the selection of the offer.
This is basically the mother’s wisdom who allows one child to cut the cake in two and then the other child chooses which piece he wants. By doing this, the cutter will use a magnifying glass to make sure the cut is perfect. Laban couldn’t cheat himself and so Jacob’s flock will be perfectly fair.
After separating the odd colored ones, Laban gives them to his own sons to tend and keep. There are now several shepherd’s of Laban’s flocks, but God previously promised to bless the work and the increase of Jacob.
Therefore, the offspring of Jacob’s flocks which God chooses and which involve Jacob’s efforts, will become Jacob’s.
36 Then he put three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, and Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks.
After taking out the flocks which would otherwise benefit Jacob, Laban then puts a 3-day journey between them and Jacob’s flocks. By putting such a distance between the two of them, there would be no chance of them meeting up and mixing.
If they did, then the offspring of Jacob’s flocks would more likely bear odd-colored ones. Laban made sure this won’t happen. There is a separation between them and so Jacob is now at the providence of God and his own resourcefulness to build up his house.
Now that we’ve looked at the surface of the story, the historical and cultural aspects of what happened, we need to ask ourselves, “Why is this story here? What is it that God wants us to see?” The answer is Jesus and His work. Here is the Light –
This is, to me, a hard analysis to give. I have a great love for the Jewish people and Israel and an understanding of their importance in the future. However, there is something that I cannot deny. If they were obedient to God, they would not have been exiled nor would they have been separated from Him as a people.
This is the blessing and the curse of the people of Israel. What today’s story is telling us is a picture of this and a picture of the growth of the church during their exile. Jacob wanted to go back home, but it isn’t time for that yet. His time of exile isn’t complete.
It’s evident though that the people of the world, pictured by Laban, has been blessed by them. The presence of the people of God brings a blessing and so he asks them to stay. Jacob has been in charge of Laban’s flocks and they have grown.
In order to stay, he sets his terms. All of the curiously marked animals will be his pay. All of the others will belong to Laban. In the world of the Bible, there are two distinctions – Jew and gentile. The Jews have a special mark or distinction which separates them from the others – circumcision.
Jacob however doesn’t ask for them. In fact, he asks for them to be taken out of the flocks he tends. They cannot be a part of what he is proposing and so they are separated by a distance of 3 days. However, their offspring who bear the mark will be his wages.
The physical mark isn’t the only thing that makes them Jacob’s or all with the mark would be his. Rather it is the ones which come by God’s providence that are his. In this then, we see the true people of God who bear His mark – the Holy Spirit.
Remember who originally showed up with Laban’s flocks at the well when Jacob arrived, it was Rachel. She pictures God’s grace, not the law.
Those who belonged to God before Jacob arrived were there by grace, just as those Jews who believed before Jesus’ arrival stood by God’s grace through faith, not by observance of the law. Leah who pictures the law didn’t tend the flock due to her weak eyes, just as the New Testament explains in the weakness of the law.
The true mark belongs to Jew or gentile and it is what allows one to become a part of the flock of God. The others who came before are separated from the flock. These are those Jews who have the external mark of circumcision, but who rejected Jesus.
Remember, Jacob was going to leave. His staying is under a new contract. His work for his wives was done. Likewise, Jesus’ work was done, and so a new contract, not a continuation of the old, came about – a New Covenant.
This will be proven true when we see that Laban will later change Jacob’s wages. By doing so, it will prove that the outward mark is not what makes one a part of God’s elect. As denominations add in some type of work for salvation or some precept from the law, pictured by Laban changing the wages, it doesn’t change the promise or the providence of God.
God is looking at our hearts and our spiritual condition, not external works. Like the Jews who rejected Jesus, those who have the external mark, but not the true mark are separated. They are left to the world. This is exactly what Paul speaks about in Romans 2 –
26 Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? 27 And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? 8 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.
After saying this, towards the end of Romans 3 he says this –
27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. 29 Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, 30 since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.
All of this is being pictured by the separation of these animals. The specially marked flocks come about by God’s grace, the others which are marked, but only outwardly have been removed from the grace of the true flock. This is seen in Romans 9 –
22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? 25 As He says also in Hosea: “I will call them My people, who were not My people, And her beloved, who was not beloved.” 26 “And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God.”
This short story today actually takes an understanding of the entire New Testament, not just Romans to fully grasp. God is building a church of specially marked people – those marked with the Holy Spirit. They are the spiritual descendants of the people God, the people Israel.
A three day journey was placed between the two though to keep them separate while the flock of Jacob was being built? This is a separation of those who have the mark but are not God’s and those who will have the mark and who are.
What is that three day journey. Why did God include that? The answer is found in Hosea chapter 6 and Luke chapter 2. But before we read that, we need to see Paul’s words in Romans 11 –
25 For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; 27 For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.”
There is a time when the people of Israel will again be brought into the fold. We are now there in history. Let’s go to Hosea 6 –
Come, and let us return to the Lord; For He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. 2 After two days He will revive us; On the third day He will raise us up, That we may live in His sight. 3 Let us know, Let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord. His going forth is established as the morning; He will come to us like the rain, Like the latter and former rain to the earth. Hosea 6:1-3
The Bible says a day to the Lord is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. Hosea is saying that the people who were removed from favor for disobedience will return to the Lord and that it would be after two days and on the third day. Guess what, that is now – symbolized by the separation of the flocks.
They are back in the land after “two days” or two thousand years. It is the dawning of the third day. The story in Luke of Jesus when He was 12 tells us this. Listen and see –
41 His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. 43 When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His motherdid not know it; 44 but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. 45 So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. 46 Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. 48 So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” 49 And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” 50 But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.
Jesus never left the true Jerusalem. His people, His family did. They will return to Him, not the other way around and it will be on the third day. When they return to Him, He will appear to them. Israel will be brought back into the graces of God and they will find Him in the temple where He will reign for a thousand years.
A final point about Israel, although the flocks picture the people of God, there are still Jacob’s children who are living with him. They picture Israel in the family of God and the focus on them as the people will be seen in future sermons once again.
This is the continuing story of the work of Jesus through various groups of people at various times in history. These stories are given to show us small snippets of the broader panorama of God’s work in the world.
I hope you’ll take time to read the entire books of Romans and compare it to the story we looked at today and that we’ll complete next week. There you will see wonderful patterns which are so intricately woven into God’s word.
If you want to be a part of this great unfolding story as well, it can be yours. You can come to be one of God’s chosen flock and it is by a mere act of faith in Him and what He has done. Let me tell you how this can happen…
Closing Verse: “Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.” 18 “I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the Lord Almighty.”2 Corinthians 6:17, 18
Next Week: Genesis 30:37-43 (Peeled Rods in the Watering Trough) (73rd Genesis sermon)
The Lord has you exactly where He wants you and He has a good plan and purpose for you. Call on Him and let Him do marvelous things for you and through you.
To Build a Flock
It came to pass, when Rachel had borne Joseph, you see
That Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away
That I may go to my own place and to my country
It is time for me to go, yes this very day
Give me my wives and my children too
For whom I have served you, and let me go
For you know my service, my work for you
Which I have accomplished, yes you know
And Laban said to him, “Please stay
If I have found favor in your eyes spare me this ache
For I have learned by experience until this day
That the Lord has blessed me for your sake
And now when shall I also provide for my own house?
So he said, “What shall I give you? Not another spouse?
And Jacob said, “Nothing to me shall you give
If you will do this thing for me
I will again feed and keep your flocks as they live
Let me pass through all your flock today, as you watch closely
We will remove from there all the speckled
And the spotted sheep, this we will do
And all the brown ones among the lambs
And the spotted and speckled among the goats too
These shall be my wages
So my righteousness will answer for me
In time to come and in the Bible’s pages
The subject of my wages will be plain to see
Every one that is not speckled or spotted
Among the goats, and brown among the lambs
Will be considered stolen, yes ill-gotted
If it is with me, under the care of my hands
And Laban said, “Oh, that it were according to your word!
I simply cannot believe the thing that I’ve just heard
He removed that day the male goats that were speckled and spotted
All the female goats that were this way he took also
Every one that had some white in it from the flock he gotted
And all the brown ones among the lambs, they all had to go
And he gave them into the hand of his sons
Then he put between himself and Jacob three days journey
And Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks, the remaining ones
It was a fairly rendered deal, as you can plainly see
This story shows us of God’s true elect
Those who are separated and sealed with the Spirit
It was by God’s grace that He did select
And by faith in Him we receive this gift, by Christ’s merit
And so we cannot boast in our state before God
But only be thankful, and in uprightness should we trod
We to our God alone shall give all our praise
And on streets of gold we shall honor Him for eternal days
Hallelujah and Amen…