Introduction: Today’s sermon is going to have more historical details and less pictures of things to come than others, but we’ll also see a few things that we can apply to our lives, especially concerning the conduct of Laban, the father of Jacob’s wives.
The Bible gives us stories and we can often take from them lessons about our own habits and conduct. What we do with our lives is ultimately on record, just as these accounts are. Someday, we’ll stand before the Judge of all mankind and be evaluated.
So let’s take today’s story, like all the others, and think on the things that happen. Also, let’s remember that what we’re reading about is the true story of God’s people, how they got started and how they interacted with others. Today, Jacob will begin his trek back to Canaan and towards his family home.
Let’s join him in the trek and learn as we go.
Text Verse: For thus says the Lord of hosts: “He sent Me after glory, to the nations which plunder you; for he who touches you touches the apple of His eye. 9 For surely I will shake My hand against them, and they shall become spoil for their servants. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me. Zechariah 2:8,9
Israel is a people united to each other and to God in a singularly unique way. But Israel is more than a people, Israel is a concept of uniting and restoring God to the people of the world. Jacob has been in a form of exile and will now head home. Israel was twice in exile and twice brought home.
These people are, as Zechariah tells us, the apple of His eye. As believers in Christ Jesus, the true Israel, we become a part of the people of God. By knowing the Genesis stories, we can see God’s hand upon His people and His care for them and we can have assurance that He is also caring for us in the same way. And so… May God speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.
I. Considered as Strangers
Last week we saw Jacob explain to his wives why he intended to return to Canaan. He had been cheated by Laban, but God watched over and provided for him. Finally, the Lord told him directly that he was to return home. This then is where we start today, with the reply of his wives…
14 Then Rachel and Leah answered and said to him, “Is there still any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house?
At times the Bible says something that needs to be taken in the context of how the words are formed. If I were to say, “John and Tom answered their boss and he said, ‘We’ll have that done by lunch'” we would know that one answered for both because “he” is singular.
This is what happened here. In the Hebrew the verb is singular even though both Rachel and Leah are mentioned. So one of the two is answering for the other, but they both agree. They obviously feel that they’ve gotten a raw deal from their dad.
When they got married, Laban gave each of them only one maidservant when he could have given them more. And to them his attitude since then has been the same. He’s given them nothing and they know nothing else is coming.
Whatever inheritance they otherwise expected will never come, and anything he has will be given to the sons when he dies. They know that they will be entirely excluded from any inheritance.
One thing to think about as we continue on is the minuteness of the details. This is just a regular pastoral family in a world full of people. There were governments stretching from Europe through Asia by this time and there were great empires to the south as well.
And yet for all the kingdoms and kings, the Bible is silent on what they were doing. God’s word and His attention for our learning is focused on this one man, his family, and his struggles in life. Despite all the wealth, pomp, and power of the world’s kingdoms, God has focused on the family of a middle-classed shepherd.
As Matthew Henry says about such an account – “The Bible teaches people the common duties of life, how to serve God, how to enjoy the blessings he bestows, and to do good in the various stations and duties of life.”
But more importantly than even that, these accounts serve two other purposes. The first is that they show us how God called, maintained, and has cared for His people. And secondly they give us pictures of what He will continue to do in the future as He unfolds His plan for the people He will call.
15 Are we not considered strangers by him? For he has sold us, and also completely consumed our money.
Rachel and Leah look back on the past 20 years and reflect on the fact that their father actually sold each one of them for Jacob’s labors. This implies that because he was a hired hand, they too were like hired hands to their dad. As Jacob’s wives, they were in no greater position than he was.
Just as Jacob was a stranger, they are reckoned in the same way. And he didn’t only sell them, but he consumed all the profit he made off of them. In the Hebrew, they repeat the word “eat” – vayokhal gam akhol indicating that he had devoured what he had gotten and continued to devour it even to the present time.
There was nothing left; he had eaten it all, and he was eating away anything that was coming in as it came. Laban is perfectly pictured by Proverbs 30:15 –
The leech has two daughters—
Give and Give!
Laban had two daughters, Rachel and Leah, and he sold them for Give and Give. Laban is the man who doesn’t understand the principles of moderation and prudence. Speaking of the vanity of selfish toil, Solomon tells us this in Ecclesiastes 4 –
Again, I saw that for all toil and every skillful work a man is envied by his neighbor. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind. 5 The fool folds his hands And consumes his own flesh.
16 For all these riches which God has taken from our father are really ours and our children’s; now then, whatever God has said to you, do it.
Jacob had acquired all of his livestock and wealth from Laban’s flocks. These were his wages and what came about was agreed on in advance, even though Laban changed the terms time and time again, it always came out in favor of Jacob. God had blessed him.
But the wives looked at everything they had as their deserved inheritance. In the end, as Matthew Henry says, “God forced Laban to pay his debts, both to his servant and to his daughters.”
Although I’m not one who believes in tithing, we are to give our share in life – to God, to our family, and to the government. I know a CPA who will testify that when a person cheats in one way, they will inevitably lose that same money in another.
What you don’t give to God for what He renders to you, He will remove from you in another way. When you cheat the government in taxes, you will fritter it away in another meaningless way. In the end, being charitable and fair comes with its rewards.
II. Heading for Home
17 Then Jacob rose and set his sons and his wives on camels.
Once the decision was made, the action is taken. It doesn’t matter how large his camp is, the people are tent dwellers, and they along with all the people and flocks which could have filled a valley could leave it completely empty in just a few hours.
There would be nothing left but holes in the ground where the tent posts had been. At this time, the oldest son, Reuben, is no more than about 12 and the youngest, Joseph, is probably about 6. So all the family gets put on camels and head towards Canaan.
18 And he carried away all his livestock and all his possessions which he had gained, his acquired livestock which he had gained in Padan Aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan.
The word “gained” or rakhash is used twice in this verse to indicate that he took only what he had gained. Everything that went with him was acquired by him and nothing was stolen. This word is used only 5 times in the Bible and all are in Genesis.
It is always used in connection with wealth which is either taken into or out of Canaan, by Abraham, Jacob, or Esau. Well see later that he left with enough to give away more than 580 animals as a present. That, along with everything else he had would have made him a very wealthy man after just 6 years of work.
19 Now Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel had stolen the household idols that were her father’s.
While Jacob was preparing the flock to move, Rachel and Leah probably went back home to gather whatever things they had. This was at the time that Laban was shearing his sheep and it tells us that he hadn’t lost everything to Jacob. He still had his own flocks tended by his sons and they were a three day journey away.
While the wives were gathering their things, Rachel stole, as it says, “the household idols that were her father’s.” The word teraphim is used to describe what she took. It’s a word used other times in the Bible. But if you ever want a headache, read the commentaries on what people suppose these teraphim were.
There are as many opinions as there are commentators, and some are very insightful and ingenious. However, it is actually unknown what they were exactly. Later, in verse 30, Laban will call them elohai, or “gods” and so they were probably little figurines like buddhas that people put in their house today; good luck charms.
It is Rachel who stole them and as she is a picture of the New Testament grace, or the Church Age, it’s possible that she did this to show their ineffectiveness to do anything at all and to deliver her father from idolatry.
This thought goes back as far as a guy named Theodoret who lived in the 4th century. A Jewish scholar gives a similar reason – to deliver her father from idol worship. What Rachel will do with them later in this chapter will show us the contempt that she has for them. She certainly wasn’t expecting to benefit from them.
If Laban was a believer in the Lord, as it seems to be, his devotion to Him is divided. What Rachel is doing here is similar to what is called iconoclasm. Iconoclasm is the deliberate destruction of icons, idols, statues and the like within the church.
Iconoclasm has happened several times in both the Old Testament, such as during the reign of King Josiah, and within the church as well. The Protestant Reformation was one of the highlights of this. People turned away from the open idolatry of the Roman church and back to worshipping God without idols.
However, idol worship is still very strong in the Roman church even today. As an example, the Pope will often issue edicts granting indulgences for prayers to statues of Mary. The last Pope actually went to a shrine of Mary and petitioned her. Let me read to you the account –
“Benedict XVI placed the world in Mary’s hands during his one-day visit to the shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary in Pompeii, near Naples. The Pope’s leading of the Supplication of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary, a prayer written by Blessed Bartolo Longo (1841-1926) was one of the high points of this 12th pastoral trip in Italy. ‘We implore you to have pity today on the nations that have gone astray, on all Europe, on the whole world, that they might repent and return to your heart,’ the text of the prayer reads. With the words of Bartolo, the Pontiff turned to Mary, saying: ‘If you will not help us because we are ungrateful and unworthy children of your protection, we will not know to whom to turn.’ In a gesture of filial love, the Pope then offered the Madonna a golden rose.” zenit.org 19 Oct 2008
This is the force of idolatry, even in the world today. The leader of over a billion Catholics supposedly placed the fate of the world in the hands of a dead person, prostrated himself to an image of her, prayed to it, and told it that if it didn’t help us, then he had no idea who to turn to.
I can tell him who to turn to. Turn to Jesus and get off your face in front of pieces of wood and stone. John, in his first letter, after speaking for five chapters about Jesus, the Word, love, light, the truth, and other noble things closes with these words –
“And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” 1 John 5:20-21
Never, not once, does the Bible ask us to direct our thoughts, our attention, or our eyes toward any person – living or dead – except Jesus. Praying to Mary, the saints, or any person or thing other than to God through Jesus is both inappropriate and a violation of the message of the Bible.
This is what will bring about the wrath of God on an unrepentant world. It is no less than an abomination. This is what Rachel was trying to keep her father from – the sin of idolatry.
20 And Jacob stole away, unknown to Laban the Syrian, in that he did not tell him that he intended to flee.
What is interesting is that a form of the same word, ganab, which was used to describe Rachel’s stealing of Laban’s idols, is used in this next verse to describe what Jacob has done by fleeing. She stole the idols and he stole away, or more specifically it says –
vayiknov yaakov eth lev lavan (3:22) – “Stole Jacob Laban’s heart.”
The heart in the Bible is the seat of understanding, and so this is used as a way of saying that he deceived Laban through deception. However, John Gill sees this in a different way. By stealing Laban’s heart, he says that he stole…
“that which his heart was set upon; not his gods, these Rachel stole away; nor his daughters, for whom he does not appear to have had any great affection and respect; but rather the cattle and goods Jacob took with him, which Laban’s eye and heart were upon.”
John Gill seems right in this. When Jacob left with his wealth, he also left with Laban’s heart.
21 So he fled with all that he had. He arose and crossed the river, and headed toward the mountains of Gilead.
The river here is the Euphrates and people argue over how he could have gotten his family, camels, flocks, and goods over the river. One dubious source said God dried up the river for him to walk over on dry ground.
But getting over the river isn’t a difficult thing to imagine. There have been rope-pulled ferries for eons and there are rope made bridges spanning rivers around the world. There would have been routes of travel that included these or other ways of crossing and the speculation isn’t difficult to think through.
If God had dried up the river, the Bible would have said as much. How they crossed is far less important than that they crossed in a customary way and headed for Mount Gilead and towards Canaan.
I recommend that you read commentaries with a grain of salt.
III. The Perpetual Fountain
22 And Laban was told on the third day that Jacob had fled.
In a previous sermon we learned that Laban’s flocks were kept three days journey apart from Jacob’s. This was so that they wouldn’t get intermingled because the color of the animal determined who it belonged to.
Because of this, it took three days for Laban to hear the news.
23 Then he took his brethren with him and pursued him for seven days’ journey, and he overtook him in the mountains of Gilead.
Here is says that Laban took his brethren with him. Because of this, it was probably six days after Jacob left. It would have taken three days to get to Laban, three more for Laban to return to Haran, and then the seven days of pursuing Jacob.
This seems likely because of the distance from Haran to Gilead where they finally meet up. Jacob, traveling with his children and flocks, would take about 13 days to that far. Laban, could do the same distance in seven days. After this time though, Laban finally comes close to him on Mount Gilead.
The meaning of the name Gilead is hard to pin down, but Jones’ Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names says that it comes from two words – gulla which means “spring,” and ad which means “perpetuity.” And so it is termed Perpetual Fountain.
24 But God had come to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said to him, “Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.”
The translation here makes it sound like Laban can’t say anything at all to Jacob. To speak “neither good nor bad” means you can’t say anything. That’s probably not a great translation. Instead it says, mitov ad ra – from good to evil.
This could be one of two things. Either don’t start speaking nicely to him and then start accusing him of doing wrong. Or it could mean that because God has decided that Jacob should return to Caanan then Laban shouldn’t promise anything good if he will return to Haran and he should threaten him if he doesn’t.
God has made the decision and so Laban needs to not speak from good to evil concerning the matter.
25 So Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the mountains, and Laban with his brethren pitched in the mountains of Gilead.
I’m not sure why the version of the Bible I use, the NKJV, says “mountains” in these verses because the word is singular. Laban finally meets up with Jacob during his trek home. Jacob is on the mountain and Laban and those who came with him are there too.
26 And Laban said to Jacob: “What have you done, that you have stolen away unknown to me, and carried away my daughters like captives taken with the sword?
“As if,,, as if,,, as if I’ve done nothing wrong over the past 20 years.” Laban’s comments to Jacob are as if he were a marauder who had come and stolen his daughter’s away. This was, and still is, a common thing in parts of the world. And the people who do it are the lowest of all.
In 1 Samuel 30, the Amelekites, who were Israel’s great enemies, did this to David. While he and his men were out preparing for battle, the Amelekites came and stole away the families and property. David went in pursuit of them and got everything back.
This is the type of thing Laban is accusing Jacob of. He’ saying he was an outlaw and a kidnapper by what he’s done.
27 Why did you flee away secretly, and steal away from me, and not tell me; for I might have sent you away with joy and songs, with timbrel and harp?
In an attempt to get the upper hand in the negotiations which are surely coming, Laban says what he would have done if things had gone differently. “Of course I would have thrown you a big party and had a rock concert for you.”
He notes that the fun would have included joy, songs, timbrel, and harp. What he says almost mirrors the kind of celebration the psalmists asks us to give to God. Let me read a portion of Psalm 81 so you can see –
Sing aloud to God our strength;
Make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob.
2 Raise a song and strike the timbrel,
The pleasant harp with the lute.
One of the instruments, the harp, is mentioned throughout the Old Testament and the shape of it is actually the basis for the Hebrew name of the Sea of Galilee. The harp is a kinnor and the Sea of Galilee is known as kinneret because it is shaped is like a kinnor.
So if you don’t remember anything else from today’s sermon, maybe you’ll remember that the Sea of Galilee is named after an ancient instrument which goes back even before Noah’s Flood.
28 And you did not allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters. Now you have done foolishly in so doing.
When Laban says “his sons and daughters” he is speaking about his grandchildren as well as Rachel and Leah. The term includes them all. Having said this, he probably hadn’t kissed his daughters since the night of their wedding.
He is simply making a show like so many of us do. Everything is nicer when it doesn’t really happen. Have you ever noticed that? We can make up any fancy dream in our head and say it is so because there’s no way to prove it wouldn’t have happened.
However, our delusions are rarely shared with the people around us and Laban’s delusions are still being disbelieved 4000 years later. He is a bag of wind and a man of pretense but no substance.
29 It is in my power to do you harm, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.’
What he says here is obviously true or he wouldn’t have pursued Jacob at all. It is in his power to harm him, but God wouldn’t allow it. What makes it all the more ironic is the way he speaks to Jacob.
In Hebrew he says yesh la’el yadi laasot immakhem ra –
(4:54) my hand serves me as my god to do you evil.
In other words, “I am my own source of power and I could have done whatever I wanted to you.” But he found out that there is another, greater Power that he had no control over. To get a picture of Laban’s attitude, we can read a similar account in Habakkuk 1 –
They mock kings and scoff at rulers. They laugh at all fortified cities; by building earthen ramps they capture them. 11 Then they sweep past like the wind and go on—guilty people, whose own strength is their god.” (NIV)
LIFE APPLICATION: He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength. 30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, 31 But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:29-31
One more thing about this verse is that when Laban speaks to Jacob, he says “the God of your father spoke to me last night.” When he does, he uses the plural word for “your.” What he is implying is that the entire house belongs to God and not just Jacob.
If he wasn’t allowed to do anything to Jacob, he wasn’t allowed to do anything to anyone in the family either. The whole family has come under the covenant care of the God of Jacob’s father. This might seem like trivia, but it’s a rare and singular way of speaking.
This is a lesson which is reflected in 1 Corinthians 7 when speaking about the children of a married couple where one is a believer and one isn’t –
If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. 13 And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.
30 And now you have surely gone because you greatly long for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods?”
Laban is saying here that he understands the reason for Jacob leaving, which is because he misses his father’s house, but there is no excuse for him stealing his personal household gods. It’s kind of funny if you think about the whole thing.
Laban’s wealth had decreased and Jacob’s had steadily increased over the past six years. Jacob’s family had grown to 4 wives, 11 sons, plus at least one daughter. After all this, Laban’s gods get stolen, which means they couldn’t even protect themselves much less him.
And after that, God speaks to him in a dream and told him not to harm Jacob. You’d think he’d be glad to have the stupid idols gone from his life, but he perversely looks for them anyway. Matthew Henry nailed it when he said, “Happy are they who have the Lord for their God. Enemies may steal our goods, but not our God.”
This is where we have to leave off for today. Each one of us can reflect on some of the things we’ve seen and how we can apply them to our lives. How are we going to deal with the little idols in our life for example.
What are we clinging to that is a substitute for trusting God. Are we reading horoscopes in the morning. Do we have a good luck crystal or a little buddha in our car or on our mantle? These things, like in Laban’s home, don’t help, they only hinder us.
And what about how we speak to others? Do we try to justify our past failures like Laban did by claiming we would have done things differently if given the chance? Laban was a failure at being a father and also being a boss, but that doesn’t mean he had to continue deluding himself.
If we’ve failed others, we can admit it and move on in a new direction, or we can cover things up with excuses and blame. And maybe one more quick thing to think on – Laban intended to do harm to Jacob, but God came to him in order to stop him. Unlike Laban, we now have God’s complete word to us.
He has completely revealed what He expects and so we don’t need dreams and visions. He’s given us the Bible to know, believe, and follow. And He’s given us people who are instructed in it and willing to instruct us – pastors, teachers, and commentators.
Whether you come to Church on the Beach or go somewhere else, make sure that you listen, learn, and apply these things to your life. Unlike Laban, your walk will be grounded and your life will be without excuse or blame. And one more thing before we finish, if you still have a void between you and God, lets get that fixed first.
Jesus is the answer and if you’ve never had a moment in your life where you have voluntarily called on Him, let me explain to you why you should and how you can…
Closing Verse: He falls down before it and worships it, Prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” 18 They do not know nor understand; For He has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see,
And their hearts, so that they cannot understand. Isaiah 44:17, 18
Next Week: Genesis 31:31-42 (What is My Trespass and What is My Sin?) (76th 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.
Rachel and Leah answered and said to him
Is there still any portion or inheritance for us
Getting anything from our father’s house seems slim
We are considered as strangers, a minus and not a plus
For he has sold us and completely consumed our money
For all these riches which God has taken from our father
Are really ours and our children’s, this isn’t funny
Now what God has said to you, do it without bother
Then Jacob rose and set his sons and his wives on camels
And he carried away all the livestock and possessions
Which he had gained, yes all of his mammals
Which he had gained despite Laban’s oppressions
And he set to go to Isaac, his father to see
In the land of Canaan after years twenty
Now Laban had gone to shear his sheep
And Rachel had stolen the household idols
That belong to her father, that he did keep
But this would make Laban almost homicidal
And Jacob stole away unknown to Laban the Aramean
In that he did not tell him he intended to flee
So he fled with all that he had not telling him
He arose and crossed the river quietly
And he headed toward the mountains of Gilead
Surely knowing this would make Laban really mad
And Laban was told on the third day
That Jacob had fled and gone away
Then he pursued him with the brethren he had
For seven day’s journey he went
And he overtook him in the mountains of Gilead
Yes, seven days time was spent
But God had come to Laban the Syrian in a dream
By night and said to him a warning
“Be careful you do not speak in a way which would seem
Either good or bad. Don’t forget this in the morning
So Laban overtook Jacob finally
Now Jacob had pitched a tent in the mountain
And Laban with his brethren pitched plainly
In the mountains of Gilead, the Perpetual Fountain
And Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done
That you have stolen away unknown to me
And carried away my daughters in this run
Like captives taken with the sword so brutally
Why did you flee secretly and steal away from me
And not tell me for I might have thrown you a huge party
With joy and songs, with timbrel and harp
We could have all dressed up and looked really sharp
And you didn’t allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters
Now you have done foolishly like one of the plotters
It is in my power to do you harm
But the God of your father spoke to me last night
Saying, “Be careful that you speak without alarm
Speak neither good nor bad to Jacob, alright?
And now you have surely gone away
Because you greatly long for your father’s house
But why did you steal my gods this way
Doing this makes you seem like a louse
And so continues the story of Jacob’s life
It is one filled with trials and with strife
And it is the same for all of us
We have trials and tests that shape who we are
How much better if we know Jesus
Trust in Him, at these times is better by far
This word He has given is meant to help our way
And to keep us on a path which is straight and sure
So let’s continue to read it each and every day
And apply it to our lives to help us endure
Thank You Lord for these stories
Which guide us toward our future glories
Thank You above all for our wonderful Lord
Who is shown to us so beautifully in this precious word
Hallelujah and Amen…