Genesis 31:31-42 (What is My Trespass and What is My Sin?)

Genesis 31:31-42
What is My Trespass and What is My Sin?

 Introduction: Surprisingly, the order in which the children of Israel were born and the mothers to whom they were born provide patterns which give us clues about the future of these people. In the same way, today’s account reaffirms the same pattern.

Unbeknownst to Jacob, Rachel stole the household idols of her father and carried them along with her. A search is made for these idols and the order of the search, along with a few other hidden details, shows us once again – and quite clearly, that Israel would have two exiles during their history.

At some point after the ending of the second exile, which occurred in some of our lifetimes, they will go from the law to grace. They will give up their idols and will turn to the Lord and His perpetual fountain of grace. All of this is symbolized in this beautiful story today which occurs on Mount Gilead.

We have full assurance that Israel will call on the Lord as a people and Christ will return to them, just as the ancient prophets saw, and just as Jesus Himself spoke. And to help us see this clearly, he has included details of this in a search for household idols.

Text Verse: “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? 10 I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings. Jeremiah 17:9, 10

Laban went after Jacob as he fled to his home in Canaan. The night before he met up with Jacob, the Lord searched him out and in his dream he told him to speak to Jacob nothing from good to bad.

This wasn’t an isolated instance in human history, but it is the way God deals with all men. He searches our hearts, tests our minds, and rewards us according to our actions. In order to be pleasing to God, we need to know what pleases Him. The way we do this is through understanding His word. And so… May God speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.

I. Laban’s Search

Last week we saw Jacob get his family together and head for the land of Canaan. After he left, Laban heard that he was gone and pursued after him. This is where we start up today, with verse 31…

31 Then Jacob answered and said to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I said, ‘Perhaps you would take your daughters from me by force.’

His answer attends to the matter of his wives first, rather than any theft Laban suffered. What Jacob notes here isn’t at all far-fetched. The world of islam today would still do this. If someone were to marry a muslim, the family would certainly do one of three things.

One would be to insist that the non-muslim convert. The second would be to steal back the family member by force. And the third would be to execute them for marrying out of the faith. Any or all of these are normal among them, and this stems from the mindset of the people of this very area.

Jacob had worked for and paid off his debt to Laban. Also he took nothing from him when he left. Rachel took his household gods which he knew nothing about. He had every right to leave and his flight was actually the prudent thing to do considering the circumstances of the past 20 years.

32 With whomever you find your gods, do not let him live. In the presence of our brethren, identify what I have of yours and take it with you.” For Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them.

After addressing what he felt was the main concern, he brings up the second matter in a way which would absolutely confirm his innocence. If the idols are found in his camp, Laban would have the right to execute whoever stole them.

He makes this agreement openly, as it says, “in the presence of our brethren.” This would be in the presence of everyone – those with him and those with Laban. They would be impartial witnesses. If the idols weren’t found, Laban would have absolutely no recourse because Jacob’s innocence would be seen.

At this time, Jacob has no idea that it was Rachel who took them and his words “do not let him live” will probably be regretted later when Rachel dies giving birth. He may actually feel this was God’s divine judgment on his words which he speaks here. As Matthew Henry says about this –

“How just soever we think ourselves to be, it is best to forbear imprecations, lest they fall heavier than we imagine.”

Along with the gods, Jacob adds in an all-encompassing note, “…identify what I have of yours and take it with you.” This allows Laban, right in the front of everyone, to make a claim to anything in the camp that belongs to him.

By doing this, Jacob is proving that everything which goes along with him has been attested to as his. There will be no later ability to make a claim on anything he has. Believe it or not, a few years back, someone in Egypt tried to sue Israel for the goods they plundered at the time of the Exodus.

The Bible records in Exodus 12 that Israel plundered the Egyptians as they left. And so in 2003 Nabil Hilmy, dean of the faculty of law at Egypt’s Zagazig University, announced his plan in the Egyptian government weekly, Al-Ahram Al-Arabi, to sue Israel.

The suit quickly disappeared though. Suing Israel based on an account in the Bible would therefore verify the Bible. Once they did this, then they would have to admit Israel’s right to the land and everything else about Israel, including being God’s chosen people.

That is the last thing in the world that the muslims want. Kind of funny, but this is the thought process of those who have hated and continue to hate Israel. God, however, has and continues to look after them, even against those in the church who attempt to diminish Israel’s role in the world.

33 And Laban went into Jacob’s tent, into Leah’s tent, and into the two maids’ tents, but he did not find them. Then he went out of Leah’s tent and entered Rachel’s tent.

It’s a bit hard to follow this verse unless you look at it as not necessarily being in sequence. And this is important. It seems to say Laban went into Jacob’s tent, then Leah’s tent, then the tent of the two maids, then back into Leah’s tent and then into Rachel’s.

It doesn’t seem to make any sense at all and people have proposed various reasons for why the order is so hard to understand. In reality it could be that he simply went into each tent, finishing with Leah’s and then went into Rachel’s, or something like that.

However it actually happened, the order the Bible gives is important because of who the people picture. The Lord is telling us this for a reason. Jacob is the leader of Israel, Leah pictures the law, and Rachel pictures the grace of God.

The search reflects the status of the people of Israel since their inception. The first search in Jacob’s tent reflects Israel before the coming of the law. The second is noted as Leah, living under the law. Then it mentions, surprisingly, the tent of the two maids, but the word is singular – one tent, two maidservants.

This then would reflect the two times of servitude of the Jewish people after the law – the first was in Babylon for 70 years and the second is the Roman dispersion of the people in AD70. Then it says that Laban left the tent of Leah (which was actually noted before the maids) and went into Rachel’s tent.

In other words, the two dispersions of Israel were under the law. Only after those dispersions will they, as a people, come into the covenant, or tent, of grace. To understand this completely, one has to understand the re-gathering of Israel in modern times as is laid out in Ezekiel 36 and 37 and also in other books like Zechariah.

This same order is seen in the birth of Jacob’s 12 sons. Sons were born to Jacob by Leah, then the two maid servants, then by Leah again, and only after that by Rachel. As surely as sugar is sweet, we’re given these patterns to show us Israel’s history – the law, two dispersions, and then coming into grace’s everlasting covenant.

Order of Birth

34 Now Rachel had taken the household idols, put them in the camel’s saddle, and sat on them. And Laban searched all about the tent but did not find them.

Rachel obviously heard Jacob’s words about putting to death whoever had the idols and so she packed them away in a camel’s saddle and sat down on them. Using a bit of cunning, she’s devised a plan to keep him from finding them.

As he pokes around in her tent, she gives him news to help him decide where to look and where not to look…

35 And she said to her father, “Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women is with me.” And he searched but did not find the household idols.

A lot of commentators will insert a passage from Leviticus 15 here. Let me read you what that says –

19 ‘If a woman has a discharge, and the discharge from her body is blood, she shall be set apart seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening. 20 Everything that she lies on during her impurity shall be unclean; also everything that she sits on shall be unclean. 21 Whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. 22 And whoever touches anything that she sat on shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. 23 If anything is on her bed or on anything on which she sits, when he touches it, he shall be unclean until evening.”

It’s not uncommon for people to cite these verses and then equate them with what Rachel has done – “Because the law says she’s unclean, Laban wouldn’t touch her or anything she is touching.” This isn’t correct. The law is the law and this predates the law.

Laban may not want to touch her because she’s on her period, but it’s not because the law demanded it. What’s being pictured here is Israel’s final rejection of idolatry. If you go to Israel today, or into many Jewish homes around the world, you’ll see all kinds of idols.

You might see a buddha or feng shui or some hindu god made of brass or wood. Whatever… they will have it, but Rachel has rejected the idols by sitting on them. Laban would never have imagined they would be under her and receive such treatment.

But Israel of the future, like her, will defile their images someday. Isaiah 30:22 tells us it is so –

You will also defile the covering of your images of silver, And the ornament of your molded images of gold. You will throw them away as an unclean thing; You will say to them, “Get away!” Isaiah 30:22

The word Isaiah uses for “unclean thing” is da’ah, a menstrual cloth. As surely as Rachel sat on Laban’s idols, Israel will someday defile and cast away their idols too. In the same chapter in verse 26, Isaiah tells us what it will be like for Israel on that day.

Moreover the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, And the light of the sun will be sevenfold, As the light of seven days, In the day that the Lord binds up the bruise of His people And heals the stroke of their wound.

The time is coming, and may it be soon.

II. Jacob’s Innocence

36 Then Jacob was angry and rebuked Laban, and Jacob answered and said to Laban: “What is my trespass? What is my sin, that you have so hotly pursued me?

If the gods were found, Laban would have had the upper hand, completely and entirely. He could have then claimed that some of the flock was stolen or made any other charge he wanted, whether valid or not, it wouldn’t have mattered.

But now Jacob assumes the upper hand and exercises it to rebuke Laban. Jacob is now found without guilt. The accuser can no longer accuse and he is vindicated before his brothers. Jacob’s words to Laban are so perfectly reflected by a prophesy of the future in Zechariah that it really is astonishing –

“In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness. “It shall be in that day,” says the Lord of hosts, “that I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, and they shall no longer be remembered. I will also cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to depart from the land. (13:1, 2)

Here they are, right here in this story, on Mount Gilead, translated as the Perpetual Fountain, and Israel is cleared of the guilt of the idols it has been accused of, just as Israel of the future will be too.

37 Although you have searched all my things, what part of your household things have you found? Set it here before my brethren and your brethren, that they may judge between us both!

Jacob’s statement implies that there is nothing of Laban’s in his camp. When he says, “Set it here before my brethren and your brethren that they made judge between us” he is stating it in a way which means that Laban has found diddly.

His actions in pursuing him and accusing him are baseless. From this springboard of innocence, he will now explain, in front of everyone, the mistreatment he has received. This will double Laban’s guilt before them all and will thus doubly vindicate him.

38 These twenty years I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried their young, and I have not eaten the rams of your flock.

Twenty years. This makes Jacob 97. During this time, he worked 7 years for Leah, 7 for Rachel, and then 6 for whatever possessions he now has. During all of that time, he shows his attentiveness to the flocks because it says the sheep and the goats have born young.

This means that they were well tended to. He also says that he didn’t eat the rams of the flock. The female are rarely eaten because they are the ones to bear more and thus increase wealth, but the rams are taken from time to time for meals.

However, Jacob never did this. He never dipped into what belonged to Laban, although he wouldn’t have been wrong from time to time if he asked Laban for an animal. But instead, he ate lesser foods, maybe lintels, or something which was more difficult to obtain through hunting, like a deer.

He’s been faithful to Laban, worked hard for him, and increased him for twenty long years. But this brings us to an important concept in the Bible – the significance of the number 20. It is a meaning which is consistently found in the Bible –

Twenty is 1 short of 21. Twenty-one is the three-fold 7. Three is divine completion. Seven is spiritual perfection. So 21 would be divine completion of spiritual perfection. Because 20 is one less than 21 then it signifies, “divine expectancy.”

And there are many illustrations to support it:

*Isaac waited 20 years to have a son while Rebekah was barren

*These 20 years, Jacob worked and waited to return to Canaan

*Israel waited 20 years for a deliverer from Jabin’s oppression

*Israel waited 20 years for deliverance by Samson

*The Ark of the Covenant waited 20 years at Kirjath-jearim while the people lamented after the Lord

*Solomon waited 20 years for the building of the two houses

*There was 20 years between Jerusalem’s capture and destruction; and for those 20 years Jeremiah prophesied concerning it.

This 20 year period is a period of waiting and it represents the full time of Israel’s waiting to go from their establishment as a people, through the time of the law to the kingdom age. The time of divine spiritual perfection; the kingdom age which is coming soon.

39 That which was torn by beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it. You required it from my hand, whether stolen by day or stolen by night.

Again, Jacob makes his plea before the assembly. There were predators in the open fields and from time to time one would kill one of the flock. Although it wasn’t any fault of Jacob’s, he bore the loss. Later, under the law, and speaking of exactly such an occurrence it will say this in Exodus 22 –

“If it is torn to pieces by a beast, then he shall bring it as evidence, and he shall not make good what was torn.” (13)

The fact that this is in the law as a protection for the people indicates that this is what is right and honest. Jacob and Laban were before the time of the law, but the general principle of honesty would dictate that Jacob shouldn’t have to pay for such a loss, but he did.

And more, any animal that was stolen – by day or by night, Laban required from Jacob. Based on Laban’s dishonesty as presented by Jacob, it is an indication that Laban could have stolen from the flock and then demanded a replacement as well, thus stealing from Jacob twice.

Jacob airs all of this in the presence of the people to show that he has been both mistreated and unfairly acted against even until the present moment.

III. Jacob’s Protector

40 There I was! In the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night, and my sleep departed from my eyes.

In this particular area of the world, the days can be extremely hot and the nights very cold. As the day heats up over the open expanses, the area aches from the lack of moisture. If it weren’t for wells, it would be intolerable for both man and animal.

At night it gets so cold that any humidity in the air settles to ground level and turns into frost. This is the normal weather and it would be multiplied in one direction or another as the seasons changed, but it would never be comfortable.

It also seems to imply that Laban didn’t provide any suitable camping material for Jacob. Instead, he fended for himself. Finally, because of the cold, because of the frost, because of the wild animals, and because of thieves – all of these things kept him awake. Sleep literally evaded him most of the time for 20 years.

41 Thus I have been in your house twenty years; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times.

In this unappealing state of employment, he continued on for 20 full years under three promises – twice for wives and then for set wages. However, seven of those years were for a wife he didn’t want. Only during the last six was it for wages. And even then, Laban constantly cheated him by changing the agreed terms.

He has shown, in front of everyone witnessing their discussion, that the wives and the flocks are his and he was deserving of far more based on the work provided. None of this can be contested because it is spoken in the presence of the witnesses.

And the fact that Laban wronged him is now in the open for all to see as well. Laban has dealt deceitfully with Jacob and Jacob’s words testify to it.

42 Unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed.

What may seem perplexing is how Jacob describes God. He says, “the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac.” He is speaking of the same God, but using three terms. It’s not actually confusing though when you think it through.

By saying he is “the God of my father”, he is being humble and saying that he is watched over by the same God, but deferring the title to his father. Secondly, Abraham was already dead but Isaac is alive. Therefore, God is the God of Abraham in his eternal state.

However, because Isaac is still alive, God to him is the God he fears. He walks before Him with dread. He knows that he can lay waste a valley such as Sodom and Gomorrah. He can destroy the earth by flood and He can bring the stars from the sky and crash them on the earth. He is the One who controls the womb of the woman and the breath of all living things.

Isaac knows these things and he fears His God. This is why Jacob describes Him this way. And we should note that nothing has changed with the coming of the law, nor with the coming of Jesus. Under the law, Solomon said these words to sum up his life of learning at the end of Ecclesiastes –

“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all. 14 For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil.” 12:13, 14

And Paul tells us the same basic thing in Ephesians 2, even after the coming of Christ –

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (12, 13)

Despite being our kind and gentle Savior, Jesus is our Lord. He is to be respected and feared. It is He who will bless our rights and judge our wrongs. And when we speak of Him, it should be with reverence mixed with awe, fear, and trembling.

42 (con’t) God has seen my affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked you last night.”

Jacob now brings in more facts about the glory of God. He is the God who sees all things, including the affliction of His people and He is the God who is sovereign over all things, including the dreams they have in their sleep.

Jacob is implying that God even knows where we sleep and what we think in our minds. He is aware of, and watching over, all these things. And so we should bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”

God came to Laban and rebuked him. He searched him out and determined that he needed correction of both his intents and his attitudes. How would God correct you if He came to you in your sleep tonight? As we finish up today, the question for you may still be unsettled.

Have you made a commitment to this wonderful God who sees into our hearts, our minds, and our dreams? This same God who watches over His people and defends them against injustice and oppression – Have you met Him? Have you made peace with Him? Give me a couple more minutes to tell you how you can have a personal relationship with Him.

Closing Verse: 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Romans 8:31-33

Next Week: Genesis 31:43-55 (The Witness and the Watchtower) (77th 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.

What is My Trespass and What is My Sin

Then Jacob said to Laban, in his discourse
“Because I was afraid, for I said
Perhaps you would take your daughters by force
And if so, in a fight I might end up dead

If you find your gods with whomever, men or women
Do not let them live, so you shall do
In the presence of our brethren
Identify what I have of yours and take it with you

For Jacob did not know
That Rachel had stolen them, yes it’s so

And Laban went into Jacob’s tent
And into Leah’s tent he went too
And into the maid’s tent he went
But he did not find them and so he withdrew

Then he went out of Leah’s tent
And entering into Rachel’s tent he went

Now Rachel, the household idols she had taken
And put them in the camel’s saddle to hide
Her contempt for them cannot be mistaken
She sat on them; their power she denied

And Laban searched all about the tent
But did not find them, And to her father she said
“Let it not displease my lord by this event
I cannot rise before you from this bed

For the manner of women is with me, so pay no mind
And he searched but his household idols he did not find

Then Jacob was angry and rebuked Laban
And Jacob answered and said to him plainly
What is my trespass? What is my sin?
That you have so hotly pursued me

Although you have searched all my stuff
What part of your household things have you found?
Set it here before our brethren, don’t be gruff
So they may judge between us, let them gather around

These twenty years I have been with you
Your ewes and your female goats have not
Miscarried their young, And it’s true
I haven’t eaten your rams, but I could’ve eaten a lot

That which was torn by beasts I did not bring to you
I bore the loss of it; it’s something I had to do

You required it from my hand
Whether stolen by day or stolen by night
I was in the day consumed by drought in the land
And by night the frost was a terrible plight

And my sleep departed from my eyes
And none of this to you was a great surprise

Thus I have been in your house twenty years
I served for your two daughters fourteen
And six years for your flock through trials and jeers
And you changed my wages ten times between

Unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham
And the Fear of Isaac, had been with me
Surely now you would have sent me away with an empty-hand
God has seen my affliction and had pity

He has seen the labor of my hands alright
And so he came to you and rebuked you last night.”

God carefully looks after those He has called
And He defends them in their time of need
When those around afflict us, He is appalled
And returns upon them justice with speed

He is the covenant keeping holy and awesome Lord
Who watched over Jacob so long ago
And we too can know Him through His great word
And upon us His great riches He will bestow

Through Jesus we are brought near to our God
And through His shed blood reconciliation is made
By His hand someday on golden streets we will trod
And from Him will come still waters and blissful shade

Thank You O God for our Lord Jesus
Who has so tenderly reached out to us

Hallelujah and Amen…


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