Last post we left Jacob in the act of fleeing from Laban. He had fulfilled all of his obligations to Laban and had received four keys that helped him to know that moving his family to Canaan was the right thing to do. Four keys that you and I can use to help us know what God’s direction is for us in our lives. (see previous post on knowing God’s direction)
We pick up our story with Jacob three days travel away from Laban. But on that third day, Laban is told that Jacob has fled. So he gathers up his relatives and he chases after Jacob. After seven days he catches up to him in the hill country of Gilead. That night though, God comes to Laban in a dream and says, Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad. (Some translate this as the LORD instructing Laban not to begin by speaking kindly to Jacob but then turning on him later, as has been the pattern with Laban. Matthew Henry translates it the same as Genesis 24:50 where, regarding Abraham’s servant’s return home with Rebekah, Laban and Bethuel say, “This is from the LORD; we can say nothing to you one way or the other.” Either way, Laban is warned by the LORD.)
Jacob had already made camp in the hills of Gilead when Laban showed up. Laban and his relatives set up camp there too. Then Laban says to Jacob, What are you doing? You pulled a fast one on me, and made off with my daughters like they were prisoners of war. Why did you sneak off like that? Why didn’t you let me know so I could throw you a going away party? You never even gave me a chance to kiss my grand-kids and my daughters goodbye. You acted foolishly. I and my family gathered here could do you harm, but, last night the God of your father said to me, Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad. (Whatever the meaning of God’s message to Laban, the result was that Laban refrained from harming Jacob, out of fear of the LORD) Laban continued, So you took off because you want to return to your own family, alright, I get that. But why did you steal my gods?
Jacob answers, I was afraid. You outnumber me so I figured you’d take your daughters from me by force. But as for your gods, if you find anyone who has them, that person shall not live. Jacob said this, not realizing that Rachel had indeed stolen her father’s gods. Right here, right now, in the presence of our relatives, Jacob continues, go ahead and see for yourself whether there’s anything here that belongs to you. And if you find anything, then take it.
So Laban takes Jacob up on his offer and goes from Jacob’s tent, to Leah’s, to the tents of the two female servants, but of course he finds nothing. Then he comes to Rachel’s tent. Well Rachel had already hidden her father’s household gods in her camel’s saddle. And when her father came in to perform his search, there sat Rachel on top of that saddle. Laban rummages through everything in Rachel’s tent except for what was under the saddle. Rachel says to her father, “Don’t be angry, my lord, that I cannot stand up in your presence; I’m having my (menstrual) period.” (v.35) So he searched her tent except for the camel saddle, and he came up dry.
It’s worth noting that Jacob’s God, the one and only true and living God, spoke to Laban and protected Jacob. Whereas Laban’s gods weren’t even able to make their presence known to Laban from a few feet away. Laban’s gods were nothing more than a couple of small statues carved by men and stolen by a woman. As for you and I, we can celebrate the kingdom, the power, and the glory of our God. Unlike Laban, while our goods could be stolen from us, our God can never be taken from us. And unlike Laban, who couldn’t find his gods, anyone who seeks the true and living God will find Him. In fact He wants to be found. (see So Your Life Is Falling Apart)
Now Jacob is angry and he rips on Laban, What have I done to you? he asks. What justification do you have to hunt me down like this? You’ve turned my whole camp upside down looking for your gods, and what have you found that belongs to you? Go ahead, put it all here in front of everybody, let them judge between us!
For twenty years I’ve been loyal to you. Under my care your sheep and goats haven’t miscarried, I haven’t eaten rams from your flock. I never brought you animals torn up by wild beasts, instead I always bore the loss myself. And you demanded payment from me whenever an animal was stolen from the flock by someone else. I worked in the heat of the day and stayed out with those flocks in the cold sleepless night. It was like this for twenty years with you. Fourteen years for your two daughters and then six years for your flocks, during which you changed my wages ten times. If it weren’t for the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, you would have sent me away empty handed. But the LORD has seen all of the hardship and hard work, and last night He rebuked you.
Jacob lost his cool. He let his anger fly. Maybe like me you’ve had a Jacob moment like this one. It has certainly broken my heart when I’ve lost it, and it breaks my heart to see Jacob lose it here, for a couple of reasons. First of all Jacob’s wrong! He doesn’t realize that Rachel has in fact stolen from her father. One reason to keep your head when you think you’ve been wronged is that you can never know all there is to know about any situation. What we know about the past is a tiny fraction of all that’s occurred and it’s skewed by what others have told us, from their perspective, which may or may not be accurate. It’s also skewed by what people haven’t told us. In Jacob’s case Rachel hasn’t told him that she stole from her father. When you think you’ve been wrongfully accused, keep your cool, you never know what might be missing from your assessment of the situation.
The second reason Jacob’s rant breaks my heart is the way it blows his witness. That whole righteous indignation thing can feel so good, as we let our feelings go, as we vent, as we pop the cork and let the pressure out. But what about our witness? And what does God think of us when we behave like that? Romans 14 tells us that the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, and God’s word goes on to tell us that’s because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. (Romans 14:17-18) In spite of Laban’s deceiving, defrauding, and double-crossing for the last twenty years, Jacob served him with righteousness, peace, and joy. Jacob served him in a way that pleased God and demonstrated a tremendous witness to Laban and all those around him. Then, right at the very end, he blows his stack. In so doing he discounted a great witness that was twenty years in the making. If you’re doing well, don’t grow weary in well doing. Your serving with righteousness, peace, and joy is precious in God’s sight and it attracts people to Christ. Don’t unravel that service that’s a masterpiece from God’s perspective, by letting loose of your feelings. It’s destructive on multiple levels.
Back to our story: So after a rant like that one, what can Laban say? He answers, These women are my daughters, these kids are my grand-kids, these flocks are my flocks. Everything you see here is mine. (These are some interesting comments by Laban. Though he may have felt that way; though he may have felt that the women, kids, and flocks were his, Jacob had more than fulfilled his part of the bargain to receive them as his own. Regardless of Laban’s feelings, all that Laban saw belonged to Jacob.) Laban continued, Yet what can I do but let them go with you. Let’s make a covenant, and let it serve as a witness between us in the future.
So Jacob takes a stone and sets it up as a pillar. Then he has his relatives gather more stones and they pile them in a heap. Both Jacob and Laban’s camps then eat there together, by the heap of stones. Laban calls it Jegar Sahadutha and Jacob names it Galeed — both mean “heap of witness.”
The heap of stones was also called Mizpah, which means “watchtower” because Laban said, May the LORD keep watch between you and me when we’re apart from each other. If you don’t treat my daughters right, or if you take on wives besides them, even though no one’s around to see it, you remember that God is a witness between you and me.
Laban says, This heap is a witness between you and me today.
Laban also says, I won’t go past this heap to your side to harm you and you don’t go past this heap to my side to harm me. May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.
Knowing how God’s hand was on Jacob, this was a shrewd move on Laban’s part. He could only expect Jacob to grow stronger and stronger as time went on. It was prudent on his part to make a treaty with Jacob to protect himself against that day that would surely come, when Jacob was greater than Laban.
So Jacob takes an oath in the name of the Fear of his father Isaac. He offers a sacrifice there in the hill country of Gilead and invites his family to the meal. After they finish, they spend the night there.
Early the next morning, Laban kisses his grand-kids and his daughters and blesses them. (Notice that there’s no mention of a kiss for Jacob) Then he leaves and returns home.
In-laws and Christ’s law:
In-laws. Movies are made about them. Books are written describing them. There are even websites for people who want to share about how much they hate their in-laws. In my experience I’ve found it to be fairly rare for young families to get along well with their in-laws. (Fortunately for me, I’m blessed to be one of these rare cases. Though I don’t deserve it, my in-laws are great people.) I’ve found it to be much more common for people to struggle in their relationships with their in-laws. From the son-in-law or daughter-in-law’s perspective, mother-in-law (not always, but usually the mother-in-law seems to be the villain) is meddling and manipulative. From the mother-in-law’s (or father-in-law’s) perspective, son-in-law is nowhere near good enough for their little princess, or daughter-in-law is nowhere near good enough for their little prince.
Well then, as an in-law, how should we behave toward our spouse’s family? One way would be to respond as that great, wise, and oft-quoted philosopher Eminem prescribes. “I don’t care if you’re black, white, straight, bisexual, gay, lesbian, short, tall, fat, skinny, rich or poor. If you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you. Simple as that.” –Eminem
That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? If someone, your in-law in this context, is black, white, straight, bisexual, gay, lesbian, short, tall, fat, skinny, rich, or poor, be nice to them, as long as they’re nice to you. I think that much of humanity today lives by this ethic, dubbed the Eminem Ethic by orthodox pastor, Father Andrew Stephen Damick. (See Damick’s blog post on The Eminem Ethic) I’ll be nice to you, as long as you’re nice to me.
Of course, taking this reasoning of Eminem’s to it’s logical conclusion, it follows then that if you’re not nice to me, all bets are off. If you’re not nice to me, then I’m justified in treating you likewise. If you’re not nice to me, then I’m justified in behavior toward you that’s outside the parameters of nice. That still might sound pretty fair to some.
The only thing is, that’s not Christ’s way of doing things. Perhaps not too surprisingly, Christ’s way is different than Eminem’s way. Christ’s way, whether your in-laws are mistreating you or not, is in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you… (Matthew 7:12) Jesus’ way is to do to your in-laws what you would have them do to you. Christ’s way is to love them, regardless of their behavior toward you. In the twenty years before he went on his rant against Laban, Jacob demonstrated this beautifully, he lived it, he approached his relationship with his in-laws according to Christ’s law.
Eminem says, “If you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.” “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” –Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:44-45)
Eminem’s way, the world’s way, is the easy way. It’s the natural way for a human being to behave. It even feels good to respond Eminem’s way. I’m not saying that Jesus’ way will be easy, but in the long term, you’ll find yourself blessed. I’m not saying that His way will come naturally.
But Christ’s way,
as it always is,
is the better way.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
–Jesus Christ, Luke 6:27-36