Progressive Baptist Church's Website
In The Beginning: Part III
by Jackie Alston
"I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him."
Today I will be continuing "In the Beginning", which is our story on the Book of Genesis. I ended Part II with the seventy-seven year old Jacob, whose name meant "supplanter, or deceiver", running from his twin brother Esau. Esau had vowed to kill Jacob for cheating him out of his birthright and the covenant blessing. So Jacob was on the run to his Uncle Laban's house in Haran.
After traveling for about three days Jacob came to a place called Luz, which he renamed Bethel, and it was there in Bethel that Jacob had the most wonderful dream about a very high ladder. I'm sure we all can remember singing the song, "We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder", although we may not have known what it meant. In the dream, Jacob saw many angels going up and coming down a ladder that reached up to heaven. The angels were taking messages from Jacob to God and bringing messages from God back to Jacob, so the dream assured Jacob that he had continuous, uninterrupted communication with God. Even though that was Jacob's dream thousands of years ago, believers have that same type of communication with God today, and it's made possible through Jesus, who is the Ladder and Mediator between God and man. As Jacob continued to watch the angels go up, the Lord Himself stood at the top of the ladder and made a covenant with Jacob. Along with the covenant blessings passed down from Abraham, God also promised Jacob that He would be with him, protecting him wherever he went and He would bring him back to the land of Canaan, which he was running away from at the time.
About three weeks after leaving Bethel, Jacob came to a field near Haran. And in God's perfect timing, Laban's daughter Rachel came to water the sheep, and when Jacob saw his first cousin, he fell madly in love with her. Unlike his father Isaac and brother Esau, who had both married at forty years old, Jacob had remained single, but after seeing Rachel, he knew he would do anything to make her his wife. And that anything turned out to be an agreement to work seven years for his Uncle Laban in exchange for Rachel's hand in marriage. And the Scripture says, "The seven years seemed like only a few days because Jacob loved Rachel so much."
As was the custom back then, on the night of the wedding, the bride would enter her husband's tent wearing a veil, and he would then officially make her his wife. Try to imagine Jacob's disappointment and anger the next morning when he discovered Uncle Laban had sent Leah, Rachel's sister, into his tent. And when Jacob confronted Laban, Laban excused his trick on a custom that the older daughter should be married first. But then Laban made a proposal that Jacob fulfill his marriage to Leah for one week and at the end of the week he could marry Rachel also, but, Jacob would have to work another seven years. Jacob didn't love Leah so he agreed to work another seven years for his beloved Rachel. So Jacob, who had stayed single for all of those years, now had two wives at eighty-four years old.
I know we've all heard the expression, "When two women are in the kitchen, there's nothing but trouble", well, in this case, there were two women in the bedroom, so it was a lot worse. Back in those days, it was so important for a wife to give her husband sons, so it was like a race between the two sisters to become pregnant. Since Jacob favored Rachel, you would think she had an advantage over Leah, but the Scripture says, "When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, He opened her womb: but Rachel was barren."
So it was Leah who had the privilege of bearing Jacob's first four sons, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, (from whom the priestly tribe would come), and Judah, (from whom the Messiah would come). With each of her sons, Leah hoped that Jacob would love her, but he didn't, so after the birth of Judah, Leah concentrated on God and gave up on her physical rights as a wife. But in the meantime, Rachel became so envious of her sister that she would do anything to have sons, even bargain with Leah for mandrakes, which were supposed to promote conception. But first, out of desperation, Rachel gave her maid, Bilhah to Jacob and the maid had two sons, Dan and Naphtali, for Rachel. And that started a contest to see who could outdo the other. Leah gave her maid, Zilpah to Jacob, and Gad and Asher were born. Then, after bargaining with mandrakes, Leah was given permission to sleep with Jacob again and she had two more sons, Issachar and Zebulun, and a daughter, Dinah. Then finally Rachel gave birth, and although some believed it was the mandrakes, Rachel named her first son, Joseph, which expressed faith that God would give her another son. The Scriptures covered this baby-making period in less than thirty verses, but it took place while Jacob was working for Rachel. So in actuality, Jacob had eleven sons and one daughter, by four different women, in a period of seven years. Wow! But, descendants as numerous as the stars was one of God's covenant promises to Abraham.
At the end of the fourteen years of slave labor for his Uncle Laban, Jacob was ready to return to Canaan with his family. But realizing how much he had been blessed because of Jacob, Laban urged Jacob to stay and offered to give him whatever he asked for. But Jacob didn't want Laban to give him anything, but he did agree to continue working if his wages would be the spotted and speckled sheep and goats and the dark lambs from Laban's flock. Since Laban didn't have too many of those in his flock, he eagerly agreed to Jacob's offer. But to be on the safe side or the deceptive side in this case, Laban went before Jacob and picked out most of those animals and gave them to his sons to tend. In that way, the few animals that were left couldn't breed and reproduce many of the animals that Jacob would earn. Laban could deceive, but he couldn't perceive, he didn't fully understand that Jacob had two things going for him. First and foremost, he had the blessing of God; and second, he had the knowledge of the laws of heredity. Because of Jacob's special breeding techniques, fifty percent of the second generation of animals were spotted and speckled. So Jacob was able to outwit his Uncle Laban and over a period of six years, Jacob became a very wealthy man, which of course, filled his Uncle Laban with anger and jealousy.
I mentioned in Part II, that Rebekah had convinced Jacob to flee to Laban's house for just a few days, but circumstances caused Jacob to stay with Laban for twenty years. But then God showed Jacob it was time to leave Laban and return to Canaan to his father Isaac, unfortunately, Rebekah would be dead before her favorite son returned.
Finally, Jacob was homebound. He gathered his family and all of his servants, flock, and other possessions and secretly left Laban. But before leaving, Jacob's beloved wife, Rachel, stole her father's household gods. The gods were important because whoever possessed them would legally be Laban's heir, and Rachel believed her husband had earned that honor. When Laban found out about Jacob's departure, he called his relatives and they pursued Jacob and caught up with him in seven days. But the night before they caught up with him, God came to Laban in a dream and warned him not to say anything good or bad to Jacob. In other words, Laban was not to try to urge Jacob to come back and he was not to threaten him in any way.
So when Laban came face to face with Jacob, he pretended to be emotionally hurt because Jacob had stolen his daughters and grandchildren away without properly saying goodbye. Then he accused Jacob of stealing his idol gods. Jacob knew he was innocent so he told Laban, "search the caravan and if you find your idol gods, just go ahead and kill the person who has them." Jacob probably would have dropped dead had he known Rachel was sitting on the idol gods. But Rachel excused herself from getting up, she said she was having her menstrual cycle, so Laban found nothing in his search. And at that time, Jacob took the opportunity to lash out at Laban for accusing him of theft and for mistreating him over the past twenty years, and evidently he made Laban feel so exposed that Laban asked Jacob to make a covenant with him. Although this covenant was made between two cheats who didn't trust each other, it became one of the most popular benedictions used today to express trust and well being. "May the Lord watch between me and thee, while we are absent one from another." Then Jacob and Laban sealed their covenant by having a great feast as one big happy family, and early the next morning Laban kissed his daughters and grandchildren and returned home. Now that Laban was out of the picture, there was only one thing Jacob feared, his brother Esau.
As Jacob neared Esau's territory, he sent messengers ahead to meet with Esau. The messengers were to tell Esau, whom Jacob called his Lord, that his servant Jacob had been living with Laban and had accumulated much possessions, but nothing meant more to him than finding grace in his lord's sight. But the messengers returned and told Jacob that Esau was coming to meet him with four hundred men. Jacob was terrified! So he divided his family and possessions into two companies and reasoned that if Esau killed one company, the other company could possibly escape. But then Jacob decided to pray. I don't know why he prayed because he displayed his lack of trust by trying to buy his way out of the situation. Jacob sent Esau almost six hundred head of his flock, hoping the gifts would be enough to take away his brother's anger. Evidently, Jacob had forgotten one of God's personal covenant promises to him. So I guess God decided to remind him.
The Scripture says, "Then Jacob was left alone: and there wrestled a man with him: until the breaking of the day." While alone in the darkness of the night, a man grabbed Jacob and started wrestling with him, and they wrestled all through the night. And when Jacob realized he wasn't wrestling an ordinary man, I imagine he thought, "Lord, you did say you would be with me wherever I went, but I didn't know you would beat me up to prove it." The Lord touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh and knocked his hip out of joint. But Jacob didn't give up, he held on until the Lord blessed him. Oh yes, Jacob physically lost that battle, but he had won the war. He had contended with God and prevailed. And from that morning on, Isaac and Rebekah's son was to be transformed from Jacob, the deceiver, into Israel, the Prince of God.
During his wrestling with God, Jacob had almost forgotten about Esau until he looked up and saw him in the distance. Then fear arose in Jacob again and he began arranging his family in a protective order for when Esau attacked. The maids and their children were up front so they would get the brunt of the attack, then Leah and her children were next, then he put his beloved Rachel and Joseph at the end so they would be the least harmed. But this time Jacob passed over his family and bowed down to Esau, and as he went closer, he bowed down again. He bowed down seven times before reaching his brother, which was an act of complete humility. And the Scripture says, "Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept." And at that moment, all of Jacob's fears were dispelled. For twenty years he had lived in fear of his brother, but all he had to do was trust in the God he had met in Bethel. Jacob didn't realize that the God of Abraham and Isaac could change Esau's revengeful, hateful heart into a heart of peace and love. So the brothers enjoyed a short emotional reunion and parted ways. Jacob, at last, had peace. He had finally found favor in the eyes of Esau.
I'm ending Part III on that good note because Part IV will have many tragic events. In Part IV, we'll learn how Dinah's innocent desire for friendship leads to rape and a bloody massacre and we'll experience sorrow as Jacob weeps for his beloved Rachel, but we'll rejoice in the life of Joseph, who is one of the most perfect "types of Christ" in all of the Old Testament. Until next time, "May God be merciful unto us and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us. In Jesus Name, Amen!"