Sermon: Genesis 29:1 – 30:24: Jacob Meets His Match

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 29:1-30:24

“Then Jacob went on his journey and came to the land of the people of the east. As he looked, he saw a well in the field, and behold, three flocks of sheep lying beside it, for out of that well the flocks were watered. The stone on the well’s mouth was large, and when all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone from the mouth of the well and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place over the mouth of the well. Jacob said to them, ‘My brothers, where do you come from?’ They said, ‘We are from Haran.’ He said to them, ‘Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?’ They said, ‘We know him.’ He said to them, ‘Is it well with him?’ They said, ‘It is well; and see, Rachel his daughter is coming with the sheep!’ He said, ‘Behold, it is still high day; it is not time for the livestock to be gathered together. Water the sheep and go, pasture them.’ But they said, ‘We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together and the stone is rolled from the mouth of the well; then we water the sheep.’ While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. Now as soon as Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, Jacob came near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. Then Jacob kissed Rachel and wept aloud. And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son, and she ran and told her father. As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he ran to meet him and embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things, and Laban said to him, ‘Surely you are my bone and my flesh!’ And he stayed with him a month. Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?’ Now Laban had two daughters. The name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance. Jacob loved Rachel. And he said, ‘I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.’ Laban said, ‘It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.’ So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, ‘Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.’ So Laban gathered together all the people of the place and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and he went in to her. (Laban gave his female servant Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her servant.) And in the morning, behold, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, ‘What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?’ Laban said, ‘It is not so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.’ Jacob did so, and completed her week. Then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. (Laban gave his female servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel to be her servant.) So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years. When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, ‘Because the LORD has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.’ She conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘Because the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.’ And she called his name Simeon. Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, ‘Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.’ Therefore his name was called Levi. And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘This time I will praise the LORD.’ Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she ceased bearing. When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister. She said to Jacob, ‘Give me children, or I shall die!’ Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, ‘Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?’ Then she said, ‘Here is my servant Bilhah; go in to her, so that she may give birth on my behalf, that even I may have children through her.’ So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife, and Jacob went in to her. And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Then Rachel said, ‘God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son.’ Therefore she called his name Dan. Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, ‘With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed.’ So she called his name Naphtali. When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took her servant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. Then Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. And Leah said, ‘Good fortune has come!’ so she called his name Gad. Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. And Leah said, ‘Happy am I! For women have called me happy.’ So she called his name Asher. In the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, ‘Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.’ But she said to her, ‘Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?’ Rachel said, ‘Then he may lie with you tonight in exchange for your son’s mandrakes.’ When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, ‘You must come in to me, for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.’ So he lay with her that night. And God listened to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. Leah said, ‘God has given me my wages because I gave my servant to my husband.’ So she called his name Issachar. And Leah conceived again, and she bore Jacob a sixth son. Then Leah said, ‘God has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will honor me, because I have borne him six sons.’ So she called his name Zebulun. Afterward she bore a daughter and called her name Dinah. Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son and said, ‘God has taken away my reproach.’ And she called his name Joseph, saying, ‘May the LORD add to me another son!’” (Genesis 29:1–30:24, ESV)

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[Please excuse any and all typos and misspellings found within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church, but without proofreading.] 

Introduction

It was a week or two ago that one of you approached me after the worship service and asked, “why is it that the Genesis narrative places such a heavy emphasis upon the sins of the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?” At least that is my paraphrase of the question that was posed.

This is a very good question. That the Genesis narrative puts the sin of the fathers and the disfunction of their families on full display is undeniable. But the question is, why? Why would God move Moses to write as he did? What was the purpose of delivering this message to Israel, and to also to us?

I suppose that some might view the record of the sins of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as simple warnings to the people of God. The message would be, look at what mess your forefathers made of things when they acted contrary to the will of God! Emulate their faith, but avoid their failures!

Now, I do not deny that this is a valid application of the text. I myself have drawn applications like this from the narrative of Genesis. You have been warned, for example, against being driven by fear, as Abraham and Isaac were when they lied about their wives, saying that they were their sisters. You have been warned against acting according to human wisdom and cunning, instead of walking by faith. You have been encouraged to endure suffering with patience, trusting that the Lord will provide for you in his way and in his time. You have been encouraged to protect and invest into the marriage relationship. And you have been warned against showing favoritism to you children. All of these applications (and many others), are valid applications. It is right for us to look upon the lives of the patriarchs and to imitate that which was good, and avoid that which was sinful. 

Paul the Apostle approached the stories of the Old Testament in this way. He recognized that they served as examples for us so that we might do what is good and avoid what is evil. In 1 Corinthians 10 he draws attention to that episode where Israel grumbled and complained against God in the wilderness . And based upon that Exodus story he made this application for the church in Corinth, saying, “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:9–11, ESV).

So yes, it is right that we make application from the narrative of Genesis. It is right that we look upon the faith of our fathers as (Hebrew 11 does) and say, imitate that good thing! And is also right that we observe their sins and say, flee from this, “for these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction…” (1 Corinthians 10:9–11, ESV).

But I think we must recognize that there are deeper and more substantial purposes for the emphasis upon the sins of the patriarchs and the disfunction of their families in the Genesis narrative. Yes, it is right that we draw personal application from these stories, but there is a definite point that is being made — a point that has very much to do – not only with our lives individually — but with the overarching story of the Bible, which is the story of our redemption in Christ Jesus. 

And what is that point? Well, it is twofold: 

One, when the Genesis narrative emphasizes time and time again the sin of the patriarchs of Israel it is a demonstration of the fact that our election  — be it the election of Israel considered according to the flesh, or the election of the Israel of God according to the Spirit — is only by the free and unmerited grace of God. These narratives demonstrate clearly that Abraham,  Isaac and Jacob were set apart in there world, not on the basis of their good works, but by the grace of God alone! 

This is a very big and foundational theme that runs throughout the story of the Bible, which is the story of our redemption through the work of Jesus, who is the Christ.

One of my favorite Old Testament passages which draws attention the unmerited favor that was set upon Israel from the start is found in Ezekiel 16. Here the Lord rebukes Israel for, among other things, her pride. And to humble her he reminds her that whatever good she has is the result of his unmerited, undeserved grace. Ezekiel writes, “Again the word of the LORD came to me: ‘Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations, and say, Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born. ‘And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’”, etc. (Ezekiel 16:1–6, ESV).

These stories about the sins of the patriarch are told to make it abundantly clear to Israel — Israel considered according to the flesh, and Israel considered according to the  Spirit — that they live and belong uniquely to God, not because of something in them, but by the grace of God alone. 

And of course the New Testament agrees with this when it says things like, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9, ESV). This was not a new idea when Paul penned these words. Yes, we believe that Paul was inspired by the Lord to write what he wrote — but he also knew his Bible. He understood that this was precisely what the Old Testament scriptures taught. He knew well the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob  and could see plainly that they were set apart by the grace of God alone. It was not their own doing. It was the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one — not them, nor the Israel that descended from them — may boast. 

Side note: Brothers and sisters, if you understand the severity of Adam’s sin, as it is described in Genesis 3, and the devastating consequences that it had on all of mankind, then you would not be surprised at all to learn that if we are alive in God and right before him, it is by his grace alone, on not our own doing. How could it be other wise given our spiritual death and depravity?!

The question was, what is the core and foundational truth being established in these narratives which highlight the sins of the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? I have already said that the unmerited favor and grace of God is clearly displayed here. But I think another foundational truth is also established, and it is this: The accomplishment of God’s purposes will not be hindered by the sinfulness of his creatures.  

This is good news. This is important for us to know, and deeply encouraging. You have probably noticed that we live in a world that is very wicked. You also know that God’s word reveals that he has a plan. The question that arises is, how can God possibly accomplish his plan given the prevalence of evil in the world? 

Does God cause evil? The scriptures say “no”! Then how does God accomplish his purposes in a world that is plagued by it? Well, the scriptures do not tell us how he does it, but they do make it clear that he is able to do it. He is able to bring about his plans and purposes despite the sinful rebellion of his creatures.  

The theme of God accomplishing his purposes despite the sinfulness of his creatures runs throughout the pages of holy scripture. From the account of the temptation and fall of Adam into sin on to the end of the book of Revelation we see that God’s purposes are accomplished, and his promises fulfilled, and this despite the sinful actions of his creatures. Angels and men rebel against God and act deceptively, and yet God’s purposes are accomplished, for he is “God, and there is no other; [he is] God, and there is none like [him], declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose…’” (Isaiah 46:9–10, ESV).

Brothers and sisters, there are many points of application to draw from the Genesis narrative. But understand clearly that the main purpose of these stories which emphasize the sins of the patriarchs is to show that their election was by the grace of God alone, and that God is faithful to keep his promises — not even the sin and rebellion of God’s free creatures is able to thwart his sovereign will. 

Let us turn our attention now to Genesis 29:1 — 30:24 and to the story of Jacob, his interaction with Laban, and his marriages to Leah, Rachel, and their two servants. 

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Jacob Met His Match

The title that I have given to this sermon is, Jacob Meets His Match. My intention was that this phrase would have a double meaning. On the one hand this story is about Jacob meeting his “match”, that is to say, his wife, Rachael. But on the other hand this story is also about Jacob meeting his “match”, that is to say, Laban, who proved to be just as crafty and deceptive as he was. 

Clearly this story is about Jacob finding a wife. In fact, he ended up with four — two primary wives, along with two of their servants. We have established in previous sermons that polygamy is contrary to God’s original design for marriage. God’s design was for “man [to] leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, ESV). Nevertheless, this was what Jacob did. 

It is clear that the story we are considering today mirrors the story that was told in Genesis 24 of Abraham’s servant traveling to find a wife for Isaac. There are many parrales. Abraham sent his servant to Haran to find a wife for Isaac, and Isaac sent Jacob to the same place to find a wife for himself. Both of the wives were found when the men — Abraham’s servant and Jacob — entered the land and came to a well (perhaps it was the same well). Rebekah, who would become the wife of Isaac, watered the camels of Abraham’s servant, whereas Jacob watered the Rachael’s flock. In both instances it was clear to the men that “this was the one.” Laban, the brother of Rebekah, links the two narratives together, for he is present in both. Remember that he was there when Abraham’s servant rolled into town all those years ago. He took note of the wealth of Abraham’s servant. He noticed the rings and bracelet that were given to his sister, and he was found checking out the camels. When it came time for the servant to leave with Rebekah, he tried to delay, presumably so that he might extract more wealth from the servant. Here we meet Laban again, and we see that he hasn’t changed at all. He is still eager to take from others. This time he takes advantage, not of Abraham’s servant, but of Abraham’s grandson. And he attempts to profit, not from his sister’s beauty, but from the beauty of his own daughter.  

These stories about wives for Isaac and Jacob are critical  to the narrative of Genesis for they answer the question, how will Isaac and Jacob become the fathers of a great multitude as God has promised? If indeed  a great nation will come from them, and if their descendents will be as the dust of the earth, the stars in heaven and the sand on the sea shore, then these single men will need to  have wives. Genesis 24 describes to us how Isaac came to have Rebekah as wife, and Genesis 29 describes to us how Jacob came to have his wives, Leah, Rachael, Bilhah, Zilpah. It would be through these  women that the promises of God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would be fulfilled. From them many offspring would come. Through them a nation would be born. By them — through the process of childbearing — the Christ would come into the world, through whom all of the nations of the earth would be blessed. 

The facts of Jacob’s union to these women and the children that were born two him by them are crucial to the story of scriptures. God promised that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would have many offspring and this passage describes to us how that came to pass. 

But notice that this is much more than a factual account of the decedents of Jacob. It is certainly not a simple genealogy — a basic list of names. If the point of this passage were to state the facts of the history of Israel, a simple genealogy would do. But instead we find a story. And I think you would agree with me that the story is scandalous. It is the kind of story that if you have young children and you come to it in your family Bible reading, you think to yourself, perhaps we should summarize this one and skip ahead. This story is filled with scandalous behavior fueled by jealousy, bitterness and deceit. I would immagine that many who read this story think to themselves, is this really in the Bible? And more than that, was this really the behavior of the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel? It’s a shocking story. And it is especially shocking when you think that Moses is the one who wrote it down and delivered it to Israel after they were delivered from Egypt in order to say to them, here is your history.  

I have made this point earlier, and so I will not belabor it here. But I must again say that one of the main purposes of this story is to communicate to physical and spiritual Israel that her election and privileged position before God grounded in his free grace alone. You get the impression that Moses was determined to drive this point home as tells yet another story which draws attention to the scandalous sin of the patriarch and matriarch of Israel. He could have stated the facts in another way. But the Spirit moved him to tell this story so that we might know for certain that  “by grace [we] have been saved through faith. And this is not [our] own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9, ESV).

[APPLICATION: Brothers and sisters, now that we are fallen into sin, the root of all true religion is grounded in the free grace of God alone.  If man is to have a right relationship with God, then God must initiate. God must act. He must graciously extend his hand to lift us up out of the miry clay. Any religion that presupposes that a right relationship with God begins with man’s initiative is a false religion. It is out of step with the basic and fundamental story of holy scripture. Here we see clearly that God  calls and saves , not those who are inherently righteous, but sinners. These he gracious calls to himself . Sadly, there are many who bear the name Christian, who have erred in this way. They have assumed that they are in Christ and right with God because of something that they have done apart from Divine grace. “They have stumbled over the stumbling stone”. “Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works” (Romans 9:32, ESV).]

Though it is true that this story tells us about Jacob meeting his match — that is to say, his marriage to  Leah, Rachael, Bilhah, Zilpah and the offspring that came from them, this story also highlights the depravity and unworthiness of Israel’s ancestors, and thus highlights God’s amazing grace. 

But I have said that there is another sense in which Jacob meet his match in this narrative  — Jacob met his match in Laban, who proved to be just as cunning and deceptive as he had been towards his brother and father. 

The story is really incredible. It was love at first sight for Jacob. He knew that Rachael was the one when he saw her at the well. So strong was his affection for Rachael that he agreed to work for Laban for 7 years inorder to have her hand in marriage, and “they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” (Genesis 29:20, ESV). But when the night came for the marriage to be consummated, Laban gave his first born Leah instead of Rachel. If you are wondering how this could be, you should take into consideration the darkness of night, and perhaps even the custom of a bride wearing a head coverings. Jacob was surprised in the morning when he awoke and saw that ity was Leah (vs. 25)! When Jacob confronted Laban concerning this act of deception he said, “Laban said, “It is not so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years” (Genesis 29:26–27, ESV). Jacob did not have to wait another seven years for Rachael. He waited only a weak. But he was bound to serve Laban for another seven years. 

Isn’t it ironic? Jacob got a taste of his own medicine, didn’t he? He had not long ago followed his mothers plan to deceived his father. He, the second born, pretended to be the first born, and took advantage of the darkness of his fathers aging eyes. But here Laban, who was the brother Jacob’s mother, used the darkness of night to swap out his second born daughter for the first. For 14 years Jacob the deceiver worked for Laban the deceiver. He met his match. 

Notice that after Jacob introduced himself to Laban and told him that he was his sisters son, “Laban said to him, ‘Surely you are my bone and my flesh!”(Genesis 29:14, ESV). I believe that this too has a double meaning. Naturally it means, you are my relative. But it also indicates that Jacob and Laban are cut from  the same cloth, if you will. They were kindred spirits.   

One can only immagine the impact this had upon Jacob. I would immagine that it was a frustrating, humbling, and sanctifying experience. For 14 years Jacob had to work for his uncle, who was just like him. Laban was greedy for gain. He was willing to deceive. He took advantage of the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of others. 

[APPLICATION: Brothers and sisters, have you noticed that God sometimes sanctifies us by bringing us into contact with difficult people? You have heard it said, that “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17, ESV). When I hear that proverb I typically think of friends sharpening one another in the context of  their friendship. Friends in Christ should encourager one another and challenge one another to pursue Christ, and to honor him in thought, word and deed. But sometimes the Lord will sharpen (sanctify) his people, not through happy and pleasant relationships, but difficult ones. 

May I suggest to you that some of the greatest opportunities for being sharpened in Christ will come through those who rub you the wrong way.  Think of how a knife is sharpened, friends. A knife is sharpened when it comes into contact with something that is abrasive. A sword is formed by the bladsmith when it subjected to fire and bludgeoned with another piece of iron. No, this does not give the difficult and abrasive person the right to be difficult and abrasive, reasoning that the Lord is using them to sanctify others! But it should help us to think differently about the difficult relationships in our life.

I’m sure that the Lord used lying Laban to sanctify Jacob the deceiver. And I would suggest to you that the difficult people in your life are there for a reason. Perhaps the Lord is teaching you patience. Maybe he is teaching you how to love those who aren’t always lovely. It may be that you need to learn how to confront wrongdoing, but with winsomeness and grace. Perhaps the Lord is humbling you by confronting you with your sin through someone else’s similar behavior? Sometimes the Lord gets our attention concerning the severity of our sin by allowing us to have a taste of our own medicine. 

Friends, we should not run from those who are difficult. Yes, sometimes boundaries are needed! But we should also learn to give thanks to God for those who might rub us the wrong way and ask the Lord to use them to sanctify us further.]

In Genesis 29 we see that Jacob met his matched. He found a wife. In fact, he took four to himself, which, as we have established in previous sermons, was contrary to God’s design for marriage in the beginning. And Jacob also met his match in Laban. He had to work for a man who was just like him for 14 years. 

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Israel Was Born 

The second thing that we must consider in this story is that it was from this mess of a situation that the nation of Israel was born. We will not spend much time on this point, but it is important to notice that here in Genesis 29:31 and following the coutures of the nation of Israel are seen for the first time. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were promised that a great multidude and nation would come from them. Here, for the very first time, we are introduced to the heads of the tribes of Israel.

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Most of these names should sound familier to you. 

To Leah was born six sons, Ruben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and one daughter named Dinah (diynāh).

To Rachael was born two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. 

To Bilhah was born two sons, Dan and Naphtali.  

And to Zilpah was born two sons, Gad and Asher. 

From these sons the twelve tribes of Israel would emerge. 

Two are of supreme significance: Judah and Jospeh. 

Through Joseph, the youngest ofJacob’s sons, physical salvation would come to Israel through Egypt. But it would be through Judah that the Savior would be born. Indeed, Jesus the Christ, who is rightly called the lion of the  tribe of Judah, is also the lamb who was slain who, by his death, takes away the sins of the world.  

[APPLICATION: Here is yet another demonstration that our God is able to cause all things to work together for good. He is able to bring light from darkness, order from chaos, life from death, and good from evil. Not even the sinfulness of his free creatures is able to frustrate his plans, derail his purposes, or hinder the fulfillment of his promises.] 

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Conclusion

Brothers and  sisters, these truths that have been set before you today should impact our lives. 

May the knowledge that our election in Christ is unconditional produce humility along with confidence. Humility from  that fact that we have been chosen and called by Christ by his grace alone, and not on the basis of something deserving within us, so that no one may boast. And confidence knowing that if our right standing before God had God’s unmerited favor as it’s origin, then it also by his grace that his work will be finished within us, and not our own good works. 

And may the knowledge that God is able to accomplish his purposes  despite the sinful rebellion of his creatures encourage and comfort are souls as we sojourn in this sin sick world. Sometimes the evil around us seems to be so strong. Sometimes it seems as if the darkness will prevail. But God will win the day. His purposes will stand, his promises will be fulfilled, for he is God most high. He is all powerful, all knowing, and he faithful. His counsel shall stand, and he will accomplish all his purpose. 

“Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD!” (Psalm 31:24, ESV)

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