RECAP: After 20 years with his in-laws Jacob leaves to go home. Under God’s blessing he has gained a lot of wealth. He sneaks away from his father in law with his wives and all his possessions. Before leaving Rachel stole her father’s household gods, which caused her dad to chase after them. Once catching up to Jacob, Laban complains about him stealing away and stealing his gods. Jacob has no idea that Rachel stole the idols and gives permission to Laban to search all his stuff. After coming up with nothing, Jacob turns on Laban and dresses him down for mistreating him all those years. Laban responds by proposing they form a covenant. The chapter ends with oaths, a meal, kisses and hugs, and well-wishes.
We’re going to cut up the chapter like we said last week into 4 sections: 1) Jacob Flees Laban, 2) Laban Catches Jacob, 3) Jacob Rebukes Laban, and 4) The Covenant. We covered the first point last week, and so this week we’ll finish the last three points, which will span from verse 22 to 55.
LABAN CATCHES JACOB (22-35)
So after Jacob flees, we see that Laban catches him. Follow along from 22 to 35 with me, “….”
Jacob got a three day head start before Laban even knew he was gone. Then Laban mounted up and gave chase for seven days. It was ten days from the time Jacob left til he was eyeball to eyeball with Laban again. Keep in mind too that Jacob was not moving very fast. He has a lot of little kids with him and flocks and things only go so fast. He’s not like a cowboy bolting out of town on a fast horse. Its slow, plodding, with lots of potty breaks and whining and endless “Are we there yet?”’s
We see three parts here: Laban’s dream, his complaint and his search.
Laban’s dream. So the day before Laban is going to actually see Jacob face to face for the first time in 10 days God comes to him in a dream. And God warns him in verse 24, “Do not say anything to Jacob, good or bad.” Which is interesting. I would have thought God would say, “Don’t do anything to him.” But he said “Don’t say anything to him.” It’s almost as if Laban could’ve said, “Okay, I won’t say anything, I’ll just punch his lights out.” But clearly Laban got the message because he didn’t touch Jacob. Apparently the point of God’s words were that Laban was not to threaten Jacob or do anything to him. I’m sure Laban was not stupid enough to punch Jacob and then shrug and say, “Well I didn’t ‘say’ anything to him.”
APPLICATION: Trust God to work on your behalf. Jacob had no idea Laban was on his heels and he had no idea God intervened to protect him. How many times has God intervened and we had no clue? I dare say the LORD has done thousands of times with each of us and we will never know in this lifetime.
Illustration: I love those YouTube videos where they compile all those moments of dad’s saving little babies. Its like a kid is falling off a couch or a changing station and at the last split second they dive or jump or reach out and save the kids life. That kid will never remember that, and they’re totally unaware that their dad just saved them from being a quadriplegic.
And so it is with us. How many times has God “reached out” and spared us some calamity or heartache or difficulty? How many times has he “jumped” or “dove” to keep us from going “splat” when we had no idea we were “rolling” into some danger? How many times has he intervened to protect us? Peter had no clue that Satan asked to “sift” him like wheat. And he had no clue that Jesus “prayed” for him. And here is God stepping in to protect Jacob. And Jacob has no clue. Trust God to work on your behalf.
Laban’s complaint (26-30). Laban complains to Jacob. He lists four things: 1) Jacob stole his daughters away like war captives, 2) Jacob didn’t let Laban kiss his grandchildren goodbye, 3) Jacob didn’t let him throw a party as a send off for going home, and 4) Jacob stole his household idols.
Laban’s complaints are a desperate pretense. The only thing Laban cared about was his household idols. He didn’t really care about his daughters. Rachel said in verse 15 that her father treated her and Leah not as daughters but as foreigners that he sold. And he wouldn’t have thrown a party for Jacob and gladly sent him away. Jacob tried that before and Laban was very resistant and convinced Jacob to stay another 6 years (30:27). And remember Laban knew Jacob was the reason God was blessing him so out of his own self-interest Laban was not about to let Jacob go very easily. Which, by the way, would be one reason why Laban would have put a premium on those household gods – now that Jacob and “his” God were leaving, he needed something to look to for blessings.
APPLICATION: Don’t trust in idols. Trust in God. Be Jacob, not Laban. Let me ask you a question: HOW could Laban continue with idols AFTER he had just encountered the true and living God? He was afraid of God because he obeyed God’s warning. He didn’t go and summons some other “god” to protect him from Jacob’s God. HOW could Laban put any value on those household gods AFTER he knew it was the true and living God that was blessing him so much?
My point is this: Jacob’s “God” could just as easily have been Laban’s God. Laban could have thrown his idols away and said, “I’m going with the God of Abraham, the God of Nahor (Laban’s grandfather), the God of Jacob.” (v53)
Let us not make the same foolish mistake as Laban. Let each of us be done with idols and walk in purity before the LORD. Let each of us see God is God and there is none other like him, turn to Isaiah 40:25-28 and then 41:22-24 and then 42:8. Let us be like the Thessalonians, their eternal reputation recorded in the Bible is that they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:10).
Laban’s search (31-35). Jacob was honest and explained he was afraid. That’s a valid fear – Laban hadn’t acted with integrity at all in the 20 years Jacob had known him. But Jacob didn’t steal any idols – he has no need for idols. Why doesn’t Jacob need any idols? Because he relies on the real God. But he had no idea that his beloved wife Rachel had stolen them. And he unknowingly gave her a death sentence by saying whoever had the gods would be killed. (I’m sure Jacob found out later after Laban left that she had the idols. And after chewing her out for it, I’m sure he could be thankful for two things: 1) his wife’s slick deception to protect herself by pretending she was having her period, and 2) God spared him from having to kill his wife had she been found out. Again, God was watching out for Jacob!
So Laban comes barging in, full of bluster and blaming Jacob for stealing. Then after searching he finds nothing. How embarrassing!
Now its Jacob’s turn.
JACOB REBUKES LABAN (36-42)
Jacob is now going to “give it” to Laban. Now its Laban’s turn. He’s going to unload everything he’s been storing up all these years. Follow along in verses 36-42, “….”
We covered a lot of the issues in this section last week. This week I just want to point out the contrast between Jacob and Laban. Jacob acted with integrity whereas Laban acted without any integrity.
APPLICATION: Commit to doing right when wrong is being done to you. Don’t do wrong because wrong has been done to you. That takes faith. You have to trust God is watching you and is with you. You have to know, by faith, that God sees what’s going on. You also have to trust that God is just and faithful and will make right what has happened. That was Jacob for 20 years. That has to be us
THE COVENANT (43-55)
Now after Laban takes the heat from Jacob the question is this: does he have any remorse? Is he bothered at all in his conscience for how he behaved towards his son-in-law? Follow along with me as I read verses 43-55, “….”
So is Laban remorseful? No. Not at all. We don’t see anything from Laban like, “You know, Jacob, you’re right. All I can say is I’m sorry. If I were in your shoes I probably would have run too. And if it were me all those years I know I wouldn’t have been so faithful like you were. Is there any way you can find it in your heart to forgive me? I’d hate for this to ruin the holidays.”
Nothing like that at all. His only reaction is to continue showing a concern for the one person he’s ever cared about: himself. Which is why he wants to form a covenant. As we read and will explain, it was Laban still only looking to protect Laban.
APPLICATION: When you’ve done wrong humbly confess it to the person you’ve wronged. Do you know how much better relationships would be if this one simple rule was followed consistently by all of us? It would put a lot of counselors out of work.
Jacob didn’t initiate a covenant. He didn’t need one. He had God. How often in the OT would God warn and rebuke and punish Israel when they “relied” on other nations and made treaties with them when God told them “Don’t do it.” Isaiah 31:1 is a great example, turn there with me… “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the LORD.” Verse 3 is powerful, “….” It’s all very much like what God said in Isaiah 2:22, “Stop trusting in man who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?!”
Back to Laban: Jacob didn’t need a covenant with Laban because Jacob wasn’t worried about Laban. It’s Laban who’s worried. Maybe we can say it like this: Laban is afraid because Laban does not have any fear of God. He’s threatened by Jacob and his God, so he wants to make sure to avoid any future problems with a powerful Jacob.
What was in this covenant? It follows four steps: stones, oaths, sacrifice, and then a meal. They pile up a bunch of stones into a big “heap,” then they swore an oath and made promises of good behavior, then they sacrificed an animal and had dinner together.
Let’s notice several things.
First, the procedure of this covenant is not like the one God made with Abraham in chapter 15. Remember there a bunch of animals were ripped into two halves and set on the ground in a row. Then God passed between the ripped animals. It was a method of forming a covenant between people, not uncommon, and it symbolized that anyone who failed to uphold their end of the covenant would become like one of those animals ripped in two. (Can you imagine if we did wedding vows like this?!)
But this is not the same way this covenant is formed. Instead of animals, a whole bunch of stones get piled up into a huge mound.
Second, the name of the stone heap. There are 3 here: the two names Laban gives it and the name Jacob gives it. Laban names it Jegar Sahadutha, which is Aramaic for “witness heap.” Jacob names it Galeed which is Hebrew and means the same thing. Laban also refers to it as Mizpah, which means “watchtower.”
The names are all getting across the point that God is watching over them, that He sees them as they live their life, that God knows the oath they are swearing to each other that day, and all of that is supposed to threaten them into abiding by their covenant.
Third, the obligations of the oath. Laban names two main obligations: first, that Jacob would not mistreat his daughters and that he would never marry any other women. “Jacob, don’t ever let me hear that you have hurt my daughters.” There’s not a dad in here who doesn’t “feel” what Laban’s saying. “And you’re not ever allowed to marry any other women.” Which, his two wives were standing there so how could Jacob protest that, right? You can see them giving him that look with their hands on their hips. So that’s the first obligation, which is kind of two obligations.
And then second, Laban says Jacob must swear to never go past the stone heap over to Laban’s property to hurt Laban in any way. Now Laban says “Lets promise that we won’t cross over to each other’s side and hurt each other,” and so in that way Laban was obligating himself in the covenant as well. But clearly Laban was worried and so the whole thing really is his own solution for a problem he is worried about: Jacob growing too big and wanting to come back and get revenge on Laban.
There’s a term called projection. In my opinion it describes Laban in this whole scene perfectly. Projection is when someone assumes other people are like they are. If I’m honest I just sort of assume others are honest and that’s how I see people. If I’m untrustworthy I assume everyone else is untrustworthy too. Look at Laban: he’s treating Jacob like Jacob is the dishonest one who needs to be heeled with a covenant. Jacob has never given Laban any reason not to trust him. But Laban on the other hand, has given Jacob every reason not to trust him. But Laban is acting like Jacob can’t be trusted and Jacob needs to be constrained by a covenant.
Of course, I’m sure Jacob was glad to have a boundary line established that would keep his in laws away! Maybe some of us are thinking, “Man, I wonder if I can set up a stone heap for my in-laws?”
- Trust God is working on your behalf.
- Do not trust in idols
- Do what is right – even when wrong is done to you