Genesis 32:1-21

32 Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim.

Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He instructed them: “This is what you are to say to my lord Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, male and female servants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.’”

When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”

In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.”

Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps.11 Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. 12 But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”

13 He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.”

17 He instructed the one in the lead: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘Who do you belong to, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ 18 then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.’”

19 He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: “You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. 20 And be sure to say, ‘Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.’” For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.” 21 So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp.
(Genesis 32:1-21 NIV)

In our last time together, Jacob parted ways with Laban and headed back to his homeland.  Jacob sought peace and reconciliation with Laban before he left, throwing a farewell dinner for the family.  Jacob was being obedient to the Lord and had learned a few hard life lessons in the twenty years he spent with Laban.

As we step into today’s text, Laban and Jacob had parted ways, and Jacob resumes his journey back to his homeland.  The first thing that happens is an unexpected meeting with God’s angels.  Scholars are not sure whether the meeting was in a dream, a vision, or in person.  Regardless of how they met, the angels’ presence was impactful.  Jacob named the place “Mahanaim” (translated, meaning “two camps” or “two companies”).

While there is no record of any words being exchanged between the angels and Jacob, their presence symbolized God’s protection from his past (any further retribution from his father-in-law Laban) and into his future (his anticipated meeting with his brother Esau).  God’s angels were there to welcome, encourage, and strengthen Jacob on his journey back home.

As Jacob prepares to meet his brother Esau, we see that Jacob had learned some hard lessons during the twenty years with Laban.  Listen to the tone of Jacob’s words as he specifically instructs his servants on what to say to Esau when they meet him:

  • Jacob addresses his brother Esau as “lord”, showing honor and respect to him as the older brother
  • Jacob refers to himself as “your servant” to Esau, taking the birth-order position as the younger brother and not claiming the birthright and blessing he had taken from Esau so many years earlier.
  • Jacob said he “remained” with Laban (“sojourned” in the NASB) – he was not claiming refuge or any further ties with Laban.  Jacob exposed his vulnerability before his brother – an act of humility and desire for reconciliation that would hopefully trigger mercy and grace in the heart of Esau.

The messengers did in fact return and told Jacob that they had found his brother Esau.  Esau was, in fact, heading toward Jacob to meet him, and he was bringing 400 men with him for that meeting!

If you were in Jacob’s shoes at that moment, what would you be feeling?  Jacob immediately feared the worst.  The text says Jacob experienced “great fear and distress”.  Esau’s last recorded words in Jacob’s mind were likely resurfacing – “he is going to kill me for the wrong I did to him so many years ago – he is going to get his revenge!”.

Jacob responded to the fear in three ways:

  • He took actions of self-protection and preservation, dividing his family and possessions into two groups, hoping that one group would survive
  • He prayed earnestly to the Lord, humbly throwing himself on God’s undeserved mercy and claiming God’s promises of protection, provision, and blessing through future generations from many years before
  • He sent a huge gift of animals in three separate herds ahead of him to Esau, along with a specific message, in order to soften his brother’s heart in hopes that the gift would result in Esau showing favor and acceptance to his brother

Jacob promised to meet his brother Esau but sent the gifts ahead of him as a symbol of his desire to reconcile with him.

When the Lord brings people with whom we have wronged or have differences back into our lives, may we remember to seek the Lord in prayer as Jacob did, humbly confessing that we don’t deserve God’s favor.

May we also remember to claim God’s promises to us in His Word, that He is bigger than our problems, that we can rest in the confidence of His sovereignty, and we can leave our fears at the foot of the Cross where Jesus conquered all, even death.

May we turn down the volume of our inner thoughts and turn up the volume of God’s Word and wrap ourselves in His love and truths.


Genesis 31:22-55

22 On the third day Laban was told that Jacob had fled. 23 Taking his relatives with him, he pursued Jacob for seven days and caught up with him in the hill country of Gilead. 24 Then God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream at night and said to him, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.”

25 Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country of Gilead when Laban overtook him, and Laban and his relatives camped there too. 26 Then Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done? You’ve deceived me, and you’ve carried off my daughters like captives in war. 27 Why did you run off secretly and deceive me? Why didn’t you tell me, so I could send you away with joy and singing to the music of timbrels and harps? 28 You didn’t even let me kiss my grandchildren and my daughters goodbye.You have done a foolish thing. 29 I have the power to harm you; but last night the God of your father said to me, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’ 30 Now you have gone off because you longed to return to your father’s household. But why did you steal my gods?”

31 Jacob answered Laban, “I was afraid, because I thought you would take your daughters away from me by force. 32 But if you find anyone who has your gods, that person shall not live. In the presence of our relatives, see for yourself whether there is anything of yours here with me; and if so, take it.” Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the gods.

33 So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two female servants, but he found nothing. After he came out of Leah’s tent, he entered Rachel’s tent. 34 Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them inside her camel’s saddle and was sitting on them. Laban searched through everything in the tent but found nothing.

35 Rachel said to her father, “Don’t be angry, my lord, that I cannot stand up in your presence; I’m having my period.” So he searched but could not find the household gods.

36 Jacob was angry and took Laban to task. “What is my crime?” he asked Laban. “How have I wronged you that you hunt me down? 37 Now that you have searched through all my goods, what have you found that belongs to your household? Put it here in front of your relatives and mine, and let them judge between the two of us.

38 “I have been with you for twenty years now. Your sheep and goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten rams from your flocks. 39 I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself. And you demanded payment from me for whatever was stolen by day or night.40 This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes. 41 It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household. I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times. 42 If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you.”

43 Laban answered Jacob, “The women are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks. All you see is mine. Yet what can I do today about these daughters of mine, or about the children they have borne? 44 Come now, let’s make a covenant, you and I, and let it serve as a witness between us.”

45 So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46 He said to his relatives, “Gather some stones.” So they took stones and piled them in a heap, and they ate there by the heap. 47 Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha, and Jacob called it Galeed.

48 Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” That is why it was called Galeed. 49 It was also called Mizpah, because he said, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other. 50 If you mistreat my daughters or if you take any wives besides my daughters, even though no one is with us, remember that God is a witness between you and me.”

51 Laban also said to Jacob, “Here is this heap, and here is this pillar I have set up between you and me. 52 This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not go past this heap to your side to harm you and that you will not go past this heap and pillar to my side to harm me. 53 May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.”

So Jacob took an oath in the name of the Fear of his father Isaac. 54 He offered a sacrifice there in the hill country and invited his relatives to a meal. After they had eaten, they spent the night there.

55 Early the next morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then he left and returned home.
(Genesis 31:22-55 NIV)

In the first half of Chapter 31, the Lord had blessed Jacob, but the relationship between Jacob and Laban had changed.  The Lord informed Jacob that it was time to return to his homeland.  While Jacob obeyed the Lord, he did not transition or end well with Laban when he packed up and left without saying a word to Laban.

As we begin the second half of Chapter 31, we see the consequences of Jacob leaving without saying goodbye.  Laban was out of town and found out three days after Jacob and family had left.  Laban took some family members with him and caught up with Jacob a week after Jacob had left.

When Laban confronted Jacob, Jacob admitted that he had left in fear – afraid that Laban would send him away empty-handed, with no wives, no children, no animals, nothing.  Once again, Jacob had acted on his own, and fear was his motivating force.  While Laban had mentioned that he would have sent them away with a celebration, he also told Jacob that the women, children, and flocks belonged to him (Laban).  While Jacob’s fears may have had validity, Jacob gave no room for the Lord to intervene and change Laban’s heart and mind.

Speaking of change, why did Laban not follow through on his claim on the women, children, and flocks?    The Lord had in fact intervened and told Laban to not say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.  The Lord was holding up His promise to bless Jacob and prosper him as He sent him back to his homeland.

Laban also accused Jacob of stealing his household gods.  Jacob denied taking anything (not knowing that Rachel had indeed stolen them).  After Laban searched everywhere except Rachel’s saddle and found nothing, Jacob confronted Laban about his dishonesty and reminded Laban of the way he had treated Laban with integrity, hard work, and honesty, enduring hardship and taking the loss out of his own flock, not Laban’s.

What was Laban’s response?  A covenant between himself and Jacob.  This was not a peace accord; this was an “I don’t trust you, but I can’t watch over or control you, so may God hold you accountable and harm you if you step out of line” agreement.  Jacob agreed to the covenant and set up a pile of stones to commemorate the place.

While Jacob and Laban could have parted ways on a bad note, Jacob chose to reconcile with Laban before he and the other family member departed.  Jacob made a sacrifice to the Lord, then served a meal to everyone in attendance.  While it was certainly not the fanfare Laban had mentioned, it was at least a goodbye meal, and Laban did bless his daughters and grandchildren before he departed.

As I contemplate this passage, I am reminded of Paul’s words of wisdom regarding relationships, no matter what the current state:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
(Romans 12:18 NIV)

God chose to reconcile with us; He took the first steps toward us when we were His enemies.

How can we do anything less with those whom we might have a disagreement?

May we, as far as it depends on us, live at peace with those around us.


Genesis 31:1-21

31 Jacob heard that Laban’s sons were saying, “Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.” And Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him was not what it had been.

Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”

So Jacob sent word to Rachel and Leah to come out to the fields where his flocks were. He said to them, “I see that your father’s attitude toward me is not what it was before, but the God of my father has been with me. You know that I’ve worked for your father with all my strength, yet your father has cheated me by changing my wages ten times. However, God has not allowed him to harm me. If he said, ‘The speckled ones will be your wages,’ then all the flocks gave birth to speckled young; and if he said, ‘The streaked ones will be your wages,’ then all the flocks bore streaked young. So God has taken away your father’s livestock and has given them to me.

10 “In breeding season I once had a dream in which I looked up and saw that the male goats mating with the flock were streaked, speckled or spotted. 11 The angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob.’ I answered, ‘Here I am.’ 12 And he said, ‘Look up and see that all the male goats mating with the flock are streaked, speckled or spotted, for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. 13 I am the God of Bethel,where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land.’”

14 Then Rachel and Leah replied, “Do we still have any share in the inheritance of our father’s estate? 15 Does he not regard us as foreigners? Not only has he sold us, but he has used up what was paid for us. 16 Surely all the wealth that God took away from our father belongs to us and our children. So do whatever God has told you.”

17 Then Jacob put his children and his wives on camels, 18 and he drove all his livestock ahead of him, along with all the goods he had accumulated in Paddan Aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan.

19 When Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father’s household gods. 20 Moreover, Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him he was running away. 21 So he fled with all he had, crossed the Euphrates River, and headed for the hill country of Gilead.
(Genesis 31:1-21 NIV)

In our last time together, Jacob initiated a tough conversation with Laban about changing their business relationship.  Jacob had fulfilled his obligations to Laban through fourteen years of service.  Now it was time to start building his own flock and move on from being just another hired hand under his father-in-law Laban.

Laban knew that his blessings were from the Lord, through his son-in-law Jacob.  Laban asked what it would take to have Jacob stay so that he (Laban) could continue to receive God’s blessings.  Jacob proposed an idea to Laban:  Jacob would stay and keep Laban’s flocks, and Jacob would also have an opportunity to start building his own flock that was clearly distinguishable from Laban’s.  Based on past experience, Laban thought Jacob was naive and gullible and he (Laban) would profit greatly from the deal.  Laban readily accepted Jacob’s proposal.

At the end of Chapter 30, we see that the Lord had other plans.  The Lord had indeed blessed Jacob and greatly increased his flocks.  At the beginning of Chapter 31, we see Jacob’s favor with Laban and Laban’s sons had turned sour.  Then the Lord told Jacob it was time to go back to his homeland.

Now Jacob had another tough task ahead of him:  tell his wives what the Lord had laid on his heart.  What would their reaction be?  Would they stay with him, or would they stay in the only land they had known, with their father and other relatives they had grown up with and were around all the time?

Surprisingly, the conversation between Jacob, Rachel, and Leah went well.  The Lord had given Leah and Rachel insight into the changing nature between Jacob and their father.  They recognized that the Lord had blessed Jacob, and how they were also blessed through their relationship with Jacob, not through their father Laban.

Rachel and Leah also recognized that Laban had continued to change the business agreement (ten times, Jacob tells them) so that it profited Laban, not Jacob.  But God was still in control and blessed Jacob at every turn.  Rachel and Leah gave their agreement for Jacob to do whatever the Lord had told Jacob to do.

So Jacob packed up his family and flocks and began the long journey back to his homeland.

So Jacob and his family rode off into the sunset, happily ever after, right?

Not quite.

We get a glimpse of two problems in the making… Jacob and his family left without saying goodbye to Laban, and Rachel stole some of her father’s household idols.  Even though Jacob’s relationship with Laban was not what it used to be, Jacob destroyed twenty years of goodwill between them when he packed up his family and left while Laban was away, without a farewell or even a note.

So what can we learn from today’s text?  Two lessons immediately come to mind:

  1. When God closes one door and opens another, it’s time to go.  While Jacob had sensed it was time to move on, he did not do so until the Lord said go.
  2. It’s important to start well; it’s even more important to end well.  While goodbyes and moving on are sometimes difficult, God gives us power and grace to do so without feeling we have to sneak out the back door and leave town in the middle of the night.

May we follow the Lord in all He calls us to be and do, and may we transition well, even under difficult relationships and circumstances.


Genesis 30:25-43

25 After Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me on my way so I can go back to my own homeland. 26 Give me my wives and children, for whom I have served you, and I will be on my way. You know how much work I’ve done for you.”

27 But Laban said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, please stay. I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you.” 28 He added, “Name your wages, and I will pay them.”

29 Jacob said to him, “You know how I have worked for you and how your livestock has fared under my care. 30 The little you had before I came has increased greatly, and the Lord has blessed you wherever I have been. But now, when may I do something for my own household?”

31 “What shall I give you?” he asked.

“Don’t give me anything,” Jacob replied. “But if you will do this one thing for me, I will go on tending your flocks and watching over them: 32 Let me go through all your flocks today and remove from them every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb and every spotted or speckled goat. They will be my wages. 33 And my honesty will testify for me in the future, whenever you check on the wages you have paid me. Any goat in my possession that is not speckled or spotted, or any lamb that is not dark-colored, will be considered stolen.”

34 “Agreed,” said Laban. “Let it be as you have said.” 35 That same day he removed all the male goats that were streaked or spotted, and all the speckled or spotted female goats (all that had white on them) and all the dark-colored lambs, and he placed them in the care of his sons.36 Then he put a three-day journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob continued to tend the rest of Laban’s flocks.

37 Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. 38 Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. When the flocks were in heat and came to drink, 39 they mated in front of the branches.  And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. 40 Jacob set apart the young of the flock by themselves, but made the rest face the streaked and dark-colored animals that belonged to Laban. Thus he made separate flocks for himself and did not put them with Laban’s animals. 41 Whenever the stronger females were in heat, Jacob would place the branches in the troughs in front of the animals so they would mate near the branches, 42 but if the animals were weak, he would not place them there. So the weak animals went to Laban and the strong ones to Jacob. 43 In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and female and male servants, and camels and donkeys.
(Genesis 30:25-43 NIV)

After having eleven children, Jacob was feeling the need to go out on his own and not be a hired hand any longer.  He had served his uncle Laban faithfully for many years and had fulfilled all of his obligations to him.  Now he needed to think about taking care of his own family.

So Jacob went to Laban and asked his permission to leave and go back to his homeland.  Laban recognized that he had become wealthy because of Jacob; he admitted to Jacob the Lord had shown him via divination (most likely via a dream or general sense of where his prosperity was coming from).

Laban ignored Jacob’s request for his wives and children, and asked Jacob what it would take for him to stay on for a while more.  Jacob repeated his request to do something for his own household, not Laban’s.  Again, Laban ignored Jacob’s request and asked Jacob what he wanted in order to stay.

Can you imagine this awkward conversation?  Jacob wanted to be respectful to his uncle, but asking for his blessing to leave and go back to his homeland.  Laban, looking out for himself, asks Jacob what he could give Jacob in order for Jacob to stay a while longer.  The formula had worked for 14 years – 7 years for each daughter.  What could Laban give Jacob that would contractually keep Jacob in his employ?

Jacob knew that this was to Laban’s way of controlling him, and he would be years further down the road with no more to show for his efforts than what he had now, which was nothing.

So Jacob offered a different option:  Jacob would keep all the animals with striped, spotted, and speckled markings, while Laban would keep all the solid color animals.  This would be a way for Jacob to build a herd of sheep and goats while still tending Laban’s animals.  Laban agreed to the proposition, likely thinking that he clearly had the upper hand in this deal, and he would continue to gain wealth at the expense of Jacob.

We can surmise that the majority of Laban’s flocks were a solid color, not mottled with stripes, spots, or speckles.  The striped, spotted, and speckled sheep and goats were likely a small percentage of Laban’s flock, so Laban thought that pattern would continue.

Jacob was willing to take the off-colored sheep and goats as a way to build his own herd. So Laban separated the solid-color animals from the others, and put a three-day journey between his herds and Jacob’s fledgling flock.

Verses 37-42 might be hard to understand in our modern culture.  According to scholars, people in Jacob’s day believed that the experiences a mother had while carrying her baby, whether human or animal, would influence the outcome of their offspring.  So if Jacob exposed the mottled branches of these trees to the flock during their breeding time, the outcome would be mottled (striped, spotted, and speckled) sheep and goats.

But even more importantly, Jacob practiced selective breeding of the herd.  He only set out the branches when the stronger sheep and goats were present.  And our modern understanding of genetic traits tells us that striped, spotted, and speckled colored animals produce more striped, spotted, and speckled animals – solid colored animals were now the minority, not the majority.  The flock may have looked like a mismatched, rag-tag bunch of calico-colored animals, but the Lord was using Jacob’s humility and hard work to bless him.

Verse 43 sums up this time – the Lord was keeping His promise to bless Jacob and prosper him greatly.  While it might seem that Jacob was back to his old ways and manipulating his way to success, in Chapter 31 we’ll see that Jacob gives God the glory for his success.

May we be willing to work hard and work with what the Lord provides, knowing that He honors our faithfulness and is ultimately the reason behind our success.

Soli Deo Gloria (glory to God alone).


Genesis 30:1-24

30 When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!”

Jacob became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”

Then she said, “Here is Bilhah, my servant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and I too can build a family through her.”

So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife. Jacob slept with her,and she became pregnant and bore him a son. Then Rachel said, “God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son.”Because of this she named him Dan.

Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son.Then Rachel said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.” So she named him Naphtali.

When Leah saw that she had stopped having children, she took her servant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. 10 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11 Then Leah said, “What good fortune!” So she named him Gad.

12 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. 13 Then Leah said, “How happy I am! The women will call me happy.” So she named him Asher.

14 During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.”

15 But she said to her, “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?”

“Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.”

16 So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. “You must sleep with me,” she said. “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he slept with her that night.

17 God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18 Then Leah said, “God has rewarded me for giving my servant to my husband.” So she named him Issachar.

19 Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. 20 Then Leah said, “God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons.” So she named him Zebulun.

21 Some time later she gave birth to a daughter and named her Dinah.

22 Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. 23 She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” 24 She named him Joseph, and said, “May the Lord add to me another son.”
(Genesis 30:1-24 NIV)

As we finished Chapter 29, we saw Jacob end up with two wives, one loved and one unloved.  The Lord saw how Leah was unloved, and gave her children, while Rachel, the apple of Jacob’s eye, was barren.

As we begin Chapter 30, we see sibling rivalry and jealousy kick in as Rachel has a meltdown and blames her inability to have children on Jacob.  Although Jacob loved Rachel, he showed tough love to Rachel and honor to God by telling her that only God gives or withholds the ability to bear children.  While Jacob did many things under his own strength, he clearly acknowledged God’s sovereignty in this matter.

While Jacob acknowledged God’s sovereignty, there is no record of Jacob praying over his wife or inquiring of the Lord as to why Rachel was barren.   If you’ll remember, Isaac prayed over Rebekah when she was barren, and the Lord heard Isaac’s prayer (Genesis 25:21).

Instead of faith and seeking God, we see Rachel, Leah, and Jacob follow in Abraham and Sarah’s footsteps, using servant girls as surrogate mothers.  This was a full-on contest of two sisters jealously fighting over their shared husband, for his love and time.  One father, two wives, two surrogate wives/mothers, and 11 children made up this family so far.

Leah and Rachel both expressed their rivalry and claiming of victory over her sister through the naming of each son.   Other than Jacob rebuking Rachel for her pity party over being barren, Jacob is silent in this section.  The Lord preserves the words and actions of Rachel and Leah not to showcase the family dysfunction, but rather as a baseline for each of the sons and the heritage they will carry forward with their tribe.

Verses 14 – 17 give an interesting backstory of the relationship between the two sisters Leah and Rachel.  Leah’s son Reuben finds some mandrake plants (“love apples”) in the field during the wheat harvest and gives them to his mother Leah.  Mandrakes were supposedly known to have aphrodisiac qualities and were highly valued.

From the text, we can safely surmise that Jacob spent the majority of his time with Rachel, since Leah exchanges some of her mandrakes for a night with her husband Jacob.  Out of that night, Leah conceives again and bears another son.

Finally, the Lord allows Rachel to bear a child.  The text says that the Lord listened to Rachel.  We don’t know what the Lord was listening to – we can give her the benefit of the doubt and hope that she was praying, but the text does not specifically say.

There is only one mention of a daughter among all the boys – Dinah in verse 21.  Were there other daughters also?  Possibly; we don’t know.  The mention of Dinah here is setting the stage for the events that will unfold in Chapter 34.

Remember our discussion about how God uses our circumstances to teach us about our character (or lack thereof)?  Here we see Jacob having to deal with all the sibling rivalry between his two sister wives.  He was the source of the sibling rivalry during his growing-up years; now he is the recipient of the same.

May we love our families equally as the Lord loves us.

May we seek Him in all things, especially when we are tempted to work in our own strength to make something happen before we seek Him.


Genesis 29:21-35

21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.”

22 So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. 24 And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant.

25 When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”

26 Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. 27 Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”

28 And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. 29 Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. 30 Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah.And he worked for Laban another seven years.

31 When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. 32 Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.”

33 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon.

34 Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” So he was named Levi.

35 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” So she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children.
(Genesis 29:21-35 NIV)

As we look back to the first half of Chapter 29, we saw Jacob arrive in the land of his uncle Laban, meet Laban’s daughter Rachel, and fall in love.  Since Jacob arrived with nothing but the clothes on his back, he offered to work for Laban seven years in exchange for Rachel’s hand in marriage.  Laban agreed, and Jacob happily served his time in Laban’s employ.

As we begin today’s text, the seven years have passed, and Jacob reminds Laban of their deal.  Laban agrees and throws a big party for their marriage.  As was the custom of their day, the bride and groom are ushered into their bridal suite under cover of darkness.

“And they lived happily ever after”, right?

No… not quite.

Just when Jacob thought he had life all figured out – a job, a beautiful wife-to-be, and God’s blessing and promise to make him a great nation, Laban changed the course of their lives forever.

Laban tricked Jacob and sent Leah into the bridal chamber rather than Rachel.

When Jacob awakened the next morning and saw Leah lying next to him, he was extremely angry!  He immediately confronted Laban; Laban had somehow, over the course of seven years and a month, neglected to mention their local custom of requiring the older daughter to be married off before the younger daughter.

Laban told Jacob to finish his bridal week with Leah, then he would give Rachel to Jacob in exchange for another seven years’ labor.  Jacob agreed to Laban’s request, and in less than 2 weeks, went from not being married to having two wives.

The trickster had been tricked; the cheater had been cheated.  Jacob was getting a dose of his own medicine.

Let’s take a look at Jacob’s lessons learned here:

  • Submission to the authorities over him (his father, and now Laban)
    Jacob somehow thought the rules did not apply to him.  This was a painful but necessary lesson in the building of Jacob’s character.
  • Respect for the first-born – for his brother Esau, and now Leah
    Jacob manipulated his older brother Esau for his birthright, and later his father for the first-born son’s blessing.  God had promised that Esau would serve Jacob, but that was God’s providence to work that out, not Jacob’s right to take it unrighteously and cause great pain to so many family members as well as himself.
  • Patience – waiting on God’s timing, not his own.
    Jacob knew what he wanted, and went after it on his own schedule, and under his own power.  Jacob was learning the blessings of waiting on God’s timing, and the consequences of impulsively acting on his own.

Unfortunately, Jacob also brought the dysfunctional family upbringing and favoritism that he had experienced growing up into his own home.  Moses records that Jacob loved Rachel, and endured Leah.  The Lord took note of this and allowed Jacob’s unloved wife Leah to bear children while his beloved wife Rachel was barren.

We feel the depth of Leah’s pain as she names each of her first three children:

  • Reuben (God has seen my misery)
  • Simeon (God hears me and knows that I am unloved)
  • Levi (attached and united with God and Jacob because of her children/family)

After Levi, we see Leah relax a little and name her fourth son Judah (Praise the Lord).

We’ll spend some time on all Jacob’s son’s names (the twelve sons of Jacob, which become the twelve tribes of Israel) after we get through those chapters.

Through all this, God is growing and forming Jacob’s character to be more like Himself.  Like Jacob, we often think that we can get away with our actions, that there are no consequences.  And the only way God can get our attention is to bring pain into our lives.

And what is this pain?  It’s often the very sin we’re guilty of, put back on us – not for our punishment, but for our experience and learning so we repent of our sins and become more like our Heavenly Father.

This pain-and-repentance process is also called the principle of sowing and reaping.
The Old Testament man Job said it best:

As I have observed, those who plow evil
    and those who sow trouble reap it.
(Job 4:8 NIV)

This is not the eastern mystic idea of karma, of some unknown force in the universe bringing pain and harm to us when we hurt others, causing us to live in fear and always look over our shoulder for retribution, hoping we appease whatever and whoever decides whether every action we take is good or bad.

The principle of sowing and reaping is God lovingly showing us the consequences of our bad choices (also known as sin), blessing our good choices, and showing us a better way to live according to His love and character.

May we learn from our choices and consequences and seek to be more like Him through continually seeking deeper relationship and transformation through following Jesus and spending time with other Jesus-followers who are seeking to be more like Him.


Genesis 29:1-20

29 Then Jacob continued on his journey and came to the land of the eastern peoples. There he saw a well in the open country, with three flocks of sheep lying near it because the flocks were watered from that well. The stone over the mouth of the well was large. When all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone away from the well’s mouth and water the sheep. Then they would return the stone to its place over the mouth of the well.

Jacob asked the shepherds, “My brothers, where are you from?”

“We’re from Harran,” they replied.

He said to them, “Do you know Laban, Nahor’s grandson?”

“Yes, we know him,” they answered.

Then Jacob asked them, “Is he well?”

“Yes, he is,” they said, “and here comes his daughter Rachel with the sheep.”

“Look,” he said, “the sun is still high; it is not time for the flocks to be gathered. Water the sheep and take them back to pasture.”

“We can’t,” they replied, “until all the flocks are gathered and the stone has been rolled away from the mouth of the well. Then we will water the sheep.”

While he was still talking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherd. 10 When Jacob saw Rachel daughter of his uncle Laban, and Laban’s sheep, he went over and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle’s sheep. 11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud. 12 He had told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and a son of Rebekah. So she ran and told her father.

13 As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he hurried to meet him. He embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his home, and there Jacob told him all these things. 14 Then Laban said to him, “You are my own flesh and blood.”

After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month, 15 Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”

16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. 18 Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”

19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.
(Genesis 29:1-20 NIV)

As we finished Chapter 28 during our last time together, we saw Jacob leaving on a long journey to find a wife from his mother’s brother’s family.  On the first night of his journey, Jacob had an encounter with God.  The Lord unconditionally promised to be with Jacob throughout his life, to watch over him and bless him.  Jacob’s response was conditional – “if…”, followed by a litany of requests, “… then” would Jacob make the Lord his God.

As we begin Chapter 29, we see many similarities between this story and the story of Abraham’s servant seeking a wife for Isaac in Chapter 24.  Just as there are many similarities, there are also many differences, the primary difference being the faith element strongly exhibited in Abraham’s servant and completely missing in Jacob.

As Jacob gets near what he thinks to be the area where his uncle lives, he checks in with some local shepherds hanging out with three flocks of sheep at a well.  When Jacob finds out he is in the right place, and that his uncle’s daughter is approaching the well at that very moment, Jacob’s old ways kick in.

Hoping to have a private meeting with Rachel, Jacob tries to chase off the other shepherds by essentially telling them to quit sitting around and get back to work.  Not able to chase off the other shepherds before Rachel arrives, Jacob then shows off by singlehandedly moving the large rock in front of the entrance to the well.

Jacob, in his selfish, impetuous nature, then kisses Rachel and openly cries tears of joy.  He then tells Rachel who he is.  Rachel ran to tell her father Laban.  Laban then hurried back to greet Jacob and invited him to stay with the family.

Unlike Abraham’ servant who came, stayed overnight, then insisted on leaving the next day, Jacob moved in and didn’t leave.  After a month, Laban had a sit-down talk with Jacob.  If Jacob was going to stick around, then there needed to be an agreement on expectations, wages, and other arrangements.

If I were Laban, I would be scratching my head at this point… something was going on, and Laban could not get to the bottom of it.  Abraham’s servant arrived with camels and a host of servants, bearing provisions, gifts, and greetings from afar, and a clear mandate to get back home as soon as possible.  Jacob, on the other hand, arrived on foot, alone, empty-handed, and was sticking around with no intention of leaving anytime soon.

What were Jacob’s intentions?  Was he here to find a wife, as he said?  Or was there something else going on?  Was Jacob running away from something?  Was Jacob broke and seeking a fortune?  So many unanswered questions.

Finally, Jacob shared his intentions – it was love at first sight with Rachel, and he was willing to work for Laban seven years in return for her hand in marriage.

Was there no justice in all of Jacob’s deceitful past?  Was he getting away with his past dirty deeds?  We’ll find out what happens next time.

As I read this story, I am reminded of Solomon’s wise advice:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.
(Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV)

Abraham’s servant trusted in the Lord with all his heart.

Jacob leaned on his own understanding.

Let’s see how this story plays out in our next times together.