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.” 2 And Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him was not what it had been.
3 Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”
4 So Jacob sent word to Rachel and Leah to come out to the fields where his flocks were. 5 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. 6 You know that I’ve worked for your father with all my strength, 7 yet your father has cheated me by changing my wages ten times. However, God has not allowed him to harm me. 8 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. 9 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?
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:
- 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.
- 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.