Genesis 29-30: The Best Way is to Trust God’s Way

I honestly don’t know where to go with our reading today.  This is a story that I have been very familiar with my entire life.  In fact, I am so familiar with it that I have lost the impact of its obvious sting.  A friend emailed this comment to me last year after a play depicting the life of Jacob at the Christian School that my children attend.  He wrote,


“Friday’s First Grade play is a perfect example of what I was talking about cultural changes that although they are in the Bible, no one should try to say that the Bible says you can have lots of wives and if that is not enough you can use their maids also.   I hate to sound prudish, but some Bible stories, like that one, sound like the storyline from Desperate Housewives.   I can almost understand why the Roman Catholic church did not want people to read the Bible.  It can really be confusing.”


My friend is from a Roman Catholic background and for most of his life was discouraged from reading his Bible so the story obviously struck him very strange.  Like my post on Elihu, this section of reading has given me much to think about.  There are so many issues to sort through and certainly too many to cover here.  There are many issues that are important such as the significance of mandrakes in the ancient world, the topography of Syria and the size of stones that covered wells during this time.  For the purpose of this blog it is my desire to make some observations that may help us uncover some spiritual lessons hidden in this text. 


This passage is mystifying on many different levels.  When it was time for Isaac to take for himself a wife from this side of the family, Abraham sent a servant there to find the one that God had intended for Isaac to marry.  Abraham, at this point in his life was very strong in his faith and he had no doubt that God would bless his son with a wonderful wife, which is exactly what happened.  In this text, when it is time to find a wife from this part of the family, the circumstances are vastly different.  When it was time for Isaac to marry, a servant went bearing valuable gifts.  As one commentator noted, it was probably very disappointing to the “money hungry” Laben to find Jacob step into his life appearing to have nothing in hand.  Laban probably thought of the Abraham, Isaac side of the family as the “rich” relatives, which they were, yet Jacob had very little to offer to him.  Jacob came to him in this state because he had acted in a way that was unbecoming of a man of genuine integrity.  He had basically stolen his brother’s blessing and he was running for his life because of it.  Jacob was the grandson of a man who believed that God could raise the dead, but he could not trust that God could do a miracle in his own life.  It is my contention in this post that Jacob, at this point in his life, was still basically an unconverted man.


At the end of chapter 28, God came to Jacob and laid out before him an affirmation of the amazing promise of blessing that he had given to his father and grandfather.  After being told that his descendants would be, “spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south” and “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring”; Jacob responded anticlimactically, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and all that you give me I will give you a tenth” (28:20-22). From my understaning, these are not the words of a grateful man who knows and walks with God.  These are the words that only a man who doesn’t know God would utter.   If we take Jacob at his word, there very little doubt that he did not know the Lord at this point in his life. 


The way this story unfolds is very different than the narratives about the other two great patriarchs.  With Abraham and Isaac, there seemed to be a real attempt at marriage between one man and one woman as God intended.  While they lived in a world in which polygamy was common, Abraham lived into old age before he took on another wife which was the result of a time when he did not trust God to fulfill his  promise in the way he said he would.  In the story of Isaac and Rebekah we are given the impression that this marriage was all about the two of them which was clearly the way God intended it to be.


Here with Jacob we gain a new perspective.  Jacob’s youth was filled with a series of events in which he attempted to be the master of his own destiny.  Yet, the more he did and the harder he worked to get his own way, the more things seemed to fall apart.  He went after his brother’s birthright and his blessing and all that basically got him at first was banished from the only life he had ever known.  In this text, we have this kid who is running for his life with very little of his own resources, yet the author really makes it clear that he is very interested in finding a wife.  My own impression is that Jacob pretty much decided that he wanted to marry Rachael the day he saw her.  Shortly after arriving on Laban’s land, Jacob entered into an agreement to work for him for seven years in order to gain Rachael’s hand in marriage. Presumably this was his payment because he had no great gifts of gold, silver and precious jewels to give Laban as a price for his daughter. 


After he had spent seven years working to get what he wanted; the day after his marriage ceremony he woke up to find out that he had not married Rachael but her sister Leah.  Jacob was furious and went to Laban and renegotiated a another seven years of work to be united to Rachael as man and wife.  The rivalry between these two sisters was too hard to bear.  Jacob loved Rachael but did not care for Leah, yet he still had six sons with her.  When Rachael saw that her sister was having all the kids, she offered Jacob her maid to have children in her place and Bilhah had two children for Rachael.  Leah  was not going to be outdone by Rachael’s surrogate, so gave her maid servant to Jacob and she had two more children through Zilpah.  For those who have read the book of Genesis, we know that Rachael eventually had two boys and those were the ones who were really treasured by Jacob.  These two were Joseph and Benjamin and in giving birth to the younger one Rachael would eventually lose her life.


So what do we make of all of this in this story?  Are we given this story so that we will begin to believe that this is the way that God had intended Jacob’s life to be?  We certainly know that God’s blessed Jacob in spite of all the stuff he pulled, but this was going to be the case simply because God promised that it would be so to his grandfather and to his father.  Old Testament scholar,  John Sailhamer makes this brilliant observation about the text, “Jacob’s schemes, which had brought him fortune thus far, were beginning to crumble.  Such schemes will not be sufficient to carry out the further plans of God.  Jacob had chosen Rachel, God had chosen Leah.  In the conflict that ensued between Jacob and his two wives over the birth of their sons, the pattern is set for the remainder of the narratives in Genesis.  One of Leah’s sons was Judah (v. 35), while Rachael was the mother of Joseph (30:24)” (EBC).


In chapter 30 we read that Jacob negotiated an agreement with Laban so that he could begin to build his own wealth.  We notice that everything Jacob did prospered beyond was would be reasonably expected under the best of circumstances.  Jacob had tended Laban’s sheep for many years.  One day he went to his father-in-law and asked him if he could take some of the sheep as payment for all his hard work.  Laban agreed and God took this small flock that Jacob started with and made it grow beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.  Yet, the text makes it clear that Jacob had nothing to do with the way his flock prospered.  God was working behind the scenes of his life showing him that he did not have to manipulated the endgame of his life.  God was in control of it and God had a good plan for it.  Jacob simply had to learn to trust God, rather than his own deceptive and manipulative ways achieve his hopes and dreams.   The text comments on how much God blessed him saying, “In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks and maidservants and menservants, and camels and donkeys” (30:43). 


While every scheme Jacob tried to pull off in chapter 29 backfired on him, everything wonderful that happened in chapter 30 was beyond his control and was in the hands of God.  Everything that was beyond his control was blessed while everything he tried to control and manipulate would backfire terribly.  Yet, this is the lesson that every person must learn before trusting God.  We must come to the end of ourselves so that we may truly understand to experientially as well as intellectually that, “the fear of God is the beginning of knowlege” (Proverbs 1:7a). God was teaching Jacob this very important lesson: There is no need to manipulate our future because God has his best already in mind for us.  There is no better way than trusting His way.  But Jacob will learn this lesson later in the narrative when he finally bends his knee to God’s Lordship in his life. 


3 Responses to “Genesis 29-30: The Best Way is to Trust God’s Way”

  1. Chris Smith Says:

    Your friend’s earlier comment about the strangeness of some of the bible stories is true. However, these stories portray human nature at its best and worst, usually the latter. We learn so much about ourselves and God through the text. The story of Jacob in particular has so much to teach us. Who would ever have imagined that the “quiet boy staying among the tents” (NIV) would live such a life of struggle. Jacob struggled with everyone and ultimately with God. I love your last paragraph, especially the lesson. It’s all our lesson.

  2. Bruce Smith Says:

    Thanks Chris, you’re right on the mark.

  3. John Anderson Says:

    Good to see the Jacob narratives getting some play on other blogs. I recently posted up on my blog (click my name) my current article published in PRSt entitled “Jacob, Laban, and a Divine Trickster: The Covenantal Framework of God’s Deception in the Theology of the Jacob Cycle.” It may be worth a peek. My dissertation will carry this idea of divine trickery/deception forward in the Jacob cycle.

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