Updated: Nov 5, 2022
Further Reflections on the Life and Transformation of the Patriarch Jacob
By Richard Allen – October 31, 2022
When I hear “What goes around, comes around,” it makes me think of a boomerang effect, a life lesson where consequences for our behavior often comes back on us – in ways we never intended. There are many individuals in Scripture of whom this is true, Haman, an official in the Persian Court, certainly comes to mind. He hated a lowly Jewish exile named Mordecai for failing to show him proper respect as an official of the Persian Court. So, he plotted and planned how he might take Mordecai’s life. He not only wanted to get revenge on Mordecai, he wanted to destroy all of Mordecai’s people, the remnants of the Jewish nation scattered across the empire. Little did Haman know, but he was actually plotting his own demise. In the end, the very scaffold he had erected to hang Mordecai, became the means of his own execution. That’s what I mean by: “What goes around, comes around.”
This week is another installment in the Life and Times of the Patriarch Jacob. My critique of Jacob’s behavior may sound like I’m being critical or even judgmental, but nothing could be further from the truth. I see my own failures and sins in Jacob, so I’m the last person to criticize him. But his story, when rightly understood, can help us all grasp God’s sovereign dealings with His children. Unlike the outcome for Haman, God’s providence changed Jacob for the better. In my last Blog we left Jacob’s story as he fled from brother Esau – after coercing him to sell his “birthright” and deceiving his father Isaac to receive the blessing meant for the firstborn. One of the lessons that should jump out is: “Even after using dubious means to usurp Esau’s birthright and blessing,” God’s appearance to Jacob in a dream at Bethel showed that He was working -- even through Jacob’s dubious behavior to accomplish His sovereign purpose!
While God was providentially using Jacob’s “wheelin’ and dealin’ ways” to accomplish His eternal goals through Jacob, He would still hold Jacob accountable for His impetuous sins. God was using what I have referred to as “reciprocal providence” to ultimately mold Jacob into the faithful man who ultimately learned to lean in dependence upon his God. This is the spiritual version of: What goes around, comes around. The most interesting aspect of Jacob’s experience is it took 20+ years to learn these lessons from God. As I said, at Bethel Jacob slept and dreamed of a wonderful ladder, or more likely a “stairway to heaven” (Genesis 28:10-22), where he saw the angels of God ascending and descending to the earth. He then proclaimed: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16).
The realization that God was with him – and would bring him back to his home again – was liberating. With renewed purpose and hope Jacob set out for his mother’s family in Haran. As he arrives, Jacob meets the daughter of his mother’s brother, Rachel and it’s love at first sight. Jacob knew immediately that Rachel was the love of his life, a woman he would do anything to have. So after staying a month working and feasting with his Uncle Laban, Jacob negotiates a seven-year deal for Rachel’s hand in marriage. Little did Jacob know, there would be some serious strings attached to this offer. He agrees to care for Laban’s flock for seven years for Rachel’s hand. Here’s the story:
“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 (Genesis 29:15:20).
As Jacob begins his 20-year employment by Laban, he believed that he would only work for seven years for the hand of Rachel. But Scripture now makes us aware of two siblings who had a rivalry matching Jacob’s and Esau’s, two sisters named Leah and Rachel. On the surface, differences between Jacob the younger and Esau the firstborn, appear to be mostly about the vocations they chose. Esau was a man of the wild, a mighty hunter and a man’s man, Jacob was more domesticated, a herdsman – tending sheep, goats and cattle. We’re not told much about the two sisters. While Rachel was also a tender of her father’s flocks, we’re not told one way or the other whether Leah also helped with her father’s livestock. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say they were both probably employed by the family business in some capacity. But the one difference Scripture keys in on is: Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance, and Leah the older sister had “tender” or “weak eyes.” Scholars believe Leah had a wandering eye, or her eyes were plain and didn’t sparkle. Rather than guess what this means, let’s keep it simple: Rachel was very good looking, and Leah was plain looking, so Jacob was attracted to Rachel and not Leah. Apparently, men have not changed much over the years. His affections do appear to be more than superficial as he gladly served seven years because he loved her.
The Biblical narrative doesn’t give us all the details, but what we do learn is that on the night Jacob was to marry Rachel, Laban deceived Jacob and gave him Leah the older sister instead as wife. In that culture where a bride would be veiled for much of her wedding day, it’s easy to understand how Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah and consummating his marriage to her. When he awoke the morning after – he confronted Laban with his treachery:
“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” (Genesis 29:22-30).
Wow, talk about “what goes around coming back around” – Jacob’s very behavior hits him in the head all at once. Just as he had lied to his father, misrepresenting himself as being his brother Esau – now his father-in-law Laban lies to Jacob, misrepresenting the daughter he did not choose (Leah) as the daughter that he did choose (Rachel)! And then to add insult to injury, Laban lets Jacob know that he had to do it because: “It is not so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn in marriage.” Using a popular phrase, Jacob’s chickens had come home to roost! But this time Jacob is on the receiving end of the “deliberate deception,” the “bait and switch” and the “first-born clause.” We might also ask: “where were Leah and Rachel in all of this?” It’s obvious that Leah had to have been in on the deliberate charade to make it work. Maybe she was jealous of her sister Rachel’s beauty, or maybe she rationalized to herself the very firstborn clause her father cited to Jacob: “What right does Rachel the younger daughter have to marry before me, Leah the firstborn?” But what was Rachel’s involvement? We have to surmise that unless she’d been sent away or tied up somewhere, she was at least grudgingly complicit in her father’s scheme. I’m not suggesting that Rachel was in agreement, but rather, in that culture, children (unlike Jacob), honored and obeyed their fathers without question. Of interest, we know from a later passage that both daughters were well aware of their father’s treacherous ways (Genesis 31:14-16).
Reading this sad story, you would think that Jacob receiving these consequences for his own dishonest and deceptive actions would be the end of God’s chastisement. But there is much more to this story of Jacob’s education: Jacob ends up working another 14 years for uncle Laban (who turns out to be a bigger swindler and liar than Jacob), while his two wives continue their duel, each vying for Jacob’s affections, using their marriage beds and baby birthing to produce heirs for Jacob, as their weapons of choice. So, what are we to make of all this? There are actually several other lessons that can be learned from this cast of characters and the Biblical narrative. But using Jacob as the main learner in God’s school, it’s clear that he was starting to learn. Even though he was being lied to, swindled and cheated by his father-in-law, Laban the Aramean, Jacob appears to be less worried about the outcome. He would still have some life events that would bring a fearful response from him, but the Jacob we start to see emerge was starting to see that: “God is in charge, not me!” As Jacob recounted to his two wives, Leah and Rachel his 20 years of service, he states:
“You know that I have served your father with all my strength, yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times. But God did not permit him to harm me” (Genesis 31:6-7).
For Jacob the grabber, the lights are starting to go on! In closing, Let me add three more lessons (#4, #5 and #6) to the lessons I pointed out in the first installment last week (#1, #2, #3):
Three lessons from the Life of Jacob from “How to go from a Grabber to a Leaner in 147 years.” (last week)
1. How I behave toward others will come back on me with a vengeance.
2. If I’m to fulfill God’s purposes, I will need to do things God’s way – and not through
3. Even if I act in the flesh using human means, God can still use my poor choices for His purpose and glory.
Three lessons from the Life of Jacob from “What Goes Around, Comes Around.” (this week)
4. Reciprocal Providence is a great teacher in the hands of a Sovereign God. Scripture
may not tell us, but Jacob couldn’t have missed the irony of his own deception and
violation of his brother’s birthright coming back on him.
5. In our sin and weakness we may start out “grabbing, wheelin’ and dealin,” yet in
God’s faithfulness and chastening over time, we learn to trust Him – and see that our
lives are not in our own feeble hands. They are under His Sovereign control from
cradle to grave.
6. God patiently bears with the weaknesses of His children, as we struggle to learn from
life as we live it, in three ways: From our own sins, from the sins of others toward us
and by general mistreatment by the world’s system.
Next, we’ll see Jacob learn a pivotal lesson in life as he finally meets his match, down by the river! Soli Deo Gloria.