Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Genesis 31:1-21 Changed Faces

"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.  [The Hebrew for this word 'attitude' literally reads 'face', i.e., Jacob could even tell by looking at Laban's face that his thoughts about Jacob had changed.]   Then the Lord said to Jacob, 'Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.' " (Genesis 31:1-3 NIV)

It is kind of funny how wealth can change people's attitudes toward someone.  Once, when I was working with a church youth group, one member's relative won a significant amount of money in the lottery.  It was amazing to hear about relatives suddenly coming out of the woodwork, people he had seldom or even never met, all wanting a piece of the action.  Wanting? I should say that they were demanding to share in this person's unexpected wealth.  When he eventually had to draw the line on how much he could share with them, there was plenty of resentment to go around.

In these verses, it is amazing to see that Laban's sons apparently have no idea about why Laban had any wealth in the first place.  It is only because God is blessing all that Jacob does that their father's wealth began to increase!  However, I doubt that even Laban is still appreciative of this fact, even though he once recognized it to be true.  (Genesis 30:27)  In the New Testament, Romans 1:21 (NIV) echoes the same thought:  "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened."

Jacob calls Rachel and Leah to come out to him in the fields so that they can discuss this matter more privately. (v.4) Several things needed to be made clear:

"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 given them to me.'  (Genesis 31:5-9 NIV)

Jacob also relates to the women a dream he once had, in which all the male goats which were mating with the flock were streaked, speckled or spotted.  [Note:  This dream may be the source of Jacob's rather strange breeding methods for his flocks.]  In the dream, the angel of God told Jacob that he had seen all that Laban had been doing to him. (v. 10-12)  "I am the God of Bethel, where you annointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me.  Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land." (Genesis 31:13 NIV)

Rachel and Leah are quite happy to leave their father's household and go with Jacob to Canaan.  In their opinion, Laban now regarded them as foreigners, and had sold them and taken for himself all of what might be considered their dowry, that is, the results of Jacob's years of labor.  All of the wealth that God had taken away from Laban and given to Jacob they considered the property of themselves and their children anyway.  So they are willing to have Jacob do all that God had told him to do. (v.14-16)

Jacob loses no time in putting his family upon camels and driving all his livestock ahead of him.  He also took any goods which were his and headed toward his father Isaac's home in Canaan. (v.17-18)  Laban was apparently away shearing his sheep, and Jacob did not tell him that he was leaving. (v. 19-20) Unknown to Jacob, Rachel took advantage of Laban's absence by stealing his household gods and bringing them along as well.  Commentators differ regarding why Rachel may have done this.  Some claim that by having these items, Rachel could hang onto some inheritance rights.  Others believe that Rachel may not have entirely let go of all of her pagan background yet and feared that Laban could use these idols to determine exactly where the family had fled.  Others think that the idols were made of valuable material, or that Rachel was rebuking her father for his use of them.  At any rate, I think we can all agree that Rachel was not pleased with Laban and was making some type of statement by taking his idols.

"So he fled with all he had, and crossing the River, he headed for the hill country of Gilead." (Genesis 31:21 NIV)  Gilead was a good place for livestock to graze. (Numbers 32:1)  Perhaps Jacob planned his route so that his animals would not be decimated by the long journey.

Three days later, Laban received some unpleasant news.  His son-in-law, daughters and grandchildren, along with all of Jacob's flocks, had left for the land of Canaan.

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