Divine Guidance; Divine Discipline. Genesis 29
Jacob and Laban are just not the most attractive people. They are connivers, swindlers; they are trying to outdo each other. There are some interesting things that go on in the next few chapters. From Genesis 29:1, which is when Jacob leaves the promised land and goes back to the homeland in Haran, through chapter 31 when he leaves to return to the promised land, is the Jacob-Laban section which talks about this interaction back and forth between the two. There are four observations to be made as we get into this section.
1) The Lord who was a primary factor and focus in chapter 28 is not in view in most of chapter 29, until the end in v. 31, so His work is not in front as we come to these episodes, we simply read what Jacob is doing.
2) The primary mention of the Lord in chapter 29, and again in chapter 30, is restricted to His opening the womb or His work in the pregnancies of Rachel and Leah. We don't see any new revelation, any direct guidance. So the Lord is really in the far background. Behind the scenes of what is going on. We are simply watching the life of Jacob and his relationship to Laban, his marriages and what happened in those marriages. So it is a really family dynamic situation where we are seeing the outworking of certain spiritual principles as opposed to a section that is more oriented to teaching certain spiritual principles. So in some way we are looking at how God is working behind the scenes.
3) Twice in this section Laban recognizes that he has been blessed in terms of his relationship with Jacob because of the Lord's blessing of Jacob. So when the Lord is mentioned He is mentioned in relation to opening the wombs of Rachel and Leah, he is mentioned in terms of the source of blessing on Jacob and Laban's blessing by association. It is not until the end of chapter 31—this is a 20-year period of time between chapter 28 and chapter 31—that God is referenced by two or three different people.
4) So we see something going on in the background, and in that way there is some application for us because we live in an era of history when God is not working, as it were, directly or overtly in our lives in the way He did in the Old Testament. There is no special revelation. God is not giving new information or personal guidance through dreams and visions, or speaking through prophets and giving special revelation. It is a time when God is testing us to see if we are willing to walk by faith in a completed canon of Scripture and to trust Him in terms of what He has revealed, understanding that He is still at work in history and in our lives, but that is a covert ministry as opposed to an overt ministry.
1) God is present with Jacob during these 20 years. That is what God promised when He appeared to Jacob in chapter 28. For 20 years Jacob has nothing but that promise to rely on, there is no more visitation from God, no more direct revelation. In a sense he is very similar during that period to the church age believer, trusting in a promise of God, waiting for God to bring about that which He has promised. So what we see during this period is this covert operation of God. God is clearly guiding and directing, but we don't see it. It is all behind the scenes. Jacob isn't aware of it until it is over with. There are a lot of similarities between chapter 29 and chapter 23 of Genesis where Abraham sent his faithful servant to go back to the homeland to find a bride for Isaac. But if we do a contrast between these two events, when the faithful servant goes back to Haran he is praying along the way for God to guide and direct him. He is setting it up. But you don't see that with Jacob. It is obviously absent from the text. He is just moving forward and yet God is the one who will bring Rachel to him. So we have these two terms developing, overt and covert. By overt is meant an external operation of God that is open to view, it is readily observable, discernable and clearly recognizable as the work of God in somebody's life. We saw that brought out in the text in Genesis 23 when the faithful servant prays that God would indicate who the right woman was for Isaac because certain things would happen when he came to the well. So we can say that this is definitely the work of God. But on the other hand in many instances in Scripture God works in a covert manner. The word "covert" means concealed or veiled or secret. In other words, we know God works and controls history but He doesn't do it in an overt manner. He is not out their manipulating human leaders, He is not revealing Himself externally to human leaders, He is not giving external orders or direction to human leaders as to what they should do. He is working behind the scenes in and through the volition of human leaders, He controls the thoughts/the heart of the king, Proverbs says, but He does it in a covert manner. The important thing in making this distinction is we have to realize that God ultimately governs His creation, and so we can always say that in some sense everything is the will of God and God was working, but we may not know it or perceive it at the time. We may not come to a decision and God is going to turn a green light one way and a red light another way. But God is going to be working behind the scenes in various people, circumstances and events, so that the options that we have at that point of decision-making are there because God brought them there. God guides and directs in a completely covert manner. Afterward, as we go down the road a bit, we can look back and see how God superintended and managed the circumstances to bring about His will. But too often when we are in those circumstances we don't know, because part of the issue is: are we just going to relax and trust God and use the doctrine in our souls to make decisions? So we have this contrast between the way God works overtly and His covert conclusion.
2) God is working out the promises that He has already made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with reference to the Abrahamic covenant. He has promised Abraham the land, seed and blessing. This is reconfirmed to Isaac and reconfirmed to Jacob at Bethel. Despite Jacob's behavior, his conniving, and all of the things that Jacob is doing he still ends up being a blessing to Laban. Ultimately God works to bless Jacob, not because of who Jacob is or what he has done, but because of the Abrahamic covenant, and He is demonstrating His character of unconditional grace through Jacob to those around him. God is also working in Jacob's in the same way He works in our life to teach us various spiritual truths, to drive home these principles related to spiritual life and to prepare him for the next stage. The next stage is to return to Canaan where he is going to be in closer proximity to Esau where he has to go to the next stage which is in relationship to his sons, and eventually there is the Joseph narrative which takes them down to Egypt. Jacob is eventually going to die down in Egypt. But God is working in each stage to prepare him for the next stage. The same thing is happening in our life. God is working certain circumstances right now to give us tests to use and apply doctrine, to prepare us for future test, events, and circumstances, and to prepare us for whatever service or ministry He has for us in the future.
3) There is no explicit doctrine taught in these chapters. We don't go to these chapters to learn about justification by faith alone, to develop a theology of prayer, to understand covenant. But what we see here is the outworking of God's providential management of not only human history but our individual lives as He moves us down that path toward spiritual maturity. There are two doctrines that are illustrated in this section that relate to God's work in the sanctification or spiritual growth of the believer. The first is divine discipline. There is an element of divine discipline in what happens to Jacob the conniver. He is the one who tried to manipulate the blessing of God by conniving and outmaneuvering his brother Esau, rather than resting in God's provision. The result was it created all this trauma in the family. Now what is going to happen? He is going to be the victim of Laban's maneuvering, is going to end up with the wrong sister, he ends up married to two women, there is conflict and competition in the family, and all of this plays itself out in a very negative way in the history of the foundation of Israel. And it is all because of the attempts to get God's way our way. God has top discipline Jacob and he is going to reap what he sowed. Just as he has sowed this manipulative methodology he is going to become the victim of that same methodology and is going to reap the negative consequences from it.
Summary of events in chapter twenty-nine
In the first fourteen verses God leads Jacob to his family in Haran. This leadership isn't overt. We don't see God doing anything. He is not overtly directing Jacob's steps. He is working behind the scenes, but as we look at this through the vantage point of the writer we see that God is in control of all the circumstances in bringing about His desired end. It is up to Jacob, the believer in the middle of this circumstance, to apply doctrine and to pass the test. God is teaching him certain things. In these first 14 verses we see God leading Jacob to his family and we see parallels to Genesis 23, but there are certain contrasts as well. Jacob isn't praying for God's direction, nevertheless he is being led by God. It is very clear that God is orchestrating this and that the parallels between the two chapters are divinely established.
Genesis 29:1, "Then Jacob went on his journey, and came into the land of the people of the east." The phrase "went on his journey" literally means that Jacob lifted his feet. It is an unusual idiom in the Hebrew and it indicates a light-heartedness on his part that is the result of what has just happened at Bethel. God has just promised him that He will protect and comfort him, and so in the wake of his confrontation with God at Bethel where he recognizes that God is behind him, God is working with him, he is light-hearted now in facing this journey. So he goes forward in anticipation of how God is going to work in his life. In these next 14 verses we see the introduction to the next seven years of his life.
Genesis 29:2, "And he looked, and behold a well in the field, and, lo, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks: and a great stone was upon the well's mouth." We are not sure if this is the same well that Abraham's faithful servant came to when he met Rebekah, but it might be. He comes to a well and a well is a sign of blessing, of prosperity. We are dealing with a very arid climate. He comes to this well and there are already three flocks of sheep that are there, and it is early in the afternoon. Genesis 29:3, "And thither were all the flocks gathered: and they rolled the stone from the well's mouth, and watered the sheep, and put the stone again upon the well's mouth in his place."
Genesis 29:4-6, "And Jacob said unto them, My brethren, whence be ye? And they said, Of Haran are we. And he said unto them, Know ye Laban the son of Nahor? And they said, We know him. And he said unto them, Is he well? And they said, He is well: and, behold, Rachel his daughter cometh with the sheep." Just as he arrives Rachel shows up. This is what is meant by the covert work of God. We don't see God out in front but we know that God is behind the circumstances, behind the scenes, to work out the timing of this situation.
Genesis 29:7, 8, "And he said, Lo, it is yet high day, neither is it time that the cattle should be gathered together: water ye the sheep, and go and feed them. And they said, We cannot, until all the flocks be gathered together, and till they roll the stone from the well's mouth; then we water the sheep." It is not time to uncover the well. The procedure is to wait.
Genesis 29:10, "And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother's brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother's brother, that Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well's mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother's brother." He takes initiative. There is foreshadowing here. That is, over the next three chapters it is going to be Jacob who is the source of blessing for Laban and for his flocks and increase over the next 20 years. So this foreshadows the fact that it is Jacob who is the source of prosperity for the flocks. He is so thrilled with meeting Rachel that he kisses her, and he rejoices and weeps.
Genesis 29:13, 14, Laban's reaction: "And it came to pass, when Laban heard the tidings of Jacob his sister's son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him, and kissed him, and brought him to his house. And he told Laban all these things. And Laban said to him, Surely you are my bone and my flesh. And he abode with him the space of a month." What does "Surely you are my bone and my flesh" remind us of? Genesis chapter two, when Adam looked at Eve. There is a very close welcome here, they are glad to see him. Family has met family and there is a certain endearment here that we don't see later on in the Jacob-Laban narrative.
In verse 15 we shift to the next section which is where we see God is working in this circumstance to teach Jacob a lesson, and that is called divine discipline. So behind all of this we see the guidance of God operating covertly, but in this He is going to bring some discipline into Jacob's spiritual life. "And Laban said unto Jacob, Because you are my brother, should you therefore serve me for nothing? tell me, what shall your wages be?" The payment of wages is the core idea in the next three chapters. Laban offers to pay Jacob wages, then he is going to cheat him out of those wages. Ten times Jacob is going to complain that his father-in-law changes his wages. But in the end we are going to see that Jacob is reaping what he has already sowed.
Jacob falls in love with Rachel and there is an agreement with Laban that he work for her for seven years. But just as the seven years are up and it is time to get married Laban outmaneuvers Jacob and on the wedding night he substitutes Leah, the older sister for Rachel. This is God's sense of humor, as it were, because remember the time when Rebekah was pregnant with the twins that the younger would serve the older? To bring that about Jacob out maneuvered his older brother. And now this same older-younger rule is going to be brought into play and he is going to be told he can't have the younger one, the older one has to get married first. So God is using the same elements that were involved in Jacob's conniving Esau out of the birthright in order to bring about a-little-turnabout-is-fair-play on Jacob. Laban then tells Jacob he must work another seven years to have Rachel as his wife. This is an interesting insight into how God disciplines a believer and teaches us how to trust Him top bring about His plan rather than trusting in our own manipulations and our own flesh in order to bring that about.
1) In life there are two categories of suffering: deserved and undeserved. Everybody, believer and unbeliever, goes through both categories of suffering.
2) Undeserved suffering falls into two categories: a) Suffering from self-induced misery. It is just the principle of reaping what we sow. We get the negative consequences of bad decisions. b) There is an additional suffering that goes on top of that, and that is divine discipline. Reaping what you sow isn't divine discipline. Divine discipline, according to Hebrews 12, is God's family discipline on those who are members of the royal family. It flows out of His love and is designed for the purpose of producing self-mastery, spiritual discipline, and self-control in the life of the believer. Suffering divine discipline is a matter for spiritual training and is directed by a loving father to His children to bring them to spiritual maturity.
3) Divine discipline is deserved suffering in the life of the believer and it is designed by God to accomplish two things: to teach, to instruct us so that we learn certain spiritual principles in the process, and it is also designed for correction or remedial discipline.
4) The goal of all discipline is to produce in the believer the character of the Lord Jesus Christ.
5) All divine discipline is based on love. Hebrews 12:6, "For whom the Lord loves he chastens [disciplines].." This is not necessarily the retributive type of discipline. It is in the second part of the verse. But in this verse the Greek word PAIDEUO [paideuw] which has the idea of training and discipline. It is the idea of teaching and training children to have self-discipline, self-mastery, and to do that which is right because it is the right thing to do. This is positive training for obedience. The next verse is a contrast: "and scourges every son whom he receives." The Greek word there is the verb MASTIGOO [mastigow] and it means to whip or to flog or to scourge. It used in Luke 18:33; John 19:1 to describe the whipping that the Lord Jesus Christ received before He went to the cross. So this is a harsh word for retributive discipline. This is an enforcement of certain negative consequences on a child in order to reinforce whatever other negative consequences there might be. The goal of divine discipline is positive, to produce in the believer the character of the Lord Jesus Christ and to instill self-mastery.
6) Every believer has arrogance skills. These have to be controlled not just in the power of the flesh because anybody can exercise a certain amount of self-discipline in the flesh, but it has to come from a supernatural self-discipline from the Holy Spirit. And one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is self-mastery. As we grow and mature as believers self-discipline is developed which is a control of the trends and the lusts of the sin nature. That can only come about through the work of the Holy Spirit and is one form of divine discipline.
Divine discipline, as we see from Hebrews 12:6, means that sin is not the issue at salvation. It is the issue after salvation. Personal sin in the life of the believer is dealt with by the Lord as a family matter. It is not a matter of getting into the family because Jesus Christ already paid the penalty for all sins on the cross—1 Peter 3:18, "For Christ also has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit." The word translated "for" [for sins] is the Greek preposition PERI [peri] which indicates "once concerning sins" or "once with reference to sins." Then in the next phrase is that same English word "for" but it is a different word in the Greek, "the just for the unjust." There we have the Greek preposition HUPER [u(per] plus the genitive, indicating substitution: "the just in the place of" or "as a substitute for the unjust." The word there for unjust is the Greek word ADIKAIOS [a)dikaioj], so it is translated "the righteous [the Lord Jesus Christ] for the unrighteous" because that is our core problem, unrighteousness. The issue, therefore, is not what sins we have committed because the sins are paid for on the cross. It doesn't say He suffered for sins, He died once for sins, He paid the sin penalty on the cross so that that is not the issue. The issue has to do with the next clause which is righteousness. So the issue is not sin in salvation, the issue is understanding that we must have perfect righteousness and we must have spiritual life in order to have a relationship with God.