People Testing: Divine Direction. Genesis 31:1-21
The same two things were operative in the decision-making in Jacob's life that we have in our life. a) There is the special revelation of God. We have the special revelation of God in the 66 books of the canon of Scripture. Jacob had special revelation where God was still communicating through theophanies and through dreams and through visions. But special revelation is special revelation and it has ceased today. There has been no special revelation given since approximately 95 AD, so the only way we can know God's will today is to go to the Word of God; b) The second way God made His will known was that He did it through circumstances and through situations. In Genesis 31 we see both of these dimensions to knowing God's will in play: the circumstances and special revelation. The trouble with circumstances is that we don't really know how to read them. So we can never ultimately base decision-making just on circumstances. Just because we get an opportunity to do something doesn't necessarily mean we should say yes. Sometimes the test is to see if we will say no. Just because the opportunities are there and just because it seems right doesn't always mean that it is the best or wisest decision.
To give a brief overview of chapter thirty-one we learn that Jacob the chiseller has been out-foxed by his uncle, cheated out of his first choice for a wife, forced to work for 20 years now, and has been cheated out of his income. But God is true to His promise top bless Jacob and to protect him while he was out of the land. That has come to a fulfillment and at the end of chapter 30 Jacob has become quite prosperous. That sets up the problem, the conflict, the difficulty that he faces in chapter 31. Jacob realizes now, according to 31:1, that God's blessing has caused his in-laws to resent him. So the problem that he now faces is a problem common to everyone down through the corridors of time, and that is the life and the welfare of his family. Their security is threatened because now that he has been blessed so greatly by God his in-laws seem to be turning against them and he knows that with the way that Laban is such a manipulator that their whole livelihood, everything that they have, is in jeopardy. He knows that he can no longer stay in Paddan-aram. So this is one of the ways that God maneuvers the circumstances and closes all the other opportunities. So it is time for Jacob to leave and to get out of there.
This situation is not uncommon to most of us. Security is one of the major issues is most of us face. Our livelihood is threatened by loss of jobs, by loss of purchasing power, financial pressures, crime, etc. There really is no security in this life, other than our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. So each time we face a situation like this it is a test. It is a test in our spiritual life to see if we are going to respond to that test with the faith-rest drill, by claiming promises that God has given us. Many of these promises need to be memorized by us and be right on the tip of our mental tongue, as it were, so that when we face these fears, anxieties, situations of insecurity, then rather than focusing on the circumstances we can grab a hold of these promises to stabilize our emotions and bring some sort of objectivity to the situation.
We see the same thing with Jacob. He uses the faith-rest drill in this passage, he uses his doctrinal orientation, and he has inner happiness and stability in this particular situation. There is a contrast between him, as well, and how well he handles the test, and how Rachel in contrast is starting to act like Jacob. Rachel clearly starts showing the same traits that Jacob shows.
This chapter has a number of important lessons for us, so we have to get an overview before we get into it. It starts off with Jacob's brothers-in-law expressing resentment and jealousy toward Jacob. He knows that he needs to leave, and so he flees. The same word for "flee" is used here in the Hebrew as back in chapter 28 when he flees from the land of Canaan. The author wants us to understand that there is a similarity between the two episodes. Laban doesn't find out for three days, and then Laban pursues him. When Laban finally catches up with him after a week he accuses Jacob falsely of stealing from him and stealing his teraphim (household gods). Jacob, because he is in the right, is being unjustifiably accused by Laban of having stolen the teraphim. He doesn't know that Rachel stole them so that he is indeed innocent of all charges and he has not stolen anything from Laban. All of the wealth that he has that was originally Laban's was transferred to him by God in fair business dealings. But Laban wants top accuse him of stealing all of his possessions from him, and when it turns out that Laban is unable to find the teraphim that Jacob, in his justifiable position, turns the table on Laban by accusing him of cheating him all these years. So what we see is how God in this process just works out His justice in their life.
We often don't see that in our life. We are often like the psalmist who says, "Lord, how long will the wicked prosper?" The Lord is eventually going top bring judgment to everyone but we don't always see it. We think that judgment on the wicked is only good if we get to witness it. When somebody has mistreated us and somebody has mistreated us unjustly we think that the only proper vindication is if we get to watch them suffer. But the Lord doesn't operate quite that way.
A couple of things we should note. First of all, there is a legal wrangling in the context. This is indicated because in verse 36 we read, "And Jacob was angry, and rebuked Laban: and Jacob answered and said to Laban, What is my trespass? what is my sin, that you have so hotly pursued after me?" The idea that he rebuked Laban is the word in the Hebrew which means to strive or to contend. It is a legal term and it is often found in court cases where someone is bringing a law suit against someone else. All of the Bible is set within a legal context. Our relationship with God is always grounded biblically within a legal context, the context of a covenant or a contract. The God of the Bible has entered into a contractual relationship with mankind from the very beginning and He has bound Himself to work with man in the terms of these covenants that He establishes. All of these are showing man what He will do and how He is going to work in history, and then certain obligations are placed upon mankind.
Secondly, there is a foreshadowing that takes place here. This is a situation where Jacob has been forced to leave the land of Canaan, the land that God has promised to Abraham, to Isaac, and to all their descendants. He has to leave the land and this is his return, and it foreshadows two future situations. The first occurred under Joshua when the descendants of Jacob had left the land to go to Egypt, which is where they will go at the end of the book of Genesis, and about 400 years goes by before God eventually rescues them and purchases their freedom. Once again, legal terminology is used there. They come out of Egypt and enter into the land again. So it foreshadows the entry into the land under Joshua, and then that in turn is a foreshadowing of the final reentry of the people into the land that occurs at the end of the Tribulation period when we have the final restoration of the Jews to the land of Israel. The emphasis here is that no matter how many flaws and failures there are, and Jacob certainly made a lot of mistakes and failed in a lot of ways, God is always true to His promise. That is one of the key themes throughout this whole section of Genesis. We see all the failures, the flaws, the sin nature trends of all the patriarchs. These are not always wonderful people. Yet we see that God is faithful to His promise and He uses fallen, flawed sinners to accomplish His plans and purposes in history. So this is tremendous encouragement for all of us. Ultimately the emphasis is on God's faithfulness, that no matter what transpires, no matter what failures there might be in the circumstances, He is still faithful to His Word. He has been faithful to Jacob. Jacob has left the land as a result of God's direction and while he is out of the land God has promised to prosper and bless him, and that is indeed what happened while he was out of the land. In Genesis 30:43 we read: "Thus the man [Jacob] increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses."
Genesis 31:1, "And he [Jacob] heard the words of Laban's sons, saying, Jacob has taken away all that was our father's; and of that which was our father's has he gotten all this wealth." They were whining and maligning Jacob and their words were reported back to Jacob. The idea of "Jacob has taken away" is that they are accusing Jacob of having done some underhanded deal where he stole all of the wealth of their fathers. That would be passed on to them by way of inheritance, so they were taking it personally and were emotionally involved and accusing Jacob of being the reason that they were going to end up impoverished. The Hebrew word translated "wealth" is a word which means weighty or heavy or serious. It came to describe wealth. Jacob has become extremely wealthy and he is a man to be contended with now because of his wealth and what that wealth means in terms of his position in society. Jacob has now come out on top, not because he has out- maneuvered Laban but, as he recognizes in this passage, because God is the one who has blessed him. That is the key in the spiritual growth of Jacob: he is developing genuine humility and is recognizing that what he has is not a result of his energy, of his manipulation, of his scheming but because he finally got to the point that there wasn't anything that he could do except rely upon God. God was waiting for that opportunity and once Jacob relaxed then God blessed him and prospered him.
The irony is that the cheater is being accused of cheating but the cheater hasn't cheated. He is innocent of all charges but his reputation has preceded him, so it is probably difficult for him to convince anybody that he is innocent.
Genesis 31:2, Jacob discovers that Laban is also looking upon him unfavorably. "And Jacob beheld the countenance [face] of Laban, and, behold, it was not toward him as before." Laban's face is against him but he will end up where he has a face to face encounter with God at Bethel. Laban's attitude is now one of animosity and resentment, so Jacob is feeling trapped. He knows he has to get out of there but is not sure what to do. Then he gets special revelation. Many times we are not sure what to do but we have His Word that gives us the wisdom that we need to apply to the circumstances. Genesis 31:3, "And the LORD said to Jacob, Return to the land of thy fathers, and to your kindred; and I will be with you." This is a subtle reiteration of the land promise. He is reminding Jacob of His promise—Genesis 28:15. The way that Jacob deals with the situation now—the conflict, the problem of people testing—is he is going to go back to the promise that God has made to him. All God is doing in Genesis 31:3 is reminding him of the promise. This is the same thing that happens, hopefully, when we get our Bible out and read it on a regular basis and underline promises, and make notations in the margins, so that when we come to various kinds of tests we know the kinds of promises that we can claim.
There are three components to the faith-rest drill. The first is that of mixing faith with a promise. That is where we seize upon a promise or a statement or sentence in the Scriptures and hold God to it. The second stage is to think through the rationale that is embedded in the promise. [Lesson cut short on tape]