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One of the bothersome details about the life of Jacob is his character. He is a schemer and deceiver, and yet God makes a covenant with him, just as he had with his grandfather, Abraham.
We know that the covenant of God has nothing to do with how good or how special we are, and has everything to do with how good God is; but the fact that the charade which Jacob and Rebekah pull on Isaac and Esau seems to be honored by God, leaves us with some serious questions. It does me, anyway.

It bothers me because we read in scripture that we are to love justice because God does. Scripture is filled with examples of God meting out punishment to the unjust and wicked.
But here we read how Jacob deceives his father and brother and seems to be rewarded. It's not hard to understand that God loves Jacob as much as anyone, but his behavior seems to be tolerated too.
At no point does God seem to intervene saying, "Jacob, stop that!"

But what goes around comes around, and Jacob ends up . . .
So Jacob said to Laban, ?What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn't I? Why have you deceived me??
Laban replied, ?It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Genesis 29:25-26

One of the bothersome details about the life of Jacob is his character. He is a schemer and deceiver, and yet God makes a covenant with him, just as he had with his grandfather, Abraham.
We know that the covenant of God has nothing to do with how good or how special we are, and has everything to do with how good God is; but the fact that the charade which Jacob and Rebekah pull on Isaac and Esau seems to be honored by God, leaves us with some serious questions. It does me, anyway.

It bothers me because we read in scripture that we are to love justice because God does. Scripture is filled with examples of God meting out punishment to the unjust and wicked.
But here we read how Jacob deceives his father and brother and seems to be rewarded. It's not hard to understand that God loves Jacob as much as anyone, but his behavior seems to be tolerated too.
At no point does God seem to intervene saying, "Jacob, stop that!"

But what goes around comes around, and Jacob ends up on the receiving end for a change.

After his dream about God's stairway to heaven, he continues his journey and comes to a land to the east.
He finds some shepherds gathered around a well.
He asks them, where are you from?
They reply, "we are from Haran."....which happens to be where the family are from.
Jacob asks, "do you know a man called Laban?"
"We do."
"How is he?"
"He is well...here comes his daughter, Rachel".

Jacob takes one look at Rachel and falls head over heels for her.
Apparently the well they are gathered at is community property and until everyone with a share in it is gathered, no one is supposed to open the well and begin using the water. (water rights was a major source of contention for them. About the only information we have of the life of Isaac in which he is the key person is about his water rights disputes.)

Jacob is so smitten by Rachel that against the custom, he jumps up, rolls back the stone over the well and helps Rachel water her sheep.  What a young fellow will do when he is in love! Then it says he weeps openly and kisses her.
Rachel hurries home and tells her father about this new fellow. Laban being like most fathers is likely very interested in meeting this new young man in town who claims to be a relative and seems to have eyes for his daughter.

They meet and Jacob tells them the history of how he has come to Haran and Laban says, "you are my own flesh and blood."
This means Jacob is welcome and clearly establishes his credentials as a proper suitor for Laban's daughter.
We are not told how much Jacob tells Laban. Does he tell him of swindling Esau? Maybe not, but there is a clear irony in Laban's response to Jacob, "you are my flesh and bone."....or "you are a chip off the block."
In many ways, Jacob is not like his father Isaac at all, but he is sure like his uncle Laban.
It's interesting how that happens in families. One child will not resemble the parents physically or emotionally, but often there is someone in the extended family from whom they are a "chip off the block."  This is certainly true for Jacob and Laban.
It took one to know one and Laban recognizes Jacob as family. I wonder if Isaac did?

An interesting question: who do we recognize as family? What do you have to be or do to be recognized as family, or to be considered 'not family'?

Jacob stays with Laban and works there a month.
Does he think about home and Easu and his father and mother?
If he does at all, he is safely away from any trouble.
What does he make of his vision and does he even tell Laban's family about it?

At the end of the month Laban brings up the topic or remuneration. Jacob is not a slave or hired hand, so what is appropriate?
Room and board are given as hospitality, but what shall be his share in the family's fortunes?
Jacob has one thought only: Rachel.
Laban says, better you than a stranger, and Jacob considers it a done deal. He offers to work seven years in return for her hand in marriage.  The boy is definitely in love!
I wonder if anyone would do that today?
The time flies by and at the end of the seven years he says to Laban, "OK, I want to marry Rachel."

There is a wedding at the custom at the wedding would be that the bride, heavily veiled would be escorted to the groom's accommodations. There has been substantial partying and Jacob may be feeling the effects somewhat.
Whatever is the case, its not until the next morning he discovers he has married Leah, not Rachel.
He is furious and confronts Laban with his deception.
Laban says, "our custom is not to give the youngest before the eldest."
Jacob has nothing to say in return, but agrees to another seven years in return for Rachel too.

On one level, Jacob has been outwitted by his uncle.
Legally he has no recourse. He took Leah in marriage and that is that and he knows it.
But Laban's words are also not coincidental. "Our custom is that the youngest does not go ahead of the eldest."

Of course that was the very thing that Jacob had done. He had supplanted his elder brother.
He had wanted Rachel to supplant her elder sister, Leah.
Laban had said no.  Well he had said it in a very deceptive way, but there is no doubt that Jacob got the point. He is speechless and quietly accepts the judgment.

Had Laban heard of Jacob's trickery during their seven years together?
Had Laban even intended his words to be heard as a form of justice?
But we hear it. Jacob gets his just deserts.
Jacob heard Laban's words, but I think he also heard that other Voice as well.

I have many times heard the voice of God in another's words.
I know you do too. Sometimes in sermons, sometimes elsewhere.

So back to God's justice and the life of Jacob.
It seems as though Jacob got away with one at first look.
But I think that day when Laban looked at him and said coyly, "its not our custom to advance the younger before the elder" something inside of Jacob went "Ka-ching"'
The Holy Spirit has ways of suddenly tapping us on the shoulder and saying, "yes, I did that."
Whether Laban understood, Jacob did.
He knew that he had just been done to the way he had done to Esau and that there was nothing he could do about it.

God's justice comes in many forms and in many ways. Sometimes it takes seven years before we feel that tap on the shoulder.
I don't doubt that there were many days when Caanan and Esau seemed far away, another lifetime perhaps.
In civil law, seven years is the statute of limitations when you can no longer be held accountable. It is true in some criminal law too. I wonder if Jacob thought he had gotten cleanly away with it.

Whatever he thought, God suddenly took him by the collar and lifted him off his feet and looked him in the face and said, "Hi, I've been waiting."

God does that with us.
Somewhere between this pulpit and your ears, God steps in and takes over and taps you on the shoulder for one purpose or another.

To his credit, Jacob did not fight the judgment. He meekly accepted the verdict and got on with another seven years for Rachel. He didn't have to wait seven years, as Laban married her to Jacob just a week later.

God's justice is an interesting thing. It accomplishes a lot at one time.
It lets us know that you can't get anything past God's notice.
No matter how clever you are or no matter what silly arguments you tell yourself to justify what you know is wrong,
God sees and sooner or later you will get a tap on the shoulder. Be sure of this: Our sins do find us out.

And what about Leah?
The Bible calls her the unloved one in this triangle.
Jacob was head over heels for Rachel, but what was it like to be Leah?
Notice what happens in their lives.
Rachel has no children for a long time.
Leah does. This gives her status within the marriage, though she hopes it will bring her the love of her husband.
We are told her children are Reuben, Simeon, Levi and then Judah, followed by  Zebulun

Remember God's promise to Abraham which he reiterates with Jacob.
God promised to make them a nation and a blessing.
It is through the descendants of Judah that come Moses, David and ultimately Jesus.

Yes God would fulfill his covenant to Jacob, but not through Rachel.
Through Leah, the unloved one.
How is that for a bit of grace, mercy and justice?
Only God could do that.

Who were Rachel's children?
Joseph and Benjamin, but that is another story for another time.

What goes around comes around.
God will not let you play fast and loose with his honor or yours. The Holy Spirit has his hand on you and it is wise to live as you ought, lest the Spirit tap you on the shoulder some day with overdue accounts.


Preached  July 24, 2005
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia


Resources Consulted
Brueggemann, Walter, The Old Testament; The Canon and Christian Imagination, Westminster Knox, 2003
Sailhamer, John H Genesis, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Zondervan, 1990
Von Rad, Gerhard, Genesis, The Old Testament Library, Westminster, 1972