The Crown

When you see the phrase, “The Crown”, what do you think of? I think about royalty; kings and queens, etc., especially British royalty. There is a TV show in its last season called “The Crown” which follows the life of Queen Elizabeth II who just passed away in 2022. Queen Elizabeth II’s great-great-grandmother was Queen Victoria, who has been called the “Grandmother of Europe.” (picture) Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, who were first cousins, looked to consolidate royal power through marriage. They had nine children, each of whom married important European royal families. Queen Victoria’s grandchildren served as (or married) the kings or emperors of most of Europe. There was King George V of the United Kingdom, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, King Haakon VII of Norway, Ferdinand I of Romania, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, King Constantine I of Greece, Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden, and King Alfonso XIII of Spain. When World War I broke out Wilhelm II of Germany was at war with his cousin George V of the United Kingdom and cousins-in-law Nicholas II of Russia and Ferdinand I of Romania. Several of Victoria’s issue remain on European thrones today. King Harald V of Norway, King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and King Felipe VI of Spain all descend from Victoria and Albert.

In our scripture today we are going to investigate another royal family, the royal family of Esau. For the past several weeks we have camped out on the idea that God cares and provides for all people even non-covenant peoples. We have also seen comparisons between the descendants of Esau and Jacob. Esau has had children and grandchildren who have become chief of clans and tribes. He and his descendants married into the family of Seir the Horite who lived in the hill country of Seir. Eventually Esau and his family migrated there and the nation of Edom was established. Today, we will see that Esau’s descendants have now become kings of Edom. They are ruling as chiefs and kings in their own land long before the nation of Israel ever comes into being. Esau and his descendants had it relatively easy, increasing in number and absorbing the land and people of Seir. In comparison, Jacob and his family will find themselves in Egypt due to famine and then live there in slavery for 400 years. Finally, as God commands Moses to lead them out of Egypt into the Promised Land they will wander in the wilderness for another 80 years before finally conquering their own land. It will take them a long time to become the monarchy that Edom has already established. ​​ 

As we think about the hardships that the Israelites, God’s chosen people, went through compared to their cousins and as we think about the hardships that we, as Christians, seem to go through compared to those in the world, we see that success, power and prestige seems to come easy to those living by the world’s standards. But the Israelites, God’s chosen people lived by a higher standard, God’s standard. God tested and tried the Israelites but the Edomites, the non-covenant side of the family of Abraham, don’t seem to be. And we might ask ourselves why? I think the answer lies in what God’s plan and purpose was for the Israelite people. They were to be a holy, set apart people, in the world, in order to be ambassadors of God to their neighbors. They were blessed by God to be a blessing to others. They were to usher in the coming Messiah to the world and spread his gospel. For them to fulfill this plan and purpose they needed to be tested and refined in the fire of slavery, wandering the wilderness, and exile. Esau and the Edomites did not have such a plan and purpose and did not need to be tested.

As Christians, all the above is appropriate for us as well. We are called to be a holy and set apart people. We are blessed by God to be a blessing in the world. God has a plan and purpose for us to pursue, grow and multiply disciples. And the Bible says that we will be tested and tried in God’s refining fire as well. All the Israelites testing, trials and tribulations, and ours as well, are so we will bear much fruit and when that fruit is realized and seen by the world it will be for the glory of God. Which brings us to the big idea this morning that God tests his people, for the bearing of much fruit, to the glory of God. As we prepare to open God’s Word this morning, let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we ask your Holy Spirit to come down in this place and in your people. We pray for open hearts and open minds as we study your Word. Use your holy scripture to teach us, reprove us, correct us and train us in righteousness so that we may be complete and equipped for every good work. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

This morning we are wrapping up Genesis chapter 36, the genealogy of Esau. We will be looking at verses 31-43. There will be three points this morning. The first point is the Introduction found in verse 31. Follow along as I read. This is what God’s Word says: “These were the kings who reigned in Edom before any Israelite king reigned:”

Before we see the lists of kings, they are introduced to us with this caveat: “These were the kings who reigned in Edom before any Israelite king reigned.” Again, Esau/Edom is compared to Jacob/Israel. Before Saul became King of Israel there were already eight generations of kings in Edom. In Numbers 20:14, we see these words, “Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom.” This refers to when the Israelites, being led by Moses in the wilderness, were getting ready to pass through the Transjordan and enter the Promised Land. Moses sent messengers to ask the king of Edom to let them pass by unharmed. He promised they would stay on the King’s Highway and pay for any water used by them or their livestock. The king of Edom refused and even threatened to attack them with the sword. Later, King David would conquer the Edomites and rule over them for a time. These events fulfilled Isaac’s blessing on Esau found in Genesis 27:40, “You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother.” Numbers 20:14 confirms that Edomite kings were already ruling before the Israelites entered the Promised Land.

Something we will notice in the king list that follows is that it is evidence of an elective kingship instead of a dynastic one. This means that the succession of kings was not based on heredity, like we see in the United Kingdom. The eight kings will succeed each other in an orderly fashion but no king is a son of the previous one. Also, the place of origin or the capital city is different for each king. This may be the only evidence of a non-dynastic monarchy in the ancient Near East, except for the election of King Saul. When Saul was made king of Israel, there was no provision made for Saul’s sons to take over the throne after him like there was for King David.

Last week, Pastor Stuart made the point that God provides for all people even people outside the Abrahamic covenant. Esau descendants may have been outside the covenant, but they weren’t outside the story of God’s work in the world. This point will be reaffirmed by the list of Edomite kings as they represent the first stage of the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham in Genesis 17:16. God speaking to Abraham about Sarah says, “I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” The Edomite kings were a direct fulfillment of the promise to Abraham. Lastly, in 1 Samuel 8:5, when the Israelites wanted a king “like other nations”, it is possible that the Edomites were one of the nations they had in mind.

Our second point is Succession found in verses 32-39. Follow along as I read those verses. This is what God’s Word says, “Bela son of Beor became king of Edom. His city was named Dinhabah. When Bela died, Yobab son of Zerah from Bozrah succeeded him as king. When Yobab died, Husham from the land of the Temanites succeeded him as king. When Husham died, Hadad son of Bedad, who defeated Midian in the country of Moab, succeeded him as king. His city was named Avith. When Hadad died, Samlah from Masrekah succeeded him as king. When Samlah died, Shaul from Rehoboth on the river succeeded him as king. When Shaul died, Baal-Hanan son of Akbor succeeded him as king. When Baal-Hanan son of Akbor died, Hadad succeeded him as king. His city was named Pau, and his wife’s name was Mehetabel daughter of Matred, the daughter of Me-Zahab.

We see a recurring formula here: X died and Y succeeds him as king and his city was named Z. As I said earlier, no son ever succeeded their father as king. We also see that the capital city changes with each king. They ruled out of the city where they lived, as King Saul did. The first king was Bela, son of “Beor.” Bela means “eloquent.” In Numbers 22:5, we also see that Balaam, a wicked prophet, is the “son of Beor.” Bela’s capital city is “Dinhabah” which is an unknown. When Bela died, Yobab, son of Zerah from Bozrah became king. The name Yobab is also seen in Genesis 10:29 as he is identified as the third great grandson of Shem. The resemblance of names goes to show the fact that the Israelites and the Edomites were related. We have seen the name Zerah earlier as the grandson of Esau and Bosemath. Bozrah is one of the Edomite towns most often referred to in the Bible. We see it named in Isaiah 34:6 and Amos 1:12 where those prophets prophesied about God’s judgment on the nations who against Israel.

The third king was Husham which means “broadnosed” in Arabic. He was from the land of the Temanites. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that one of the friends of Job was Eliphaz the Temanite. The fourth king was Hadad, son of Bedad. His name is associated with the Syrian storm god meaning “thunderer.” With him we have our first antidote; an explanation that Hadad defeated Midian in the area of Moab. This was probably to distinguish this Hadad from the one mentioned in verse 39 as the eighth king. Bedad means “separate/alone” and this one’s capital city was Avith. The fifth king was Samlah, which means “protection” in Arabic. His capital city was Masreqah which is related to the noun “vine” and was probably located in a vine-growing area. The sixth king was Shaul which means “requested” and his capital city was Rehoboth on the River. Rehoboth means “open spaces” and the river could refer to either the Euphrates or the Jordan.

The seventh king was Baal-hanan, son of Akbor. Baal-hanan means “Baal is gracious” and Akbor means “mouse.” Baal-hanan is the only king not ascribed a capital city. The eighth and last king on the list is Hadad and his capital city is Pau. And again we get some explanation: he was the husband of Mehetabel, who was the daughter of Matred, who was the daughter of Me-Zahab. Mehetabel means “El (God) does good”; Matred means “to run continually”; and Me-Zahab means “waters of gold.” It was unusual to name two women in an ancestral line. It may be that the women’s names conveyed a great splendor that meant “continuous running waters of gold.”

Our third point is Settlements found in verses 40-43. Follow along as I read those verses. This is what God’s Word says, “These were the chiefs descended from Esau, by name, according to their clans and regions: Timna, Alvah, Jetheth, Oholibamah, Elah, Pinon, Kenaz, Teman, Mibzar, Magdiel and Iram. These were the chiefs of Edom, according to their settlements in the land they occupied. This is the family line of Esau, the father of the Edomites.”

This final list is a list of chiefs descended from Esau according to their clans and regions. “According to their clans” is the same formula used in the Table of Nations in Genesis 10. Four of the eleven names we have seen before: Timna, the concubine of Eliphaz and sister of Lotan, son of Seir. Oholibamah, daughter of Anah, a wife of Esau. And Kenaz and Teman, sons of Eliphaz and chiefs of Edom. The other seven names are new to us: Alva which means “ascend”, Yetheth, Elah which means “terebinth”, Pinon which was a known copper mining and smelting site in Edom, Mibzar which means “fortress”, Magdiel which means “fruit (gift) of El” and Iram.

One of the problems with identifying this list is how to reconcile it with the chiefs of Esau listed in verses 15-19. ​​ First, these may be later chiefs of Edom than those mentioned earlier or second the list in verses 15-19 may be genealogically arranged and this list is geographically arranged. This list is referred to as regions and settlements in the land they are occupying. Hamilton says, “The names that follow might refer to the names of the dwellings rather than of the chieftains.” And Wenham says, “It has been suggested that this is a list of the administrative districts of Edom since some of the names are place names.” The word “occupy” here is the same as “held.” It is the same word that we saw when Esau first appeared in Genesis. If you remember, at the twin’s birth, Jacob took “hold” of Esau’s heel. This may be a deliberate play on words to mark the last appearance of Esau in the book of Genesis. The fact that Edom “held” these lands again fulfills the promise to Abraham in Genesis 17:8. They have gained secure possession of the land of Edom just as Israel will have secure possession of theirs. This language indicates that both the Edomites and the Israelites received their land by divine commission from God.

Lastly, the ancestral heritage of the Edomites is reaffirmed reminding us that Esau was their father. Esau’s descendants have become clans, chiefs, kings and districts. They have an established political structure and royalty. There is no doubt that they are flourishing. Esau has now become a dynasty with eight kings in succession and chiefs in eleven districts. Their power and the extent of their monarchy is incredible. Their impact would be felt for centuries after Esau’s death and these cousins of the Israelites would relentlessly and persistently oppose them for a long time to come. Interestingly, when Jesus stood before King Herod at his trial, Jesus was standing in the line of Jacob and Herod was standing in the line of Esau. Herod was an Idumaean, which is the Greek equivalent of an Edomite. This descendant of Esau ridiculed and mocked Jesus, a descendant of Jacob, who was the Son of God.

There is a warning to us in this chapter. We need to be careful in our dealings with others so that we don’t allow a bitter root to grow up and cause trouble in the future as we see in the story of Esau. Hebrews 12:14-17 says, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.” We must make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy because if we don’t, we could be perpetuating conflict not only in our lifetime but in the lifetimes of our descendants far beyond anything we could ever imagine. That brings us to the first next step on the back of your communication card: My next step is to live in peace with everyone and to be holy.

As I conclude today, I want to revisit our big idea: God tests his people, for the bearing of much fruit, to the glory of God. Again, in Hebrews 12:5b-11, we see these words, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Archaeological digs have been done in Bozrah (King Yobab’s capital city) where they have found effigies in stone and pottery from after the Patriarchal period showing that there were generations of idolatry in that area. This didn’t happen overnight but may have been birthed by Esau as the material outweighed the spiritual in his life. Interestingly, Baldwin says, “Despite the struggle of the prophets in Israel over the same issue excavations have nowhere near unearthed a plethora of idols in the territory of Israel and Judah. Esau’s defection set a precedent, which was later to lead to identification with the idolatrous religion of the local population.” Baldwin goes on to say, “If it had not been for the many forms of divine discipline which culminated in the Exile the story would have been of the same sorry decline among Jacob’s descendants. It was the mercy of God that refused to “give them up” and instead worked to produce a people who were capable of receiving his salvation which is the theme of the rest of the OT.

The story of Jacob was different than the story of Esau in that God tested and disciplined his chosen people, for the bearing of much fruit, to his glory. It is the same for us today, as Christians. We need to endure hardship as discipline and accept God’s perfect discipline in our lives knowing that he does it for our good, in order that we share in his holiness. It will not be pleasant and it will be painful but it will produce a harvest of righteousness and peace if we are willing to be trained by it. And through it all, God will receive the glory. That brings us to the second next step this morning, which is to “Accept God’s testing and discipline in my life, in order to bear much fruit, so that God will receive the glory.” As the ushers come to gather the tithes and offerings and the praise team comes to lead us in our final song, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, thank you for this time to dive deep into your Word. Help us to strive to live in peace with everyone and to be holy so we aren’t leaving conflict in our wake. Help us to accept your testing and discipline, in order to bear the fruit in our lives that is honoring and glorifying to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Walking Your Past

Show video. The kids had trouble defining the term genealogy, didn’t they? But they understood what family history meant. To a lot of people genealogy is just a bunch of names of dead people that don’t matter anymore but if we think of genealogy in terms of family history that might make it more interesting and intriguing. Maybe you here today could care less about your genealogy, a list of dead people, but I bet if I asked you to tell me stories of your parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents that you knew growing up, that would be a different tale.

I was introduced to genealogy at the age of 6 or 7, when I was doing an assignment for a church group I was a part of. At that time, I was told that I was related to a couple of famous people. One was Lucy Webb Ware, who was married to President Rutherford B. Hayes. Historians have christened her "Lemonade Lucy" due to her staunch support of the temperance movement. In fact her husband, the President, banned alcohol from the White House. The other famous person that I was told I was related to was Sam Houston, an American general who played an important role in the Texas Revolution and who was the first governor of Texas. I have disproved that I am directly related to them, but who I have proven that I am related to is my great grandfather who was known under three different names, with three different wives, in three different states. And very possibly turned state’s evidence after getting caught up in a conspiracy to commit arson case with his daughter. Now that’s a family history story. Genealogy is not just the names of people in your family who are dead. Genealogy is the people and the stories that made up their lives.

I read somewhere this past week that studying Genesis 36 is like walking through the gravestones of Esau’s family. You can find out a lot about your family by what is put on their tombstones. You may find that they served in the military and actually served in wartime like my grandfather (here) and my great grandfather (here). You may find that they had some kind of spirituality during their lives like my second great grandparents (here), whose tombstone says, “to die is gain” or my great grandparents (here) who gravestone depicts the Holy Bible on it and says “together forever” which spoke to their hope of being together beyond the grave. You may also find that your ancestors were truly loved like my grandmother (here) whose tombstone says, “in memory of a loving mother and friend.” I wish I could go back in time and listen to the stories of their lives, the good and the bad.

So why is this chapter of names important and what can we find out about Esau and his family as we walk through his tombstones in chapter 36, and specifically verses 9-19? First, this chapter is important because Moses was writing to people who were going to be living in close proximity to the Edomites, Esau’s descendants. The Lord was going to be giving the Israelites specific instructions about these close relatives so they needed to know who they were. Second, this chapter is important because the people of Israel and us today need to realize that worldly blessing, even if it is given by God, does not translate into spiritual blessing. Whether we believe in God and his son, Jesus, or not, our blessings all come from God alone. It is what we do and how we live with those blessings that count. If we are living without the spiritual blessing of the salvation of Jesus Christ and outside the family of God, it doesn’t matter what worldly blessings we have, because once our tombstone has been erected, all that is dust. Which brings us to our big idea this morning which is “if we succeed by worldly standards but fail by God’s standards, we fail where it really matters.” We will see that Esau had worldly wealth in lots of children and grandchildren and that his descendants became powerful chiefs of clans and tribes. They also ruled in a land of their own. But Esau and his descendants failed by Godly standards and in doing so failed where it really mattered.

Let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we stand in awe of you and we praise you for your Word and the opportunities we have to open it and study it together. I pray that your Holy Spirit would speak to each heart and mind that hears your Word this morning and that a transformation would take place in their lives. And we give you all the glory and honor. Amen.

Our first point this morning is Lineage found in Genesis 36:9-14. Follow along as I read. This is what God’s Word says, “This is the account of the family line of Esau the father of the Edomites in the hill country of Seir. These are the names of Esau’s sons: Eliphaz, the son of Esau’s wife Adah, and Reuel, the son of Esau’s wife Bosemath. The sons of Eliphaz: Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam and Kenaz. Esau’s son Eliphaz also had a concubine named Timna, who bore him Amalek. These were grandsons of Esau’s wife Adah. The sons of Reuel: Nahath, Zerah, Shammah and Mizzah. These were grandsons of Esau’s wife Bosemath. The sons of Esau’s wife Oholibamah daughter of Anah and granddaughter of Zibeon, whom she bore to Esau: Yeush, Yalam and Korach.”

This morning we will walk through Esau’s family cemetery and see his family stories and the important truths that we can learn from them. The first thing we notice is that this section starting with verse 9, starts the same way as the last section did in verse 1. The author repeats “this is the account of Esau” but adds that he is now the father of the Edomites. This repetition is very unusual in the biblical tolodots. It is possible that once the family moved to Seir and either settled or conquered the land, a new record was kept with a new starting point, even though it continued the family history of Esau. The fact that he is now the father of a group of people called the Edomites, compares with Jacob who is also known as Israel and was going to be the father of a group of people called the Israelites. If you remember, in Genesis 25, we saw that Rebekah was pregnant with the twins, Esau and Jacob, and they were warring inside of her, she inquired of the Lord and he told her that there were two nations in her womb. This chapter shows that the expectation of an Edomite nation has been met. ​​ 

The Edomites are now fully entrenched in the hill country of Seir. Last week we saw Esau start his family and then move out of the Promised Land, where his father and mother were living, into the hill country of Seir. That Esau dwelt securely in Seir implied that the Lord would establish his descendants in the land. This move outside the Promised Land is important as we walk Esau’s past through the gravestones of his family. The second thing you might notice is that we saw a lot of the same names last week. We have already been introduced to Esau’s three wives – Adah, Bosemath, and Oholibamah. We also saw what their names meant: Adah means “the adorned one” or “ornament”, Bosemath means “the perfumed one” or “spice” and Oholibamah means “tent of the high place” which gives the connotation of “tall” and “stately.” From their names we can learn that Esau had a very beautiful family by worldly standards. Remember back then names weren’t just given because they sounded nice; they were given because they meant something (think Jacob which means, “heel-grabber” and “deceiver”). We can notice that each of their names focuses on some outward feature of beauty or sensuality because that is what they found valuable to them.

We have also already been introduced to Esau’s sons born to him by these three wives. Adah bore one son, called Eliphaz and Bosemath bore one son, Reuel. And Oholibamah bore Esau three sons, Yeush, Yalam, and Korach. Eliphaz means “pure gold”, Reuel means “friend of God”, Yeush means “the Lord helps”, Yalam means “to conceal” and Korach means “bald.” As we look at this list there is one name that you may or may not recognize. That is Eliphaz and it is believed that he is the same Eliphaz who was one of the friends of Job. Later when we talk about his sons, one of them is called Teman and he becomes a duke or chief. In the book of Job, Eliphaz is identified as a Temanite. Also, if you didn’t know, scholars believe that Job was written during the times of the Patriarchs and they believe it is actually the first book of the Bible written chronologically. So it is possible that Job is living in or near the land of Seir with the Edomites and that is where his book takes place. As we go back to the names of Esau’s sons we again see that they aren’t focused on the spiritual but the worldly. Now there are 2 names out of the 81 names in this chapter that possibly show a belief in the one true God, Reuel “friend of God” and Yeush “the Lord helps.” But it is also possible that they were connected to idolatry and worship of false gods.

What we can learn by walking through Esau’s family cemetery and from the names of his sons is that there is no mention of barrenness. If you remember, the wives of the Patriarchs, Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel, all struggled with being barren. They had to rely on God to open their wombs so they could have children. And God opened their wombs in his timing and according to his plan and purpose. The patriarchs were all promised that they would have offspring like the “stars in the sky” and the “sand on the seashore” but it wasn’t going to happen in the normal human way; it was going to happen in a miraculous spiritual way. Esau and his wives did not have the same problem. Esau was wealthy in sons and for all intents and purposes he was able to have children all on his own without any help from God.

Next we continue to see Esau’s worldly wealth increase but no spiritual wealth mentioned as God blesses Esau with grandchildren. The sons of Eliphaz were Teman which means “south” who I’ve already talked about in relation to Job, Omar which means “eloquent”, Zepho which means “clean/pure”, Gatam which means “thin” and the meaning of Kenaz is unknown. Then we come to the second specific name I want to mention. In verse 12 we see that Eliphaz had a concubine named Timna and she bore him a son called Amalek. Now, Amalek would have been a name that would have made the first hearers perk up as he was the ancestor of the Amalekites who were bitter enemies of the Israelites. In Deuteronomy 25:17-19, we see these words, “Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!” God commanded the Israelites to “blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven” because they had “no fear of the Lord.” It is important to have a righteous, reverent fear or awe of the Lord so he doesn’t “blot us out.” We only need to look at ourselves and look around us to see what he has done and is doing in the world, in our church and in our lives. This prompts me to ask a question: Do you have a righteous, reverent fear or awe of the Lord in your life? If not, this first next step is for you: My next step is to cultivate a righteous, reverent fear of the Lord in my life. Next, we see the sons of Reuel. Nahath which means “clear/pure”, Zerah which means "dawning, shining”, Shammah which means "to hear” and Mizzah which is unknown. Lastly, we notice that the sons of Esau and Oholibamah are mentioned, which we already talked about, but there are no grandsons mentioned. It is possible they didn’t have any offspring but they are still be important as we move to the next point.

The second point this morning is Legacy found in Genesis 36:15-19. Follow along as I read those verses. This is what God’s Word says, “These were the chiefs among Esau’s descendants: The sons of Eliphaz the firstborn of Esau: Chiefs Teman, Omar, Zepho, Kenaz, Korach, Gatam and Amalek. These were the chiefs descended from Eliphaz in Edom; they were grandsons of Adah. The sons of Esau’s son Reuel: Chiefs Nahath, Zerah, Shammah and Mizzah. These were the chiefs descended from Reuel in Edom; they were grandsons of Esau’s wife Bosemath. The sons of Esau’s wife Oholibamah: Chiefs Yeush, Yalam and Korach. These were the chiefs descended from Esau’s wife Oholibamah daughter of Anah. These were the sons of Esau (that is, Edom), and these were their chiefs.”

As we continue walking through Esau’s family cemetery the family stories again come alive. As I read these verses you may have seen redundancy and it is true but don’t let that give you the idea that there is nothing to learn from this section. First, let me point out the progression of the lists we see in each section. In section one, verses 1-8, we saw Esau who is Edom and his wives and children. In section two, verses 9-14, we saw Esau, the ancestor of the Edomites with his wives, children and grandchildren. The significance is that Esau’s rich family history is growing. This third section, verses 15-19, again shows a progression from a family to the beginnings of a nation and Esau’s descendants as the rulers of that fledgling nation. This is important because it continues to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham to make him the “father of many nations” which we saw in Genesis 17:4. By including Esau’s descendants and their ascendancy as rulers implies that Edom’s rise was the consequence of God’s blessing and that his blessing reached outside the line of Jacob. And the proliferation of Edomite tribes fulfills God’s intention to “bless all the peoples of the earth” as we saw in Genesis 12:3 which would happen by bringing salvation to the nations.

We notice that the children and grandchildren of Esau are now “chiefs” or some translations say “dukes.” The word for duke comes from a Latin word meaning captain or leader. The Hebrew word has the same significance and is the term for a thousand. The dukes or chiefs were probably leaders or captains over a company of one thousand men. It is important that we see these names as chiefs and clans and not just sons and grandsons. Again, we see the same names are mentioned but there are a few differences in the list from verses 9-14 and the list here in verses 15-19. First, the order in which grandsons, Gatam and Kenaz are mentioned changes. This reason for this change is seemingly unknown or didn’t matter. In verse 16 we see an addition of a name, Korach, which is represented as a son of Eliphaz. Korach is also the name of one of the sons of Oholibamah. Again, what is important here is that Korach is the name of a clan and not just a son and or grandson. The commentators say that it could mean that there was a portion of the clan of Korach that split; one portion stayed affiliated with Oholibamah and the other portion affiliated themselves with the clans connected to Eliphaz. These were first and foremost political alliances. These weren’t spiritually minded peoples; these were secular and political entities looking for prestige, power and position. (Big Idea)

The next thing that we can glean as important from this list of clans and political alliances is that there are twelve tribes. They are represented by the nine grandsons and three sons of Esau born to him by Oholibamah. This number is reached by counting the split clan of Korach as one and omitting Amalek who is disqualified because he is the son of a concubine. This means that Ishmael, Esau and Jacob all became the father of twelve tribes. Twelve being the number of completeness again shows us that God’s promises to the patriarchs are being completely fulfilled. God doesn’t forget his promises ever even when it includes non-covenant peoples.

The last thing we can learn from this section of walking through Esau’s family cemetery is that in contrast to the expanding, powerful Esau, Jacob was dwelling in the land of the sojournings of his father. At this time, he had no clans, no full tribes and no lands to govern. Esau was an ever-growing family with chiefs and a land that his clans are ruling. Jacob like his father and grandfather before him was a sojourner, an alien in an alien land. It would be another 400+ years until the tribes and nation of Israel would come into their Promised Land and finally see the promises of God fulfilled in their family. Delitzsch notes poignantly that “secular greatness in general grows up far more rapidly than spiritual greatness.” The promised spiritual blessings demands patience in faith, and emphasizes that waiting while others prosper is a test of faithfulness and perseverance. God will give the promised blessings to Jacob’s seed but only after a long refining and proving of the faith. That prompts me to ask and for us to think about a couple of questions. Do you find yourself at this moment waiting for God’s blessings as others around you have seemingly received theirs already? Do you feel like you are going through God’s refining fire at this very moment? As you ponder these questions, maybe these next steps are for you: My next step is to ask God to give me patience and faithfulness as I wait on his timing and perfect plan to receive his blessings. My next step is to ask God for perseverance as he refines me in his fire, proving my faith.

My conclusion comes from a series on Genesis on written by Steven J. Cole: On the Shetland Islands off the northern coast of Scotland, a man spent five years and a lifetime of savings building a 62‑foot steel yacht that weighed 126 tons. On the day of its launching, he invited a local band to play and the whole town turned out to help him celebrate. He planned a voyage around the world as soon as the boat was launched. The band played, the bottle of champagne was smashed across the bow, and the ship was lowered into the water. But it sank to the bottom of the harbor! What good is a beautiful boat that doesn’t float? That man wasted five years and a lot of money building a useless thing‑‑a boat that didn’t float. What good is a successful life that ends, whether in 25 or 85 years, if the person is not ready for eternity? “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” Today’s tour through Esau’s cemetery is over and I hope it’s made you think about your life and what you are living for. While we still live, we all have a choice: To join Jacob and his descendants in waiting patiently for God to fulfill His covenant promises to us, as we labor for His coming kingdom. Or, to look over at Esau, prospering in the world, and join him in the pursuit of secular success. If we succeed by worldly standards, but fail with God, we have failed where it really matters. Whether we fail or succeed by worldly standards, if we succeed with God, we will have true and lasting success.

As the ushers prepare to collect the tithes and offering and as Gene and Roxey come to lead us in a final song, let’s close our study of God’s Word in prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, as we contemplate you and the mighty deeds you have done in your Word and are still doing today, I pray that we would stand in awe of you and that we would cultivate a righteous, reverent fear of you. You are the Lord God Almighty!!! Help us to be patient and faithful as we wait on your blessings in our lives according to your perfect plan for each one of us. And daily give us perseverance as you continue to refine us in your fire, proving our faith. In Jesus’ name, Amen.













The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

One of my favorite movies is The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It is a 1966 spaghetti Western directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood as "the Good", Lee Van Cleef as "the Bad", and Eli Wallach as "the Ugly". The plot revolves around three gunslingers competing to find a fortune in buried Confederate gold amid the violent chaos of the American Civil War. Clint Eastwood, plays Blondie, who is a good, but nowhere near perfect, humane bounty hunter. Lee Van Cleef, plays “Angel Eyes”, who is a ruthless, borderline-sadistic mercenary, who takes pleasure in killing and always finishes a job for which he is paid. Eli Wallach plays Tuco or the “Rat”, who is a fast-talking, cunning, cagey, resilient, and resourceful Mexican bandit, who is wanted by the authorities for a long list of crimes. Throughout the movie, Blondie and Tuco, run a scam on the sheriffs in the country. Blondie turns Tuco in, collects the bounty, and then saves him right before he is about to be hanged. After a number of these rescues, Tuco complains about being the one sticking his neck out and Blondie leaves him for dead in the desert. Tuco survives and captures Blondie and force-marches him across the desert until he is near death with dehydration.

A chance encounter with a civil war soldier who has buried the confederate gold leaves Tuco with the name of the cemetery and Blondie with the name of the grave where the gold is buried. Tuco needing Blondie’s help, nurses him back to life. They then find themselves in a Union prison camp where Angel Eyes is also trying to discover the location of the cemetery the gold is buried in. All three embark on the quest to find the gold, and in the final scene, there is a three way duel to decide who gets the gold. In the end, Blondie wins the duel with Angel Eyes and gets the gold and splits it with Tuco, but not before making him dig up the gold and sparing his life once again. Blondie’s character is considered the “good” one but he has many flaws and doesn’t always do the right thing. He also goes through many ups and downs throughout the movie but in the end he gets the reward.

This story of a “good” but flawed and nowhere near perfect person, going through many ups and downs, but getting the reward in the end, reminds me of the story of Jacob. He is the “good” one in that he will be the next covenant carrier of God’s chosen people. He has been a liar and deceiver and has been deceived himself. His life has been full of good, bad and ugly, some of which is his own doing, but he has been rewarded with a new name and later his descendants will possess the Promised Land and he will have children like the dust of the earth. In our passage this morning Jacob’s good, bad and ugly will continue. Jacob gets a new son, but loses a favored wife. He also has a new sorrow because of the actions of his firstborn and another death in the family. But in the end Jacob is given a new standing as he takes over the patriarchal role from his father. God’s blessing continues to be poured out and God’s plan continues to move forward no matter what happens, be it birth or death or heinous crime. Which brings us to our big idea this morning that the good, the bad and the ugly of life can’t stop God’s promises, blessing, and plan for his people. According to God’s will, His promises, blessing, and plan can’t be stopped in the world, in the church or in our lives because of what we do or because of what happens to us. ​​ 

Let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we come before you this morning humbly asking for your Holy Spirit to speak to us as we open your Word. May we be attentive to your Spirit as we open our hearts and minds to what you want us to know and learn today. Thank you for this opportunity to be gathered together in your house with your people for this purpose. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

There are three points this morning. The first is A New Son and is found in Genesis 35:16-20. This is what God’s Word says, “Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb.”

After God meets Jacob at Bethel and reaffirms the promises to him, Jacob and his family leave Bethel, going in the direction of Ephrath. While they were still some distance away, Rachel goes into labor. We are told that she is having great difficulty in giving birth. Rachel must have been really pregnant when they left Bethel and we may wonder why they didn’t just stay there if she was ready to give birth. It doesn’t say God commanded them to leave Bethel like he did to leave Shechem. In fact, back in verse 1, God told Jacob to settle in Bethel. We are not told why they moved on from Bethel but it may have had something to do with returning home to reunite with his father, Isaac. This would have been in keeping with his vow in Genesis 28:21 that if God would protect Jacob so he would “return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God.”

In the middle of her difficult childbirth, her midwife tells her not to despair because she is having a son. This seems to be a weird thing to say to Rachel knowing that she is dying. But in that day and age it would have been a most comforting thought for a woman who knew she was going to die giving birth. We know that the birthing of a boy was very important as it meant that the lineage and family name would be carried on. So the midwife, knowing Rachel was going to die, comforted her with the fact that she was having a baby boy. Rachel knowing she was dying named her son, Ben-Oni which means, “son of my trouble or sorrow.” It seems that Rachel refused the comfort that her midwife tried to give her. Interestingly, this is the only child born to Jacob that the author of Genesis does not give the meaning of their name.

Then we see something happen that is rare in the Bible. Jacob changes his newborn son’s name to Benjamin, which means, “son of my right hand.” The right hand was the side of honor, power and favor and brought to mind skill and wisdom. Psalm 110:1 says, “The Lord says to my lord: Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” And Ecclesiastes 10:2 says, “The heart of the wise inclines to the right but the heart of the fool to the left.” Saul, the first king of Israel and Paul the Apostle both came from the tribe of Benjamin. Why did Jacob change his name? A lot of times children whose mothers died in childbirth were blamed and Jacob didn’t want his son to be saddled with guilt every time his name was used. He probably also wanted the memory of his beloved wife to be a pleasant one whenever he called his son’s name. Because he was the son of the favored wife, Jacob gave Benjamin a special place, at his right hand.

This episode would have reminded the first hearers of a couple of things. First, Rachel named her firstborn son, Joseph which means “may God add.” Rachel’s prayer to the Lord, when she had Joseph, was that he would give her another son. This birth was the fulfillment of that prayer. Second, it would have also reminded them of Rachel’s words to Jacob in Genesis 30:1, “give me children or I will die.” Ironically, having this child would cause Rachel’s death. Third, they would have been reminded of Jacob’s judgment of death on the one who stole Laban’s household gods. It may be significant that her death comes after Jacob orders his family to get rid of their false gods. But we shouldn’t believe that Rachel’s death was a judgment from God. Weirsbe says, “Life is full of good and bad, joys and sorrows and the same baby that brought joy also brought tears.” This reminds us of our big idea: the good, the bad and the ugly of life can’t stop God’s promises, blessing, and plan for his people.

Finally, we are told that Rachel dies and she’s buried on the way to Ephrath probably on or near the site that Benjamin was born. Jacob honored his beloved wife’s memory by putting a pillar over her burial tomb and the author tells us the pillar was still there when Genesis was written. This is the third time he has erected a pillar to commemorate some event or person. In Genesis 28:18 he commemorates God meeting him at Bethel the first time. In Genesis 35:14 he commemorates God meeting him at Bethel a second time and here he commemorates Rachel’s death. Mathews says, “The location of Benjamin’s birth and Rachel’s tomb are important to the narrative providing a reference point for future generations, indicating that the last son was born in the Promised Land. Even Rachel’s burial demonstrated God’s word was truthful. Although she lived outside Canaan her final resting place was permanently in the land of promise as the matriarch of Israel’s tribes, Ephraim & Manasseh (Joseph’s sons) and Benjamin.”

Our second point is A New Sorrow found in chapter 35 verses 21-22a. Follow along as I read those verses. This is what God’s Word says, “Israel moved on again and pitched his tent beyond Migdal Eder. While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it.”

Jacob or Israel and his family move again. And again, we may believe he is wanting to return to his father’s house but we see him “pitching his tent” beyond Migdal Eder. Jacob just doesn’t pass through on his way to his father, he “pitches his tent” there meaning he settles down there. We don’t know why he does this but knowing his history we can surmise nothing good will come from it. In Genesis 33:18-19, we see Jacob arriving and camping within the sight of Shechem. Jacob buys a plot of land from the father of Shechem and “pitches his tent” there. We know what happens next in chapter 34 to Dinah and to all the males living in Shechem. So we don’t know why he settled there but it sets the stage for Jacob’s next sorrow. We are told that Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, sleeps with his father’s concubine, Bilhah. Notice that Bilhah who has always been mentioned in relation to Rachel is now identified in relation to Jacob making this a crime against his father.

We may wonder what is going on here but if we think about who Bilhah is it may shed some light on it. She was the maidservant given by Laban to Rachel upon marrying Jacob. She had two sons to Jacob, Dan and Naphtali. Now that Rachel was dead it is possible that Bilhah would take over the favored place that Rachel held with Jacob and in his household. Also, we remember that Reuben was Leah’s firstborn son so this may have been a way to disgrace Bilhah so his mother could take over the favored place. Also, Reuben as the firstborn would have received his father’s concubines, servants, etc. upon Jacob’s death, but he was not yet dead. This is the equivalent to the Prodigal Son wanting his inheritance before his father had actually died. This just wasn’t how it was done in that culture.

All the commentators pretty much agree that Reuben wanted to steal Jacob’s authority within the family. For a son to sleep with his father’s wife was a declaration that he was now the head of the family. Did Reuben think he could run the family better than his father? Is Jacob losing control of his family? In the last chapter his daughter, Dinah, is defiled and he hears about it but what does he do? He waits till her brothers get home instead of taking care of it himself as the father and head of the household. What does he do here when Reuben sleeps with Bilhah? It says he heard about it but our scripture doesn’t say he does anything about it. His authority seems to be eroding more and more with each episode. Wenham says, “Posing these questions before the Joseph story begins gives us a sense of tension between Jacob and his sons descended from Leah and between the sons of Bilhah and Rachel on the one hand and the sons of Leah on the other.” This short isolated episode gives us the indication that the good, the bad and the ugly in the next generation will again concern birthright, inheritance and favoritism.

What Reuben did would have been considered a heinous crime and the penalty would have been death and God’s curse. The name “Israel” is mentioned three times in verses 21-22 which emphasizes the tribal implications of Reuben’s crime against his father. This coming on the heels of God’s blessing of Jacob and reminding him of his new name, Israel, shows that this crime was committed against not only Jacob but God. By trying to take Jacob’s place within the family he is also trying to take Jacob’s place as the next covenant carrier that God had bestowed on him. We will have to wait another fourteen chapters to see how Jacob finally handles this situation but for now this episode is gone as quickly as it came which speaks to the author’s horror at what transpired. In Genesis so far we have seen that scripture doesn’t gloss over sin and wickedness but it doesn’t sensationalize it either.

Our third point this morning is A New Standing found in chapter 35 verses 22a-29. This is what God’s Word says, “Jacob had twelve sons: The sons of Leah: Reuben the firstborn of Jacob, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. The sons of Rachel’s servant Bilhah: Dan and Naphtali. The sons of Leah’s servant Zilpah: Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob, who were born to him in Paddan Aram. Jacob came home to his father Isaac in Mamre, near Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had stayed. Isaac lived a hundred and eighty years. Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.”

What we see first is this list of the twelve sons of Jacob. With the birth of Benjamin, the family of Jacob is complete and these sons will be the ancestors of the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel. The list starts with Leah and her children with Reuben specifically mentioned as the firstborn. Next, comes Rachel and her two sons. These are followed by the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah. This listing of the sons by their mothers focuses us on the rivalry between the brothers that we will see in the Joseph story. This list also emphasizes the faithfulness of God in keeping his promise that Jacob would have offspring like the dust of the earth. And the fact that they reside in Canaan fulfills the promise of land to Jacob.

The list of names is followed by the caveat that these sons of Jacob were born to him in Paddan Aram. But, we know that Benjamin was born in Canaan, in the Promised Land, so what is the author trying to tell us? There are times when the Bible is more interested in making a point than being factual. The point is that just like the first hearers, eleven of Jacob’s sons, who would be the ancestors of the twelve tribes, were also born outside the Land of Promise. They had to make a pilgrimage to the Promised Land just like the first hearers are going to have to do later on. The first hearers are better able to relate to the twelve sons of Jacob who would become their ancestors. The fact that Benjamin was born in the Promised Land would impact the nation of Israel as well later on. Being born in the land meant that he had clear title to it. And later on the place where he was born and where Rachel was buried will be part of the land that the tribe of Benjamin occupied when they came out of slavery and entered into Promised Land. This list of Jacob’s sons is a witness to God’s blessing that these sons were only the beginning of the chosen nation to come. This list is also evidence that God’s promises, blessing and plan will continue in spite of sin and death. Big Idea

Lastly, we see the reuniting of Isaac and Jacob and the obituary of Isaac as his toledot comes to a close. We notice the lack of emotion in their meeting unlike the emotion that we saw when Jacob and Esau reunited. It is significant that Isaac is now living in Mamre or Hebron. The last we saw he was living in Beersheba. It may be that Isaac moved to Mamre when Rebekah died so she could be buried in the Cave of Macpelah. We know from Genesis 49:31 that she was buried in the family tomb that Abraham had purchased from Ephron in Genesis 23:17. This move also makes sense in that Isaac would be buried in the same tomb when he passed away. The identification of Hebron associates Jacob with his ancestors, Abraham and Isaac.

Next, we see Isaac’s obituary. He lived one hundred and eighty years which was eighty years after he thought he was dying when Jacob stole Esau’s blessing. Chronologically, this means that he lived to see the day that Joseph was sold into slavery. It says Isaac breathed his last and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. “Gathered to his people” meant he was part of an ongoing family beyond the grave. He was also “old and full of years” meaning he lived to a ripe old age and was satisfied with the good long life he had. He was ready to be reunited with his family who had gone before. This parallels the obituary of Abraham which connects Isaac and subsequently Jacob to the chosen patriarchs. Isaac was admittedly the least talked about of the patriarchs but he lived longer than his father and his son. ​​ He was a most important bridge between Abraham and Jacob even though less is recorded about his life than about his father, sons and grandson, Joseph. Isaac was essential to the survival of the chosen family and the perpetuation of the promises of God. Genesis 21:12b says, “Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”

Finally, we see that his sons Esau and Jacob buried him. The death of Isaac brought his sons together just as the death of Abraham brought together Ishmael and Isaac. The mention of Esau sets us up for his genealogy seen in the next chapter. Wenham says, “Isaac is buried in the only real estate acquired by Abraham in Canaan, at Mamre, a place where the promises had been fully revealed. So the death and burial of Isaac in ripe old age in Mamre is a pledge of Israel’s ultimate possession of the land.” Isaac’s death changed Jacob’s standing. He was now the head of the covenant family and heir to the family blessings and promises. He not only acquired Isaac’s great wealth but also inherited all that was involved in the Abrahamic covenant. His God would now be known as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

As I conclude today, I want to talk about two things we can notice in chapter 35. The first is spiritual renewal. Last week, Pastor Stuart talked about Jacob needing to be spiritually renewed. Why? First, because human memory is faulty. Jacob needed to be reminded of the things he promised the Lord. Second, because human commitment is fickle. Think about why he had to order his family to get rid of their foreign gods? It’s because they had foreign gods. He knew all along that his family had these gods but chose not to do anything about it until confronted by God. Third, because human fortunes change. Jacob made these promises before he had a family and was responsible for anything other than himself. Fourth, because human life is fleeting. Deborah, Rachel and Isaac all die in this chapter. Our lives become so full of work, family, play, etc. that our spiritual life gets left behind and when death happens our sense of being gets turned upside down. We need to be spiritually renewed to meet life’s tragedies in proper, godly way.

So, how is spiritual renewal experienced? First, Jacob needed to get back to basics. The Lord called him back to Bethel where he reminded him of his new name and the earlier promises to him. And Jacob responded by setting up a pillar and pouring a drink offering on it. Second, Jacob needed to get rid of barriers. He needed to rid himself of the foreign gods he had accumulated. He needed to get rid of those things that were producing conflict in his spiritual walk with the Lord. Without doing this there would be no lasting spiritual renewal. Which leads us to our first next step. What are the things in our lives that are producing conflict in our spiritual walk with the Lord? Think about that for a second. Maybe this first next step is for you: to search my life and get rid of the foreign gods that are producing conflict in my spiritual walk with the Lord.

The next step in our spiritual renewal after getting rid of the foreign gods in our lives is daily devotion to our God. This means daily being in God’s Word and hiding God’s Word in our hearts. This means regular participation in public worship and consistent fellowship with God’s people where sharing and caring for one another happens frequently. One of the things we have at Idaville Church to help with our spiritual renewal is the Spiritual Life Journal. The 2023 SLJ with our theme for the year, “More Like Jesus”, just came out and is on the slat wall in the foyer. Inside, are questions that you can ask yourself about your relationship with God. The memory verses that we are learning as a congregation are in there. The Daily Bible Reading Plan is in there. The Spiritual Life Journal can be a guide to help you be spiritually renewed in 2023. That brings us to our second next step which is to use the Spiritual Life Journal as a guide for my spiritual renewal this year.

Now the second thing we can notice in chapter 35 is that despite his spiritual renewal Jacob’s troubles were not over. Spiritual renewal doesn’t exempt the people of God from the ups and downs of life. There are still consequences of our own actions and the actions of those around us. But spiritual renewal does equip God’s people to be strong enough to handle anything that comes their way in a world where sin, death and heinous crime abounds. Wiersbe says, “It means walking with God by faith, knowing that he is with us and trusting him to help us for our good and his glory no matter what difficulties he permits to come our way.

As the ushers prepare to take up the tithes and offerings and the praise team comes forward to lead us, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, as we leave this place this morning, speak to our hearts and minds about our own personal spiritual renewal. Help us to search ourselves and get rid of the foreign gods in our lives that keep us away from a productive personal relationship with you. Guide us through times of ups and downs and never let us forget that they can’t stop your promises, blessing and plan from being fulfilled. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

The Elephant in the Room

The following comes from an announcement for a series of sermons on In every home, in every life, there exist certain problems, certain realities that we don’t want to acknowledge. We think that if we ignore them for long enough they will go away on their own or no one will notice. ​​ We all struggle with how to deal with the Elephant in the Room. Often times we feel that we have to keep these elephants secret and tell everyone that we’re fine. ​​ If we have to act like something we are not – it’s problematic. Chances are the very thing you don’t want to talk about is probably the very thing that is nudging you out of a relationship with important people in your life, or with God. There are certain elephants that exist in our lives that need to be brought into the light of God’s love and God’s community of believers: the church.

One of these elephants is loneliness. We live in a culture that celebrates individualism and self-reliance, and yet we humans are an exquisitely social species, thriving in good company and suffering in isolation. We have more technology than ever to help us stay connected, yet somehow the devices fail us: and the elephant in the room is that we feel increasingly alone. God meant for us to be in community. We need each other. It is important that we talk about the elephant in the room and offer people ways to overcome loneliness and enter into genuine, authentic and life giving relationships. Another elephant is addiction. Addiction comes in many forms – overeating, social media, pornography, alcohol, television, tobacco, drugs and more. However, addiction is often birthed from one source: pain. Despite our best efforts to hide the elephant, eventually the side effects of addiction spill over into other aspects of our lives and can end up hurting the people we love most. Addictions can hold us back from the fullness of life that God intends for each one of us. We can open the door to recovery (both for those addicted and their loved ones) by sharing our experiences, strengths, and hopes with one another. We can become willing to accept God’s grace in solving our lives’ problems and healing our hearts.

This morning we are going to be talking about the “elephant in the room” for Jacob. This elephant is a person: his brother, Esau. Twenty years before, Jacob stole Esau’s blessing from their father and when Esau found out he vowed to kill Jacob. Jacob’s mother, Rachel, convinced Isaac to send him away to his uncle Laban’s family in order to put some distance between the two brothers and for Jacob to find a wife. We can only wonder how much time Jacob spent thinking about the “elephant in the room” while he away. He certainly had other things to worry about as he and Laban schemed back and forth most of the time. But now that he was at peace with Laban and on his way back to Canaan, the “elephant in the room” rears its ugly head. And we will see that it causes Jacob to prepare, to panic, to pray, to plot and to placate. The elephant in the room causes Jacob to be in great fear and distress which causes him not to completely trust God to protect him.

Even though God has provided for and protected him the past twenty years and just recently rescued him from harm by Laban’s hand, he is still fearful and full of doubt. But we also see Jacob making great strides in his spiritual maturity as he prepares to reconcile with Esau and prays to God for deliverance based on the promises God has made to him. For every step backwards he takes, he takes two steps forward. His prayer is a model for us when our enemies are closing in and we are doubtful, fearful and desperate to be delivered from their hand. That brings us to our big idea this morning which is When we are experiencing fear and doubt we can turn to God in prayer. And we can pray with confidence for deliverance from our enemies because of God’s promises to us.

Let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we invite your Holy Spirit to join us this morning as we open your Word. We pray for your guidance and for your pricking of our hearts where needed, as we learn your truths from your Word. Thank you for the freedom and the opportunity to open your Word in this place as a body of believers. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

There are three points this morning. The first is Preparation and Panic found in Genesis 32:1-8. This is what God’s word says, “Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim. Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He instructed them: “This is what you are to say to my lord Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, male and female servants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.’” When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.”

The first half of verse one takes us back to the last verse of chapter 31. After kissing his grandchildren and daughters goodbye, Laban leaves and returns home. Jacob now also goes on his way continuing his journey to Canaan. As he goes on his way, Jacob has an encounter with angels of God. This reminds us of when Jacob first left Canaan to escape his brother’s wrath. If you remember Jacob dreamt of a stairway to Heaven with angels ascending and descending it. God spoke to him and promised to provide for and protect him and bring him back to the Promised Land. Jacob promised that if God kept his promises to him then he would be Jacob’s God. Jacob named the place Bethel and was encouraged as he left his homeland for Haran. This second angelic encounter is a parallel event to Bethel in that it also will encourage Jacob as he now returns home. The two angelic encounters, one as he left Canaan and the other as he returned, suggest that the angels of God accompanied Jacob during his time outside the Promised Land. Although he was outside the land of promise, he was not outside the hand of promise.

When he sees the angels he calls the area “the camp of God” and names it Mahanaim, which, means “two camps.” Jacob gets positive encouragement in two ways. One, the “angels of God” were soldiers there to protect Jacob’s camp as he reentered the Promised Land. Two, it encourages Jacob to prepare to reconcile with his brother Esau. Jacob could no longer ignore his conscience and his guilt about what he did to Esau. Where Jacob is going in Canaan is not geographically close to where Esau is living, but spiritually speaking in order to get to where God wanted him to be, he first had to be reconciled to his brother. So with reconciliation in mind, Jacob sends messengers to Esau who was living in the land of Seir, in the country of Edom. Describing Esau this way would remind the first hearers of the three tensions between the two: their birth, the birthright and the blessing. In wanting to reconcile Jacob’s spiritual maturity is taking “two steps” forward.

He also gives the servants very specific instructions about what to say to Esau. They are to call him “my lord” and to refer to Jacob as “his servant.” Jacob may have been pouring on the flattery but this was also the usual language of courtesy. They are to let Esau know that Jacob has been away from the land of Canaan with Laban this whole time. He hasn’t been dodging him but has literally been “out of town” for the past twenty years and this is the first time he has returned to his homeland. The messengers were also to share with Esau the assets Jacob had acquired in Haran. Jacob wants Esau to know he is not back to take anything away from him because he has plenty. He may also have wanted Esau to believe that Jacob was willing to share his “blessings” with him. In Hebrew, the possessions are singular which suggests that he wanted to arouse Esau’s interest without letting him know exactly how much God had blessed him. Lastly, we see Jacob’s motivation for sending this message to him. It was so he may find favor “in Esau’s eyes.” He is appealing to Esau’s generosity and goodwill so that the rift between them can be repaired. Jacob wants him to know that his intentions are peaceable.

Jacob’s plan seems to backfire as the messengers return telling him that they went to Esau and he is now on his way to Jacob with four hundred men. Jacob begins to panic for a couple of reasons. One, the messengers don’t say if Esau spoke to them or not, just that he is on the way. Second, Jacob would have considered the four hundred men an army of sorts coming to wage war with him. In Genesis 14, Abraham took 318 men to attack the five kings in order to rescue Lot. In 1 Samuel, four hundred men was the standard number in a militia and was the number of fighting men that accompanied David as he was running from King Saul. And Jacob would have been reminded of Laban recently chasing him down with his men in the last chapter.

This news puts Jacob “in great fear and distress” as he believes that Esau is coming to make good on the threat to kill him. I am reminded of the Geico commercial: When you are in a scary movie you make bad decisions. It’s what you do. When you are fearful and in distress you don’t think straight and you make bad decisions. It’s what you do. What Jacob does is panics and divides his “camp” into two groups along with the flocks, herds and camels. Jacob thinks that when Esau comes and attacks one of the groups the other group can escape and be saved. He is not thinking straight because of fear, doubt and anxiety. This is seen in a number of ways. One, God sent an angel army to Jacob to encourage him and to protect him. Two, if Esau was intent on killing his family, why did he let Jacob’s messengers go. Three, wouldn’t it be better to have all the available fighting men together to fight as one group? His spiritual maturity takes “one step backwards” as he takes matters into his own hands, again.

Then almost as quickly as his panic sets in, we see him praying. His spiritual maturity, like ours sometimes, is on a roller coaster. Which brings us our second point which is Pray, found in verses 9-12. This is what God’s word says, Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”

We see our big idea played out here as Jacob, who is experiencing fear and doubt, turns to God in prayer. This is his first recorded prayer. He prays with humility reminding God of his covenant, command and promise to him and his family and prays for deliverance from his enemies because of God’s promises to him. His prayer is a model for us as he prays what I call the ACTS prayer. ACTS stand for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication and we can see each of those in his prayer. First, we see adoration as he prays to the God of his fathers, Abraham and Isaac. Baldwin says, “By invoking God’s name he was consciously calling to mind what God himself had done in making himself known to his family.” The last time he invoked the name of God it was with a lie as he was in the middle of deceiving his father and stealing the blessing. Invoking God’s name, put his need squarely in the saving purpose of God outlined in the covenant. He also reminded God of his obedience, as he was commanded by God to return to Canaan, and that he promised to prosper him.

Second, we see confession as he admits he is unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness God has shown him. This is his first admission of guilt for his sin, his failures and deceptions. He realizes that even though he is flawed, God has shown him kindness and has been faithful to the covenant promises made to him. Third, we see thanksgiving. When Jacob left Canaan, he only had his staff, but now has become “two camps.” God has prospered him with cattle, donkeys, sheep and goats, and male and female servants. He left with nothing and came back with an abundance all supplied by God and he thanks God for it. Finally, we see supplication. Jacob petitions God for salvation from Esau’s hand. He is afraid Esau is going to attack him, his wives and his sons and daughter. We again see spiritual maturity as he is worried and concerned about more than just himself. Lastly, again Jacob reminds God of his promises to him: that he would prosper him and that Jacob’s descendants would be like the sand of the seashore which can’t be counted. Jacob realizes that if he and his family are killed by Esau then his descendants would not become as numerous as the sand on the seashore. Griffith Thomas says, “Jacob’s spiritual life comes out now after all those years at Haran; and, though there is much to seek, we can see the clear marks of the work of God directing, deepening and purifying his soul.”

Jacob prayed believing that because God was the one who made the promises to him that he was the only one who could fulfill them. But we also see desperation in his prayer. At this moment Jacob’s faith was weak. He has not yet acknowledged that the God of his fathers was his God. He is like the father in Mark 9 whose son was possessed by an impure spirit. There Jesus said, “Everything is possible for one who believes.” And the father replies, “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.” Jacob had knowledge of God’s ways and character but because he didn’t have that personal relationship with God yet, like his fathers had, he prayed with desperation instead of total confidence. We see this in a couple of ways: One, God commanded Jacob to return, why would he not protect him in his obedience? Two, God cared for him for the past twenty years, why would he stop now? Three, Jacob was part of God’s eternal purposes for the world, would God’s purposes now fail because of the Esau’s anger? While a prayer of desperation is still a prayer, a prayer of total confidence in God’s abilities and will is better. When we are experiencing fear, worry, doubt and unbelief it is as important for us, as it was for Jacob, that we turn to God in prayer and that we pray with confidence because of God’s promises to us. And we can use the same ACTS model that Jacob used which brings us to our first next step which is to Pray with confidence using the model of adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication.

Our third point this morning is Plot and Placate and is found in verses 13-21. This is what God’s word says, “He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.” He instructed the one in the lead: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘Who do you belong to, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.’” He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: “You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. And be sure to say, ‘Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.’” For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.” So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp.”

After Jacob prayed he spent the night in the camp. He must have been plotting overnight because when he wakes up he has come up with a plan. He has just prayed to God for deliverance and we can assume that God’s angel army is still in his camp but he doesn’t fully trust God to protect him. Jacob didn’t need to be worried, anxious and upset because God had promised to take care of him. But Jacob takes matters into his own hands coming up with a plan to placate Esau into forgiveness and reconciliation. His plan was to gift or bribe Esau with 550 animals. This gift was larger than towns would have had to pay in tribute to foreign rulers. It would have really set up Esau well to start and maintain his own flock and herd. The gift was made more valuable due to the females and young included which would provide ongoing growth. This may have been an attempt by Jacob to return the blessing to Esau or at least restore the benefits of the blessing without disowning his rightful place in the plans and purposes of God. Jacob may have thought that forgiveness would only come by giving back what was taken. But he seems to be forgetting that his blessing came as a result of God’s sovereignty. Jacob separates the animals into five different herds and put each herd in the care of his servants. He then had the servants go ahead of him leaving space between each herd, effectively staggering them. Jacob also instructed the lead servant to tell Esau when he met him that these animals belong to “your servant, Jacob” and they are a gift from Jacob to “my lord, Esau.” The servant was also to make sure that Esau knew that Jacob was on his way behind them coming to meet his brother. Each servant leading each herd was to say the same thing highlighting the fact that Jacob was coming behind them.

Then we are told the reason why Jacob was giving all these animals to Esau. It was to pacify him in order that Esau would receive him. The Hebrew word for “pacify” literally means “cover his face.” The connotation is to make “atonement” that brings about reconciliation. Mathews says, “The words “gift” (offering), “atonement” and “accepted” implies that Jacob makes peace with God by reconciling with Esau.” Jacob wants to cover Esau’s face so he can’t see Jacob’s shame for what he has done to him and to wipe the anger from Esau’s face. He also is hoping that Esau would receive him which literally means that Esau will “lift up his face” in forgiveness and show him favor. But Jacob seemingly is trying to blind Esau with gifts so he forgets what he has done to him and would not be mad at him anymore. Jacob has the right heart as he wants to be reconciled to his brother, but instead of trusting God to work it out he takes matters into his own hands trying to bribe his brother into forgiveness and reconciliation. Lastly, we are told that the gifts went ahead but Jacob spent the night alone in the camp.

There is an important lesson to be learned in this point. When our faith is overwhelmed by fear we plot, scheme and trust in our own strength. When our faith is stronger than our fears we will live out Psalm 112:6-7 which says, “Surely the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered forever. They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” When we walk in faith we do not need to fear the enemy and we know that the grace of God, not bribery, is the only thing that can take away our guilt. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” We should pray that God will keep us from our own plotting and scheming and help us to be confident in his plans and purposes for us. And that he will protect us from whatever danger, physical or spiritual, befalls us. That brings us to the second next step on the back of your communication card which is to Trust in the Lord and be confident in his plans and purposes for me.

In conclusion I want to speak to spiritual maturity, Jacob’s and ours. We didn’t see a whole lot of spiritual maturity in Jacob in Haran. But bit by bit, as God has brought him back to Canaan, we have seen glimpses of the man that will become Israel and the father of the Jewish nation. Our spiritual growth and maturity is a lot of times a process, a series of ups and downs, taking two steps forward and one step back. And the steps backward can be brought on by fear, worry and anxiety. When those times come we tend to shy away from God’s Word and prayer. But we can overcome them by making it a habit of daily being in God’s Word, daily prayer and memorizing scripture. We mature spiritually when we know that Satan wants to keep us away from God’s Word but then we trust in God’s strength to defend us from fear, worry and anxiety and still continue to grow.

Which brings us to the 2023 Spiritual Life Journal. I wanted to introduce the theme this morning and give us all a challenge for the New Year. Our theme is “More Like Jesus.” We want to be more like Jesus in prayer, in service, in relationships, in fellowship, etc. You are going to hear more about these in the next month but I wanted to challenge us with this today: We want to be more like Jesus in the Word. Jesus knew his scripture and at age twelve was able to discuss it in the synagogue with the adult teachers of the law. In the SLJ, we have the section called Daily Bible Reading, which gives a reading for every day of the year starting on January 1. I want to challenge every one of us to read thru the Bible together in the New Year following this chart. And as we read we can ask ourselves the question: Where do I see Jesus in what I am reading? We would all be on the same page, and as we do this together, I hope it will spark conversations about what we are reading with others and how it is impacting our lives. Doing this as a body of believers, will help us to be more like Jesus, knowing God’s Word and hiding it in our hearts, which will continue us on the road to spiritual maturity. This brings us to our last next step which is to Accept the challenge to read through the Bible in a year together with my church family.

As the praise team comes to lead us in a final song, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, we give you all honor, glory and praise for who you are and what you’ve done for us. Thank you for this time of studying your Word and thank you for your Spirit that helps us to understand and discern the truths in it. Help us to pray with confidence knowing that your promises are true. Help us to trust in you and to be confident in your plans and purposes for us. And as we anticipate and live out our faith in the New Year, help us to accept the challenge to read through your word together, growing together to be more like your son, Jesus. It’s in his name I pray, Amen.


The definition of a showdown is a final test or confrontation intended to settle a dispute. As I was formulating the title for this morning I thought about famous showdowns in history and on screen and the showdowns that we encounter in our everyday lives. Some historical showdowns you may be familiar with are the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. The Battle of Berlin, one of the final battles of WWII, between Germany and the Soviet Union. William Wallace leading Scotland in the First War of Scottish Independence against England. And the Showdown at the OK Corral between the Earp Brothers and the Clanton-McLaury Clan. Some famous movie showdowns are Neo vs. Mr. Smith in The Matrix. Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. Rocky Balboa vs. Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. And my all-time favorite showdown is at the end of the movie, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly with Clint Eastwood.

There are also showdowns that occur in our own lives. It may be with our parents or siblings, with our bosses or co-workers, with people we just don’t get along with or even sometimes our friends within the church. We also have showdowns with Satan and the powers of darkness which we call spiritual warfare. Spiritual warfare is not exclusive to this day and age. It has been going on since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden. God vs. Satan is the greatest showdown of all time and the great thing is we know who the winner is. We see in Revelation that God and the Lamb, Jesus Christ, are victorious over Satan and the powers of darkness. But showdowns still happen as Satan tries to take as many with him as possible. Historically, every disciple except for John was martyred for their faith. Other church leaders and missionaries down through the ages were also martyred, losing their lives for their faith. But here is what we can know for sure: God had a plan and purpose for every one of their lives. And just like God protected Abraham, Isaac and Jacob from harm he protected every one of the disciples, every one of the church martyrs and every missionary from harm as they were fulfilling their role in the plan and purpose that he gave them. God was faithful to them in life and faithful to them in death. The same is true for us today, God has a plan and purpose for our lives, and as we, God’s people, fulfill his plan and purpose, he will protect us from harm, until our purpose on this earth is completed and we join him in eternal glory in heaven. That brings us to our big idea this morning which is God protects his people from harm as they fulfill their part in his plan and purpose.

As we let that big idea sink in let’s dedicate our study of God’s Word to him. Dear Heavenly Father, as we open your Word, we call on your Holy Spirit to guide us and teach us this morning. Give us ears to hear and eyes to see what you want us to learn. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

There are four points to the message today. The first is “Pursuit” found in Genesis 31:22-25. Follow along as I read. This is what God’s Word says, “On the third day Laban was told that Jacob had fled. Taking his relatives with him, he pursued Jacob for seven days and caught up with him in the hill country of Gilead. Then God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream at night and said to him, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.” Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country of Gilead when Laban overtook him, and Laban and his relatives camped there too.”

Last time we were in Genesis, we saw that Laban had gone away to shear his sheep. This task was important for a shepherd and would have taken a lot of time and manpower. Ancient texts state that depending on the size of the flock it would take between a hundred and fifty and three hundred men three days to complete. This explains a few things like why it took three days to hear that Jacob had left with his family, why Jacob took this opportunity to leave and why Laban had relatives around that he could take with him to pursue Jacob. This last part suggests that Laban was planning to harm Jacob or at the least intimidate him to return.

In verse 21 we are told that Jacob headed for the hill country of Gilead and that is where Laban caught up with him. The phrase “a distance of seven days” was a general phrase meaning a considerable distance. According to commentators there is no way that Jacob could have made it from Haran to Gilead in a ten day period considering the wives, children, servants and flocks that he had with him. It may have also taken some time for Laban to go back home after being told of Jacob’s leaving to get everyone and everything organized to pursue him. This may have also been when Laban realized that his household gods were missing. Nonetheless, Laban and his men finally overtake Jacob in the hill country of Gilead, each on opposite hills, ready for the showdown that they both know will take place.

Next, God comes to Laban in a dream at night warning him not to “say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.” We can notice a few things in this verse. First, Laban is referred to as an Aramean. He is now not a relative of Jacob but an enemy. And this would have reminded the first hearers that Aram was an enemy of Israel and Judah. Second, coming to Laban in a dream at night reminds us of God coming to Abimelech in Genesis 20:3 warning him not to touch Sarah or he would die. Lastly, the phrase “good or bad” is the same phrase Laban and his father said to Abraham’s servant when he came to find a wife for Isaac. Opposites in scripture frequently express totality. Laban was not to do anything to stop Jacob from returning to Canaan. The similarities between events in Abraham’s and Jacob’s lives prove that Jacob was the successor to Abraham and Isaac as the covenant carrier.

We are then told a second time that Jacob pitched his tent in the hill country of Gilead and that Laban and his relatives overtook him and camped there too. Again, we can notice a few important things in this verse. First, Jacob is portrayed as alone while Laban has relatives with him. Jacob is outnumbered especially when it comes to fighting men and his plight is dire. The words that are used are reminiscent of battle; “pursued,” “pitched” his tent, “overtook” and “camped” give a connotation of war. Now, the players in the drama are set for the showdown to start.

Which brings us to our second point this morning: “Pointing the Finger” found in verses 26-30. This is what God’s Word says, “Then Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done? You’ve deceived me, and you’ve carried off my daughters like captives in war. Why did you run off secretly and deceive me? Why didn’t you tell me, so I could send you away with joy and singing to the music of tambourines and harps? You didn’t even let me kiss my grandchildren and my daughters goodbye. You have done a foolish thing. I have the power to harm you; but last night the God of your father said to me, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’ Now you have gone off because you longed to return to your father’s household. But why did you steal my gods?”

The showdown begins with Laban pointing the finger and accusing Jacob of a couple of crimes. This scene takes on a courtroom like drama where Laban is the plaintiff, Jacob is the defendant and their relatives are the jury. Laban is looking to convict Jacob in the court of popular opinion. He begins with charging Jacob with deceit and kidnapping. He accuses Jacob of leaving his household without telling him and “carrying” off his daughters like “captives” in war. Again, we can notice some things in this verse. “What have you done?” reminds us of the words that Jacob spoke to Laban after his wedding night with Leah. This is a lot like the pot calling the kettle black as Laban seems indignant that Jacob would deceive him. We also see that Laban is continuing with the militaristic and combative rhetoric. He accuses Jacob of carrying his daughters off like captives in war, like a cattle rustler stealing from his ranch. And notice they are Laban’s daughters and not Jacob’s wives giving us the sense that Jacob’s wives were not his to take and return home to Canaan with.

In verse 27-28, we should almost laugh out loud as Laban says that if he knew that Jacob was leaving he would have sent them away with a celebration; a feast with singing, tambourines and harps. He complains that Jacob didn’t even give him a chance to kiss his grandchildren and daughters goodbye. I say laugh out loud because, can you see the Laban that we know in our scripture throwing a party for Jacob and their family to depart for Canaan? I can’t, which I believe is the point of the author. Laban has done and will do everything in his power to keep Jacob in his household and not allow him to return to his father.

But how do we reconcile that with God telling Jacob it was time to return to Canaan with his family. There is still this sense that Jacob went about leaving the wrong way. He should have went to Laban and told him that God said it was time to return to his father’s house and trusted God to keep Laban from stopping him. Now he was in a serious predicament in a showdown with hostile parties threatening God’s purposes and covenant plan. He still had not learned to completely trust God to protect him from harm as he was fulfilling the plan and purpose God had for him and his life. I like what Wiersbe says, “Life isn’t easy but if we submit to God’s disciplines and let him guide us in our decisions we can endure the difficulties triumphantly and develop the kind of character that glorifies God. The God of Jacob never fails. That brings us to our first next step on the back of your communication card which is to submit to God allowing him to guide my thinking and decisions so I can endure difficulties and develop a God-like character.

We see at the end of verse 28 what Laban really thought of Jacob: he was a foolish person who does foolish things. This would have been the strongest of rebukes by Laban. Then Laban tells Jacob he has the power to harm him but God, the God of Jacob’s father, told him the previous night to “be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.” Laban is threatening not only Jacob but his whole family. The reference to “the God of your father” continues to show the spiritual differences between Jacob and Laban. Laban has just lit into Jacob about leaving him but he doesn’t seem to be worried about not saying anything to Jacob as God commanded. The commentators seem to agree that the moratorium God placed on Laban wasn’t about “speaking” but about not doing harm to Jacob. Laban has chased Jacob down and we can imagine what he would have done to him if God had not intervened. Legally, he could have taken his daughters away from Jacob, had him put in prison and possibly even killed him for his crime. The only power that can save Jacob from Laban’s wrath is God. God protected Jacob from harm as he was fulfilling his part in God’s covenant plan and purpose. (Big Idea)

Laban seems to conclude that Jacob foolishness was just homesickness to return to his father’s house. But then he lodges a second accusation pointing his finger at Jacob for stealing his gods. We can only surmise which accusation is more serious to Laban. Laban spends five verses accusing Jacob of deceit in taking his daughters and grandchildren away from him but only one verse on the accusation of theft. This may have been his play all along realizing he couldn’t keep Jacob from leaving for Canaan based on God’s intervention but if Jacob was convicted of theft he would have of a more legal standing with his relatives forcing Jacob to stay.

The household gods may have been the real reason Laban pursued Jacob. The fact that Laban wanted these gods back shows his faith was in idols and not in the God of Jacob. So what were these household gods? These gods would have been small statues that would have been placed around the house. Laban would have believed they brought him good fortune with his flocks, crops, etc. It may have been the way he divined that he had been blessed by God because of Jacob. Their possession may have also had something to do with who received the family inheritance. So we can see how much he may have depended on them as he went after Jacob to get them back. Now that the accusations have been leveled Jacob gets his chance to answer the charges.

The third point this morning is “Protest” found in verses 31-33. This is what God’s Word says, “Jacob answered Laban, “I was afraid, because I thought you would take your daughters away from me by force. But if you find anyone who has your gods, that person shall not live. In the presence of our relatives, see for yourself whether there is anything of yours here with me; and if so, take it.” Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the gods. So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two female servants, but he found nothing. After he came out of Leah’s tent, he entered Rachel’s tent.

Jacob answers the first charge with the truth instead of lies and deception. He was afraid that Laban would take Rachel and Leah away from him by force which continues the combative/war theme in this section. The entire time Jacob has lived in Laban’s household they have been struggling against each other, using each other trying to get as much as they can from the other. There has been strife between Jacob and Laban, Jacob and Leah, and Rachel and Leah and even Rachel and Jacob. Then Jacob answers Laban’s second accusation protesting that he has not stolen his gods. In fact he is adamant that there is nothing of Laban’s in his camp. He gives Laban permission to search his entire camp and if his gods are found then the person who stole them will be put to death and if anything of Laban’s is found he can take it back. Now the first hearers find out what has happened to Laban’s gods and we can almost hear the audible gasp. Rachel is the one who has stolen the gods and Jacob doesn’t know it. Talk about high drama as again this has the capability of ruining God’s plans and purposes for his people.

This brings up some questions. Why did Rachel steal her father’s gods? Why didn’t she confide in Jacob about the theft? What happens when Laban discovers that Rachel has taken his gods? There are a number of reasons why Rachel may have stolen her father’s gods. First, as he she was preparing to leave for Canaan maybe she wanted the familiar gods to worship. We already know that Laban has not embraced Jacob’s God and maybe Rachel hasn’t either. It seems that Jacob has not had much of an influence on Rachel. This reminds us that during Jacob’s time in Haran God has been mainly silent. Second, maybe she was getting back at her father. In 31:14-16, Rachel and Leah talk about how their father has sold them and used up the payment he received for them not giving them anything. They feel that they have no share in their father’s inheritance and he treats them like foreigners.

This brings us back to the question of what were these gods? The Hebrew word is “teraphim.” The Nuzi tablets indicate that whoever possessed the “teraphim” was the proper heir to a father’s inheritance. It seems that when Jacob first arrived Laban he had not fathered any sons of his own so he would have adopted Jacob as a “son.” This would also explain why Jacob felt he needed to stay for twenty years with Laban. Once any biological sons came along Jacob status would have been reduced and he would no longer have been Laban’s chief heir. He would still have had legal standing to inherit something from Laban as an adopted son rather than hired hand. Rachel believing that Laban would probably never graciously hand over anything to Jacob takes matters into her own hands. Rachel has forgotten that Jacob already has his birthright back in Canaan and doesn’t need Laban’s.

Next we can surmise that Rachel didn’t tell Jacob she had stolen the gods because he wouldn’t have approved. Again, there is strife between the two, the first being when she blamed him for her not being able to bear children. Now she is keeping secrets from him. We are left with the question of what happens to Rachel when Laban finds his gods in her possession. Laban first searches Jacob’s tent because he is probably sure that Jacob is the culprit. Then he goes to Leah’s tent which shows us that he didn’t trust his daughters to not be in league with Jacob. This makes all his showy words earlier about a celebration and goodbye kisses seem shallow. He then goes into the maidservant’s tents and searches for the gods but he finds nothing. Lastly, he comes to Rachel’s tent and the tension and drama is thick because the author has already told us Rachel took them. Is it only a matter of time before Laban finds them and then what will happen?

Which brings us to our fourth point this morning which is “Powerlessness” found in verses 34-35. This is what God’s Word says, “Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them inside her camel’s saddle and was sitting on them. Laban searched through everything in the tent but found nothing. Rachel said to her father, “Don’t be angry, my lord, that I cannot stand up in your presence; I’m having my period.” So he searched but could not find the household gods.”

Now the narrator tells us where Rachel has hidden Laban’s gods. She has put them inside her camel’s saddle and is sitting on them. This would have been the first red flag for the first hearers because for the Israelites a camel was unclean. Then we are told that Laban “searched” through Rachel’s tent and found nothing. The word for “searched” is the same word as fumbling around in the dark like a blind person which reminds us of Isaac almost blind and not being able to tell Jacob from Esau. Laban is seemingly as blind as Isaac was and is deceived as well, by his own daughter. This would have been a final humiliation in that his own daughter was treating him in this disrespectful way.

Now comes the ultimate disrespect not only of her father but of her father’s gods. Rachel probably in a sweet voice tells her father that she can’t stand in his presence because she is having her period. The KJV says, “the custom of woman is upon me.” This was probably a subtle retaliation for Laban’s deception of Jacob for saying that the “custom” of the day was to marry the older daughter first. It would also have been a second red flag for the first hearers because anything that a woman having her period sat on would be considered unclean. So Laban’s gods would have been seen as unclean, worthless and powerless to keep themselves from being contaminated. Laban’s gods could be stolen, hidden and sat on and were inferior to Jacob’s God, the One True God. We are told two times that Laban searched and found nothing. Laban was also powerless. Powerless to do anything to Jacob and powerless to thwart the plans and purposes of the God of Jacob’s father. God protected Jacob and Rachel from Laban and his schemes because they were his covenant people and he would continue to protect them for as long as his will, purpose and plans were being fulfilled through them. (Big Idea).

As we come to the end of our scripture we are reminded once again of the promises and providence of God. First, the principle that God keeps his promises is seen as he provides for and protects Jacob and his family. Even Rachel stealing her father’s gods didn’t keep God from protecting his people. Second, the principle that God is in control. The providence of God is the working of God’s sovereignty to continually uphold, guide, and care for his creation. Belief in the providence of God reminds us that our world and our individual lives are not determined by chance or fate but by God’s plans and purposes being worked out behind the scenes and by his people. We can trust that God will protect us, just as he did Jacob and Rachel, when we allow ourselves to be used by him to fulfill his greater plan and purpose for the world. Which brings us to the last next step on the back of your communication card: Trust God to protect me as I allow him to use me to fulfill his plan and purpose to pursue, grow and multiply disciples.

As the praise team comes forward to lead us in a final song, let’s pray: Sovereign Lord, we thank you for your promises to us and for your providence as you work out your plans and purposes for the world and for us individually. I pray that we would submit our thinking and decisions to your will in order to develop a God-like character. I also pray that we would trust in you to protect us from Satan and this world as we allow you to use us to fulfill your plans and purposes. In Jesus’ name, Amen.









The King’s Game

Chess is a two-player game played on a square board with 64 squares arranged in an eight-by-eight grid. At the start, each player controls sixteen identical pieces, one side white and the other side black. The object of the game is to checkmate the opponent's king. This is where the king is under immediate attack and there is no way for it to escape. Chess is a game of tactics and strategy. Tactics usually concentrate on short-term actions such as forks, decoys, deflections and sacrifices. Strategy is concerned with the evaluation of chess positions and with setting up goals and long-term plans for future play. During this evaluation, players must take into account numerous factors such as the value of the pieces on the board, control of the center spaces, pawn structure, and king safety. Each player is making moves that may seem subtle at the time but over the long run could do major damage in the game if there are no counter tactics and strategies made.

In the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance, chess was called the “King’s Game.” It was part of the nobility culture and was used to teach war strategy. Chess was also often used as a basis of sermons on morality. Different chess pieces were used as metaphors for different classes of people, and human duties were derived from the rules of the game or from visual properties of the chess pieces. During the Age of Enlightenment, chess was viewed as a means of self-improvement. Benjamin Franklin, in his article "The Morals of Chess" written in 1750 said we can learn three things: “We may learn, foresight, which looks a little into futurity, and considers the consequences that may attend an action, circumspection, which surveys the whole board, or scene of action, in relation of several Pieces, and their situations, and caution, not to make our moves too hastily. Chess was also occasionally criticized in the 19th century as a waste of time and has been present in contemporary popular culture. For example, the characters in Star Trek play a futuristic version of the game called “Tri-Dimensional Chess" and "Wizard's Chess" is played in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter. Today, chess is one of the world's most popular games, played by millions of people worldwide.

How many people here today have ever played chess? How many really, really love and enjoy playing chess? Well, I absolutely love it. My father taught me how to play from an early age and I was in Chess Club in high school. I enjoy chess so much that I play it every day on an app on my phone that allows me to play with people all over the world. I have actually played someone from the Horn of Africa. That was probably the coolest.

This morning we are going to be studying Genesis 30:25-43 and what we see is a game of chess being played between Jacob and Laban. Each one is making subtle tactical and strategic moves with each one’s motives being to checkmate the other, which is getting what they want from the other and getting the best of them. We will see tactics such as decoys and deflections and strategies that set up goals for the long term, in this case six years down the road. Each player is making moves and counter moves that they think will put them a better position than the other.

Both Jacob and Laban have been blessed by God. Laban’s flocks have been multiplied by God because of Jacob’s presence and Jacob has been blessed with twelve children. Jacob has also been promised land and that he would be prosperous. These promises would come later. But these blessings from God were not for Jacob and Laban’s benefit; they were given to them in order to fulfill God’s purposes for the world. The same is true for us today. We have been and continue to be abundantly blessed by God. But his blessings to us are not for us to horde and keep to ourselves; they are to be used by us to fulfill God’s purposes for this world which is to make disciples who make disciples –to fulfill the Great Commission to pursue, grow and multiply disciples. That brings us to our big idea this morning which is God’s blessings in our lives are for his purposes, not our benefit. Now I am not saying we don’t benefit from them just that our benefit is not the purpose for them.

Before we start our study of the passage this morning, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, pour out your Holy Spirit on us this morning as we open your word. Help us to have open ears, minds and hearts to learn from it. We thank you that you have breathed your Word, and inspired the authors to write these words down so that we could use them to teach, rebuke, correct and train ourselves in righteousness. I thank you for the privilege to be in your Word and to study it as workers who do not need to be ashamed as we correctly handle your word of truth. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Again, we are in Genesis 30:25-43. There are three points this morning. The first is the opening moves of our chess match called the King’s Gambit found in verses 25 - 31a. This is what God’s Word says, “Now it came about, when Rachel had given birth to Joseph, that Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, so that I may go to my own place and to my own country. Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, and let me go; for you yourself know my service which I have rendered you.” But Laban said to him, “If it pleases you at all, stay with me; I have determined by divination that the Lord has blessed me on your account.” He continued, “Name me your wages, and I will give them.” But Jacob said to him, “You yourself know how I have served you and how your livestock have fared with me. For you had little before I came, and it has increased to a multitude, and the Lord has blessed you wherever I turned. But now, when shall I provide for my own household also?” So he said, “What shall I give you?”

The first thing we need to talk about is what started this battle of wits – this chess match, if you will, between Jacob and Laban. (Chess Board – Beginning) Jacob has worked for Laban for the past fourteen years in order to acquire his two wives Rachel and Leah. Now he approaches Laban to gain his release from his service. What has changed? What has changed is that Jacob’s preferred wife, Rachel, has birthed a child of her own. This was important for a number of reasons. One, was for her protection. It was important for women in that culture to give their husband’s children. If Jacob would have left Mesopotamia before Rachel had her own children there was no guarantee that at some point Jacob wouldn’t have kicked her out and left her by the side of the road. So for Rachel staying close to her family was good for her. It protected her. This reminds me again of the principle that God is in control of all things. Rachel was an integral part of the covenant and God protected her. But now that Rachel had given birth to Joseph, Jacob could make his opening moves and approach Laban about going back home to Canaan. These moves by Jacob were calculated for his maximum benefit.

But it really wasn’t practical for Jacob to leave at this time and it wasn’t going to be that easy to get Laban to agree and Jacob knew this. There were a couple of reasons why it wasn’t practical for Jacob to leave. The first was because he had no assets or resources to get back home to Canaan. He had worked for fourteen years for his two wives but he didn’t really get paid for his work. Jacob came to Laban with nothing and so the fourteen years of labor was to pay the bride prices for Rachel and Leah. Now Jacob didn’t want for anything because he was a part of Laban’s household but in the end he had nothing to show for the last fourteen years besides his wives and children. How would he get back to Canaan without resources – food, camels, etc? And then once he got back how would he buy assets such as flocks, crops, etc. Second, Jacob was indebted to Laban and in that culture it would have been respectful to get his permission to leave his household. Third, Laban was technically the owner of his daughters and the children they have given birth to so Jacob couldn’t just assume he had the right to take them away. It was possible that Laban could say, “Go ahead and leave but your wives and children must stay with me.”

So realizing he really can’t leave, Jacob strategically approaches Laban in order to persuade him to make certain moves in his favor. His tone is not subservient. He doesn’t say “please” but seemingly demands that Laban let him go back to where he came from. Jacob is probably thinking about the promises of God made to him at Bethel. God promised to protect him and he has. God promised him descendants and now he has twelve children who will have children and so on and so on. God promised to give him land as his inheritance and now Jacob wants to return to Canaan and claim that inheritance. Jacob appeals to the fact that he has faithfully served Laban. He mentions this service three times in verse 26 highlighting this fact. It is like he was saying, “Laban, you know what I have done for you and now you need to release me.” These were Jacob’s first moves in the chess match.

Laban now responds with his first moves. Notice he doesn’t respond to Jacob’s demand instead he acts like he’s the humble servant and Jacob is the master. He politely asks that Jacob stay, like Laban has treated Jacob fairly all these years. Laban also appeals to Jacob in a spiritual sense even though his words don’t show that he has embraced Jacob’s God as his own. Most commentators don’t agree with the word that is translated “divination.” Divination is defined as the attempt to discover hidden knowledge through incantation or other supernatural means. It was normally used if a situation were not going well and you wanted to find out why, like Rebekah inquiring of the Lord about the war raging in her womb during pregnancy. And divination was used to see the future.

But Laban is not going through bad times, in fact his flocks are growing and he is doing well. He is also talking about the past and not the future. More accurately translated, Laban is saying he has learned “by experience” that the Lord has blessed him because of Jacob. However Laban discerned the Lord’s blessing upon him it is clear that he consulted something other than God which led him to that conclusion. What is the author trying to tell us here? The author is contrasting the spiritual conditions of Jacob and Laban. Laban wasn’t interested in Jacob’s God only the blessings he could receive because of him. He had seen the blessing of God upon Abraham and his family and wanted to get the most out of them. We see the fulfillment of God’s promise in Genesis 12:3 here; that all the families of the earth will be blessed through Abraham and his descendants. There is a principle here that we have seen before: God keeps his promises. We can trust in that and believe that he will always keep his promises to us as he did for the patriarchs. We also see our big idea in that Laban has not been blessed on his own account but on Jacob’s account. God has blessed Laban in order to fulfill his own divine purposes. (Big Idea).

Laban asks Jacob to name his wages. We have seen this before and are reminded of Jacob negotiations with Laban to take Rachel as his wife back in Genesis 29:18. This was a cunning reply on Laban’s part because he didn’t owe Jacob anything and it implies that in order to leave Jacob would need to compensate Laban. Having an opening defense is the most important moves in the early part of a chess match. And next Jacob continues to set up his defense as he again reminds Laban of his service to him. He reiterates his service saying that Laban’s flocks have done well and Laban has been a witness to it; he can’t deny it. Jacob may be exaggerating a little when he says that before he arrived on the scene Laban had “little” and now his flocks have increased to a multitude. But he agrees with Laban that the Lord has blessed him wherever Jacob turned. It didn’t matter what pastures or wells that Jacob led Laban’s flocks to, they have increased and thrived because of the Lord’s blessing. Now after providing for Laban’s family, Jacob wants to provide for his own family. This would have been a practical and logical request. One that Laban shouldn’t turn down because Jacob’s family was also Laban’s family. But Laban was not just going to turn him loose, family or no family, because Jacob was too much of an asset to him. We can really see the character of Laban here.  ​​​​ 

Laban’s last opening move was to inquire what he should give Jacob. Jacob had already asked him to give him his wives, children and his freedom. Laban has ignored that request and asked what wages he could pay him. Now he asks what he can give Jacob. As the opening part of the chess match comes to a close and the middle game starts it gets interesting as both parties have set up their defense for what will happen next. (Chessboard – both parties castled)

Our second point is the middle game called the Bishop’s sacrifice, found in verses 31b - 36. This is what God’s Word says, And Jacob said, “You shall not give me anything. If you will do this one thing for me, I will again pasture and keep your flock: let me pass through your entire flock today, removing from there every speckled or spotted sheep and every black sheep among the lambs, and the spotted or speckled among the goats; and those shall be my wages. So my honesty will answer for me later, when you come concerning my wages. Every one that is not speckled or spotted among the goats, or black among the lambs, if found with me, will be considered stolen.” Laban said, “Good, let it be according to your word.” So he removed on that day the striped or spotted male goats, and all the speckled or spotted female goats, everyone with white on it, and all the black ones among the sheep, and put them in the care of his sons. And he put a distance of three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, and Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks.”

Jacob now makes his next moves. He doesn’t want to be beholden to Laban. He doesn’t want anything from him but he will stay and continue to pasture his flocks if Laban will do one thing for him. Jacob asks to go through Laban’s flock and remove every speckled or spotted sheep, every black lamb and every speckled or spotted goat. This is what Jacob asked to be his wages for as long as he stayed in Laban’s employ. There were two reasons on the surface that Jacob wanted these particular lambs and goats. First, the majority of the Mediterranean flocks consisted of white sheep and black goats. The abnormally colored sheep and goats were in the minority. Jacob probably felt that by choosing the abnormally colored animals that Laban would be more agreeable. Second, all Laban would have to do is look at Jacob’s flock to see that he hadn’t taken anything that wasn’t his. Jacob’s honesty would be at stake. So Laban readily agrees probably because this move by Jacob on the surface was not a great one. Laban was getting the better end of the deal. The normal shepherd wages of that day were between 10-20% of the newborn sheep and goats. With this arrangement, Jacob’s wages would probably amount to 10% or less of Laban’s flock. But to Jacob, starting with nothing, even 10% would be a good beginning to his own flock. Gangel & Bramer in their commentary, quote Morris, “The arrangement clearly was highly favorable to Laban and of very doubtful value to Jacob. It was an act of pure faith on Jacob’s part. He had put himself entirely at God’s mercy. It would be up to the Lord to indicate, by a very unlikely set of circumstances whether Jacob should prosper personally or not.” This was Jacob’s middle game. His plan was to make a sacrifice by offering to take less wages trusting God to give him what he needed from Laban to improve his situation.

Laban counters with moves of his own that seem to be deceptive. Laban, probably not trusting Jacob to be fair, preemptively goes through his flock and removes all the abnormally colored sheep and goats. There was probably no deception on Laban’s part for two reason: First, Jacob doesn’t complain so it must not have mattered who removed the animals from Laban’s flock. Second, remember that the shepherd’s wages back then were usually from the newborn sheep and goats. The initial flock was still considered to be the owner’s property. But by separating the abnormal sheep and goats from his flock before Jacob can pass through it left only solid colored sheep and goats. By doing this, Laban has significantly lowered the percentages of his flock that will produce Jacob’s wages. It was clever but not necessarily against the rules in this battle of wits between the two. Laban also took those separated animals and put them in the care of his sons putting a three days’ journey between them and his flocks that Jacob would be tending. This would guarantee that none of those animals would stray and come back to Laban’s flock making it easier for Jacob to produce the abnormal offspring. Laban was going to get any advantage he could. Once these moves were made our scriptures says that Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks. He started to tend and take care of them as he promised. At this point in the “game” it may seem as Laban has the upper hand as we continue to the endgame. (Chessboard – after Bishop’s Sacrifice).

Our third point is the endgame called the Rook Strategy found in verses 37 - 43. This is what God’s Word says, Then Jacob took fresh rods of poplar, almond, and plane trees, and peeled white stripes in them, exposing the white that was in the rods. He set the rods which he had peeled in front of the flocks in the drinking troughs, that is, in the watering channels where the flocks came to drink; and they mated when they came to drink. So the flocks mated by the rods, and the flocks delivered striped, speckled, and spotted offspring. Then Jacob separated the lambs, and made the flocks face toward the striped and all the black in the flock of Laban; and he put his own herds apart, and did not put them with Laban’s flock. Moreover, whenever the stronger of the flock were mating, Jacob would place the rods in the sight of the flock in the drinking troughs, so that they would mate by the rods; but when the flock was sickly, he did not put them in; so the sickly were Laban’s, and the stronger were Jacob’s. So the man became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks, and female and male servants, and camels and donkeys.

As I just said it seems that Laban has the upper hand but as in any chess match one opponent or the other makes a fatal mistake. Laban has gotten overconfident and probably ignored Jacob thinking there is no way that he can produce a very big flock with what he has to work with. Plus he is confident that as long as Jacob is in charge, his flocks will prosper as before. He is probably feeling pretty good about his odds. Jacob’s next move seem weird to us today as he took rods or tree limbs from poplar, almond and plane trees and peeled them so that they seemed striped. The commentators aren’t sure why he picked these particular trees. It may be because of the play on words for “poplar” and “Laban.” In Hebrew “poplar” sounds similar to “white” and Laban’s name means “white.” Jacob put these striped rods in the watering troughs so that when the flock came to drink during mating season they would see them. This caused the offspring to be striped, speckled and spotted. Then he separated the lambs and made them face toward the striped and all the black in Laban’s flock during mating season.

In that time and culture it was believed that these acts could influence the kind of offspring they would have. Briscoe says “It was a common belief in that culture that when animals were breeding the embryo was affected by any strange sight which might confront the mother during pregnancy.” The use of the striped rods were the equivalent to using mandrakes to get pregnant that Pastor Stuart showed us a couple of weeks ago. They were folk traditions that didn’t have any power to accomplish what the people thought it would. But Jacob at some level either believed the folk traditions or was doing as he was directed or maybe both. Of course the real reason for spotted and speckled offspring was due to the recessive genes inside the white sheep and the black goats and, of course, the power of God to quickly affect these results.

Jacob had been building his flocks up and now separated his herd from Laban’s herd. Then he started to employ selective breeding. He knew which sheep and goats were the strongest and when they were mating he would put the rods in their sight in the drinking troughs. But when the sickly and weaker animals would be mating he would not put the rods in their sight. The result was that the strongest animals would mate with other strong animals and their offspring would be striped and speckled and would become part of Jacob’s flock. And the weaker animals would mate with other weak animals and their offspring would remain a solid color and would become part of Laban’s flock.

I didn’t make the final verse of our scripture this morning its own point but if I did I would have called it “Checkmate.” Jacob’s strategy was to build up his flocks so that when he was able to go home he would have the assets and resources to make the journey to Canaan and then be able to prosper once he arrived there. Verse 43 tells us that the man, talking about Jacob, became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks, and female and male servants, and camels and donkeys. “Exceedingly prosperous” reminds us of God’s promises to Jacob at Bethel that he would “expand and spread out” which included descendants, possessions and later the Promised Land. His possessions now include large flocks, female and male servants, and camels and donkeys. His prosperity in seen in a couple of ways: One, camels were considered rare and costly. Two, this list reminds us of what Abraham acquired in Egypt from Pharaoh. God had prospered Abraham in Egypt and now Jacob in exile. Jacob is more ready to return to Canaan than he was when he approached Laban asking for his release. God had promised the patriarchs possessions and prosperity and he fulfilled that promise to Jacob using Laban’s own sheep and goats. Checkmate!

In thinking about next steps I wanted us to think about the blessings of God in our lives. First, the big idea states that God’s blessings are not for our benefit but to be used to fulfill his purposes. Second, having received the blessings of God in the past we can and should anticipate his continued blessing in our lives in the future That brings us to the first next step on the back of your communication card which is to anticipate God’s blessings in my life and be ready to use them to fulfill his purpose to pursue, grow and multiply disciples. Third, we should not only anticipate his blessings but give him glory, honor, praise and thanksgiving for the blessings we receive from him. The question becomes: Do we take the credit ourselves for the blessings that come our way? ​​ Or do we forget to thank him when we receive his blessings? Or do we gratefully give him the glory for what he has done for us? That brings us to the last next step which is to give God the glory, honor, praise and thanksgiving for the blessings I receive from him.

As the praise team comes to lead us in a final song, let’s bow our heads in a closing prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, we thank you for the blessings you have given us and to our church. Help us to realize that those blessings are not for us to keep to ourselves but to be used to fulfill your purposes in the world. Help us to anticipate your blessings in our lives and church and to remember to give you the glory, honor, praise and thanksgiving as we receive them. Take us from this place willing to speak of your blessings and your glory to those we come in contact this week. In Jesus’ name, Amen.





Unrequited Love

I want to begin with an illustration from Preaching Today called, The Quest For Love Endures: “PBS’s The Great American Read is an eight-part series that explores America’s 100 best-loved novels. The series notes that one theme emerges often in these novels—the quest for love, especially a romantic love that will endure. Here are a few quotes from literature experts commenting on the series and the novels: “Love is the driving force behind everything that we do. So I think reading about all these different types of loves and the ways in which they present, is one of the great human questions.” “I love a good love story. I think everybody wants love. If you don’t have it you’re trying to get it. If you have it, you’re trying to keep it.” “Every book on this list is about love and death. And finding love that transcends death. I mean, who’s not going to love a love story?” “We are fascinated by the fact that things can go wrong in love. We don’t want to go there and we don’t want this sort of thing to happen to us.”

That brings us to unrequited love which is the title of the message. Unrequited love is love that is not mutual or reciprocated; one person loves someone who does not love them back. The word “requite” literally means to return or to repay. The term unrequited love, in particular, carries an intentionally dramatic or romantic connotation to it, in part because the phrase appears so often throughout classic literature and poetry and continues to be a popular theme in books, movies, and music today. Unrequited love can be deeply painful for the person who's in love, in part because it often means they will not get to share life with that person as fully or deeply as they want and they may also feel like it’s a rejection or condemnation of their worth.

This morning we are going to be in Genesis 29:31-35 and what we will see is really a story of unrequited love. Last week, Pastor Stuart in his sermon titled, Love is Blind, told us about Jacob who was so blinded by his love for Rachel that her father, Laban, was able to deceive him into marrying the older sister Leah. From last week, we know that Jacob loved Rachel more than he loved Leah and this morning we will see that Leah knew this and felt this. She felt unloved, unwanted, afflicted and neglected and her love for Jacob was not reciprocated. And, yes, we will see that Leah does have children to Jacob but she doesn’t have his heart and that is what she really wants. She will cry out in her unloved and afflicted state and someone will hear and see her and that someone is God. This is where God will step into Leah’s life. When you feel that no one loves you, when you feel unwanted and neglected that is when God will step into your life as well. And you can know that God hears you, sees you and loves you deeply. That brings us to our big idea this morning which is: God sees and hears the cries of the unloved and the afflicted and loves them deeply. We see time and time again in the Bible where both God and Jesus see and hear those that feel this way and comes to their rescue.

Before we jump into our scripture this morning, let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, your Word says you are close to the broken-hearted and those would include the unwanted, afflicted, and neglected. We see in your word that you come to their rescue over and over again. Lord, there may be those here this morning or online who feel that very way and we pray that they would feel your presence and that they would feel your love that is right now already surrounding them. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear the cries of those around us that are feeling this way this morning and help us to come alongside them and provide love, comfort and peace in their time of need. In Jesus name, Amen.

The first point this morning is “Seen” found in Genesis 29:31. This is what God’s Word says, “Now the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, and He opened her womb, but Rachel was unable to have children.”

If we go back a few verses, we see that after finishing the wedding week with Leah, Jacob received Rachel as his wife and they immediately had their wedding week. We are told that Jacob had relations with Rachel but are never told that he had relations with Leah. And as I just mentioned we know that “Jacob loved Rachel more than he loved Leah.” That is the background for what we see in verse 31, “The Lord saw that Leah was unloved.” The word for “unloved” is the same word for “hate” but actually means “to love less.” We don’t know how Jacob treated Leah but commentators agree that he didn’t abuse her. But he probably spent all of his time with Rachel, the wife he loved more, thereby neglecting Leah. Now we may not want to think too harshly of Jacob because he was tricked into marrying Leah but we know what God thought about his treatment of her. God saw how Jacob was treating Leah and opened her womb so she could have his children. These children would be a divine provision fulfilling God’s promise to Jacob that he would have descendants like the dust of the earth. This is the first time God has taken an active part in the narrative since his appearance to Jacob at Bethel. God’s silence and inactivity is probably because of Jacob’s lack of praise after being led by God to his mother’s brother Laban and his family and the subsequent treachery and deception by Laban. A lot of times in the OT, God’s silence shows his disappointment or disapproval in what is going on.

And then almost as an aside, we are told that Rachel was unable to have children. We know from verse 30 that Jacob and Rachel were having relations so why couldn’t she have children? The reason she couldn’t have children is because God closed her womb just as he opened Leah’s. In chapter 30:1-2 we see Rachel confront Jacob about not being able to have children and Jacob replies, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” So Rachel can’t have children and Leah will be able to have children because of an act of God. These two acts together would have been an implied rebuke of Jacob’s blatant favoring of Rachel and neglect of Leah.

God was pouring out his grace on Leah by opening her womb. The Jewish people believed that children were a gift from God. Psalm 127:3-4 says, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth.” It is possible that Jacob had been neglecting his marital duties with Leah. Whether he ever thought about divorcing her or not it must not have been an option. It wouldn’t have made sense for Laban to trick him if Jacob could have just divorced Leah afterwards. It is probable that Jacob was only having relations with Rachel because he wanted her, the one he loved, to have his firstborn son. But God saw that Leah was unloved, unwanted, afflicted and neglected and he opened her womb and closed Rachel’s. God in his infinite love and compassion saw Leah’s pain and because of his deep love for her he graciously blessed her. God also sees us when we feel unloved, unwanted and neglected and just like Leah we can trust that he deeply loves every one of us and wants to be in relationship with us. (Big Idea) This is brings us to the first next step on the back of your communication card: Trust that God loves me deeply even when I feel like no one else does.

Now Jacob was smart enough to know that Rachel was barren and since children were a gift from God he decided to have relations with Leah. But this didn’t seem to have the desired effect that Leah was looking for as we will see that in the next section, called “Sons” found in verses 32-35. This is what God’s Word says, 32 Leah conceived and gave birth to a son, and named him Reuben, for she said, “Because the Lord has seen my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.” 33 Then she conceived again and gave birth to a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also.” So she named him Simeon. 34 And she conceived again and gave birth to a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore he was named Levi. 35 And she conceived again and gave birth to a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Therefore she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children.

It seems that as soon as God opened Leah’s womb, she conceived and her firstborn was a boy. The formula we will see with these four births is that the child will be given a name followed by a comment by Leah or vice versa. In fact with the firstborn child, it is the only time that Leah names the child before making the comment about them. This was probably to differentiate the firstborn from the following three sons. Leah’s comments on the births of these four children will be a play on words connecting the children’s names to the comments made by her. Her comments will give us insight into what she is feeling and going through at the time of their births.

Rachel called her firstborn son, Reuben, which means “see or behold, a son.” Then she makes two comments. First, “it is because the Lord has seen my affliction” and second, “surely now my husband will love me.” These two sentiments expressed both a lament and a wish. The name Reuben sounds like the Hebrew word for “to see” and in naming him she was expressing her faith in God who saw her affliction. We also see how she was feeling and what her true wish or desire was. She was feeling unloved and unwanted and what she truly desired was for her husband to love her. She wanted Jacob’s heart even though his heart was with another. Leah was suffering from an unrequited love; a love that was not reciprocated by Jacob.

With the birth of the second son, before naming the child, Leah makes the comment, “Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also.” Then she names him, Simeon. The name, Simeon, sounds like the Hebrew word for “to hear” and she comments that because the Lord has “heard” her he has given her a second son. This suggests that Leah had been talking with God about her unloved and afflicted state. She continues to be bitterly disappointed in the fact that despite the birth of Reuben she is still “unloved” by Jacob. He still would not reciprocate the love that Leah desired to have. She still expresses her faith in God though and she truly believes that these children were from God. He was pouring out his grace and mercy on her because he saw and heard she was unloved and afflicted by her husband. Simeon’s name would be a reminder that God hears his people in the time of their need.

We don’t know what Jacob was thinking because he is silent during these births. He seemingly doesn’t even have a hand in naming these children. It is interesting that as we look ahead he doesn’t seem to have had a hand in naming any of the twelve children born in this chapter or the next. This would have been unusual in that time as the father usually took part in naming their children. In Genesis 16:15, Abraham named Ishmael and in Genesis 21:3 he names Isaac. And in Genesis 25:25-26, Isaac and Rebekah named Jacob and Esau.

We see many times in God’s Word that he sees and hears the cries of the unloved, unwanted and afflicted. We have already seen this in the book of Genesis when we studied the story of Hagar and Ishmael. Genesis 16:11 says, “The angel of the Lord said to her further, “Behold, you are pregnant, And you will give birth to a son; And you shall name him Ishmael, Because the Lord has heard your affliction.” God heard Hagar’s affliction and she would give birth to a son called Ishmael which means “God hears.” Later in verse 13 & 14, we see these words, “Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees me”; for she said, “Have I even seen Him here and lived after He saw me?” “Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi, which means “the well of the living one who sees me.” God saw and heard Hagar’s cries and he still sees and hears the cries of the unloved and afflicted, today.

There is another story in the Bible of God hearing the affliction of others found in Exodus 2:23-25. “Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage ascended to God. So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them.” Not only did God hear the Israelites in their affliction but he also took notice of them. God sees and hears the cries of the unloved and afflicted (big Idea).

The third son born to Leah and Jacob is Levi. Again we see that Leah comments on the birth before he is named. She says that “now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” The name Levi sounds like the Hebrew word for “joined” or “attached.” Leah believes because she has now borne three sons to Jacob that he will want to be “joined” with her. Every Jewish father wanted sons and Leah was certain that the birth of Levi would cause Jacob to truly love her and her love would now be reciprocated. But of course this is not what happens. Jacob still loves Leah less than Rachel as Jacob is just fulfilling his duty as a husband and not sharing his affections with her. And Leah still feels unloved, unwanted, and neglected by her husband.

The fourth son born to Leah and Jacob is Judah. Leah comments, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Judah’s name means “he (God) will be praised.” We notice that this time she doesn’t mention being unloved, afflicted or neglected by Jacob instead she praises the Lord. She stops focusing on Jacob’s love which was not forthcoming and focuses on God’s love for her that had always been there. She has always known that these children were from God but seemingly never praised Him for them. She has become more and more aware of God working in her life, so when Judah was born, she decides not to dwell on the negative but to dwell on the Lord and his love and goodness for her. Leah decided to stop seeking the love and approval of her husband and instead God the glory and the praise. She had realized that her identity and worth came from the Lord not Jacob. (Big Idea) Maybe you are doing the same thing as Leah, this morning, in seeking love and approval from human beings instead of God. If so the second next step on the back of your communication card is for you: Stop seeking the love and approval of human beings and instead find my identity and worth in the Lord. Then you too will be able to praise the Lord for his love and goodness to you.

Lastly, we see that Leah “stopped having children.” We aren’t told explicitly that God had anything to do with it but we saw that God opened her womb and I believe he closed it. Why? Because he had a sovereign plan and purpose for the twelve sons of Jacob that would become the nation of Israel and his chosen people. And this part of the plan had been fulfilled and the next one was about to begin. Later in chapter 30 we will see that God listened to Leah and she became pregnant again. God is the one who opens and closes wombs. We may not understand why or why not but we can trust his sovereign plan in the Bible and in our own lives as well.

My conclusion is adapted from a sermon by Pastor Charlie Garrett. With the birth of the last two sons, Levi and Judah, Hamilton says, “two of the major OT institutions, priesthood and kingship, have their origin in an unwanted and unplanned marriage.” That is the sovereignty of God. The preeminence will move to Judah, and so the line of the Messiah will continue through him. From Levi will come the priestly class of people, known as the Levites. They will continue to minister to the people of Israel throughout the time of Jesus and the Gospel of Matthew will be written by a Levite. Today in Israel it is claimed that the gene identifying the Levites has been isolated and in particular the gene of the Kohanim, or the high priestly class. If you’ve ever known a Jewish person with the name Cohen, this is the group who can most readily trace their DNA all the way back to the line of Aaron, the son of Levi. It seems God has ensured that this tribe of people will be ready for the final portion of a prophecy given by Daniel about 2700 years ago which encompasses the 7 years of tribulation. It is a time when a temple will again stand in Israel and the Levites will minister there.

Four sons for the unloved wife and the honor of one of them leading to the Messiah of the world. It is a high honor for a woman who was overlooked as a suitable wife. Leah is simply a picture of a lot of us. We don’t feel we are anything special and may get passed by in life for whatever reason, but the Lord is always with us. God opened Leah’s womb and showed her favor while the younger, prettier wife remained barren. We don’t need to waste our time trying to compete with beauty or money or status. All of these may be nice, but they can disappear in a moment and we can’t take it with us. However, the favor of the Lord lasts forever. There will never be a time that Leah isn’t the ancestor of the Lord, but it wasn’t long before Rachel’s beauty disappeared. We must keep your eyes on the Lord and fix our thoughts on that which is noble and good. We can’t worry about the things we can’t control. The Lord has all of us exactly where He wants us and where He can best use us. He has a good plan and purpose for us. Nothing is left to chance with our wonderful Creator. As we daily and totally surrender ourselves to the Lord he will do marvelous things for us and through us.

As the praise team comes forward, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, we thank you for this time to go deeper into your Word. We praise and thank you that you see and hear our cries no matter what they are for and that you love us deeply. Help us through your Holy Spirit to trust that you love us even when we feel like no one else does. And help us to stop seeking love and approval from others and to find our identity and worth in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


Have you ever experienced delays, changes of plans, or redirections in your everyday life? Have you ever felt that God is leading you somewhere you weren’t planning to go and you end up meeting someone you weren’t planning to meet? Have you ever had a coincidence that was so special that it seemed as if God had to be involved in it? Psalm 37:23 declares that “the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” God orders, arranges, and establishes the details of the lives of those who are following and are surrendered to him. God is sovereign, all-knowing, and all-powerful and if we are willing to let the Holy Spirit lead us, God can and will use us to do miraculous things in the lives of the people he brings us in contact with.

God will give us encounters with another person(s) that God has specifically and unmistakably arranged. The Holy Spirit sets up these encounters because someone needs what He can offer them through you. You may be one conversation away from God doing something awesome in your life or in the life of the person he brought you to. Our prayers for God’s will to be done in our lives opens up divine appointments and the conversations that can come from them. Our words and actions are powerful, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant. God can lead his followers to cross another person’s path, resulting in amazing things, if they are willing to submit to his leading and guiding through the Holy Spirit. Throughout the Bible we find many examples of divine appointments:

In John 4, Jesus has a divine appointment with a Samaritan woman at the village well and her life was changed along with those in her village. In 1 Kings 17, Elijah had a divine appointment with the Widow of Zarephath, who had nothing so that God could provide for her and her family supernaturally as a result of her faith. In Acts 16, Paul was directed by God to go to Macedonia where he ended up in jail. There he had a divine appointment to bring salvation to a jailer and his family. In Acts 8, Phillip had a divine appointment with the Ethiopian Eunuch where he was able to open up the scriptures to him. The Ethiopian Eunuch believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and was baptized.

This morning we are going to be studying Genesis 29:1-14a where we find Jacob again on his journey to find the family of his mother’s brother Laban. He was instructed by his father to go there and take a wife who would be the next mother of the covenant people. Last week Pastor Stuart showed us Jacob’s encounter with God at Bethel. There God promised to always be with Jacob and Jacob vowed that the Lord would be his God. Jacob had finally surrendered to God and God ordered, arranged and established his steps to a divine appointment in Paddan Aram or Haran. There he would meet his mother’s brother, Laban, and his daughter Rachel and other members of his extended family.

If we are continually seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit and letting Him determine where we are best suited to serve Him, we will providentially be given divine appointments where God’s will can be done on this earth. Imagine walking in the Spirit as God gives us divine appointments using us to help those in need physical, emotionally, financially and spiritually. That brings us to our big idea this morning, which is, for Christ followers, there are no coincidences, only divine appointments.

Before we begin our study of this divine appointment let’s dedicate our time to the Lord. Dear Heavenly Father, pour out your Holy Spirit on us and open our hearts and minds to what you want us to hear, learn and share this morning. Thank you for your only son who was crucified, dead and buried and rose again on the third day. May we never forget his sacrifice and love for us as we strive to love one another in the same way. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

There are two points to the message: Providence and Performance. We will begin with Providence found in Genesis 24:1-8. This is what God’s Word says, “Then Jacob set out on his journey, and went to the land of the people of the east. He looked, and saw a well in the field, and behold, three flocks of sheep were lying there beside it, because they watered the flocks from that well. Now the stone on the mouth of the well was large. When all the flocks were gathered there, they would roll the stone from the mouth of the well and water the sheep. Then they would put the stone back in its place on the mouth of the well. Jacob said to them, “My brothers, where are you from?” And they said, “We are from Haran.” So he said to them, “Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?” And they said, “We know him.” And he said to them, “Is it well with him?” And they said, “It is well, and here is his daughter Rachel coming with the sheep.” Then he said, “Look, it is still high day; it is not time for the livestock to be gathered. Water the sheep, and go, pasture them.” But they said, “We cannot, until all the flocks are gathered, and they roll the stone from the mouth of the well; then we water the sheep.”

The first thing we notice is the word “then” which is referring to the events that were recorded at the end of chapter 28. If you remember from last week, Jacob had a dream of a stairway resting on the earth with its top reaching to heaven. There were angels ascending and descending and the Lord, the God of Abraham and Isaac, spoke to Jacob there. He made the Abrahamic covenant with Jacob, promising to him and his descendants the land he was lying on, that his descendants would be like the dust of the earth, and that all people would be blessed through him and his offspring. The Lord also promised to be with Jacob, to watch over him wherever he went, to bring him back to the Promised Land and that he would not leave him until he had done all that he promised. Jacob took the stone that was under his head and set it up as a pillar and worshipped God vowing that the Lord would be his God.

It is from this encounter with the Lord that Jacob “set out” on his journey. The literal translation of “set out” is he “picked up his feet” meaning that Jacob now had a “spring to his step.” The experience with the Lord at Bethel had renewed Jacob’s faith to continue this long journey and the promises encouraged him after essentially being exiled from his home. The hand of God was directing Jacob. We are told that he came to the land of the “eastern peoples.” Normally, Genesis is more specific with its directions so the lack of specificity might imply that Jacob didn’t know exactly where he was going. He was going to a distant, alien and foreign land to find his mother’s brother’s family and Goldingay says, it would be “like looking for a needle in a haystack.” Jacob was going to have to rely on God to direct him to exactly the right place, at the right time, and to the right person if he was going to locate his mother’s brother, Laban, and take a wife from one of his daughters.

Also, in Genesis, going east has meant going away from the presence of God. It meant “judgment” in Genesis 3:23 as God sent Adam and Eve east out of the Garden of Eden and in Genesis 4:16 as Cain left the presence of the Lord and settled even farther east of Eden. Going east has also meant vanity as Lot chose the outward “well-watered” appearance of Sodom and journeyed eastward to eventually dwell there. Abraham sent his servant back east to his homeland to find Isaac a wife but Isaac wasn’t supposed to go there. And now Jacob has been sent to the “eastern peoples” to find a wife. We will see in the coming weeks that his journey will be filled with many heartaches and it will not be until Jacob journeys west back to the Promised Land that he will have peace.

Next we notice Jacob comes to a well in the field. Wells have been a theme so far in the lives of the patriarchs as they were signs of God’s blessings. We have seen Abraham digging wells and prospering in the future promised land, Isaac found water every time he dug a well, Abraham’s servant is led by God to a well where he found a wife for Isaac and now Jacob will meet his future wife and the next mother in the covenant line at this divine appointment at a well. Wells again become a place where Yahweh will provide. The phrase “in the field” reminds us where Isaac and Rebekah first met each other. Next we notice the word “behold” in verse 2, “He looked and saw a well in the field, and behold, three flocks of sheep were lying there beside it.” We are reminded of that same word in chapter 28:12, “And he had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth” and verse 13, “Then behold, the Lord was standing above it.” The three-fold use of “behold” indicates Jacob’s success in finding the right place. The promises given to him at Bethel will begin to find fulfillment in this divine appointment at the well.

Jacob sees three flocks of sheep lying near the well because the flocks were watered from this well. There was also a large stone covering the mouth of the well. The narrator proceeds to explain the practice of the watering of the sheep at this well. When all the flocks had gathered at the well, the shepherds would roll the stone away from the well’s mouth, water all the flocks of sheep and then put the stone back in place. The repetition of the size of the stone and the need for all the flocks to be there before removing it implies that the stone was too large for one shepherd to move it by themselves. It will later reinforce Jacob’s strength that was given to him by God to move it. The use of the large stone and this practice was probably for at least three reasons. One, it would keep the well from being contaminated. Two, it would ensure that the well couldn’t be filled in by enemies. Three, only those who were supposed to use the well could. This reminds us that water in the desert was a valuable commodity.

This was the scene when Jacob arrived at the well. He engages the shepherds there in conversation about where they were from. He finds out that there are from Haran which is probably the closest city to the well. He then asked if they knew Laban, the grandson of Nahor and they replied that they did. Jacob inquired about his well-being and the shepherds said that Laban was well. They then announced that his daughter, Rachel, was approaching the well at this very moment with the sheep. This was a fulfillment of God’s promise to Jacob in 28:15 that “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.” We aren’t told if Jacob thanked, praised and worshipped the Lord for his providential leading to the right place, at the right time and to the right person. Because we aren’t told we can believe that he didn’t and the narrator wants us to contrast Jacob with Abraham’s servant.

The Lord will order, arrange, and establish divine appointments for those who are following and are surrendered to him. Big Idea. It is important to thank, praise and worship the Lord when we recognize his providential hand working in our lives. That brings us to the first next step on the back of your communication card. My next step is to thank, praise and worship the Lord when I recognize his providential hand at work in my life.

Instead of worshipping the Lord for his providence, Jacob proceeds to arrogantly question what the shepherds are doing just sitting around. He seems to insult them by telling them how to do their job. We can imagine how they felt to have an outsider command them to get their sheep watered and out to pasture? Jacob’s rational was that it was “still high day” meaning it was around noon and wasn’t yet time for the sheep to be gathered. The sheep were usually gathered at the end of the day in order to lead them back home. We aren’t told why Jacob tried to insist the shepherds get the well open, water their sheep and get them back to pasture. Maybe he wanted them to leave before Rachel showed up so he could meet her alone. Maybe he thought it would impress her to have the well open when she arrived. She would be able to water her sheep right away and he could take the credit for it. We notice that even after Jacob is told about the “way things work”, he doesn’t hesitate to disregard it.

The shepherds repeat what the narrator told us in verse 3, that they were not allowed to move the stone and water the sheep until all the flocks were gathered. The repetition tells us that this practice or custom was important. It was probably something like a covenant or contract between the shepherds. This would ensure that the well wasn’t contaminated or sabotaged and the proper shepherds were using it. Walton says, these types of “contracts were necessary where water is scarce and distrust is often warranted.”

The second point this morning is Performance found in Genesis 24:9-14. This is what God’s word says, “While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. When Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of his mother’s brother Laban, and the sheep of his mother’s brother Laban, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the mouth of the well, and watered the flock of his mother’s brother Laban. Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and raised his voice and wept. Jacob told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and that he was Rebekah’s son, and she ran and told her father. So when Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he ran to meet him, and embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. Then he told Laban all these things. And Laban said to him, “You certainly are my bone and my flesh.”

Jacob was still speaking with the shepherds when Rachel arrives at the well. We are told that Rachel is a shepherdess and that the sheep are her father, Laban’s. The narrator wants us to know that Rachel was performing a real job with real responsibility and would be a capable patriarch’s wife just as Rebekah was. Since the shepherds refuse to move the stone, Jacob takes things into his own hands and single-handedly moves the stone from the mouth of the well and water’s his “uncles” sheep. Gangel and Bramer say, “Jacob says nothing he just simply performs.” And Mathews says, “The servant worshipped the Lord when he discovered Rebekah’s identity, Jacob flexed his muscles, proving his capacity to serve Laban’s house.” The narrator is contrasting Jacob’s energy with the shepherd’s laid-back or lazy approach. The three-fold repetition of “mother’s brother Laban” in verse 10 implies that Jacob is not trying to impress Rachel for her own sake but trying to impress her to get to her father, Laban.

Jacob had been told to go to the house of his mother’s father Bethuel and find a wife from among the daughters of Laban. He knew that the first order of business was to get to Laban and his way to Laban was to impress one of his daughters. At every turn God had ordered and directed Jacob’s path. He was led to a well outside of Haran where they knew Laban and he came face to face with his daughter. This was a divine appointment orchestrated by God for his chosen man to find a wife that would continue the covenant promises for his chosen and covenant people. ​​ Big Idea.

We may not have expected what happens next: Jacob kissed Rachel and then raised his voice and wept. Usually men would kiss another man as a greeting but it would not have been normal for a man to kiss a women like this. This was probably not a romantic kiss because Jacob was more intent on getting to Laban at this point in the narrative. Why did Jacob weep? Maybe he didn’t forget that it was God who had providentially guided him to exactly the right place, at exactly the right time and to exactly the right person. He was probably overwhelmed with emotion as he thought about the providence and promises of God. God had kept his promises to be with him and to watch over him as he journeyed from Canaan to Haran.

Then Jacob told Rachel he is a relative of her father and a son of Rebekah. And just like Rebekah did, Rachel, ran to tell her father. That Rachel’s response was the same as Rebekah’s indicates that she was to be the next mother in the covenant line. As soon as Laban heard about Jacob he ran to meet him, embraced him and kissed him and brought his to his home. Laban was even more demonstrative than Jacob was. The first hearers may have been reminded of Jacob kissing his father in bad faith and thinking about the things that would transpire between Laban and Jacob in the not so distant future. We aren’t told what Laban was thinking when he heard about Jacob’s arrival. He may have been thinking back a hundred years ago when Abraham’s servant came looking for a wife for Isaac. Abraham’s servant had brought gold and silver jewelry, clothing and costly gifts for his sister and the family. Wiersbe says, “Abraham sent a caravan with his servant to find Isaac a wife. Isaac sent Jacob to find a wife with nothing.” ​​ We aren’t told if Laban was disappointed when he met Jacob and noticed that he had no entourage and no gifts with him. But true to form he extended his hospitality and brought him into his home.

At Laban’s home, Jacob told him “all these things.” We are not told what Jacob recounted to Laban. Maybe, like Abraham’s servant, Jacob told him about what happened at the well. The servant told Laban about how God sent him to the right place at the right time and to the right person. He gave God the glory and worshipped as he told Laban the whole story. Again, it is telling that the narrator doesn’t mention Jacob gave God glory for this divine appointment. He probably told Laban why he was there (which was to marry one of his daughters) and what his plans were for his future (which was to take said daughter and return to Canaan). We can also surmise that Jacob told Laban about single-handedly moving the stone from the mouth of the well and watering his sheep. Jacob probably thought this would ingratiate himself with Laban and convince him to let him stay awhile in his home and work for him. Laban may have been thinking he had a prospect of a strong and healthy worker which could possibly make up for the lack of the bride price. As we will see in the next few weeks this is exactly what took place.

Laban then proclaimed that Jacob was “my bone and my flesh.” In the ancient near east the ties of family were very strong and if you were visiting relatives you were given every hospitality in their home even if you had never met them. This reminds us what Adam joyously said when God brought Eve to him in Genesis 2:23a, “At last this is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Jacob had found the family, through the providence of God, in which he could take a fitting bride for himself, just like Adam. The phrase also implies a reciprocal commitment or oath was made between Laban and Jacob. Laban had instituted a bond of sorts between nephew and uncle. As we will see later in the narrative that phrase will prove that Jacob and Laban were “cut from the same cloth.”

I heard a story a couple weeks ago from a youth pastor friend of mine. His son is going to be a missionary to Muslims and is discerning which country to go to. He follows some Christian leaders on Instagram and from one of those he received an Instagram direct message that was hidden because it was from someone that he was not followers with. The message was from a Muslim man in West Africa asking if he was a Christian and if so, could he tell him about how to become a Christian. It seems that he had sent the same message out to a bunch of people and my youth pastor friend’s son was the first to respond. So he shared the gospel with this man through Instagram and the man accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. That was a divine appointment sent from God to my youth pastor friend’s son. He was prepared and obedient and immediately took the opportunity to act on that divine appointment. I would like to go just a little farther with this story. This man is the only believer in his village. He had previously told his father he wanted to become a Christian and his father beat him and his friends left him. This man also told some orphans in his village about Jesus and they accepted him as their Lord and Savior. This Muslim man has continued to talk with my youth pastor friend’s son and wants to know how to get baptized. This divine appointment is ongoing and far-reaching.

There are three specific things we can do to capture the divine appointments God has for us. One, pray for divine appointments. How do we as Christians allow the Holy Spirit to make such appointments for us? The answer is prayer! Every morning when we get up, we should be praying that the Holy Spirit leads us to a divine appointment or appointments. Two, we need to be prepared for divine appointments. The Bible says in 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season.” 1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” If we start looking for “divine appointments,” we will find them. By making ourselves available to God, we will see things happen that we would have never expected. He will give us eyes to see and ears to hear, the who, what, when and where of our divine appointments. Three, we must be ready to act on the opportunity of a divine appointment like my youth pastor friend’s son did. Divine appointments happen in the regular course of our lives so we need to be prepared to act at all times.

Divine appointments are about how much God cares about His people. God will order, arrange and establish the details of your life if you are truly following and are surrendered to him. I encourage you to look for those opportunities and moments in your everyday life when God is wanting to use you as a divinely appointed son or daughter to be a source of hope, comfort, and love to those he brings you in contact with. That brings us to the second next step on the back of your communication card which is to daily pray for, prepare for and be ready to act on the divine appointments God places in front of me.

As the praise team come forward to lead us in a final song, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, I pray that we would leave this place today watching for your providential hand working in our lives. When we recognize it I pray that we would thank, praise and worship you for it. I also pray that each one of us would pray for, prepare for and be ready to act on the divine appointments you lead us to in our everyday lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

A Tangled Web

“Oh what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive” sounds like something you would hear from Shakespeare but actually it’s was written by the early nineteenth century Scottish author, Sir Walter Scott. The quote is from his epic poem, Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field. ​​ It’s an historical romance in verse, published in 1808, that tells the tale of how one of Henry VIII’s courtiers, Lord Marmion, pursues a wealthy heiress, Clara de Clare. In order to remove her fiancé, Sir Ralph De Wilton, Lord Marmion forges a letter implicating him in treason. He is assisted by his mistress, Constance De Beverley, a perjured nun, who hopes to regain his affections. De Wilton claims the right to defend his honor in combat but is defeated by Marmion and forced to flee abroad. In order to escape Marmion, Clara takes refuge in a convent rather than endure his attentions. Lord Marmion abandons Constance who is condemned to death but not before she gives documents to the Abbess proving De Wilton's innocence. In the end De Wilton, is able to prove his innocence, given armor and reinstated to the order of knighthood. Marmion is killed in the battle of Flodden Field before De Wilton can get justice but by fighting in the battle with distinction, he regains his honor and estates, and marries Clara.

‘Oh what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive,’ is a aphorism. An aphorism is a pithy observation that contains a general truth. It uses just a few words to describe one’s life experience so perfectly, and is so true, that it enters into the English language and lasts forever. Some other aphorisms you may recognize are “if it ain't broke, don't fix it”, “Don’t cry over spilled milk”, “Pride goeth before a fall”, “Actions speak louder than words”, “The early bird gets the worm” and Alfred Lord Tennyson’s, “ 'Tis better to have loved and lost/ than never to have loved at all.” These aphorisms take on immortal status because they are true and we live them out every day of our lives. In the case of ‘Oh what a tangled web we weave’ it says everything we need to know about the perils of lying and deceiving others. When we lie and deceive we begin a domino effect of complications and consequences that eventually can run out of control. One lie leads to a second and a third and so and so on, etc. etc.

I assume that we all have lied to and deceived someone during our lifetime. Maybe it was a friend, a co-worker or maybe it was a parent. That is where my personal example comes from this morning. In fourth grade, I failed math one quarter. Now there were structures in place for my parents to know how I was doing and one of these was when you failed a quiz you had to get a parent to sign the paper and take it back to the teacher. My parents were very surprised when I received a failing grade on my report card and called to talk with my teacher. I don’t exactly remember what started the cycle of deception but I am sure it had to do with not wanting to get in trouble with my parents. So when I received the first failing quiz, instead of taking it home and having one of my parents sign it – I signed it and returned it – my parents none the wiser. When I received the second failing quiz paper – I did the same thing and so on and so on. This deception got easier and went on for the entire quarter amounting to 10-12 failing quiz papers “signed” by my mother and returned to the teacher. Oh what a tangled web I weaved when first I practiced to deceive. If I would have taken the first failing quiz home to my parents and gotten their help to better understand the subject, I would have saved a lot of consternation, many months of being grounded and the pain in my backside from the spanking I got. Maybe you are recollecting your own tangled web at the moment. I tell you my story and invite you to remember yours for two reasons: one, we are just like the people in the Bible: imperfect, flawed, sinful human beings. And two, it proves that God’s grace that was sufficient for them is also sufficient for us and he can and will still use us the same way he used them.

This morning, we are going to study a family who over the years has become what we might call dysfunctional. The parents play favorites and the children take advantage of each other. And it will come to a head in our scripture this morning where all four parties are trying to take advantage of and are deceiving each other. We would think that with all the tangling of webs going on, there is no way that God’s plan for the world could be accomplished through them. But of course we would be wrong because God is all-knowing, all-powerful and most importantly, sovereign, and his will and plan will be accomplished no matter the lies and deceptions that human beings put it in the way. Which brings us to our big idea this morning that God’s plans will be accomplished despite our lies and deceptions. Aren’t you glad that God is so powerful that his plans and will are not kept from being accomplished because of our interference, sin or deception? I am extremely grateful that the lies and deceptions I perpetrated couldn’t not derail God’s plan for my life.

Before we dig into God’s Word for us this morning, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, pour out your Holy Spirit on us and open up our hearts and minds to what you want us to learn. Use this passage to teach us, to rebuke and correct us where needed and to train us in righteousness. In Jesus’ name, Amen. Our first point this morning is Isaac and Esau and is found in Genesis 27:1-4. This is what God’s Word says, “Now it came about, when Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called his older son Esau and said to him, “My son.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” Then Isaac said, “Behold now, I am old and I do not know the day of my death. Now then, please take your gear, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me; and prepare a delicious meal for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die.”

Isaac is now an old man and is physically blind. The phrase his “eyes were dim” has the meaning of spiritual blindness as well. Isaac thought he was close to death, so he sent for his eldest son, Esau, so that he could bless him before he died. To prepare for the giving of the blessing Isaac commands Esau to get his quiver and bow and go out to the fields and hunt, kill and prepare the kind of delicious meal that he loved. The phrase “such as I love” suggests Isaac was in bondage to his appetite. Genesis 25:28 reminds us that Isaac had a taste for wild game and loved Esau because he was the hunter and a man of the open country. That same verse says that Rebekah loved Jacob, who was a quiet man and stayed among the tents. Very early on both Isaac and Rebekah seemed to play favorites with their children. These preferences were the beginning of the downfall of this family. Isaac states he wants Esau to prepare this delicious meal he loves so that his “soul” may bless him. The use of “soul” expressed how strong Isaac’s desire was to bless Esau. It would be the passing on of a lifetime of blessing.

There are significant observations we can make in these four verses. One, Isaac is ruled by his stomach. He loved wild game therefore he loved Esau who could hunt, kill and prepare it for him the way Isaac liked. It is interesting that when Abraham was preparing for death he sent his servant to Mesopotamia to get a wife for Isaac and Isaac when he was preparing to die wanted a feast. Two, we are told that Isaac felt he was close to death. Isaac actually lived at least another 25 years so he was not on his deathbed. We see other biblical leaders, such as Moses in Deuteronomy 31:14, being warned by God when they were about to die. Isaac stating that he doesn’t know the day of his death would seem disingenuous especially to the first hearers. Third, we see deception here on the part of Isaac and Esau. Most commentators agree that Isaac most assuredly knew about Rebekah’s oracle from God that the elder would serve the younger and/or he knew that Esau had sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of red stew. The birthright and the blessing normally went together so by planning to give his blessing to Esau he was trying to deceive and circumvent the will of God. Esau was also trying to deceive because he knew that he had sold his birthright to Jacob; so by accepting the blessing he was breaking his oath. Also Esau had really disqualified himself by marrying Canaanite women something Isaac was willing to turn a “blind eye” to, pun intended.

Most telling though is the fact that Isaac didn’t call the entire family to the occasion. Whenever the father’s blessing was given to the eldest child he also gave the other children their blessing at the same time. These blessings were like our last will and testament today and needed to be witnessed. (Picture of witnessed will) Isaac by neglecting to call Jacob, in order to bless him as well, and by not calling any witnesses to the event, shows he was trying to deceive Jacob and Rebekah. And in the end, by going through with blessing Esau he was trying to deceive God as well. That reminds us of our big idea that God’s plans will be accomplished despite our lies and deceptions.

The second point this morning is Rebekah and Jacob found in Genesis 27: 5-17. This is what God’s Word says, “Now Rebekah was listening while Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game to bring home, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Behold, I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, saying, ‘Bring me some game and prepare a delicious meal for me, so that I may eat, and bless you in the presence of the Lord before my death.’ So now, my son, listen to me as I command you. Go now to the flock and bring me two choice young goats from there, so that I may prepare them as a delicious meal for your father, such as he loves. Then you shall bring it to your father, that he may eat, so that he may bless you before his death.” But Jacob said to his mother Rebekah, “Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man and I am a smooth man. Perhaps my father will touch me, then I will be like a deceiver in his sight, and I will bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing.” But his mother said to him, “Your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, get the goats for me.” So he went and got them, and brought them to his mother; and his mother made a delicious meal such as his father loved. Then Rebekah took the best garments of her elder son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob. And she put the skins of the young goats on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. She also gave the delicious meal and the bread which she had made to her son Jacob.”

First thing we notice is Rebekah eavesdropping which reminds us of her mother-in-law, Sarah. In Genesis 18, Sarah “overheard” the Lord telling Abraham she was going to have a child. Isaac probably had this conversation with Esau in his tent and Rebekah must have been on the lookout so she could intervene. This meant that she had an inkling that Isaac would try to pull a fast one. There is no telling how many times in the past Rebekah must have listened outside Isaac’s tent in order to hear this particular conversation. When Esau left to go to the open country to hunt the game Rebekah went to Jacob and quoted Isaac’s words to Esau. This was to establish her truthfulness to Jacob in what was about to take place. Notice she identifies Isaac and Esau as “your father and your brother” and Jacob as “my son” reminding us of the family dysfunction. Rebekah leaves out the part about Isaac blessing Esau with “all his soul” downplaying the strength of his desire and resolve to bless him. And she adds the part about “in the Lord’s presence” which emphasized the importance and the religious significance of what is about to take place. Rebekah needs Jacob to see the urgency of putting her plan into motion immediately. She is persistent and makes it clear that he is to pay close attention to her voice and commands. Seemingly, it is Rebekah who is the mastermind here.

Notice Rebekah’s deception as she puts her plan into motion. She must have been formulating her plan for a while because it was elaborate and would need to be done quickly for it to be successful. She commands Jacob to get two young goats from the flock so she can prepare the meal and Jacob can take it to his father. But he is concerned that his father will notice that he is not Esau. If his father touches his smooth skin it would give him away. He didn’t want to appear to be deceiving his father and bring down a curse on himself instead of a blessing. But this isn’t Jacob rebuking his mother for her plan of deception; he is just worried about getting caught. But Rebekah is wily as she calms his fears about being cursed. She said she would take the curse upon herself showing the lengths she was willing to go. Interestingly, as we will see later, if the blessing couldn’t be taken away from Jacob and given to Esau then the curse could not be taken away from Jacob and given to Rebekah. She was manipulating Jacob in order to get him to participate in her scheme, which was to get him the blessing. Of course, Jacob didn’t need much coercing and he obeys his mother’s commands. We continue to see that Rebekah had it all planned out. She takes Esau’s best clothes that were in the house and put them on Jacob. She also covered his smooth hands and neck with the goatskins. After preparing the meal and dressing Jacob up to look, smell and feel like Esau, Rebekah gave him the food and bread to take to Isaac. Throughout this story, Rebekah seems so sure she could pull off this deception. She probably felt that the ends (Jacob getting the blessing like God wanted) justified the means (the deception).

The third point this morning is Jacob and Isaac and is found in Genesis 27:18-29. This is what God’s Word says, “Then he came to his father and said, “My father.” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn; I have done as you told me. Come now, sit and eat of my game, so that you may bless me.” Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have it so quickly, my son?” And he said, “Because the Lord your God made it come to me.” Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come close, so that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esau or not.” So Jacob came close to his father Isaac, and he touched him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” And he did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he blessed him. And he said, “Are you really my son Esau?” And he said, “I am.” So he said, “Bring it to me, and I will eat of my son’s game, that I may bless you.” And he brought it to him, and he ate; he also brought him wine and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, “Please come close and kiss me, my son.” So he came close and kissed him; and when he smelled the smell of his garments, he blessed him and said, “See, the smell of my son Is like the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed; Now may God give you of the dew of heaven, And of the fatness of the earth, And an abundance of grain and new wine; May peoples serve you, And nations bow down to you; Be master of your brothers, And may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you, And blessed be those who bless you.”

Jacob is now in full deception mode as he takes the meal to his father. But he almost blows the whole plan. In trying to cover all their bases, sight, smell, taste and touch, they forgot about Isaac’s hearing. When we lose one of our senses usually the other senses are heightened and when Jacob announced he was there Isaac was immediately confused. He was expecting Esau but the voice sounded like Jacob. So, what does Jacob do? What would we do if we were caught in a lie? We would babble on and on trying to cover up the lie hoping the person doesn’t notice our deception? That’s exactly what Jacob does as he lies and rushes Isaac along saying “sit up, eat the game and bless me.” Isaac wants to know how his son hunted, killed and prepared it so quickly. This reminds me of the phrase I started with, “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” Rebekah probably thought her plan was foolproof but she had forgotten a couple things. One, Jacob’s voice and, two, she prepared the food too quickly. Isaac may have been blind but he wasn’t dumb. Esau had hunted, killed and prepared this food for him many times before so he had an idea of how long it may take.

Jacob now has to come up with a good answer for his father so he tells another lie to cover the first one. This lie, “the Lord your God made it come to me” shows his spiritual condition. Jacob blasphemes by invoking the name of the Lord and his answer suggests that Jacob saw the Lord as Isaac’s God and not his own. Jacob was having to weave a dangerous tangled web in order to get Isaac to believe he was Esau. Isaac is still not convinced and he wants Jacob to come near so he can touch him. Isaac thought that even though the voice seemed wrong the skin would prove who it really was. But even after touching him Isaac was still confused and didn’t recognize him. So Isaac asked him one more time if he was really his son Esau and Jacob continued his deception by outright lying to his father. Jacob has now lied three times in the presence of his father, Isaac, and in the presence of God. We notice how conflicted Isaac was, but, interestingly, all he had to do was call a witness when he couldn’t confirm whether Esau or Jacob was there, but his hands were tied by his own deceptions. (will slide)

Isaac, now seemingly convinced or maybe just hungry, had Jacob bring the game so he could eat and give him his blessing. Jacob also brought him some wine which may have been too dull Isaac’s senses even more. Then Isaac tried one more thing in order to know he was really in the presence of Esau. He asked Jacob to come and kiss him. Jacob kisses his father and when his father caught Esau’s smell he immediately blessed him. Isaac had been betrayed and deceived by Rebekah and Jacob but he had also been betrayed and deceived by his own senses. His sight was already dulled. He allowed his hearing to be deceived even though he was skeptical at first. He was deceived by Jacob’s touch and by the smell of Esau clothes. Lastly, he was even deceived by his taste buds. He had probably eaten tons of game or venison dishes prepared by Esau over the years but was now deceived by the goat meat dish that Rebekah had prepared.

The smell of who Isaac thought was Esau prompted him to begin the blessing that was specifically suited for Esau. The smell of his clothing reminded Isaac of the fields where Esau spent his days and saw God’s blessing on him. The open fields now became a place of blessing and plenty not just merely a place to live. The blessing unfolded in three parts: The first part was generous in its scope mentioning the heaven’s dew and the earth’s fatness which expressed the entirety of nature’s abundance. Heaven’s dew was essential to vegetation and farming in the land of Canaan and the “fatness of the earth” meant prosperity. The prosperity of the land was further spelled out as having an abundance of grain and new wine. Hamilton says, “The God of Jacob will provide Jacob with all the ingredients of fertility that were thought to be given by the Canaanite gods Heaven, Earth, Dagan and Tirosh.” We should notice that these would be seen as blessings for the settled farmer not necessarily that of a nomadic hunter. We should not be surprised that this blessing is more suited to Jacob than Esau looking forward to the settling of the Promised Land.

The second part of the blessing had to do with peoples serving Jacob and nations and brothers bowing down to Him. To “bow down” meant they would serve him and show him honor. He would be their master. This part of the blessing fulfilled the oracle God spoke to Rebekah during her pregnancy. The last part of the blessing reiterated the blessing of protection and favor God first gave to Abraham that those who “curse you will be cursed and those who bless you will be blessed.” The order of the blessing is logical in that the blessing of prosperous land foresees a flourishing nation that makes servants of rival and even brother nations. So Jacob received the blessing, just as God sovereignly ordained, that Isaac intended for Esau. It was so far-reaching that it would have left nothing for the other children. Isaac intended to bless Esau in such an enormous fashion that it would have left nothing of importance for Jacob. BIG IDEA.

Briscoe says, “There is one profound factor which must not be overlooked and that is the Sovereign Lord was still at work despite the scheming and conniving. Despite all the efforts of man to thwart the purposes of God through all manner of mistakes and misdemeanors, Jacob, whom God had said would be the next link in the chain of divine promise had arrived in that exact position. The lesson behind all of this is that God delights to have his men and women work in glad cooperation with him, but should they freely chose not to cooperate, they will eventually discover that God works despite their having chosen not to allow him to work with them. This brings us to the first next step on the back of your communication card. My next step is to freely choose to work in glad cooperation with God in fulfilling His will and plans for my life and the world.

Now I would be remiss to not address the deceptions in this passage. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.” We must “watch over” or “guard” our hearts with all diligence in order to keep from wanting to deceive others. Isaac, Rebekah, Esau and Jacob have spent a lifetime NOT guarding and watching over their hearts. They were not diligent. They let preferential treatment run rampant in their home and cultivated a lifestyle of deception and taking advantage of each other. This brings us to the second next step this morning which is to guard my heart with all diligence in order to keep from deceiving my fellow human beings and God.

I want to close with this story called, Successful Swindlers, from Walton’s commentary. The joke is told of the deacon whose property adjoined that of a golf course. One Sunday morning he decided to skip church and take in some golf. He slipped over the fence onto the third fairway and began to play. As in the case of Job, Satan was standing before God and asked what God intended to do to punish the deacon’s dishonesty. “Just wait and see what happens on the fifth hole,” God smiled. The fifth hole was the most difficult on the course and often was responsible for scuttling the hopes for a good game. On this particular Sunday morning, however, the deacon (whose handicap was a barely mediocre 33) drove the ball straight and true. Not only did it find the green, but it took the curve of the terrain and went right in the cup: a hole-in-one. Satan was aghast with incredulity. “Why have you rewarded this unconscionable conduct with such remarkable success?” “It looks like success now,” replied God, “but who is he going to tell?”

When we read this story about sinful Jacob and hear about the successes of sinful people in our day and age, we may be inclined to ask, “How can God allow this conniver to succeed?” From Jacob’s story we can see that God at times allows success in sin because he has a greater lesson to teach someone at a later time. God’s timing is strategic. None of us experiences immediate response from God every time we sin. Rather, at the proper time God brings our sins to our attention or brings the full fruit of consequences into our lives. That inevitably means that sin has the capability of bringing temporary success. God in his impeccable sovereignty, will bring each sin to light and fruit so as to serve his optimum purposes in our lives and in his plan. He did so with Jacob and will do so in our lives as well. The success from sin is short lived.”

As the praise team comes to lead us in a final song, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, I for one am truly thankful that you still use sinful human beings today to do your work in this world. I pray that each of us would freely choose to work in glad cooperation with you in fulfilling your plans for our lives and the world. I also pray that we would guard our hearts with all diligence so that we would not give the devil a foothold in our lives. Help us to strive to be more like your son, Jesus, every day and to hide your Word in our hearts so that we wouldn’t sin against you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.




Where there is a Well there is a Way

In Africa and other developing countries, water is a daily and crippling challenge. Without water you can't grow food, you can't build housing, you can't stay healthy, you can't stay in school and you can't keep working. Children, especially girls under the age of fifteen, often bear the burden of walking miles each day to find water in streams and ponds which is full of disease that makes them and their families sick. Wells bring clean, safe water closer to where people are living cutting down on illnesses and the time used to fetch water which can better be spent on other things.

There are five things that digging wells can help in these countries. The first is education. Education is critical for breaking the cycle of poverty and yet over half of the world's schools lack access to safe water and sanitation facilities. Lack of clean water has serious effects on students' academic performance and attendance rates. Second is hunger. Relieving hunger begins with access to clean water. It may seem simple, but we forget that without access to a reliable source of water, food is hard to grow and even more difficult to preserve and prepare. Globally we use 70% of our water sources for agriculture and irrigation, and only 10% on domestic uses. Third is healthy living. In developing countries, about 80% of illnesses are linked to poor water and sanitation conditions. 1 out of every 5 deaths under the age of 5 worldwide is due to a water-related disease. Fourth is poverty. The lack of water is an often insurmountable obstacle to helping oneself. Without clean water, the possibility of breaking out of the cycle of poverty is incredibly slim.

Lastly, water has long been at the center of conflict in these countries. You can travel tens or even hundreds of kilometers without seeing a single water facility and even then it is not of good quality. Finding water is becoming increasingly urgent to ease the strain on local community tensions. Water is the source of many conflicts within nations and between them. The causes of this conflict are complex, but one thing is certain: water shortages raise tensions, and in turn tensions make access to water more difficult. The digging of wells can reduce these tensions.

Today’s sermon is titled, “Where there is a well there is a way” because wells can be a way to better education, relieving hunger, healthy living, less poverty and less conflict in developing countries today. Wells are one way to help the physical and emotional needs of the world. This was also true in the time of the Patriarchs. Without water people could not have survived in the desert for very long. The lack of water took a physical and emotional toll on all living things. In our scripture this morning, wells will also take on a spiritual quality. Because of Isaac’s obedience to the Lord he was blessed with water wherever he went. “Where there is a well there is a way” meant that God was taking care of Isaac’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Physically, he had water for his family, for his flocks and herd and his crops. Emotionally, he didn’t need to worry about him or his family dying of thirst or losing his flocks and herds to a lack of water. And spiritually, he could trust God to provide for his daily needs knowing that the same blessing that the Lord had promised to his father Abraham was now extended to him.

We will see that God’s blessing is upon Isaac as he becomes very wealthy as a farmer and a shepherd. But Isaac’s life was not without trouble. Some of his troubles were brought on by himself and other troubles were brought on by others as they saw the blessings of God in his life. We will see conflict involving water this morning as we study this passage and we will notice that even though Isaac is abundantly blessed by God his life is not trouble-free which brings us to the big idea that Being blessed by God doesn’t mean a trouble-free life.

Before we begin the study of our scripture this morning let’s pray: ​​ Heavenly Father, we thank you that your Holy Spirit is among us this morning. I pray that your Spirit would move in this place and among those who are listening online. I pray that our hearts and minds would be open to what you want to say to us individually and corporately as Christ followers. Illumine us, teach us and grow us to spiritual maturity through your Word and your son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. In his name, Amen.

There are three points this morning. The first is Abundance and is found in Genesis 26:12-14. This is what God’s Word says, “Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him. The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy. He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him.”

The first thing we notice is that Isaac has become a farmer. We don’t know how long he has been in Gerar but it has been long enough to plant crops and reap its harvest. What is significant is that the first time Isaac plants his crops in the area and in the very same year he reaps a hundred-fold. He reaped this abundant harvest even in the midst of a famine in the land because the Lord blessed him. This fulfilled the promise made by God back in verse 3 that if Isaac stayed in the land of Gerar, God would be with him and would bless him. He chose obedience to God over the attractions of Egypt. There must have been a good source of water nearby for his harvest to have been so great. He was probably using the wells that his father Abraham had dug when he was in the same area back in Genesis 20 and 21. In Genesis 21:25, we see Abraham complaining to Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech’s servants had seized from him.

Next we are told that Isaac became rich and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy. A literal reading shows the repetition of the word “great.” ​​ “And the man became great, and he continually became greater until he became very great.” It is the picture of a person growing wealthier and more powerful because God has abundantly blessed him. But Isaac’s life wasn’t trouble-free. Last week, we saw that his troubles came because of his own actions. He lied about Rebekah being his wife and that caused tensions between him and his neighbors. We are not told that they were upset with Isaac and Rebekah but we notice in verse 11 that Abimelech had to order the Philistine people to not molest them or they would be put to death. They must have wanted to harm Isaac and Rebekah for their deception. Second, his troubles came because of the blessings of God in his life. Because of his abundant wealth, his neighbors, were envious of him. They had access to the same soil, sunshine and rain as Isaac but his hundred-fold harvest was greater than theirs and his flocks and herds were more abundant. He had also accumulated many servants during his time in Gerar. Isaac’s neighbors did not appreciate how successful and powerful he had become and they despised him and his success.

This brings us to our second point this morning which is Animosity found in verses 15-22. This is what God’s Word says, “So all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the time of his father Abraham, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth. Then Abimelek said to Isaac, “Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us.” So Isaac moved away from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar, where he settled. Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them. Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there. But the herders of Gerar quarreled with those of Isaac and said, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Esek, because they disputed with him. Then they dug another well, but they quarreled over that one also; so he named it Sitnah. He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, “Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land.”

The Philistines are envious of Isaac and they showed their displeasure by stopping up all the wells that his father’s servants had dug. These were the same wells that Isaac had been using. He relied on these wells to water his crops, his flocks and herds and to keep his family alive. Water was essential to his survival in the region. Think about how much the Philistines must have hated Isaac. By stopping up the wells they wouldn’t have access the water either. It seems they just wanted to hurt Isaac and run him off their land. Then his troubles get worse as Abimelech orders Isaac to move away from them. Abimelech orders him to move away which suggests he has the upper hand but states that Isaac “is too powerful for us” making his words more of a request than an ultimatum. Nonetheless, Abimelech’s involvement makes the banishment more official. The fact that the Philistines and Abimelech are so focused on getting rid of Isaac shows how much the wells and the water were a blessing from God. The Philistines were probably not finding water in their own land like Isaac was. Isaac was blessed by God but that didn’t keep the troubles away from his doorstep reminding us of our big idea that Being blessed by God doesn’t mean a trouble-free life.

We notice that Isaac moves away instead of fighting for his right to use the wells or taking offense at the Philistines or Abimelech. He simply obeyed their demands. He had every right to those wells because they were his father’s and the water should have been his. He had done nothing wrong and was just trying to take care of his family. But he walked away when confronted and didn’t take offense at being wronged. God is pleased when his people live in peace and harmony with the world. We see this in Romans 12:16a & 18 which says, “Live in harmony with one another. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” And in Proverbs 19:11 it says, “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” To overlook an offense is to take no notice of wrongs done against oneself, to refuse to retaliate or seek revenge, to let affronts go, or in a word forgive. This is what Isaac does here and will also do again later in our passage this morning. That brings us to our first next step on the back of your communication card which is to strive to live in peace and harmony with everyone and to forgive and not take offense when wronged. That is important as we live our lives among believers and unbelievers.

We are told that that Isaac moves and encamps in the Valley of Gerar settling there. It is possible that Isaac had been living in the city proper because in verse 8 Abimelech was able to look out a window (probably from his palace) and see Isaac and Rebekah caressing. ​​ If this is true he may not have moved too far. It may have been like moving from Carlisle or Gettysburg to Idaville; moving from a town or city to its suburbs. He probably stayed close by so he could continue to use the wells his father had dug when he was living in the area. These wells had been stopped up by the Philistines after Abraham had died. The Philistines didn’t seem to care about the previous treaty made between Abraham and Abimelech in Genesis 21. The Philistines just wanted to control and claim all the resources of the land for their own, even if they didn’t intend to use them. We are told that Isaac reopens his father’s wells and gave them the same names that his father had given them. It is significant that Isaac knew the names of his father’s wells and where to find them. He was making the statement that he now owned them as Abraham’s son.

We continue to see more evidence of God’s blessing on Isaac as his servants dug a new well in the valley and discovered fresh water. Some translations say “springing water” or “living water.” They not only found water but water from an underground spring instead of stagnant water from a cistern. It would have been fresh water that would always be fresh because it came from a spring. But we see that trouble was not very far away. The herdsmen of Gerar, seemingly having followed Isaac, quarrel with his herdsman claiming that the water from the new well was theirs. So Isaac named the well Esek which means “quarrel” or “disputed.” Then Isaac again walks away from conflict and dug another well but the herdsman quarreled over that one too. This well he named Sitnah which means “to accuse” or “to oppose” relating to the word “satan” meaning “opposition.” It has the connotation of a formal complaint. It seems that the herdsmen of Gerar filed a legal, formal complaint against Isaac to seize this well as their own.

We notice a couple of things: One, God continues to bless Isaac because every well he dug he found water. We see this in that the herdsmen of Gerar continue to harass him as he digs new wells and finds water. If these wells didn’t produce water there would be no reason harass him. He would have just continued to move farther away from their land until he did. Two, Isaac again and again takes the high road. He doesn’t start a confrontation; he doesn’t take offense. He moves on trusting in God to provide the water needed for his family, flocks and herds. God continues to bless Isaac as he tries to faithfully live in peace and harmony with his neighbors.

After the formal complaint is filed against Isaac, he again moves on and digs another well. No one comes to quarrel over this well meaning that he must have moved far enough away from the land of the Philistines that they did not need to harass him anymore. Isaac names this well “Rehoboth” which means “room”, “open spaces” or “enlargement. This name praised the Lord for ending the conflict and giving Isaac and his family “room” to flourish and be fruitful in the land. It is the same root word used in Genesis 13:17 which describes the breadth of land that God showed to Abraham. God told Abraham to look to the north, south, east and west and promised him that all the land as far as he could see would belong to his descendants. Isaac and his descendants would possess all this land and would flourish and be fruitful there. Isaac’s life was not trouble-free but God continued to abundantly bless him over and over again even in the midst of trouble. (Big Idea)

This brings us to our third point this morning which is Assurance found in verses 23-25. This is what God’s Word says, “From there he went up to Beersheba. That night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.” Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well.

Isaac moves from the area of where he dug the well, Rehoboth, to Beersheba. Beersheba was the same place where Abraham and Abimelech had made a treaty earlier in Genesis 21:31. The words “that night” show how significant it was that Isaac returned to his father’s homestead. The Lord appeared to Isaac the same night he returned to Beersheba and assured him that he was same God that was the “God of his father Abraham.” This is the first occurrence of this title for God that will continue throughout the rest of Genesis. The title reflects God’s personal commitment to Abraham in fulfilling his promises to him and involving him in the fulfillment of the promise to bless his offspring and in turn to bless the nations. He renews this personal commitment here to Isaac as he will later on with Jacob. God enters into a personal relationship not just with Abraham but also with his descendants. The Lord also told Isaac he did not need to be afraid because he is with him. Everywhere he dug a well he had found water because the Lord was with him. God was assuring Isaac of his protection and provision physically, emotionally and spiritually.

God also reiterated and reaffirmed the covenant blessing that Isaac would have numerous descendants. This covenant that Isaac was now a part of was for the sake of God’s servant Abraham and affirmed that Isaac was the true recipient of the Abrahamic blessings. But it was not for anything Abraham or Isaac did but because of the grace of God. The honored title, “my servant”, will also be used of the great leaders of Israel: Moses, Caleb and Joshua. God appearing to Isaac after the troubles in Gerar would have been an encouragement to him like it had been for Abraham. God also speaks to us and encourages us today.

Then Isaac did three things. The first reminds us of what Abraham did in the past: He built an altar and called on the name of the Lord. He was following in his father’s footsteps expressing his faith in the Lord. The altars built by the patriarchs were a grateful response to God coming and speaking to his servants. Baldwin says, “Worship seemed to be the first thought. They heard and received God’s word and gave themselves in adoration and worship pledging their obedience.” Then Isaac pitched his tent and his servants dug a well. These actions show Isaac’s commitment to worshipping the one true God as his father did and to making his residence in the land of promise in obedience to God. In the midst of troubles Isaac was still blessed by God. God proved faithful in producing water every time he dug a well providing for the fundamental needs of Isaac and his family. And in gratitude Isaac worshipped God thanking him for his protection, provision and blessing on his life. This brings us to the second next step on the back of your communication card which is to worship God with thanksgiving for his protection, provision and blessing on my life. This worship is not supposed to be a one-time thing. We should continually worship the Lord for his protection, provision and blessing on our lives.

My conclusion is adapted from Weirsbe’s commentary. In the Bible, wells sometimes symbolize blessings from the hand of the Lord. When we become followers of Christ some of the spiritual wells or blessings that we receive are the Word of God, prayer, worship, faith, the power of the Holy Spirit, sacrifice and service. In our individual lives or even in the church we sometimes allow these wells to be stopped up by the enemy. The Bible is full of warnings against this. 2 Timothy 4:3 warns us that there will be a time when people will not endure the sound teaching from God’s Word but will look for teachers to say what they want to hear. 1 Samuel 12:23 warns that when we don’t pray we are sinning against the Lord. Malachi 1:6-14 warns us about not offering our best in worship to God. Hebrews 11:6 warns us that without faith it is impossible to please God. Luke 14:26 warns us that we must be willing to sacrifice everything even father and mother or our own lives for the sake of Christ. Matthew 12:31 warns us about disregarding the power of the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the unpardonable sin. Matthew 25 warns us about not serving the least of these. The goats are the ones who did not serve the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick or the prisoner and they will go to eternal punishment.

We’ve just had the Revival on the Farm and we continually pray for revival for Idaville Church and for the church universal. Weirsbe says, “Whenever there has been revival of spiritual power in the history of the church it’s been because somebody has dug again the old wells so that God’s life-giving Spirit can be free to work.” We must evaluate our individual hearts and the corporate hearts of our church to see if any of these spiritual wells have been stopped up by the enemy. And if they have we must begin to dig and reopen those wells. That brings us to the last next step on the back of your communication card which is to evaluate the spiritual wells in my life and the life of Idaville Church and reopen the ones that the enemy has stopped up.

As the Worship Team comes to lead us in a final song, let’s pray: Most Holy God, enable us through the power of your Holy Spirit to reopen those spiritual wells in our lives and in our church that Satan, the enemy has stopped up. Help us to worship and thank you for the blessings you have given us. And help us to live in peace and harmony with our neighbors and to not take offense against those who wrong us. For your honor and your glory. Amen.