God protects His people from harm as they fulfill their part in His plan and purpose.
Genesis(85) (Part of the Origins(83) series)
by Marc Webb(56) on October 30, 2022 (Sunday Morning(281))
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.