************ Sermon on Genesis 29:1-30 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 6, 2013
"A Deceiver Deceived"
I want to talk about equivalence this morning. You may not have heard of the term before but it shows up in many different areas.
There is moral equivalence. All of us rightly decry the actions of suicide bombers in the Middle-East who indiscriminately kill women and children. From the point-of-view of people in Iraq and Afghanistan, American soldiers do the moral equivalence of suicide bombings when they engage in water-boarding or kill defenseless prisoners.
There is logical equivalence. In our Scripture reading we see Jacob in Paddan Aram. The logical equivalence is that Jacob is not at home with his father and mother.
There is mathematical equivalence. In mathematics 2+2=4 and 3+1=4. Therefore, 2+2 is the mathematical equivalence of 3+1.
As we will see, the Bible teaches judicial equivalence.
I Equivalence in the Bible
A God, through Moses, laid out the principle of judicial equivalence right after the giving of the law. We sum it up in the maxim, "an eye for an eye." Listen to what Moses says as God's mouthpiece:
(Ex 21:12-14, 22-25) "Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. (13) However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate. (14) But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death ... (22) "If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows. (23) But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, (24) eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, (25) burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.Do you hear the teaching of judicial equivalence?
B In their system of justice, the Roman Empire codified the principle of equivalence. They named this rule the "talion," which forms the basis for our English word "retaliation." According to the Romans, the justice underlying retaliation is to be measured. It must be neither excessive nor deficient. It is a balancing of the scales.
The Romans correctly recognized that "an eye for an eye" is the purest standard of justice revealed to man.
C Now, I want you to think of the children of Israel as they listen to Moses tell them the story of Jacob. They have heard of the awful deeds done by Jacob. Moses told them how Jacob took advantage of a hungry Esau and demanded the birthright in exchange for a bowl of stew. Everyone knows a true and loving brother would never act this way; rather, he would say, "Pull up a chair, Esau, and help yourself." Moses told them how Jacob deceived Isaac by pretending to be Esau – he dressed like Esau, he smelled like Esau, he felt hairy like Esau – so he could get the blessing that Isaac wanted to give to Esau.
We all know, of course, that God ordained Jacob to get the birthright and the blessing (Gen 25:23). But God never approves of evil means to accomplish His purposes. So, as the children of Israel listen to Moses they must have wondered, where is the judicial equivalence? How does Jacob end up paying for the great wrongs he has done?
D Now, with this in mind, do you think Jacob was happy? I doubt it because from day one Jacob's life has been marked by conflict and strife. Even in the womb, life was a struggle for Jacob (Gen 25:22). In Genesis 28 & 29 we see Jacob the fugitive, the alien, the exile. But not one who gives any indication he will live by faith. He has been raised in a home of plotting and conniving. He has parents who tip the scales of justice in the direction of their favorite child. He has learned to lie and scheme. And, he ends up in the home of an uncle who can teach him a lesson or two about lies and schemes.
Do you think Jacob was happy? With himself? With what he gained? With what he lost? With what he did to secure the birthright and the blessing? Instead of having faith in God and His promises, Jacob took matters into his own hands. He made a deliberate decision to use the ways of the world.
Do you think Jacob was happy? Take a look at his life. There was no shalom, no harmony, no peace, in any of his relationships. Instead, there was bitter strife, enmity, and soured relationships. He was fleeing for his life, away from a brother who wanted to kill him.
I want to warn you, congregation, to avoid the path of Jacob. Instead, live by faith in God and His promises. Instead, wait patiently upon the Lord. And, realize this: there will come a day when God will bring about judicial equivalence.
II Jacob vs Abraham's Servant
A Our Scripture reading tells us "Jacob continued on his journey" (Gen 29:1). "Continued." Remember, he was at Bethel. Bethel where he had a vision of God. Bethel where he received God's blessing. He continued on his journey. Remember, he was also fleeing for his life. Remember, he was to go to Paddan Aram and take a wife for himself from among the daughters of Laban.
"Jacob continued on his journey." But has he learned his lesson? Is he humble? Is he dependent upon the Lord? Does he live by faith and not by sight?
Look at what happens. Jacob arrived at Paddan Aram and happened upon a well in a field surrounded by shepherds and their flocks. These shepherds told Jacob that they knew Laban. It isn't clear in our English translation of the Bible, but in the Hebrew Jacob asked if Laban had shalom (Gen 29:6) – indicating that Jacob wanted to get away from turmoil and conflict and discord; indicating that Jacob realized the lack of peace in his own life. However, we all know that Laban's shalom will not last for long with Jacob around as they both brought out the worst in each other.
B As Jacob was talking to the shepherds along comes Rachel and her sheep (Gen 29:6). This scene at the well must have reminded Jacob of the family stories his mother had told him of her first meeting with Abraham's servant at a similar well (Gen 24). Both Rebekah and Rachel had encounters at the well that led to their marriages. Both are described as outstandingly beautiful (Gen 24:16; 29:17). Both run to tell their family.
But there the similarity ends. Abraham's servant was not blinded by beauty. He knew beauty is only skin deep. He knew that looks alone are a dangerous basis on which to choose a bride (Prov 31:30). He knew that it is character that counts. So, he waited for Rebekah's character to show itself – whether she would give of herself to water his camels. And, in his conversation with Laban, Abraham's servant repeatedly invoked the name of the Lord, praised God for leading him to his master's relatives, asserted that his master's wealth is a gift from God, and claimed that the Lord's guidance has led him to Laban and Rebekah. Everything Abraham's servant did, from start to finish, was bathed in prayer and conducted in the name of the Lord. Abraham's servant was the kind of man who makes everyone around him think in God-centered categories. Having heard the whole story, Bethuel and Laban had little choice but to say,
(Gen 24:50-51) "This is from the LORD; we can say nothing to you one way or the other. (51) Here is Rebekah; take her and go, and let her become the wife of your master's son, as the LORD has directed."The sending off of Rebekah ended up being an act of faith in the God Who controls all things.
C But now look at Jacob. As far as a future wife was concerned, Jacob had eyes for only one thing – Rachel's beauty. Jacob was so moved by the sight of gorgeous Rachel that he turned into a showoff. Did you catch what he did? There was a large stone over the mouth of the well. The combined shepherds of three flocks were unable to move this stone. Jacob single-handedly moved the stone by himself (Gen 29:8,10).
Jacob then watered Laban's sheep and kissed Rachel (Gen 29:11). In the Hebrew language, the words "he watered" and "he kissed" are closely related. Telling us what? Telling us Jacob was also moved by something besides beauty. If I can put it this way, Jacob lusted equally at the sight of Laban's daughter and Laban's flocks. The focus of the next few chapters will show how Jacob stole both away from Laban.
Isn't this sad?! Rachel was Jacob's choice because of her looks and her father's wealth. I have a friend who used to kid around about his father-in-law's wealth. He said if your father is poor there is nothing you can do about it but if your father-in-law is poor then you are dumb. Jacob would say a hearty "Amen" to this – and he wouldn't be kidding as he said this.
We are also told that Jacob told Laban "all these things" (Gen 29:13). All what things? The text deliberately leaves us wondering and hanging. Knowing what we know about Jacob do you think, for a moment, that he told Laban how he deceived his father and stole from his brother? Do you think he told Laban how he took advantage of Esau's appetite? Do you think he told Laban how he was a mama's boy? Do you think he told Laban about his parent's unhappy marriage? Do you think he told Laban that he lusted after his daughter and his flocks?
Compared with Abraham's servant do you notice what is absent from Jacob's lips? We hear no mention of the Lord, His ways, His name, His guidance, His blessing. Jacob did not pray. Jacob did not ask for divine guidance. Jacob did not talk about the Lord. The result was that Laban didn't talk about the Lord either.
So what did the two men – Jacob and Laban – talk about? They talked about a business deal. Laban asked Jacob to name his price. Jacob's response: Rachel in exchange for seven years of hard labor. Jacob's offer is generous; in fact, it is more than generous; his seven years of labor is worth 126 shekels, nearly three times more than the maximum bride price according to the law of Moses (Deut 22:29). But Jacob's love/lust for Rachel was so deep that no price is too high for her hand (Gen 29:20). And, as you know, Jacob ended up working 14 years total.
It didn't have to be this way. Jacob could have let Laban know that the promise first given to Abraham and then to Isaac was now given to him. In the name of the Lord, he could have done what Abraham's servant did. Jacob could have asked for Rachel to be given to him so that together they might return to the Promised Land to build a family to the glory of God. If he had approached the situation by grace through faith, think of all the heartache and trouble and conflict and sin that would have been avoided. But instead of living his life in the light of Bethel, Jacob went the way of the world.
D How many times don't we do the same thing as Jacob? We are children of the King and heirs of the Kingdom! We have a heavenly Father Who is more than willing and able to give us all things. We are united to Christ Who daily intercedes for us at the throne of grace. We have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit Who empowers our prayers. Yet, we act as though we are orphans, totally reliant on our own strength and abilities and cunning. We keep forgetting – as Jacob forgot – that we are children of the King and heirs of the Kingdom!
Think about your life. Think about your approach to problems and hurdles and concerns and worries. Like Abraham's servant, is God your reference point, your starting point? Or, like Jacob, do you rely on yourself and your own cunning and gifts and abilities?
Self-dependence can show up in almost every single area. In your devotional life you can follow a plan to read through the Bible in a year instead of focusing on what God is saying to you through His Word. In raising your children, you may have read all the books and watched all the DVDs on child-rearing instead of remembering the words of the psalmist that "unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain" (Ps 127:1). I listened with amazement this past week as I heard how the local church and the denomination needs a visionary leader and the right five-year plan; but not a word was said about the presence of the Lord.
III Equivalence Comes to Jacob
A So what happens after seven hard years of labor? Laban throws a marriage feast (Gen 29:22). Marriage ceremonies in that culture included parades to and from the bride's home, a large meal, lots of partying with the liberal consumption of wine, and a bride who was veiled during the ceremony. Because of all this, Laban was able to do the old switcheroo. Jacob woke up in the morning and there in the bed next to him was not beautiful Rachel but weak-eyed, cross-eyed Leah.
Turns out the problem was not Leah's weak eyes but rather the inability of Jacob's eyes to discern who was in the tent with him. At the crucial moment, Jacob was just as blind as Isaac had been.
Do you feel sorry for Jacob? Do you empathize with him and feel sympathy for him? Don't be too quick to feel bad.
B Let's look at what Jacob said: "Why have you deceived me?" (Gen 29:25). That's what Jacob asked. "Why have you deceived me?" Oh Jacob, why don't you think before you talk? These could have been Isaac's words to you. "Why have you deceived me?"
Let's look at what Jacob did. Jacob, the younger son, deceptively substituted himself in place of Esau, the older son. Now the tables have been turned. But this time the older daughter has been deceptively substituted in place of the younger daughter. Same sin. Same substitution. Same deception. Same weakness. The end result? The deceiver has been deceived.
C What is the message that is heard here by the children of Israel? That hear that Jacob has not gone unpunished for tricking Isaac into giving him the better blessing (Gen 27). They hear a message of judicial equivalence. They hear that God does not leave sin unpunished – including their own sin.
Galatians 6 gives us an important principle for living life before the face of God. Paul writes that "God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows" (Gal 6:7). The apostle is primarily speaking of eternal matters and our need to sow in the Spirit. But he also speaks of how our sins often come back to haunt us in this life.
In today's passage, Jacob learned this truth the hard way. Jacob learns there is judicial equivalence. By the providence of God, Jacob is made to experience what he did to his father. As Hebrews puts it, God is disciplining one of his sons (Heb 12:6-11).
We cannot end here with God's justice and the principle of equivalence. Because, as you know, Jacob was still God's chosen servant, the seed of the woman, the heir of the promise, the forebear of Christ. He was someone loved by God. Isn't that amazing? Jacob, the scoundrel. Jacob, the deceiver. Jacob, the liar. How can God love a man such as he? Neither his heart nor his house was in order and yet he was loved by God.
But that is how God works. By grace, He chooses the unworthy and the unwashed, the scoundrel and the liar, the deceiver and the drunkard. How is this even possible?
The answer comes many years later. There is another encounter between another man and another woman at Jacob's well. There, in Samaria, Jesus met a woman whose lifestyle made even Jacob look like a godly man. Once again, God revealed Himself to a notorious sinner, a woman who had scandalized the neighborhood with a Hollywood-style series of marriages and divorces. And, He offered this woman, this notorious sinner, a drink of living water (cf Jn 4:4-26).
Again, this is how God works. He seeks sinners and gives them mercy and grace. And, it is Christ Who experiences the justice.
It needs to be this way. The scales of justice need to be balanced. And, in Christ, they are.
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