A Deceiver Of A Deceiver

Genesis 30:25-43 As soon as Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country. 26 Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, that I may go, for you know the service that I have given you.” 27 But Laban said to him, “If I have found favor in your sight, I have learned by divination that the LORD has blessed me because of you. 28 Name your wages, and I will give it.” 29 Jacob said to him, “You yourself know how I have served you, and how your livestock has fared with me. 30 For you had little before I came, and it has increased abundantly, and the LORD has blessed you wherever I turned. But now when shall I provide for my own household also?” 31 He said, “What shall I give you?” Jacob said, “You shall not give me anything. If you will do this for me, I will again pasture your flock and keep it: 32 let me pass through all your flock today, removing from it every speckled and spotted sheep and every black lamb, and the spotted and speckled among the goats, and they shall be my wages. 33 So my honesty will answer for me later, when you come to look into my wages with you. Every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats and black among the lambs, if found with me, shall be counted stolen.” 34 Laban said, “Good! Let it be as you have said.” 35 But that day Laban removed the male goats that were striped and spotted, and all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had white on it, and every lamb that was black, and put them in the charge of his sons. 36 And he set a distance of three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, and Jacob pastured the rest of Laban’s flock.

37 Then Jacob took fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the sticks. 38 He set the sticks that he had peeled in front of the flocks in the troughs, that is, the watering places, where the flocks came to drink. And since they bred when they came to drink, 39 the flocks bred in front of the sticks and so the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted. 40 And Jacob separated the lambs and set the faces of the flocks toward the striped and all the black in the flock of Laban. He put his own droves apart and did not put them with Laban’s flock. 41 Whenever the stronger of the flock were breeding, Jacob would lay the sticks in the troughs before the eyes of the flock, that they might breed among the sticks, 42 but for the feebler of the flock he would not lay them there. So the feebler would be Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s. 43 Thus the man increased greatly and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys.

INTRODUCTION

We’ve been considering the story of Jacob since chapter 25. But the story of Jacob is only properly understood inside the story of his father, Isaac (which began in chapter 21). But the story of Isaac is really a continuation of the story of his father, Abraham, the man God first made the covenant with. His story began in chapter 12. But the story of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is ultimately a part of the larger story of God’s determination to rescue a rebellious people. And that story began in Genesis 3 where Adam and Eve fell into the pit of sin and death but God promised to send a Rescuer to lift their children out. From that point on (from Genesis 3 on), God began moving all time and space toward the person and work of Jesus, the One who would die to rescue all who would receive Him, and the one whose death and resurrection we celebrate this week.

For that reason, it shouldn’t be a surprise to find that throughout Genesis (and the entire OT) we find regular promises of and allusions to Jesus. He is the Heel-Crusher and the garment of skins in Genesis 3. He is the saving waters of the Flood in Genesis 6. He is the Messiah predicted in 9:27 (and other places). He is the reversal of the Babel curse in chapter 11. He is the blessing of all people promised in 12:3 and 28:14. He is the Angel of the Lord in Genesis 16:7 (and other similar passages). He is the fulfillment of the everlasting covenant in Genesis 17:19. He is the true sacrificial ram and the atoning provision of the LORD in place of Isaac in 22. He is Jacob’s ladder in 28. And He is the irremovable scepter in the line of Judah in 49:10.

Grace, the whole bible tells one great story of salvation and reconciliation, even as it gradually reveals the fact that both would be in and through and for Jesus Christ. Therefore, as we continue on in the Jacob chapter of this greatest story, look for glimpses of Jesus. Look for promises of and allusions to His coming and His saving work. Be careful not to read things into the text that aren’t there, but be equally careful not to miss what is there.

To that end, pay attention to this next subtle, mysterious, and miraculous blessing of Jacob. Apart from reading it as a part of the larger story, we will certainly miss the heart of the passage.

Our passage for this morning is a story about a deceiver of a deceiver. Laban was a deceiver. Earlier he’d tricked Jacob into marrying his daughter Leah. Here he tricked Jacob into believing he had noble intentions when entering into an agreement with Jacob. But he was a deceiver of a deceiver. Jacob himself deceived his own brother (Esau) out of his birthright. He also deceived his own father (Isaac) into getting Esau’s blessing as well. And on some level, he was attempting to deceive Laban in our passage for this morning as well.

We’ll soon see that Laban quickly caught on to Jacob’s scheme and made a plan to thwart it that should have worked. Seeing the reason why Laban’s counter measures didn’t work is the key to understanding this passage. In short, it’s because God had chosen to bless Jacob as the heir of the promise He’d made to Abraham, and as the one through whom Jesus would come. For that reason alone, God miraculously prospered Jacob in spite of his misguided attempts to manipulate the flocks for his gain, and Laban’s well-guided attempts to stop it.

The key for us to see today is that the same determination of God (the determination to preserve and transform a people for Himself regardless of their failures) is for the world today. Just as Jacob’s hope of gaining and remaining in God’s favor was not owing to his own goodness, neither is ours. If we are to gain or remain in God’s favor, it will be because (and only because) God saw fit to unite us with Jesus and His saving work; to grant us faith in Him and the righteousness that comes from it.

Let’s pray and then take a look at the text to see all of this.

JACOB SEEKS TO LEAVE LABAN’S HOUSE (25-30)

After fourteen years in Laban’s house, Jacob decided it was time to return to his homeland. Right after Joseph was born, then, he asked (even though it sounds like he demanded) Laban to release him to his own country (25). Obviously, Jacob wanted to take his wife and kids with him; certainly, because they were his family, but also because they were his agreed upon wages for fourteen years of service (29:18 and 27).

Laban replied in typical fashion for someone in that culture. He framed his response in the form of generosity, but was really angling to get even more out of Jacob before he let him go (27-28). In essence (I’m going to do some paraphrasing here) Laban told Jacob, “I have sought to know the cause of my good fortune (perhaps unwittingly confessing that he did so by ungodly means, ‘divination’) and the LORD revealed the truth to me. The truth is that my blessings are from the LORD, on account of you” (28). Jacob agreed with Laban’s assessment saying, “That you have fared well on my account is undeniable. You had little before I came and by the LORD’s hand what you had has increased abundantly under my care. Would you release me, therefore, in the knowledge that you’ve already come out better than you would have apart from me” (30)?

Again, not wanting the source of his blessings to be shut off, which he expected to happen should Jacob go, Laban asked what it would take to keep Jacob around. What follows, then, is Jacob’s answer to that question and the negotiation it led to between he and Laban.

The keys for us to grab onto from these opening verses (25-30) are (1) God’s blessing of Jacob (Jacob’s success was exclusively because God’s favor was upon him), (2) God’s blessing of Laban on account of Jacob (Laban’s success was exclusively because he was associated with Jacob), (3) Laban’s recognition of these things (through “divination” Laban knew why he’d prospered), and (4) Laban’s selfish, secular desire to manipulate God through Jacob (Laban was after prosperity for its own sake, and Jacob and God were merely means to that end).

Grace, these things combined cry out in a loud reminder that it is God who blesses. Every good and perfect gift comes only from above (James 1:17). Other things that we might want or call good come from other places, but things that really are good come from God alone. There is no other source of true blessing. And if something is not from God, it is not good and we shouldn’t want it. Coming to recognize these things is critical to living a life of contentment and a life that is honoring to God. Press that against your heart, mind, and life.

But there’s an even deeper point on display here. This passage helps us to see that that is not enough. It’s not enough to simply recognize God as the exclusive giver of good gifts. Laban recognized that, but it’s clear he was still missing something. What was it? It’s the fact that even though he acknowledged God as the giver of his gifts, he did not honor God for them. He saw God merely as a vending machine to dispense his desires. God was only desirable to Laban insofar as Laban had coins (Jacob) and God had Snickers (growing flocks).

How many times have you, or have you seen someone else, acknowledge God’s gracious hand upon a situation but rather than glorify God, you/they glorified the blessing? And how many times have you, or have you seen someone else, abandon God as soon as you/they had what they wanted or God stopped giving it? What a tragedy it is when God is only a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

The tragedy of this is easy to see when we consider how it feels to be on the wrong end of it with other people. Have you ever had a friend only reach out when they needed something or didn’t have anything better to do? Ladies, have you ever had your husband show you love only when he wanted you culinarily or conjugally? Men, has it ever seemed like your wife was using respect or physicality primarily as currency for her own selfish desires? Parents, what does it feel like when your kids are nice or obedient only as long as you say “Yes”? Kids, have you ever had one of your siblings play with you only because you had a toy they liked or because their friends were all busy?

If it’s a tragedy to treat one another like this (as Laban did Jacob), how much more or a tragedy is it to treat God like this (as Laban did God)?

JACOB AND LABAN NEGOTIATE (31-34)

Having established all of that, Laban asked Jacob a question (“What shall I give you” to stay so that the blessing of God through you might remain on me?). After everything that had happened, what would you say? Would you agree to stick around for longer? Would you trust Laban at that point? Or would you say, “Thanks, but no”?

Well, Jacob agreed to stick around for a while longer under one condition: that Laban gift him every lamb and goat that was not solid white in color; the least common animals (32). Laban’s daughters had been Jacob’s wages. Now Jacob wanted a portion of Laban’s animals as well. This plan would accomplish two things. First, it put a fixed number on the original gift. Second, it provided an easy way to distinguish between the two men’s flocks going forward (33).

Laban, understanding that this put him at an advantage, agreed to the terms, “Good! Let it be as you have said.”

Both men seemed genuinely happy with the terms. On the surface, this is how business is supposed to work. We’re meant to work with others to find mutually beneficial terms. Where so many seek to gain at the expense of others (to exploit them), Christians ought to always seek mutual blessing. We cannot not tolerate exploitation or otherwise unfair business practices. If anyone is to be defrauded, it must be us.

Again, at first this is what seemed to be happening. Each man would profit from the other. Laban’s flocks would surely grow as they were tended by the blessed man of God, and Jacob would accrue a flock of his own to take with him when he left. At this point it seemed like a win-win. And that leads to the final section, the carrying out of this seemingly good business arrangement.

CARRYING OUT THE NEGOTIATED PLAN (35-43)

As Laban agreed to the terms, his initial actions were promising. He proceeded to go through his flock to separate Jacob’s animals from his own. That’s fine. So far, so good (35a).

And yet, as you’ve probably already come to expect, things aren’t always as they seem. Appearances don’t always match reality. The evil intentions of our hearts can often be masked for a time. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, to find that even though things looked good on the surface, they quickly took a less-than-godly turn.

Laban placed the sheep he’d just given to Jacob, not in Jacob’s charge, but in the charge of his sons (35b). Jacob, the blessed one, would be in charge of Laban’s flocks while Laban’s sons would be in charge of Jacob’s. This was a shrewd and deceitful move on Laban’s part.

What’s more, Laban sent his sons and Jacob’s flock three days away from Jacob so there was no way Jacob could even keep an eye out for his animals (36).

We don’t know exactly what Jacob had in mind (maybe he assumed he’d take care of both men’s flocks), but we do know this wasn’t it.

Seemingly undeterred, however, Jacob set to work. I mean to close by highlighting three things in the events that followed; from the carrying out of the plan the two men had devised.

First, Jacob sought to manipulate Laban’s flock in order to grow his own.

The text does not explicitly condemn Jacob’s actions, but instead of immediately setting to work on making Laban’s flock prosper and entrusting his own to God, Jacob starting working to turn a Laban’s into his own. This is just another example of our need for God’s unconditional election.

Second, Jacob sought to grow his own flock through superstition and manipulation.

Rather than through prayer or honest work, Jacob sought to turn Laban’s flock into his own by employing a superstitious practice intended to alter the animals’ offspring, and then through a manipulative practice, intended to strengthen his animals and weaken Laban’s.

With regard to the superstitious approach, it was commonly thought (and apparently believed by Jacob) that an animal’s babies could be influenced by what its parents were looking at while breeding. Thus, Jacob set to work,

37 Then Jacob took fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the sticks. 38 He set the sticks that he had peeled in front of the flocks in the troughs, that is, the watering places, where the flocks came to drink. And since they bred when they came to drink, 39 the flocks bred in front of the sticks and so the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted.

Jacob placed white sticks in front of the animals that they might produce spotted animals. His superstition seems to have worked. All-white animals produced striped, speckled, and spotted animals when they shouldn’t have.

With regard to the manipulative approach, once Laban’s flock began to produce animals that would become Jacob’s, Jacob began trying to ensure that his animals were not only more numerous, but also stronger.

40 And Jacob separated the lambs and set the faces of the flocks toward the striped and all the black in the flock of Laban. He put his own droves apart and did not put them with Laban’s flock. 41 Whenever the stronger of the flock were breeding, Jacob would lay the sticks in the troughs before the eyes of the flock, that they might breed among the sticks, 42 but for the feebler of the flock he would not lay them there. So the feebler would be Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s.

Simply, Jacob quickly combined his superstition with sound animal husbandry practices. When stronger animals bread with stronger animals they produce stronger animals. Thus, Jacob put the superstitious sticks in front of the stronger animals when they would breed with each other and the result was stronger spotted, striped, and speckled animals. Jacob was actively and intentionally manipulating the animals for his gain and Laban’s loss.

What initially looked like a lesson in godly business practice has turned into two men seeking to outdo one another in stereotypical, greasy, used car salesmen, shadiness. All of that really is tragic. Neither man’s actions honored God. Both seemed to be out entirely for their own selfish interest. And yet all of this is worse for Jacob, the chosen one of God. He was meant to be a light to the world and a blessing to the nations, but instead he was trying to cheat his own father-in-law, his mother’s brother.

As bad as that is, however, it gets worse. And that leads to the final thing to notice from this passage.

Third, because of his superstition Jacob missed God’s blessing

It was bad that Laban tried to cheat Jacob. It was worse that Jacob tried to cheat Laban. It was worse still that because of all of this both men missed that all of their blessing was from God. Had both men simply trusted God to prosper their flocks, it would have been so according to God’s promises. What they gained was already theirs. The great tragedy, then, is that they dishonored God for no additional gain and missed the kind, sovereign hand of God in the process. Where they should have rejoiced and marveled and worshiped together at the grace of God, Laban was solidified in his shrewdness and Jacob was solidified in his superstition. We learn from the next chapter (31:9) that Jacob eventually figured it out, but here both men missed the blessing of God.

Grace, there’s an unbelievably important lesson here. Sometimes our efforts only serve to mask the work of God. This was the problem the Jews brought upon themselves for centuries. They wrongly believed that it was the keeping of the law that made them acceptable to God.

This was also the problem with some in the early Church. They tried to require certain good works for salvation and therein missed the blessing of God and shielded others from seeing it as well.

Today, this is one of the more serious critiques of “seeker” churches. I’ve been shaped for years by a quote from A.W. Tozer in this regard. He writes, “The path of human excellence is often found inside the Christian church. Unfortunately, so is the path of heathen darkness. This is the path that expresses worship of ‘the creation instead of the Creator’ (TPM 65). Tozer notes that many churches are walking dangerously close to this line with the celebrity pastors and musicians which are so prominent in Christianity today. He offers a test for discerning the presence of heathen darkness worship.

“On a Saturday night, a ‘praise and worship band’ will hold a concert in a hall downtown. After one song, the audience explodes in applause accompanied with cheers and a standing ovation. To cover his track, the lead singer will say, “Let’s give a clap offering to God.”

“If you do not think this is crowding the line, do this. Take the lyrics of the song that caused such uproar and give it to one of the dear old saints at church on Sunday. Make sure it is one of those saints with an impeccable reputation of holiness and unimpeachable Christian character…Have this person take these lyrics to the pulpit and quietly read them to the audience. If it does not create the same effect as the night before, maybe it was not the truth in those lyrics the people the night before were applauding but the performers” (TPM 66).

His point is that much of what we do in the world, and even in the name of our faith, can actually work to hide the glory of God from our eyes. God blessed Jacob and Laban but their shrewdness and superstition eclipsed it. Be careful, Grace, of your pride and gifts and message and medium. Be careful to put the spotlight directly on God and hold it there. Make sure to join with the Apostle in saying, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31).

CONCLUSION

In the end, six years later, the text tells us that Jacob “increased greatly and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys” (43).

In this passage we’ve seen a few things. Above all we saw the promise of God miraculously continue on through Jacob, not because he deserved it, but because God had chosen him. We’ve also seen that God alone gives good gifts and we must do everything we can to make sure God gets the glory He is due.

To end where we began, then, we need to ask, where is Jesus in this text? How do we see His glory in this story? We see it subtly and simply in the fact that God continued to bless this people in spite of their manipulation and masking of His glory.

Everything was pointed at Jesus. Because God had chosen a people through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and because He had determined to send His only Son, Jesus, through that line to atone for the sins of the world, God preserved and blessed the line in spite of their sin and rebellion. God remained faithful to His promise as history moved toward Jesus, even as history remained unfaithful to God. This is the gospel, Grace Church. This is our hope; not that we will perfectly obey (as Jacob failed to do here), but in that Jesus did.

See Jesus in the undeserved blessing of Jacob. And then look to Jesus that you too might receive the undeserved blessing of God in Him.