a. She is more righteous. Three months pass and it is discovered that Tamar is pregnant. Since she is not married to Shelah it is assumed by the people, and rightfully so that she was immoral and has committed prostitution. The people sent word to Judah and he says that they should bring her out to burn her. There is some debate whether he is calling for her execution or branding. Often when we harbor sins in our hearts, we come down harder on those that commit the same sins. But Tamar does not remain silent. She brings out Judah’s ring, cord, and staff and says that “by the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.” With this, what Judah has feared has happened. His shameful act has been put on public display. This is the real test of the heart of the person. We have seen a lot of public figures have their sins exposed and they deny and then when the proof is offered they resign to avoid further shame. This is not what Judah does. He identifies the items as his and then he says, “She is more righteous than I since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” Judah confesses his sin and recognizes that it was his sin that drove Tamar to her sinful actions. He could not throw the first stone at her (or burn her as he says) because he would condemn himself. How do we know that he repents? “And he did not know her again.” He turned from this sin. He did not pretend as if nothing was wrong. He confessed and he turned away. Is there a mustard seed of faith in the cruel heart of Judah after all? b. Twins again. The time comes for Tamar to give birth and she has an unusual birth like Rebekah. She has twins. And like Jacob and Esau, Perez and Zerah struggle in the womb. As Tamar is giving birth Zerah puts his hand out and the midwife places a scarlet thread on his hand which marked him as the firstborn. But then Perez pushes his way past his brother and his birthed first which is how he got his name “Breach”. Why is the birth of Perez and Zerah important? It shows the graciousness of God. We know from Jacob’s blessings at the end of the book that the kings that were promised to Jacob would come from Judah and his offspring. Reuben sinned with his father’s concubine and therefore lost his place in the family. But why Judah? Why was he chosen? That is the question that we all ask ourselves, isn’t it? We did God choose me and not my neighbor? Why did he choose me and not my other family members? Why me? The answer we are given is the free grace of God. His grace and his choice are not bound by his creation but in his sovereignty that lies above and beyond this universe. God took counsel with no one when it came to salvation. Salvation belongs to God and God alone. Judah was chosen, not because of who he was but because of God’s eternal purposes to praise of his glory alone.
So, what can we walk away from this passage? First, we see that God is faithful to his promises. Remember that God had promised to make a nation out of Esau before he was born. He told Rebekah that as she was still carrying him. Despite the evil and immorality of the man, God was faithful to his promises. This chapter is a fulfillment of this passage. When we see God keeping his promises to those that are evil, how much more should we who are followers of God trust in his promises. God has given us no reason to doubt him. If God could make a nation out of Esau, he can make a nation out of Jacob. If he could make a nation out of Jacob then he can make a nation out of every tribe, language, and nation. We serve a promise-keeping God. Matthew Henry also points us to another lesson we need to learn. “The children of this world have their all in hand, and nothing in hope (Luke 16:25); which the children of God have their all in hope, and next to nothing in hand. But, all things considered, it is better to have Canaan in promise than mount Seir in possession.” Though Esau had kings first it should not have been a point of jealousy for Jacob’s descendants. They had God as their king. But they followed exactly what God said they would do. They would through off God as their king and seek a mere person to rule over them. We do the same when we disregard God’s law and the teachings of Christ and substitute our own feelings and desires. Some people substitute worldly government for God’s government. Christ is King, today. Have you submitted your life to him? Will you serve him? Will you bow your desires and dreams to him or will you keep yourself on the throne? You can’t do that forever for one day he will rule over you. If you submit now the day the king returns will be the happiest day of your life. If you keep yourself on the throne when King Jesus returns that will be the beginning of the worse day of your life. So submit yourself to Jesus today.
This chapter was one filled with great highs and lows for Jacob. God spoke to Jacob, God invited him back to his house to sacrifice and commune with him. Jacob saw God strike fear in the hearts of those who would be his enemies. Jacob saw his household all give up their foreign gods. Jacob worshipped God and fulfilled the vow that he made decades earlier. And God appeared to him, again and again, confirmed the covenant promises. Jacob also had another son. All of these were amazing experiences for Jacob. And Jacob remained true to God in these. But Jacob also saw the death of the beloved Deborah, the death of his precious wife whom he loved deeply, and the death of his father. He also found out that his firstborn son had betrayed him. All these things would be enough to crush the heart of Jacob. But God is not done yet. Jacob is still in the school of God and he has some more lessons to learn. You know what Jacob is going through. You’ve had those mountain top experiences where heaven feels so close and you are so excited you feel that you could conquer the world in the name of Christ. Often when we go to summer camp or a conference or some special church meeting we might have that feeling. But when we come home and reality sets in and people die and family and friends betray us we want to be like the prophet Elijah and run away. But it is in those moments when your Christianity is tested and proven to be true. Anyone can follow God when you can call fire down from heaven, but will you follow God when Jezebel is threatening to kill you. It’s easy to be a Christian at the concert, at camp, in the fun and exciting and special but what happens in normal life where people die and family hurts you, where you lose your job or you have to do the laundry again, or someone cuts you off on the highway? That is the true test of your Christianity. That is when your holiness is either displayed or shown to be lacking. That is the real Christian life. I’m afraid we in the American church have spent far too long pretending Christianity is only the mountain tops when it is almost always about the normal day-to-day.
Jacob has been changing in the 20 years since he lied to his father and stole the birthright. Jacob has spent twenty years being cheated and mistreated by his father-in-law. But after those twenty years in the school of Christ, he finally confesses his dependence on God. God saw his affliction and the labor of his hands. God rebuked Laban. Apart from God, Jacob would have been homeless with no family and no wealth. God’s kind providence was upon Jacob and he was beginning to open his eyes to this fact. When uncertainty and hardship come into your life, what is your response? Do you doubt God’s goodness? Do you wonder if he sees your affliction? Do you think maybe he hasn’t seen how hard you’ve been working? Maybe you spent 20 years in the school of affliction and perhaps you’re there right now. Learn like Jacob did that God has been on your side. God sees what you are going through. God will act on your behalf. He is at work transforming you into the likeness of his Son. You are a jewel in the hand of the Master Jeweler. It is only through grinding and filing and polishing that you, who were nothing more than a dull rock will finally shine for all eternity. May God enable us to trust his wisdom and to grow in our trust. May we make use of every tool that he has given us to grow in that trust.
These last few verses are a tirade of Jacob where he unleashes his anger and berates his father-in-law. a. I’m not a thief. In 36-37, he argues that he has not stolen anything and demands the proof. If Laban has proof he should bring it forward and let the people judge. b. I’ve served you well. In 38-40, states that for the twenty years that he has been with Laban he has always done right by him. And if there were any losses, Jacob took the loss himself and did not pass it on to Laban. He worked tirelessly in the heat and the cold. c. You’re a lousy father-in-law. In verse 41, he turns the tables back on Laban. He says that he has been with him for twenty years. He served 14 years for his two daughters and six years for the flock. He has put his time in and what did he get? His wages changed ten times. In reality, he only wanted to serve the seven years for Rachel and leave but Jacob has been longsuffering with Laban. d. God Is On My Side. Jacob says that if it weren’t for God and it was up to Laban, he would be leaving Haran empty-handed. Jacob calls God the God of his father, the God of Abraham, and the Fear of Isaac. The Fear of Isaac is an interesting phrase and has been debated over the centuries. The ancient Rabbis speculated that Jacob did not call God the God of Isaac because Isaac was still alive and that would be dishonoring. It seems to me that it harkens back to chapter 27 when Isaac was confronted with his sin of trying to confirm the blessing to Esau instead of Jacob. Isaac trembled exceedingly abundantly when he realized that his plans were thwarted by God.
a. The lack of trust. Laban shows that he has zero trust in his son-in-law and begins a tent by tent search for his idols. He goes to Jacob’s tent then Leah’s, Zilpah’s, and Bilhah’s, and found nothing. Then he goes into Rachel’s tent. Rachel is in the tent but he still proceeds to feel all about the tent. He leaves no rug or pillow unturned. The only thing he did not search was Rachel’s camel saddle. b. The deceiver deceived. Rachel knows what Laban is looking for and has heard what Jacob has said. She promptly takes the household gods, puts them in the camel’s saddle, and then sits on them. Just like Jacob and Laban, Rachel also is able to lie straight-faced to a person. She doesn’t get up when her father enters the tent because she says, “the way of women is upon me.” Laban doesn’t want anything to do with that so he does not ask her to get off the saddle. Instead, he finishes searching everywhere else and then returns to Jacob. There are many speculations as to why Rachel has the household gods. Many reasons could fit but I’m not sold on the idea that Rachel believed and loved the teraphim and that’s why she stole and lied to her father. If she loved them so much why would you disgrace them by sitting on them? That’s just a thought but it doesn’t seem like an act of someone who venerated these gods. One last thought here, we should pity a person whose gods can be stolen. We see it in our world today. Some people make their health a god and when it fails they are destroyed. Some people it’s money or sex or getting high or relationships. The list is as long and as varied as there are people. We should rejoice that we follow a God who cannot be stolen away from us. “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39.
Jacob responds in short order to Laban’s complaints. a. I was afraid you would hurt me. Jacob’s reason for sneaking away is the reason why Laban showed up. Laban proved this reason to be valid. He would have taken his daughters by force unless God stopped him. Jacob’s no fool after all. b. I don’t have what’s yours. Remember what Jacob did when he agreed to stay with Laban? He set it up so that it would be obvious if he stole from Laban. All you had to do was to look at the coats of the animals. Why would Jacob only take what was his but steal the teraphim? Does that make sense? It doesn’t to Jacob and so he says that if they found anything that didn’t belong to him to go ahead and take it. And Jacob’s conscience is so clear in regards to the household gods that he says that if anyone is found with them they will die. That’s a bit extreme but it does show how sincere Jacob is. He has no idea that his favorite wife Rachel has stolen them. No doubt he would not have promised the death penalty if he had any inkling that she stole them. This demonstrates the importance of having a clear conscience before both God and man. But it also shows the caution that needs to be taken when vouching for someone else. In his attempt to prove his innocence he pronounced death over his wife.
Laban and his kinsmen make their way to Jacob’s tent and Laban is not going to leave without first scolding Jacob. Laban has a four-part lecture prepared for his son-in-law. a. You tricked me. This is his first complaint. You tricked me and didn’t tell me you were leaving. The root word for tricked here is to steal as we might say in English, “you have stolen away from me.” You snuck away and you treated my daughters like captives of the sword. Clearly, Laban did not know how his daughters really felt about him. They were not there against their will. They felt as if they were goods to be traded. They were chattel to him. They were ready to leave him behind. b. You’re a fool. Laban suggests that Jacob didn’t need to run away like he did because they would have thrown a party for him on his departure. He would have known he was leaving there would have been feasting. Jacob missed out. And then Laban complains that he didn’t even get a chance to kiss his family goodbye. Jacob robbed him of Laban’s chance to say goodbye and bless his family. All of a sudden Laban has become the father of the year. What is Laban doing here? This is clearly a guilt trip. He is laying on thick but Jacob does not respond and so he tries a different tactic. c. I could hurt you. Laban says, “I have the power to do you harm.” This is obvious since he showed up with a bunch of guys who were probably armed. If he just wanted to say goodbye, why show up with the kinsmen? It seems as if Laban is saying that he would have hurt him except God said that he couldn’t. Laban says, “the God of your father,” which is a telling statement. Not our God, but your father’s God stop me from attacking you. d. You’re a thief. Here we go. Finally, we get to the main reason Laban is out in Gilead. He is missing his gods. They’ve been stolen and since they disappeared the same time Jacob left, he assumes Jacob has stolen his teraphim. Of course, we already know that Rachel has them, but Jacob doesn’t know this. Laban is an idol worshipper and not a follower of God. Many years later, Joshua will remind the nation of Israel that they came from idol worshippers in Mesopotamia and warn them not to follow them. This is the kind of contradictory reasoning that comes from one that does not follow God. This is the debased mind and futile and fruitless thinking of one that does not acknowledge God and give Him thanks.
a. The Chase. We pick up the story three days after Jacob leaves Paddan-aram with his family. Remember that Laban had left to go help his sons to shear his sheep. Also remember that Laban, six years prior had set up his sons a three days journey away with the separate flock that he had taken and given to his sons in violation of the wage agreement. And so, Laban is there sheering the sheep when the news of Jacob’s departure makes the three days journey to him. Laban does not leave immediately after them though. We can assume that Laban knows that Jacob has a bunch of little ones and he is driving all of his animals and that would slow him down. And so, Laban gathers together some of his kinsmen and they make the preparations to leave. We can tell from the rest of the story that Laban is in a rage and this seems to be why he drives hard after Jacob. It only takes him seven days to make the over 300-mile journey from Paddan-aram to the hill country of Gilead. This is doable and shows us that when Laban finally is able to chase Jacob down he does not, as they say, spare the whip. When he arrives in the hill country, Laban and his kinsmen make camp and prepare their incursion into Jacob’s camp. But something happens during the trip that will affect what is about to happen. b. The Dream. Somewhere along the journey, Laban has a dream. This is not a normal dream but is a special encounter with God. There is no mistaking or guessing whether it was God or not. When God spoke to a person in a dream they knew exactly what was going on and in detail. Remember that God has done this before and will do this again with others that were pagans. The only thing that we have recorded of the dream is that God speaks to Laban and says, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.” A while back I mentioned this would come up again. In Genesis 24:50 when Abraham’s servant had asked to take Rebekah with him to be Isaac’s wife, Laban and Bethuel said, “The thing has come from the Lord; we cannot speak to you bad or good.” Moses will also record this same idea coming from Balaam who said that even if Balak gave him a house of money he could not speak good or bad of his own will because the Lord had spoken. This phrase clearly refers to a tying of the hands of these people. They desire to do something, in our story Laban wants to hurt Jacob, but God says that that is not his will. And so, Laban’s will is overridden by God’s will. God is with Jacob and he is protecting him. God does not change Laban’s heart but he does bind his hands. We must remember that if we are followers of God then he protects us from the evil that people intend against us. The wicked are only able to act against God’s people if it furthers God’s purposes and will bring about good in the life of the Christian.
Last time we looked at Jacob’s preparation and flight from Haran back to Canaan. He had been 20 years as a sojourner in the land from which his grandfather Abraham had come. But Jacob’s homeland was Canaan. That was where he belonged. For twenty years he has lived with his uncle/father-in-law. These were years filled with hard work, pain, suffering, and trials. Though Jacob was a man of many years he had to go to school. Hanah More said, “Affliction is the school in which great virtues are acquired, in which holy characters are formed.” Charles Spurgeon said, “I bear my willing testimony to the blessing that affliction and trial have been to me. I owe more to God’s furnace and the file, than I can ever describe!” William Ward commented, “We are only scholars. It rests with the Great Teacher to decide which lesson shall come next — a hard one or an easy one.” Hebrews 12:10, “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness!” These trials are hard but Jacob will learn what the Holy Spirit will reiterate many years later through the writing of Paul. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” We’ll see today, that this what Jacob has come to learn about God, and what we must learn as well.