Saturday, January 07, 2012

Genesis Chapter 31 ~ Jacob's Departure and Cutting a Covenant

Genesis Chapter 31 

Laban's sons were saying that Jacob had taken their fathers wealth and possessions. Further, Jacob could see that Laban didn't care for him. Then Yahweh said to Jacob, "Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you." (31:3) Jacob didn't just decide to leave, he was commanded to leave. He tells Rachel and Leah about their circumstances and how Laban had cheated him by changing his wages ten times (31:7). He confessed though, that God did not permit Laban to harm him.

Next Jacob recognizes that nothing he had done brought him prosperity, it was God's choosing: "Thus God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me." (31:9) Then Jacob described his interaction with an "angel of God" to Rachel and Leah. The angel said, "I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred." (31:13) Rachel and Leah responded recognizing their father's sin in basically selling them and cheating them. Then they affirmed what the angel said by saying, "All the wealth that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children. Now then, whatever God has said to you, do." (31:16) So Jacob set his family on camels and left with all his possessions and livestock that he acquired in Paddan-aram to go back to Canaan to his father Isaac. While packing up Rachel stole Laban's household gods, and Jacob tricked Laban by not telling him he and his family were leaving. So they fled and crossed the Euphrates headed toward the hill country of Gilead (31:21).

Three days later Laban was told that they fled and he pursued them for seven days into the country of Gilead. God came to him in a dream and said, "Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad." (Gen. 31:24) Laban caught up with Jacob accused him of harshly driving his daughters away and accused him of tricking him and not letting him kiss his family farewell. He said that because of this it was in his power to harm Jacob (v. 29), but God told him not to. Then he asked why Jacob stole his gods. Jacob told him the reason they left secretly was because he was afraid and thought he'd take Rachel and Leah from him. He also said that anyone who is found in his camp to have the gods shall not live (he didn't know Rachel took them). So, Laban's party looked through everyone's things and couldn't find them. Rachel hid them under her saddle and sat on them, and she told him that she couldn't get up because, "the way of women is upon me." (31:35). After this Jacob berated Laban telling him all the grievances he had against him. In the midst of this, he accused Laban changing of Jacob's wages similar to what we saw in Genesis 30 and in his description to Leah and Rachel in 31:7: "I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times." (31:41) After this he described how God was on his side and that's why God rebuked him the night before (31:42).

Laban and Jacob's Covenant
As a response Laban proposed that they make/cut a covenant (31:44) saying, "let it be a witness between you and me." Jacob then took a stone and set it up as a pillar, and he told his kinsmen to gather stones, so they made a heap of the stones and they ate there. Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha (Aramaic for "the heap of witness"), and Jacob called it Galeed (Hebrew for "the heap of witness"). So Laban called it Galeed and Mizpah (Hebrew for "watch-post"). Laban then set the terms of the covenant:
"The LORD watch between you and me, when we are out of one another's sight. If you oppress my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no one is with us, see, God is witness between you and me." (31:49-50) 
And further:
"See this heap and the pillar, which I have set between you and me. This heap is a witness and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm. The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us." (31:51-53) 
Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac, and he offered a sacrifice in the hill country and called his men to eat bread. Then early in the morning Laban arose and kissed his grandchildren and daughters and he blessed them. Then Laban returned home.

Reflections on Chapter 31
When you read this chapter it’s hard to miss how God is meticulously in control of everything. First, it’s clear that Jacob was leaving Laban because he was afraid, and yet, he was also leaving because God told him to. Further, this chapter says that all of Jacob’s prosperity came to him because of God’s choosing. It wasn’t a superstitious belief in laying down sticks from poplar, almond, and plane trees. It was because of God. Second, God spoke to Laban in his dream while he was in hot pursuit of Jacob, and basically told him not to charge him of anything and to leave him alone: “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.” (Gen. 31:24) It’s pretty clear that God is on Jacob’s side here, and not because of anything Jacob did, but because of God’s sovereign choice (31:42).

Then they made or “cut” a covenant (keep your eyes open for the next post over-viewing the way covenants are referred to in Genesis). In this covenant Jacob swore by the Fear (capital “F”) of his father, Isaac (see Genesis 31:42 and 31:53). What was this fear? The only answer can be the fear of the LORD. "Fear" here can also be translated, "the Awesome One of Isaac." This is the fear that he learned from His grandpa, Abraham. There are at least three references to this “Fear” in Genesis. First, in Genesis 9:2 the “fear and dread of [God]” is foundational to God’s covenant with Noah, and it’s foundational faith. Second, in Genesis 20:11 the “fear of God” is not in the non-believing king Abimelek’s house. Third, in Genesis 22:12 God stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac saying, “Do not lay a hand on the boy...Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” So Isaac’s “Fear” is his faith, and belief in the one true and living God, Yahweh. It’s interesting that he doesn’t swear on his own fear though.

This should draw our affections and appreciation to Jesus Christ more and more. God is in control of all things, and because of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, fear of God is no longer shaped primarily by His wrath against His people for eternity, but by His wrath poured out on Jesus in our place. If a person is outside of Christ their fear is primarily one of wrath, but a believer's fear of God is rooted in Christ’s work on our behalf, and it is an humble awe and reverence because of His great power and might. It is a trembling in His presence because He has chosen weak and broken people just like us to be His sons if we would only repent and believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Hallelujah, all praise to Yahweh!

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