If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Genesis 29, as we continue our study in the life of Jacob. We have seen Jacob obtain both the birthright and the blessing through trickery and cunning and policy. We have seen that blessing confirmed to him by his father, Isaac. We have seen Jacob then met by the Lord God Himself on the way in Bethel. And in the dream, God Himself confirms the covenant promises and now tonight we continue to watch Jacob in his journey to Padan-aram to the vicinity of Haran, and the family and the area, the territory from whence his own mother came. So let's hear God's holy word here in Genesis 29:
Father, as we traverse this passage and its account of Jacob's journey, we would ask that You would open our eyes to see keenly Your hand of providence, to be mindful of Your gracious discipline. We ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.
As we see Jacob making his way to the vicinity of Haran, we can't help but notice that God's good providence is both wide and undeserved. God has plans for Jacob, the perfect instrument for sanctification. His name is Laban. God also has plans for Jacob. Something that he utterly did not deserve. Rachel. God's good providence is both wise and undeserved. Let's look at this in that passage together beginning in verses 1 through 8 you see the first section describing Jacob's journey to Haran and his meeting with the herdsmen, or maybe we ought to say the shepherd boys of Haran. And then in verses 9 through 12 you see the initial encounter with Rachel. That's the second section of the passage. And then in verses 13 through 20 you see the agreement that was struck up between Jacob and Laban and you see a final expression of Jacob's love for Rachel. Let's look at the passage together.
I.God showed His gracious providence over Jacob in the journey to Padan-aram.
First, in verses 1 through 8, the passage which describes Jacob's journey to Haran, and his meeting with these herdsmen of Haran. We see as we look at these verses, God showing His gracious providence over Jacob. Jacob's journey probably took him about three weeks. And like Abraham's servant before him, God led him every step of the way to the place where he should go. And he arrived at this well in the land of the east. And there are some flocks already sitting around this well, covered by a very, very large stone, and there are some shepherd boys there. And he says to them, “Are we any where near Haran?” They say, “Yes.” He goes on to say, “Well, do you know Laban?” And they say, “Yes.” And then they add that Laban has a daughter named Rachel who is a shepherdess and who is coming with the flock soon. Now remember, Jacob had no doubt heard from his mother dozens, if not hundreds of times, the story of how Eliezer found her and how she and Isaac first met. So here we find Jacob in this far country, having gone to a well, having found out that that well is in fact precisely where his father and mother had sent him, and having found that his Uncle Laban had a daughter who was a shepherdess.
Are you picturing the pounding of the heart here? Jacob is thinking, ‘He's doing it again. I know she's the one. I know it's going to happen again.’ And so he immediately tries to get these shepherd boys to water their flocks then and beat it so that he can have some conversation with Rachel on her own when she arrives. However, they explain that they are not physically capable of moving this stone until the other shepherds arrive with their flocks and maybe some older shepherds come along to move that stone. Now while they’re in the middle of that conversation, Rachel appears.
But already we see God's providence on Jacob. Just as God directed the steps of Abraham's servant so many years ago, God has directed Jacob. Now there is a contrast there, isn't there? The prayerfulness which Moses so carefully records in Genesis 24 is not explicitly mentioned here, and I wonder if that is an indication of Jacob's level of spirituality at this point? This is a very immature believer, and yet God directs him every step of the way. God's providence is undeserved, but it's just as real with Jacob as it was with Abraham's servant when he went to find Rebekah so many years ago. And just as God directs the steps of Jacob, so he directs our steps. Are you conscious of his direction of your steps? Have you come to terms with the doctrine of God's providence? Do you realize it's important for your assurance for an understanding of what God is doing in your life? God showed His gracious providence over Jacob in the journey to Paddan-aram, just as he had shown Jacob's grandfather's servant so many years ago.
II. God showed His gracious providence over Jacob in bringing him to Rachel and Rachel to him.
Then in verses 9 through 12 we see this initial encounter between Jacob and Rachel. And I think it was fair to say that it was love at first sight. The minute that Jacob lays eyes on Rachel he loves her. And again God shows his gracious providence over Jacob here in bringing him to Rachel and Rachel to him. When Jacob sees Rachel, there is an instant attraction. And he takes it upon himself to roll away this large stone. No doubt this was a way to impress the young lady. Aalders says “Jacob immediately saw an opportunity to make a favorable impression on the lovely Rachel and also on her father. Making use of his great physical strength, he removed the stone from the well and proceeded to water Laban's flock.” So he not only does an impressive physical feat, but then he does something very kind. He waters the flock of his future father-in-law.
Now, notice explicitly we are told in verse 10 that when Jacob saw Rachel, he not only saw Rachel, but he saw the sheep of Laban, his mother's brother's flock. I wonder if there's something to that. You know, the girl's not only good locking, but she's got some means behind her. You know, it's kind of like Porgy and Bess and Summertime, “Your daddy's rich and your momma's good looking.” And Jacob immediately identifies himself to Rachel. And he kisses her. A sign of his affection. And I think in this context probably more already than simply a family affection. And then he weeps for joy because God has done a remarkable thing. He's brought him on a long journey to exactly the right place and exactly the right time, and he's brought him the woman that he will spend much of the rest of his life with.
This is the beginning of a great love story. Jacob and Rachel's love was apparently more profound than the love between Abraham and Sarah and the love between Isaac and Rebekah. We saw in those two households, especially in the latter days of their marriage, tremendous tension. And though we will see tension in the household of Jacob and Rachel, clearly there is something special going on here. We see this in a couple of ways.
First, we see it in verses 11, 17, 18 and 20. Look at these verses very quickly. In verse 11 we are told initially that Jacob kisses Rachel, and he weeps as a sense that God is doing something incredible and spectacular here. And then if you turn to verse 17, already the contrast between Leah and Rachel is made. Rachel is a beautiful woman. She is beautiful of form and face, Moses tells us. And then he goes on to tell us in verse 18 that Jacob already loved Rachel. Yes, it was love at first sight, but it was also a deep and a profound and a lasting love. It would be a patient love as well, as he would wait and do seven years of obligation in order to obtain her. But again we are told in verse 20, that “that seven years seemed to him like a few days because of his love for her.” Now again you may be saying,
“Yeah, but this may just be the flush of first infatuation. She's a beautiful young woman and here's this man who's older and she's apparently still a relatively young girl.” Jacob may well have been in his 70's at the time that he met Rachel. And this apparently is a relatively young woman. So you can imagine that the attractiveness of this young woman would indeed be attractive to this gentlemen, and yet this was a lasting love. That's made very clear when we turn to Genesis 48. Turn with me there, and scan this with your eyes, because this tells the story of Joseph bringing Ephraim and Manasseh to Jacob, to Israel, for their blessing. Now Joseph, as you know, was one of the sons of Rachel. And now he's bringing the grandsons of Jacob that they might receive the blessing. And particularly I want you to look at verse 7. “Now as for me when I came from Paddan, Rachel died to my sorrow, in the land of Canaan on the journey when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath; and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).” Now this comment is made by the aged and almost dead Jacob many, many years later. I want you to listen to the beautiful words of R.S. Candlish. He says, “the redeeming feature in this picture of Jacob's life at Paddan-aram, otherwise far from pleasing, is his love for Rachel. It was of quick growth, but it was strong and it lasted long. When he served for her the seven years seemed to him but a few days because of the love he has for her. When she dies, in child birth, his affection touchingly appears. He will not give her child the name of grief, but one of joy, not Benoni, son of my sorrow, but Benjamin, son of my strength.” He would have associated with his beloved wife when she is gone no word of evil omen, but rather a token for good. And how he cherished her memory is evidenced from what might seem a trifling circumstance in his parting interview with Joseph in Genesis 48. The old man is sick and dying. He strengthens himself, however, to welcome his favorite child once more. He sits up on his bed to bless Joseph and Joseph's son. And as he proceeds in blessing them, the image of Joseph's mother, his much loved Rachel, is before him. He interrupts his speech to tell how that when he came from Paddan, Rachel died by him in the land of Canaan in the way and how he buried her at Bethlehem. What did that have to do with the matter at hand? Rachel's death and burial have no bearing on the blessing which Jacob is conveying to Joseph and Ephraim and Manasseh. But the old man's heart is full. Something in Joseph's look, some trace or lineage of his mother's paled, fair face as he last saw her travailing and dying, brings back that sad scene to the patriarch's dim eye. And simply, as if almost unconsciously, he gives utterance to that recollection. Having paid his last tribute to one he loved so dearly, he calmly resumes the interrupted thread of his benediction. There is something to my mind irresistibly affecting in this proof. So natural and incidental, so true and tender of the hold which Rachel had on Jacob's heart. It was over eighty years later when he recalls that. Eighty years later. Jacob loved Rachel, and Rachel loved Jacob. And God's goodness is undeserved as he gives Jacob, the cheat, the unworthy, a wonderful woman and a wonderful love.
God's goodness to Jacob here could easily provoke many men to jealousy. And I want to remind you that even this passage shows us that not every marriage is an intense story of dramatic love. In comparison to Abraham, the faithful, and Isaac, the faithful, Jacob apparently stands out in the relationship that he has with his wife. I mention this because so often in marriage disappointment comes. Not from expectations that are too low, but because of expectations which are too high, disappointed expectations which lead us to break the promises of our youth.
III. God shows His love for Jacob in the discipline He administers through Laban.
And so in verses 13 through 30, we see the agreement between Jacob and Laban, and Jacob's love for Rachel. God shows again his love for Jacob in the discipline that He administers through Laban. Laban loves Jacob, and He makes a deal with him. But Laban is going to vex Jacob much. Laban, in fact, is going to be the prime human source of Jacob's divine discipline. In fact, many of Jacob's domestic troubles for the rest of his life are going to be directly traced to Laban. God is bringing Jacob into the school of hard knocks. Jacob would fulfill his obligation to Laban, but Laban would not fulfill his obligation to Jacob. In fact, he would have many first laughs before Jacob would ever have the last laugh twenty years later. Twenty years of deception and servitude, Jacob would be in Laban's presence.
It reminds me of my father's frequent saying to me. “Son, do you want to do this the easy way or the hard way?” Jacob chose the hard way, and the Lord, because He loved him, gave him the hard way. Jacob was just what he needed to foster his sanctification. As Kidner says, “In Laban met his match and his means of discipline. Twenty years of drudgery and friction were to weather his character, and the reader can reflect that presumably Jacob is not the only person to have needed a Laban in his life.” I trust that we will tonight choose the easy way, rather than the hard way.
Let me just say this, and especially to young folks here. In our youth, in our student days, we are often tempted to think this way. Well, I'm young now. Now's the time to sow my oats, my wild oats. Now's the time to experience all these things, and I’ll settle down later. I’ll get serious about my commitment to Christ later on. If God loves you and you make that choice, then He's already telling you in this passage what choice He's going to make for you. If you make that choice, He's going to choose the hard way for you. He’ll bring you back, thick or thin, come hell or high water, but it's going to be a school of hard knocks along the way. It's better, much better to remember the Creator in the days of your youth. That your days may be prosperous in the land of the Lord your God, than to sow the oats of the world and to reap the whirlwind until the Lord brings you back on your knees into His fold. Jacob is a lesson, and in this case he's a lesson that we don't want to follow, precisely because God is going to love us so much that He's not going to let us get away with a life of sinful pleasure. Let us pray.
Our Lord and our God, we bow before You and we praise You for the truth of Your word. And not only its truth, for its currency. You speak to us in our very situation and circumstances from a scripture which You wrote hundreds and even thousands of years ago. We thank You for that. We ask now that You would bless it to our spiritual nourishment. In Jesus' name, Amen.