The Prosperity of Jacob
If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Genesis 30, and we’ll begin in verse 25. We continue our study in the life of Jacob. And it struck me, as I was reading through this passage again this week how much God emphasizes of His providence in this section of the life of Jacob. Let me just say for our younger listeners tonight, providence is just a word which speaks about God caring for His people. And what one is struck by as you read through this section of the life of Jacob is how comprehensive God's providence is. God's care for Jacob and God's oversight of Jacob's life, touches everything in Jacob's life. That's, by the way, why we sang that beautiful hymn, “Through all the Changing Scenes of Life.” You’re singing about the comprehensiveness of God's providence. In every scene, in every situation, in every phase, in every age of life God's providence is there, surrounding us, going before us, undergirding us, providing for us. And then of course we sang that second hymn, “All The Way My Savior Leads Me,” which stresses again the Christological aspect of God's providence. That the Lord Jesus Christ Himself draws near and guides us every step of the way. And then the song, “God Moves In a Mysterious Way,” reminds us that even when there are things that are inscrutable in providence, things that we cannot figure out, things that we cannot understand, things which are hard to bear, that God is actually working in and through and behind and above and below those things. And those things come out in this story of Jacob. Over and over God's disciplining providence is correcting his sins. God's gracious sanctifying providence is growing him in faith. And he's growing him and touching him and disciplining him in all aspects of his life, in his family, in his business, in every area of life.
And so tonight we turn to Genesis 30, verses 25 through 43 and the account of how God graciously prospers Jacob even as he's working in conjunction almost as if it was in partnership with Laban who's doing his best to take advantage of him. So we see God's providence in this. Let's hear God's word in Genesis, chapter 30, beginning in verse 25:
Father, thank You for Your word. We ask now as we trace Your hand of providence in the life of Jacob that we, too, will see Your hand of providence upon us. That we would learn to trust in You, no matter what is happening; that we would learn to see Your hand in every circumstance of life, and that we might love You above all else, praising you as the God who provides and the God who sustains. The God who is Himself our everlasting inheritance. We ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.
In this passage, Jacob now having served for fourteen years his father-in-law at great stress and at considerable cost, he's ready to go home. And so he comes to Laban, and he tells him now that Joseph is born that he wants to go back to his homeland. He makes request to leave for Canaan. But Laban perceives that Jacob has been a blessing to him, and so he does his best to talk him into staying around. And Jacob agrees on specific terms. That's the story of the passage before you.
But the story behind that story of the agreement between Jacob and Laban is really the story of God's providence. Because even though Jacob thinks himself a shrewd herdsman, and he may have been, it's going to be very clear to us by the end of the chapter that the blessing and the prospering that Jacob experienced is solely and entirely due to the blessing of God. And even Jacob gives us a couple of inklings that he realizes that in this passage. And he’ll do it again, by the way, in Genesis 31.
But let's look at this passage together. It could be divided in many different ways, but let me suggest that we take it in five sections. If you look at verses 25 and 26, you’ll see there Jacob's request to leave the land of Canaan. He's been serving his father-in-law for fourteen years; he's ready to move on. Then in verses 27 and 28 you’ll see a second section. There Laban requests Jacob to stay. And importantly, there Laban acknowledges that God has blessed him because of Jacob. He perceives the connection between his blessing and Jacob. That's important, too, we’ll come back to that. In verses 29 through 33 Jacob protests the way he's been treated in a gentle sort of way, and he suggests instead of receiving wages that they instead establish an agreement whereby Jacob will either make or break his own fortune. Then in verses 34 through 36 you see Laban agreeing to go along with this proposal that Jacob has made, but you see Laban's distrust of Jacob even in the way he responds to the agreement as evidenced in his actions. And then finally in verses 37 through 43, you’ll see that despite Laban's attempts to limit Jacob's prosperity, and despite Jacob's superstitious schemes, God prospers Jacob, according to His providence. Let's look at this together tonight.
I. Jacob asks to leave.
In verses 25 and 26 you see Jacob prepared to leave Laban empty handed in order to return to his homeland. He comes and after the birth of Joseph, he comes to Laban and says send me away that I may go to my own place and to my own country. And what does he ask? He asks for nothing. Just give me my wives and give me my children and let me go. He doesn't ask for any further remuneration. He doesn't ask for anything but that he be set free to go home. He wants to go home. He's fulfilled his obligation to his father-in-law, and he asks for absolutely nothing but what is his. Jacob does not want anything that would allow Laban to claim that he was responsible for enriching him.
The parallel is interesting with Abraham throughout this passage. Abraham wants nothing, nothing from the King of Sodom, whereby someone in the land of Canaan could claim that he had enriched Abraham. And so also Jacob wants nothing from Laban. Jacob senses the importance of the promised land. He senses the importance of his role as heir of the covenant and he wants to return even after many years of labor. Jacob knows that it is important that he be back in the land of promise. I think that Jacob wants to go back home not only because of the bad experiences he has had with his father-in-law, not only because he wants to be close to his mother and to his father before they pass on to their eternal reward, not only because already you see a yearning in Jacob to set things right with the family, but I think he senses his role in the covenant. It's evident by what Moses records about him here, that God is preparing him for the role of being the head of the covenant. We’ll see why I say that in just a few minutes. But at any rate, Jacob is prepared to leave empty handed in order to go back to his homeland.
Now in verses 27 and 28 Laban makes it clear that he realizes that losing Jacob would be a real loss to himself. There's no fatherly love for his son-in-law here. Understand it's not his company that he wants Jacob for. Jacob has made him a rich man, and he hates the thought of Jacob leaving, and so seeks to influence him to stay. And Moses is showing us here that Jacob is a true son of Abraham and the heir of the covenant in that even the cheating Laban, the cheating, pagan Laban, the cheating, pagan, idol-worshiping Laban recognizes that the Lord, the God of Abraham and Isaac, has blessed him because of Jacob. Notice what he says here: “I have divined that the Lord has blessed me on your account.” Laban knows that God's hand is on Jacob, and that he has been blessed because God's hand is on Jacob.
Now I'm not sure exactly what is meant by that phrase, “I have divined that the Lord has blessed me on account of you.” That term can be used for the superstitious, religious practice of divination. It's used like that in other places in the New Testament. Normally though, it is used that way when it's referring to a future event. You know, someone attempting to divine something that's going to come up. Here it may simply mean that he has recognized that God has blessed him because of Jacob. Whatever the case is, it certainly hints at the later religious developments in this story where the idol worship and the superstition of Laban and his daughters come into play.
But at any rate, Laban offers Jacob wages. And in the next section we're going to see that Jacob is not terribly anxious to receive wages from Laban. And I think that's not only because he knows that Laban is a cheat. I think it is because he doesn't want to be in a situation again where Laban not only has the economic upper hand on him, but can claim responsibility for his doing well. I think it's not only that Jacob desires an opportunity to make a fortune, it's that he recognizes the theological, the religious significance of getting involved in a wage relationship with his father-in-law.
II. Jacob's protest over his treatment.
And that brings us to 29 through 33. Here Jacob has a word of protest towards his father-in-law as to how he has been treated. And he gives a suggestion. Instead of responding to his question, what wages do you want? he says, well, actually I don't want wages. I'd like to do something different. And Jacob negotiates a plan that he thinks Laban is likely to accept, because the plan sounds advantageous to Laban. And Jacob figures that Laban can't resist a plan that sounds advantageous to him. And Jacob clearly thinks that he can pull off this plan. That this plan will work for him, but certainly he wants a plan where he can prosper as a nonemployee of Laban.
Now Jacob in this passage reminds Laban of how hard he has worked for him and how well Laban has done. But note specifically that Jacob does not take personal credit for Laban's prosperity. Look at the words that he says: You had little before I came, and it has increased to a multitude. And the Lord has blessed you wherever I turn. He clearly credits the Lord with blessing Laban. This is an important recognition on Jacob's part. It shows us that he realizes the ultimate source of blessing. Remember that when a few years from now this man will be wrestling with the Lord himself, craving what? The blessing of the Lord. It's beginning to dawn on Jacob how important the blessing of the Lord is. He once cheated in order to get a blessing from his father. More and more he's recognizing the importance of a blessing of the Lord. Jacob doesn't want to be in the position of being a wage earner at the hands of Laban, not only for economic reasons, but for theological reasons.
And so he proposes a plan which he thinks Laban will accept and which he thinks he can make work. He agrees to take the portion of the flock which was mongrel, speckled, spotted. It would have apparently been the significantly smaller portion of the flock, so that would have sounded like a good deal to Laban. And so he was confident that Laban would agree to this particular program. But in the process of negotiating this arrangement with Laban, Jacob teaches us a little bit about work ethic and about the theology of work. And I'd like you to see two things specifically.
In verse 29 he says, You yourself know how I served you, and how your cattle have fared with me. He stresses his hard work for Laben. I was reminded as Chris told his story of being sent off to Atlanta and having a dad who said, “Now remember you’re a Shelton and show them how a Shelton works.” That reminds me of my own mother and her east Tennessee work ethic. Her motto in life was you may be smarter than me, but I’ll outwork you. And Jacob tells us a little bit about that in this passage here. He says, I've worked hard for you. He set a good example in working faithfully and hard for his employer, Laban, in a circumstance where he would have had every motivation to be lazy in his work. He had been tricked into a position, he had been dealt with unfairly by Laban. He’ll talk with Laban explicitly about that in the next chapter, and yet he worked hard. He served him well. And that's a reminder that as we serve, as we work at whatever profession we're called to labor as unto the Lord. And Jacob does that, and it's to his credit.
We can see Jacob being mature in the process of this difficult providence. But that's not all. Jacob gives credit to the Lord for the blessing that's occurred. It would have been very easy for him to say the reason that you have done well is I have worked hard, but that's not what he says. He says I worked hard, and the Lord blessed you. And in that Jacob has learned two secrets of God's plan for work. God calls us to work hard because we work for Him, not ultimately for our employer. And God calls us to credit Him for any prosperity that we might receive from that work. Listen to what Calvin says about this: “The use of this passage in teaching the doctrine of work is two-fold. First, whatever I attempt or to whatever work I apply my hands, it is my duty to desire God to bless my labor, that it may not be vain and fruitless. So Calvin says the first duty we have is to ask God to bless the work that we're doing.
Then he goes on to say, then if I have obtained anything, my second duty is to ascribe the praise to God; without whose blessing men in vain rise up early, fatigue themselves the whole day, take late rests, eat the bread of carefulness and taste water with their sorrow.” Calvin says two things you have to do: You have to seek the blessing of God in your work, and then when He blesses you, you have to give Him the praise. That's the beginning isn't it of the protestant work ethic right there. And you see it illustrated in the life of Jacob.
III. Laban's response to Jacob's proposal.
And then in verses 34 through 36 we see Laban's response to this proposal. Laban accepts the proposal that Jacob has made. He clearly thinks that he has the best end of the agreement, and he sets up an administrative situation which is designed to protect his own interests. Laban does three things here in these three verses, 34, 35 and 36. He does three things to protect his own interest.
Look at verse 35. The first thing that he does is he does the culling himself. Contrary to the proposal that Jacob had made. Remember Jacob had said look, I'm an honest man, I’ll go through your flocks and I’ll cull out the speckled and spotted. I’ll cull out the mongrels and then you just come check my flock. And if you find any non-speckled or spotted, if you find any non-mongrel animal, then you can just consider it as having been stolen, because you can take me at my word. I’ll be honest. Well, what does Laban immediately do? He goes out and he culls the sheep himself. Boy, he trusts his son-in-law doesn't he? That's the first way he protects his interest.
Then he goes on. Look at the end of verse 35. The second thing he does is he puts his own sons in charge of the flocks. He's not going to leave this into Jacob's hands. His sons are going to be involved. They are going to be intertwined in this relationship. They are going to be seeing everything that's going on so they can report back to dad.
And then finally, if you look at verse 36, he does one more thing. He puts a great distance between his flocks and Jacob's. Laban thinks that Jacob's strategy is going to be to interbreed those speckled and spotted mongrel animals with his non-mongrel animals in order to make more speckled and spotted animals. And so he puts a three-day's distance between his flock and Jacob's flock because he doesn't trust Jacob. And he thinks that the only way that Jacob can make anything off of this deal is if Jacob cheats. It's so funny that a few moments ago Laban recognized that the Lord had blessed him because of Jacob. Now, however, he thinks the only way that Jacob can be prospered is by cheating. And so he takes every action possible to keep Jacob from being able to do well. Because he thinks that the only way that Jacob can do well is if he violates the proposal.
IV. God blesses Jacob inspite of Laban.
And then finally, in verses 37 through 43, despite Laban and his three administrative protocols designed keep Jacob from prospering, and despite the crazy things that Jacob is going to do himself, no doubt thinking that they are very shrewd schemes, in spite of those things, God blesses Jacob. You know we've already seen this in this story, God blessing Leah, God blessing Rachel, God blessing Jacob, in spite of themselves. Once again we see it here.
This is a strange passage. We have this story of the taking of the trees and the stripping of the various pieces of bark, and the placing of them before the animals. Jacob's plan was based upon current, common and popular superstition. That all the more highlights God's providence, by the way. It wasn't what Jacob did that led to his herd increasing and being strong. It's what God did. Let me read to you what Derek Kidner says: “In displaying the striped rods at breeding time Jacob was acting on the common belief that a vivid sight during pregnancy or conception would leave its mark on the embryo of the animal.” It was just a popular superstition. Jacob, no doubt, had heard it for many years, working in the business of herding. There was absolutely no substance to it. There may be some genetic reasons why he might have prospered in growing mongrel speckled and spotted sheet, but those rods didn't do him one bit of good; not one bit of good. It was the providence of God.
And that highlights the importance of God's blessing all the more. It wasn't Jacob's scheme that led to the multiplication and the strength and quality of his herd, it was the blessing of God. And Moses’ main point here is to show how God had providentially prospered Jacob in answer to prayer and in accordance with his promise. God blesses Jacob here with extraordinary wealth. You know that because in the very last verse, look at it, it mentions that he gained not only large flocks and not only female and male servants, but he gained camels. Now camels weren't domesticated in the second millennium. That means there weren't many of them around in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob's day. So saying that you had camels, was like saying you had a fleet a Cadillacs in your driveway. If you had camels, you were wealthy.
And so what Moses is telling you is God prospered Jacob in a very extraordinary way. And by the way, it's far beyond what Jacob had asked at Bethel. Turn back with me to Genesis 28 and look at verses 20 and 21. Jacob made a vow there and here's his vow. Genesis 28, verses 20 and 21: “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear and I return to my father's house in safety, then the Lord will be my God.” Moses is telling us in Genesis 30, verse 43 that God has answered Jacob's prayer far beyond all that he could ask or think. God is teaching Jacob that He is his portion, and He is his source of blessing, and that you cannot out-pray him. He blesses Jacob far beyond what he asks.
But furthermore, God is not just providentially blessing and prospering Jacob in response to prayer. God is covenantally prospering Jacob. Turn back to Genesis 12. You remember what God said to Abraham? In the promise to Abraham, he says this. Genesis 12, verse 2: I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great; and you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed. In this passage Moses tells you about a pagan idolater who recognizes that Jacob's presence had brought him the blessing of the Lord, fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise. Genesis 30:43 lets you know that God had blessed Jacob beyond all that he could ask or think in fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises.
What is Moses doing? He is confirming to you once again that Jacob was indeed the one who would be the heir and the head of the covenant. And that all this providential discipline was to repair Jacob for the spiritual responsibility that he would bear. God is preparing Jacob, first and foremost, to trust in Him and to acknowledge Him alone, and all of us have to learn that same lesson.
You may be here tonight in a very difficult providential situation. It may be a situation with a child. And you just have no idea what in the world God is doing, how in the world you ought to respond or how it's going to turn out. You think about the story of God's providence and the like of Jacob. You may be here in a marital situation, and it's so difficult you have no way, no understanding of how it's going to turn out. You need to think about God's providence in Jacob's situation, because behind a frowning providence, he hides a smiling face. And what we have to ask is how can I do this in order to glorify God? And then we need to be prepared to praise him when he shows a smile behind that dark providence. Let's pray.
Our Lord and our God, we thank you for the story of Jacob, and we thank You for Your providence. We can testify how You have led us all the way, and we have yet further steps to take. By Your grace, we ask that you would enable us to take those steps in faith, trusting in Your providence. We ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.