Jacob is not the poster child for godly examples to emulate. He is 70 years old, single, jobless, a total momma’s boy, and is now homeless on the run from his brother because he ripped off his birthright and father’s deathbed blessing. Jacob is literally between a rock and a hard place, but mostly from his own trickster tactics. The only glimmer of hope is a dream he is given from God on his first night alone away from the comforts of home. In the dream, God passes the torch of covenant promises given to Abraham and Isaac to Jacob and also promises to be with him until he comes back to the Promised Land.
Today we are going to walk in Jacob’s sandals and see how he moves from being a recluse to reconciling with his brother. Jacob’s journey is Hollywood script or screenplay material. His story is full of adventure, romance, drama, and with twists and turns has sort of a happy ending. We begin immediately following Jacob’s dream as he enters the land of Laban, his uncle [Rebekah’s brother].
Sowing and Reaping: Jacob—the trickster—gets tricked into marrying two sisters [Genesis 29:1-20]
As Jacob arrives at Laban’s sheep farm, he gets a glimpse of the beautiful bombshell, named Rachel [which just so happens to be Jacob’s first cousin]. Immediate Jacob gets to work to impress this gal. Since, Jacob comes to Laban empty handed he is asked to work. In exchange, Jacob bargains for a bride—the beautiful Rachel [meaning lamb/ewe].
Now Rachel had an older sister, named Leah [meaning wild-cow]. She had a crazy lazy eye. Both girls were unmarried probably because Leah was not much of a looker. And Jacob, like all the other guys in town, wanted to marry red-hot Rachel. Laban made Jacob work for seven years to earn the right to marry Rachel. And in one of the most romantic verses of Scripture, “Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” Isn’t that so sweet and sappy?
Ironically, Jacob reaps what he sows [cf. Galatians 6:7-8]. After tricking his brother Esau he seems to think his life is prospering: he has escaped the hand of his brother, God promises to bless him, and he is about to marry the woman of his dreams. The big day arrives and Laban throws a wedding feast. Obviously, Jacob has a few too many glasses of wine at the wedding to notice that Laban pulled a switcheroo and gives away Leah rather than Rachel. The next morning when Jacob rolls over in bed he stares into the wandering eyes of his new wife Leah. I can only imagine Leah smiling at Jacob with a crooked buck-toothed grin.
Jacob confronts Laban deceptive plan, but Laban gives a lame yet legitimate reason, “It is customary for the oldest child to be provided for before the younger.” Though true, it is still a low blow. Jacob, the persevering romantic, loved Rachel so much that he was will to work seven more years for Laban. God is using Laban to chisel at Jacob’s character. When Jacob finally works fourteen years to marry Rachel he expresses his love for her over Leah. This begins another sad story of favoritism that will rip apart this family.
A Family Fiasco: 12-Tribes of Israel are Born [Genesis 29:31-30:24]
Jacob gets what he wants—Rachel, but as soon as he marries her God closes her womb. Like Jacob’s mother and grandmother, Rachel is barren. Since, Rachel is barren, Leah sees this as her gateway to Jacob heart. Leah gets pregnant, all the while hoping, Jacob would finally love her because she would make her hubby a daddy. It did not quite work out as she planned. Three baby boys later she was sure Jacob would fall for her. Yet Jacob had no love for Leah. She has four-and-no-more until she gives praise to God. It took four pregnancies for God to finally get a hold of Leah’s heart.
Rachel, like any sibling wants babies too. She sees her sister and becomes jealous. So in an overdramatic outburst she demands Jacob, “Give me children or I shall die.” Jacob responds in anger that it is God whom controls her womb. Could Jacob be growing in his faith? I think not! For immediately, like Sarah giving her servant Hagar to bear child, Rachel gives her servant Bilhah to Jacob. It does not look like Jacob is trusting God as his father Isaac did by turning to God in prayer. Rachel also takes matters into her own hands and Jacob did nothing about it. In fact, he went along with the adulterous sin. Rachel’s servant Bilhah gives birth to two boys, Dan [meaning judge] and Naphtali [meaning wrestle]. Their names are fit to Rachel’s sibling jealousy and lack of trust in God.
Not to be outwitted, outplayed or outsinned Leah in turn gives Jacob her servant Zilpah to sleep with. Leah brags about it when Zilbah who gives birth two boys and names them Gad [meaning luck] and Asher [meaning happy]. Leah, like Rachel, forgets to see that the blessing of children is from God. Doesn’t this family seem a little redneck? They would more accurately be dubbed, rebellious. The story gets stranger as Jacob’s firstborn son Reuben finds some mandrakes [an herbal aphrodisiac]. He gives them to his mother Leah. Rachel is a freak for mandrakes and she trades bedtime with Jacob to Leah—paying her as like a prostitute. Jacob-the-pimp doesn’t question the ethics of his wives and sleeps with Leah. She gives birth to two more sons, Issachar [meaning hire/wages] and Zebulun [meaning honor].
Somehow Leah resorts back to having babies out of jealousy—always a bad idea. And somewhere Rachel prays to God, He graciously answers, opens her dead womb, and gives her a son. They name him Joseph [meaning may he add]. Joseph was the youngest boy until Rachel later had Benjamin [cf. 35:18]. Add up all the boys from four momma’s and Jacob is the proud papa to a bakers dozen—12 boys + 1 girl, Dinah.
Through this dysfunctional, jealousy-ridden, polygamist family, God would safeguard His covenant in Jacob’s sons. This family would become the initial branches of the twelve tribes of Israel through whom Jesus would be born and heal the human sin problem, which was so evident in Jacob’s family. By God’s grace alone He saves this family from themselves. Revelation 21:1-14 reveals how these twelve sons who came from the four conniving women in Genesis will mark the gates of heaven where Jesus is awaiting those He has also saved by His grace.
It Never Fails: God keeps His promises [Genesis 30:25-31:55]
According to Jacob, it was about time to move out on his own. He is 90 years old, has two wives, and twelve children from four different women. What his mother thought might be a few day flee from Esau ended up being twenty years working for free for Laban [his father-in-law]. He built for Laban a sizeable ranch that pulled in some fat-cash.
Through demonic divination Laban learns that he has been blessed with wealth and power because Jacob has the covenant blessing of God upon him. Jacob desires to return home to the Promised Land to his father Isaac, however, Laban like a crooked used car salesman seeks to keep Jacob around the ranch by offering to finally pay him a reasonable salary. Jacob, like his father [Isaac] and grandfather [Abraham] rejects the gift and entrusts himself to God in faith. God honors Jacob’s faith and makes him a very wealthy man. Though it may seem like Jacob is taking advantage of Laban the truth is God is making right a wrong by giving Jacob what he earned during twenty years of faithful and fruitful labor for Laban.
God is big on keeping His promises. He has promised to be with Jacob and get him back to the Promised Land. God calls, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.” [31:3; cf. 12:1] Jacob responds immediately in faith. His wives also respond in faith [note: Rachel steals the household idol]. Jacob loads up the kids in the camel caravan and leave Laban’s home in secret while he is out giving the sheep a haircut. They leave undercover possibly out of fear that Laban would come up with a sly way to keep Jacob working around the ranch.
When Laban finally found out that his daughters and grandchildren were gone he and his relatives pursued Jacob for seven days until they caught up with him. Ironically, the same Laban who tricked Jacob into marrying both of his daughters became rich because of God’s blessing upon Jacob. He cheated Jacob by changing his wages ten times and complained that Jacob had been deceptive with him. However, God protected Jacob by appearing to Laban in a dream and commanding him not to harm Jacob in any way. Laban only accuses Jacob of stealing his household idol, but he was unaware that his wife Rachel stole them and was sitting on them.
Jacob honors God by praising Him for all blessing he and Laban have received [31:42]. Then Jacob and Laban shake hands and agree Jacob will take no more wives. They built a monument to remember the covenant. Laban kisses his daughters and grandchildren goodbye and the men part—Laban went back home and Jacob to his old home in the Promised Land. This set the stage for a story for Jacob to meet his brother Esau for the first time in twenty years [come back next week to find out what happens].
 These words would later proved to be prophetic and tragic; Genesis 35:16-19.