Gleanings In Genesis
30. Jacob At Padan-Aram
In our last article we followed Jacob as he left his fatherís house and commenced his long journey to Padan-aram where lived Laban, his motherís brother. On his first night out from Beersheba he lit upon a certain place and making a pillar of the stones lay down to sleep. Then it was that he dreamed, and in the dream the Lord appeared unto him, probably for the first time in his life, and after promising to give him the land whereon he lay and to make his seed as numerous as the dust of the earth and a blessing to all families, he received the comforting assurance that God would be with him, would keep him in all places whither he went, and ultimately bring him back again to the land given to him and his fathers. In the morning Jacob arose, poured oil on the stone pillar, and named the place Bethel, which means "The House of God."
The effect of this experience on Jacob is briefly but graphically signified in the opening words of Genesis 29, where we read, "Then Jacob lifted up his feet, and came into the land of the people of the East" (marginal rendering). The heaviness with which he must have left home had now gone. Assured of the abiding presence and protection of Jehovah, he went on his way light-heartedly. It deserves to be noted that the journey which Jacob had scarcely begun the previous day was an arduous and difficult one. From Beersheba, Isaacís dwelling-place, to Padan-Aram, his destination, was a distance of something like five hundred miles, and when we remember that he was on foot and alone we can the better appreciate the blessed grace of Jehovah which met the lonely fugitive the first night, and gave him the comforting promise that He was with him and would keep him in all places whither he went (Gen. 28:15). Little wonder, then, that now Jacob goes forth so confidently and cheerfully. As a Jewish commentator remarks, "His heart lifted up his feet." And, reader, do not we need to be reminded that our Lord has promised, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end"? If our hearts drew from this cheering and inspiring promise the comfort and incentive it is designed to convey should not we "lift up" our feet as we journey through this world? Oh! it is unbelief, failure to rest upon the "exceeding great and precious promises" of our God, and forgetfulness that He is ever by our side, that makes our feet leaden and causes us to drag along so wearily.
The remainder of the long journey seems to have passed without further incident, for the next thing we read of is that Jacob had actually come into that land which he sought. And here we find a striking proof that the Lord was with him indeed, for he was guided to a well where he met none other than the daughter of the very man with whom he was going to make his home! It was not by chance that Jacob lit upon that well in the field, nor was it by accident that Rachel came to that well just when she did. There are no chance-happenings or accidents in a world that is governed by God. It was not by chance that the Ishmaelites passed by when the brethren of Joseph were plotting his death, nor was it an accident they were journeying down to Egypt. It was not by chance that Pharaohís daughter went down to the river to bathe, and that one of her attendants discovered there the infant Moses in the ark of bullrushes. It was not by chance that upon a certain night, critical in the history of Israel, that Ahasuerus was unable to sleep and that he should arise and read the state-records which contained an entry of how Mordecai had foiled an attempt on the Kingís life, which led, in turn, to the saving of Mordecaiís life. So, we say, it was not by chance that Jacob now met Rachel. No; we repeat, there cannot be any chance-happenings in a world that is governed by God, still less can there be any accidents in the lives of those He is constantly "with." My reader, there are no chance-happenings, no chance-meetings, no chance delays, no chance losses, no chance anythings in our lives. All is of Divine appointment.
But while we have called attention to Godís faithfulness in guiding Jacob to the well where he met Rachel, we must not ignore Jacobís personal failure, a noticeable failure of omission. As he had come so near to the end of his journey and had almost arrived at his destination we would have thought, as he reached this well, that now was the time for him to very definitely commit himself into the hands of God, especially in view of the fact that he was engaged in the important and momentous undertaking of seeking a wife. Years before, when the servant of Abraham was upon a similar mission, seeking a wife for Isaac, when he arrived at a well we are told that "he said, O Lord God of my master Abraham, I pray Thee, send me good speed this day" (Gen. 24:12). But here in connection with Jacob we read of no prayer for Divine guidance and blessing, instead, we find him interrogating the Haran shepherds.
"And he looked, and behold a well in the field, and, lo, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks: and a great stone was upon the wellís mouth. And thither were all the flocks gathered: and they rolled the stone from the wellís mouth, and watered the sheep, and put the stone again upon the wellís mouth in his place. And Jacob said unto them, My brethren, whence be ye? And they said, Of Haran are we. And he said unto them, Know ye Laban the son of Nahor? And they said, We know him. And he said unto them, Is he well? And they said, He is well: and, behold, Rachel his daughter cometh with the sheep" (Gen. 29:2-6).
Without doubt there is a spiritual meaning to each detail here. It cannot be without some good reason that the Spirit of God has told us this was in a field, that there were three flocks of sheep lying by it, and that there was a great stone upon the wellís mouth. But we confess we discern not their significance, and where spiritual vision be dim it is idle, or worse, to speculate.
"Behold, Rachel his daughter cometh with the sheep." At mention of Rachel, Jacob acted in a thoroughly characteristic manner: "And he said, Lo, it is yet high day, neither is it time that the cattle should be gathered together: water ye the sheep, and go and feed them" (Gen. 29:7). Jacobís design is evident; he sought to send the shepherds away, so that he might be alone when he met Rachel. But his design was foiled, "and while he yet spake with them, Rachel came with her fatherís sheep: for she kept them." And then follows a touching description of the meeting between Jacob and this young woman who was to become his wife.
"And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his motherís brother, and the sheep of Laban his motherís brother, that Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the wellís mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his motherís brother. And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept. And Jacob told Rachel that he was her fatherís brother, and that he was Rebekahís son: and she ran and told her father" (Gen. 29:10-12). These verses shed an interesting light on Jacobís natural character. Rachelís appearance awakened within him all the warmth of natural feeling. He courteously rolled away the stone, watered the sheep, kissed Rachel and burst into tears. The remembrance of home and the relationship of his mother to Rachel overpowered himónote the threefold reference to his mother in verse 10: "When Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his motherís brother, and the sheep of Laban his motherís brother, that Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the wellís mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his motherís brother." Jacob, then, was no cold, calculating stoic, but was of a warm disposition, and everything that revived the memory of his mother went to his heart. What a lovely human touch this gives to the picture! Nothing is trivial with God. "And it came to pass, when Laban heard the tidings of Jacob his sisterís son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him, and kissed him, and brought him to his house. And he told Laban all these things. And Laban said to him, Surely thou art my bone and my flesh. And he abode with him the space of a month" (Gen. 29:13, 14). The plan of Jacobís mother seemed to be working very well. Everything appeared to be running very smoothly. Esau had been left behind at a safe distance, the long journey from Beersheba to Padan-aram had been covered without harm, little or no difficulty had been experienced in locating his motherís brother. Rachel had shown no resentment at Jacobís affectionate greeting, and now Laban himself had accorded the fugitive a warm welcome, and for a whole month nothing seems to have broken their serenity. And what of God? What of His moral government! What of the law of retribution? Was Jacob to suffer nothing for his wrong doing? Was the deception he had practiced upon Isaac to escape unnoticed? Would it, in his case, fail to appear that "the way of the transgressor is hard"? (Prov. 13:15). Ah! be not deceived; God is not mocked. Sometimes the actions of Godís government may appear to move slowly, but sooner or later they are sure. Often-times this is overlooked. Men take too short a view: "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Eccl. 8:11). It is in the sequel that God is vindicated. History in fragments denies God, but history as a whole is seen to be His story. Look at the cruel Egyptian task-masters and at the helpless Hebrews. They cried to Heaven, and for years it seemed as though Heaven was deaf. But the sequel showed God had seen and heard, and in the sequel His righteous government was vindicated. We have had striking illustrations of this abiding principle in the history of our own times. A few years ago we were horrified by the Belgian atrocities on the Congo, and equally so by the cruel inhumanities practiced by the Russians upon the Jews. But behold the sequelómark Belgium and Russia today! Yes, the way of the transgressor is hard, and so Jacob found it in the sequel.
"And Laban said unto Jacob, Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought? Tell me, what shall thy wages be?" (Gen. 29:15). Here was the first cloud on Jacobís horizon, and the first appearing of the Divine rod of chastisement. Here, too, was a most striking example of the law of righteous retribution. Jacob was about to begin reaping that which he had sown. Perhaps this is not apparent on the surface, so we tarry to explain. It will be remembered that the end before Jacob and his mother in their scheming and lying was that he should secure from Isaac the blessing which was the portion of the first born. What this blessing was we know from the words of the Lord to Rebekah before her sons were born, words which expressly declared that Jacob should receive the first-bornís portionó"the elder shall serve the younger" (Gen. 25:23). That, then, upon which Jacob had set his heart, and that which he had sought to obtain from Isaac by a wicked device, was the position of dignity and honor. Instead of serving he wanted to be served. How striking, then, to note that the very first word spoken by Laban after Jacob had enjoyed the hospitality of his house for a month, concerned that of service! How significant that Jacob should have fallen into the hands of a crafty schemer! Laban was glad to receive Jacob into his household, but even though his nephew he did not intend that he should remain on indefinitely as a guest. No, he meant to profit by Jacobís presence, and so seeks to strike a bargain, lets Jacob know that if he remained with him it must be in the capacity of a servant, and so raises the question of "wages." This must have been a bitter portion for Jacob and a painful blow to his pride. He was beginning to learn that the way of the transgressor is hard.
But what follows is even more remarkable: "And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah was tender-eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favored. And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter. And Laban said, It is better that I give her to thee, than that! should give her to another man: abide with me. And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her. And Jacob said unto Laban, Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in unto her. And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast. And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her. And Laban gave unto his daughter Leah Zilpah his maid for an handmaid. And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold it was Leah: and he said to Laban, What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me? And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the first-born. Fulfil her week, and we will give thee this also for the service which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years. And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also" (Gen. 29:16-28). The quotation is a lengthy one hut it was necessary to give it in full so that the reader might be able to follow our remarks upon it. In the preceding paragraph we have seen how that the first lesson God was now teaching Jacob was that of humble submissionóif he had refused to submit to God then he must submit to "serve" a human master. Here, in this quotation, we discover the second lesson that Jacob must learn was to respect the rights of the first-born! This was just what Jacob had disregarded in connection with Esau, so that which he had ignored concerning his brother he must bow to in connection with his wife. In the third place, mark how God was correcting the impatience of our patriarch. It was because he had refused to wait Godís time for the fulfillment of His promise (as per Genesis 25:23) that he had involved himself in so much trouble, and had to leave home and flee from Esau; how fitting then he should now be obliged to wait seven years before he could obtain Rachel, and that he should be made to serve a further seven years for her after they were married!
In drawing this article to a close we would seek to expand briefly what seems to us to be the outstanding principle in the scripture we have just examined, namely, the principle of Divine retribution. "Even as I have seen, they that plough iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same" (Job 4:8). In Labanís treatment of Jacob we see the deceiver deceived! This principle that whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap is writ large across the pages of Holy Scripture and is strikingly, nay marvelously, illustrated again and again. Pharaoh, King of Egypt, gave orders that every son of the Hebrews should be drowned (Ex. 1:22), and so in the end he was drowned (Ex. 14:28). Korah caused a cleft in the Congregation of Israel (Num. 16:2, 3), and so God made a cleft in the earth to swallow him (Num. 16:30). Again, we read of one Adoni-bezek that he fled, "and they pursued after him, and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his great toes. And Adoni-bezek said, Three score and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table: as I have done, so God hath requited me!" (Judg. 1:6, 7). Wicked Ahab caused Naboth to be slain and the dogs came and licked up his blood (1 Kings 21:19), accordingly we read that when Ahab died he was buried in Samaria, "And one washed the chariot (in which he had been slain) in the pool of Samaria; and the dogs licked up his blood"(1 Kings 22:38). King Asa caused the prophet to be placed in "the house of the stocks" (2 Chron. 16:10 R. V.), and accordingly we read later that God punished him by a disease in his feet (1 Kings 15:23). Haman prepared a gallows for Mordecai, but was hanged upon it himself (Esther 7:10). Saul of Tarsus stood by and consented to the stoning of Stephen, and later we read that at Lystra the Jews stoned Paul (Acts 14:19)óthis is the more noticeable because Barnabas who was with him escaped!
But the most striking example of what men term "poetic justice" is the ease of Jacob himself. First, he deceived his father and was, in turn, deceived by his father-in-law: Jacob came the younger for the elder to deceive Isaac, and has the elder daughter of Laban given instead of the younger for a wife. Second, we may mark the same principle at work in Jacobís wife. In deceiving Jacob in the matter of Leah, Laban tricked Rachel; later we find Rachel tricking Laban (Gen. 31:35). Again, we note how a mercenary spirit actuated Jacob in buying the birthright from Esau for a mess of pottage; the sequel to this was the mercenary spirit in Laban which caused him to change Jacobís wages ten times (see Gen. 31:41). Finally we may remark, what is most striking of all, that Jacob deceived Isaac by allowing his mother to cover his hands and neck with "the skins of the kids of the goats" (Gen. 27:16), and later Jacobís sons deceived him by dipping the coat of Joseph in the blood of "a kid of the goats" (Gen. 37:31) and making him believe an evil beast had devoured him: note, too, that Jacob deceived Isaac in regard to his favorite son (Esau), and so was Jacob deceived in regard to his favorite son (Joseph).
While it is true that very often the connection between evil-doing and its evil consequences is not so apparent as in the above examples, nevertheless, God has given us, and still gives us, sufficient proof so as to provide us with solemn warnings of the fact that He is not mocked, that He does observe the ways of men, that He hates sin wherever it is found, and that His righteous government requires that "every transgression and disobedience" shall receive "a just recompense of reward" (Heb. 2:2). This "just recompense of reward" is visited upon His own children here in this world, not sent in anger but in love, not in judgment but directed to the conscience and heart so as to bring them to judge themselves for their evil doing. With the wicked it is often otherwise. Frequently they flourish here as a green bay tree, but at the Great White Throne the books shall be opened and every one of them shall be "judged according to their works."
Should one who is out of Christ, a lost sinner, have read this article, let it be unto him as a voice crying "Flee from the wrath to come;" flee to the Lord Jesus, the Savior, the only Refuge, who came into this world to save sinners. And, let the Christian reader learn anew the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and earnestly seek grace to enable him to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts so that he may "sow to the Spirit," then shall he "of the Spirit reap life everlasting."