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Turn About is Fair Play

            I have heard it spoken jokingly, as well as seriously, when a parent has said to a misbehaving child, “I hope your children are just like you!” Have you ever said that or have you ever seen when this has been completely lived out? It is amazing how the perspective changes from how much fun we had as a child disobeying our parents, to how frustrating and angering it is when our own children disobey us. It is amazing how the same action can feel so different from the person doing the action to the one receiving the action.

            As we continue this week to look at the actions of Jacob and Esau we find the story takes a bit of a twist in the scriptures. Many of you have anticipated this change and many of you also have grasped a hold of the fact that, if the motives of Rebekah and Jacob were pure to just make sure God’s desire for Jacob to receive the blessing, their actions showed a lack of faith that God could take care of this without, or despite, of their interference. Several of you drew the parallel experience of Abraham and Sarah with the actions of Jacob and Rebekah. With doubt on their behalf that God was going to deliver on his promises, they stepped into action and made the situation more difficult than it needed to be. For Sarah and Abraham it was the addition of Hagar, Sarah’s maid, into the mix and her giving birth to Ishmael that muddied the waters of God’s plan.

            Well Jacob has set the table for problems in this story by first taking Esau’s birthright, and secondly by deceiving his father in order to steal Isaac’s blessing which was intended for Esau. It was due to these actions we heard that Esau has now sworn revenge upon Jacob and Esau plans to kill Jacob once their father Isaac dies. It was due to that plan of revenge that Rebekah began to plan an escape for her son Jacob to go back to the land of her ancestors and take a wife. That was the scripture we have heard read from Genesis 27 & 28.

            So when we pick up this story today we have Jacob on his journey to go find his Uncle Laban. Some interesting things happen to Jacob while on this journey that I believe help Jacob to begin to recognize God’s true expectations for him. Please do remember this journey would be a little more difficult for Jacob than it would have been for Esau because Esau was used to being out in the wilderness and hunting and caring for things in the wild. Yet, Jacob is running for his life now and is highly motivated.

            So if you look at Genesis 28 you will read that Jacob is on his way to Harran to find Laban and a wife from Laban’s daughters. But Jacob receives a message from God when he stops to spend the night at Bethel along the way. During this stop God speaks to Jacob through a vision in which Jacob sees a stairway that reaches from the earth into the heavens, and there are angels descending and ascending on the stairs. In the midst of this image God tells Jacob, this fault filled man, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.”

            The next morning we are told, beginning in verse 18, that Jacob has an epiphany and realizes God is present with him and he knows he has to build a pillar to mark this spot where he has come to recognize God’s presence and power. Not only does Jacob set up this pillar, but additionally, in an action of respect and humbleness, Jacob makes a promise to return to God a tenth of everything God has provided him. Now that is a change from the Jacob that is taking and collecting everything for himself, regardless of how it affected his brother and father.

            In the first 14 verses of chapter 29 we hear of Jacob finally coming in contact with some shepherds watering their sheep at a well. As they begin talking, much to Jacob’s delight, he discovers these shepherds can take him to Laban. Even more directly in walks Rachel who is a shepherd and daughter of Laban. This encounter turns into a wonderful family reunion and there is great joy and celebration. Kind of reminds me of several of my favorite Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel.  Laban runs out to meet Jacob and says, “You are my own flesh and blood.”

            Now in a second moment that also reflects Hallmark Christmas movie, after Jacob has been with Laban, a whole month, Laban asks what he should be paying Jacob for his time with him. Now this is where it becomes Christmas movie worthy, because after a “whole month” Jacob requests to “work for Laban for seven years in return for Laban’s younger daughter Rachel” because Jacob was in love with Rachel. Usually in Christmas movies it only takes a week or a weekend, but for Jacob and Rachel it took a month to know this seven-year betrothal would be worth it. And Laban gives a ringing endorsement of Jacob saying, “It’s better that I give her to you than some other man.” Not a warm and fuzzy greeting, but Laban knows the property will stay within the family now, and that was a win in that culture.

            This is when the story becomes interesting. After the seven years pass Jacob reminds Laban, now is the time for me to marry Rachel. So Laban gathers the people of the community together for the wedding feast and lets the party begin. In a true Jacob-like moment, Laban sees an opportunity to take advantage of Jacob. Maybe it was because Jacob celebrated the marriage a little too hard and wasn’t thinking straight. Maybe it was because the marriage chamber was very dark. Maybe it was because Jacob was getting older and had been waiting 7 years to have relations with Rachel, but for some reason Jacob doesn’t realize that Laban fools him by sending Leah into the chamber instead of Rachel. It isn’t until Jacob wakes up the next morning that he realizes the tables have turned upon him and he is the receiver of the deceit this time instead of the one dishing it out. Jacob responds, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”

            Jacob has a big decision to make. Do I show my anger and seek revenge against my family, or do I just move forward and continue on toward my goal? We have all been in this position before. We have been disappointed, we have been let down because someone we trusted has deceived us, and now we have to figure out our response. These are difficult moments for us because we want to let our emotions respond, but instead we need to pray. We need to pray like crazy and ask God to lead us in our response so we know what we should do. For Jacob I believe this was another epiphany moment where he now recognizes what his previous actions did to his relationship with his own brother and father. He is now coming to realize that turn about is fair play, or it at least seems justifiable.

            In the end of this section of the story Jacob agrees to keep Leah as his wife and agrees to spend another seven years with Laban in order to marry the younger daughter, Rachel. This was not just a simple decision and this didn’t result in a peace filled marriage, as Leah was jealous of the love Jacob showed Rachel, and Rachel was jealous of the sons Leah was able to produce for Jacob. There is more sibling rivalry between the Rachel and Leah, but in God’s timing and in God’s way, God blessed Jacob and his family grew, his flocks were increased, and God cared for Jacob and his family in amazing ways.

            We need to learn from this story that God has desire for our life. God has plans for you and I. What we need to do is learn to listen to what God is telling us, and then let God lead us where he desires for us to go. If we try and manipulate the results, if we try and adjust the desire according to our own will we will cause upheaval and confusion that wasn’t part of God’s desire. Let us surrender our will and trust our loving and all-knowing God. God is good, let us believe it and act like we know it. Amen and Amen.

 Asbury United Methodist Church

July 26, 2020

Genesis 27:42-28:4  & Genesis 29:13-25

William E. Hastings