Wake Up with Jacob sermon series – 4: What Goes Around…

SCRIPTURE
After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month, Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.” Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah had weak[a] eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her. ” So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant. When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?” Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work. ” And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.

SERMON
Wake Up with Jacob sermon series
Sermon #4 – What Goes Around
July 15, 2012

We’re continuing our sermon series this morning on one of the most lyin’, cheatin’, stealin’, crooked no-good varmints to be talked about in church. Oh, and by the way, he’s one of the heroes of our faith! So what have we learned about Jacob so far? He’s an opportunist. He’ll do whatever it takes to get his way. He’s stolen his brother Esau’s birthright and, with the help of his mother, blatantly tricked his blind father into giving up a blessing that was meant for Esau. He’s also a scaredy-cat, running away from home to go live with his uncle Laban rather than face his brother’s rage. All along, we’ve wondered how God was going to work through this good-for-nothing crook to bring about the extravagant promises God had made.
Last week we heard about a rest stop that Jacob took along his journey. While sleeping he dreamt about a stairway reaching to heaven, and he heard God bestow the same promises of blessing upon him that God had given to his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac. God also promised Jacob, who was all alone on his exile from home, that God would be with him and would make sure that the promise of blessing was fulfilled through him. In return, Jacob promised to have faith and trust in God, to claim God as his own. That’s huge for Jacob, because up until this point in the story Jacob has only cared about one person: himself. There was no one else in his circle of importance. But last week we were given a glimmer of hope that maybe, must maybe, Jacob was beginning to think about more than his own welfare and well-being.

Before we read today’s passage, let me catch you up what’s happened since last week. After his dream Jacob hits the road again and arrives in Paddan Aram, the home of his uncle Laban and his family. Jacob walks up to the local watering hole, which was literally a hole full of water, a well with a large stone covering it that was used to provide water for the local sheep flocks. He asks some of the locals about Laban, and they tell him that not only does his uncle live nearby, but that his daughter Rachel was on her way right now to provide water for their sheep.

Rachel arrives, and suddenly Jacob starts acting weird. He’s probably never been around a lot of girls before, so when he sees Rachel come strolling toward him, our smooth talker Jacob gets all googly-eyed. We guys are vulnerable to such reactions, you know. I remember in fifth grade at Prestonia Elementary school in Louisville, I had a huge crush on Kimberly, but I was always too shy to talk to her. On our field day, near the end of school, I was signed up for the running race. As I lined up alongside the other boys, I looked over at Kimberly, hoping she would be watching. Not only was she watching, but she smiled at me and waved. Hoo boy! I could almost feel the whiskers growing on my chin as I forcibly willed myself to look more manly. I took off running as fast as I could, glancing over at Kimberly to make sure she was still watching. That glance kept me from seeing the rock in front of me, and just as I look forward again I tripped, landing with a thud and skidding a good ten feet. I didn’t win the race or the girl.

We men have this peculiar habit of reacting strangely when we see a woman we like. We start strutting around like a peacock, puffing out our chests and sucking in our bellies. We start looking for things to fix or jars to open as a way of making an impression. We’re guys, it’s what we do. And it’s certainly what Jacob does. Normally, the shepherds gathered at the watering hole have to wait until all of them are there to move the heavy stone from the well. But Jacob, in a moment of Hulk-like machismo, walks over and lifts the stone all by himself, and then offers water to Rachel for her flock. “How you doing?” This is not the Jacob we have come to know! This is not the “looking out for number one,” “me, myself, and I” Jacob we have seen in the past. Jacob going out of his way to do something for someone else? What’s going on here?

Jacob goes with Rachel to meet Laban, and takes up residence in Laban’s household. After a month there, Laban and Jacob make an agreement. Laban wanted to pay Jacob for his work, but all Jacob could think about was Rachel, so he makes a deal. Normally, the prospective husband would pay a dowry for the right to marry a woman, but Jacob fled his homeland with nothing. So in place of money, he offers his services. I’ll work for you for seven years if you’ll give me Rachel as my wife.

Now, Laban is a smart man, and he may be even more cunning than Jacob, if that’s possible. So Laban responds to Jacob’s request by saying, “I think it would be great if you married Rachel.” Notice he didn’t say “Yes” to the agreement, but Jacob is so lovestruck that he doesn’t pay much attention to the response. So he works for seven years in Laban’s household, all the while assuming that the fruits of his labor will be the hand of Rachel in marriage. And the passage tells us the seven years “seemed to him like but a few days because of the love he had for her.” First, let me say…awwww! How sweet! And second…this is Jacob? Jacob the promise-stealer and heel-grabber?

Jacob finishes his seven years of work and says to Laban, “All right, Uncle. Give me what I’ve earned.” So Laban calls together a party for a wedding feast. These feasts were lavish affairs, usually lasting several days, and surprisingly wine was involved. My guess is the groom had a little too much fruit of the vine to celebrate his nuptials, maybe even getting so sloppy drunk that he couldn’t tell the difference between two sisters, and Laban takes advantage of the situation.

Instead of waking up to Rachel, who the Bible tells us was “lovely in form and beautiful,” we get maybe the most understated verse in all of scripture: “When morning came, it was Leah!” Holy cow! Welcome to this week’s episode of “Real Housewives of Paddan Aram!” Jacob turns over in his bed to discover he has been given and consummated his marriage to Leah, the one with the “lovely eyes.” The word “lovely” in Hebrew is translated in other places as “weak” or “delicate.” It’s at this point that Scripture begins to nudge us in the ribs a bit to show us the humor of what is taking place. We were told when they were born that Esau was the fiery one, while Jacob was gentle, the sensitive type. So you can see the irony in the fact that Jacob falls in love with the beautiful, fiery Rachel, only to inadvertently marry the gentle, tender Leah.

The joke on Jacob doesn’t end there. He runs to Laban and exclaims, “What is this you have done to me? Why have you deceived me?” which is probably the exact same thing Esau said to Jacob after Jacob tricked him out of his birthright. And then, Uncle Laban drops the bomb. He says, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one.”

Bam! Right in between Jacob’s eyes. His moment of clarity must have been so painful that he forgot his hangover. Jacob, the younger brother who blatantly ignored local customs about the older serving the younger and deceived his older brother to get the upper hand, has now himself been deceived on the basis of these very same customs. Isaac Newton said that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Jesus said in Matthew that all those who live by the sword would die by the sword. I say what goes around comes around.

Jacob, who lived by his wits, has been outwitted. The deceiver has been deceived. Is this God’s justice, an eye for an eye and a deception for deception? I don’t think so. I don’t believe God operates that way. The God I believe in is not an “eye for an eye” God. The God I worship is a “love your enemy” God, a God who, instead of punishing us for our sins, sent us mercy and forgiveness through his Son Jesus Christ.
So where is God while all this chicanery is going on? There’s certainly an imbalance between human and divine action here. God is not mentioned anywhere in this story. And these do not seem to be the kind of characters God chooses to mix with. Yet, the promise lives on, and it lives on through Jacob and his wives. Jacob’s unwanted marriage to Leah can be understood as part of God’s plan, because she will give birth to two sons, Levi and Judah, who will become the heads of two of the most important tribes of Israel. Levi will become the priestly tribe, responsible for the religious matters of the Israelites, and Judah will become the governing tribe, from which will come the monarchy of King David, and eventually Jesus of Nazareth.

Just as God chose to become entangled in the messiness of Jacob’s life in order to fulfill God’s promise of blessing, so God chose to become entangled in the messiness of our world by sending Jesus Christ to fulfill God’s promise of forgiveness and new life, just as God chooses to become entangled in the messiness of each of our lives in order to fulfill God’s promise of constant, abiding presence. What part of your life do you feel is just too messy, too complex, to hurtful or embarrassing for God? Is there a dark closet in your life filled with pain or shame or regret? Hear the promise of God again: “I am with you.” God is with Jacob during all of this, and God is with us.

God is at work in another place here. You might expect Jacob to react to Laban’s double-cross with his typical impatience, storming away in anger or fleeing once again. Instead, he agrees to work seven MORE years in order to marry Rachel. Seven more years. There’s no explanation for that other than love. The transformation of Jacob is being to take shape. The one who was born in conflict, the one who struggled with his brother, the one who manipulated situations to his own benefit, is changing. He used to love being in control; he has spent his life grasping at things he wanted. But anyone who’s ever loved knows that to love someone means not to grasp, but to give away, not to hold onto control, but to give it up for the sake of another.

Jacob loved Rachel, in a deep, soul-stirring way, and his love for her knew no time limits or boundaries. It will be through his love for her that God’s promise of blessing and offspring will be carried on. Maybe, just maybe, as his love for Rachel grew, Jacob was beginning to understand just how much he was loved by God. He’s not there yet; there’s still more struggle ahead for him. But there’s also hope, hope that the promise-stealer who has become the promise-bearer will transform into the promise-fulfiller as he learns to love and to be loved. When Jacob sowed lies and deceit, he was repaid with lies and deceit. Now, he is beginning to trust in God’s love and to extend that love to others. I wonder what’s going to happen? I John says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God.” What are we sowing with our words and actions? Love? Grace? Generosity? Or something else? What goes around comes around.

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