Learning About God's Faithfulness
Learning About God's Faithfulness
Genesis 29:16-17,21-23,26-27; 31:1-3,38-42
Lesson Passages Outline
- Faithful Despite Deception (Gen. 29:16-17,21-23,26-27)
- Faithful Despite Hostility (Gen. 31:1-3)
- Faithful Despite Hardship (Gen. 31:38-42)
God is consistently faithful to care for His people.
To help you thank God for His faithfulness to you
Thinking about Thanksgiving in March might seem odd. Yet, as I reflect on Thanksgiving 2003, I do not think so. My father's 75th birthday coincided with Thanksgiving Day that year. The entire family planned to gather at his home in Virginia to celebrate Thanksgiving and his birthday in a big way.
When Thanksgiving Day rolled around, however, we were all rather subdued. No birthday cake, party favors, or decorations were in the house. You see, Dad had passed away four weeks before Thanksgiving. Instead of having a birthday party, we thought about Dad. His place at the table was conspicuously empty. Through tears and feelings of missing him, we gave thanks to God for Dad's life and love.
Have you ever experienced difficulty thanking God because your circumstances were difficult or sad?
This lesson will help adults who question God's faithfulness because of difficult circumstances they are experiencing. Often the death of a loved one, mistreatment from others, or loss in natural disasters leave people asking, "Where is God?"
As you study how God provided for and protected Jacob even when circumstances seemingly indicated God had forgotten him, reflect on ways you can help adult learners to experience the Life Impact of this lesson by thanking God for His faithfulness.
As you continue your personal Bible study, prayerfully read the Background Passage and respond to the Study Questions as well as to the questions in the margins for the March 9 lesson in Explore the Bible: Adult Learner Guide.
The Bible in Context (Gen. 29:1-31:55)
Genesis 29:1-31:55 focuses on Jacob—his trip to Haran, his 20-year sojourn there, and his departure to go back home. On this trip home he had a final confrontation with Laban when he (Jacob) reached Gilead. Through every hardship, God proved faithful to Jacob. Eventually Jacob would thank God for His faithfulness.
Several important aspects of Jacob's life and thus of the overall account of God's redemption of His people are developed in these chapters. First, Jacob the bachelor became Jacob the father of 11 sons and 1 daughter (29:31-30:24). Jacob's 12th son, Benjamin, was born later near Bethlehem. The enlargement of Jacob's family to include 12 sons resulted ultimately in the 12 tribes that became God's people. Each tribe took the name of one of Jacob's sons with the exception that two tribes were named after Joseph's two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.
Second, Jacob the poor fugitive became Jacob the man of substantial wealth and possessor of flocks, camels, donkeys and servants (30:43). The material blessings Jacob experienced reflect the blessings enjoyed earlier by his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac (13:2; 26:12-14). This reality illustrates God's faithfulness to all generations. The Lord had kept His promise to be with Jacob (28:15).
Third, in spite of everything Jacob experienced, God was faithful to provide for and to protect him (31:42). Jacob had set out 20 years earlier to flee the wrath of his brother Esau and to find a wife in his mother's homeland. Jacob experienced deceit and treachery at the hand of his father-in-law many times throughout the two decades he was in Haran (including on his wedding night). Yet when Jacob returned to the promised land, he was wealthy.
Finally, God's plan to bless all humanity through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants was not frustrated by negative circumstances. God had told Jacob in his dream of the stairway to heaven, "All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring" (28:14). The narrative of divine redemption thus moved from Abram to Isaac, from Isaac to Jacob, and finally focused on Jacob and his family.
Jacob went to his uncle Laban's [LAY buhns] house for two reasons. First, Jacob had deceived his father Isaac and had stolen his brother's (Esau) blessing. Fearing for Jacob's life, his mother Rebekah entreated Isaac to send him to Haran.
Secondly, Jacob went to find himself a wife from Rebekah's family. These two strands of the story, deceiving his family and his marriage within the family, are intertwined throughout this section.
Faithful Despite Deception (Gen. 29:16-17,21-23,26-27)
16 Now Laban had two daughters: the older was named Leah, and the younger was named Rachel. 17 Leah had delicate eyes, but Rachel was shapely and beautiful.
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21 Then Jacob said to Laban, "Give me my wife, for my time is completed. I want to sleep with her."
22 So Laban invited all the men of the place to a feast. 23 That evening, Laban took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob, and he slept with her.
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26 Laban answered, "It is not the custom in this place to give the younger [daughter in marriage] before the firstborn. 27 Complete this week [of wedding celebration], and we will also give you this [younger] one in return for working yet another seven years for me."
Verse 16. Laban was Jacob's uncle on his mother's side. Isaac sent Jacob to him so he (Jacob) could marry within the family, thus avoiding the vexation caused by Esau and his Hittite wives (27:46). Laban had two daughters, Leah [LEE uh] and Rachel. Jacob met Rachel first, at the well when she brought her father's flocks to be watered. During the encounter, Jacob "kissed Rachel and wept loudly" (29:11). Apparently, he was relieved his long journey was over. The statement that Leah was older will factor into the story shortly. Interestingly, Leah's name derives from a word meaning "cow"; and Rachel's name is from a word meaning "ewe."
Verse 17. Whereas verse 16 described Leah as "older" and Rachel as "younger," this one adds Leah had delicate eyes. The term delicate means "tender" or "weak." The entire phrase is a figure of speech referring to a less-than-attractive appearance. In contrast to Leah's bland appearance, Rachel was shapely and beautiful, literally "beautiful of form and beautiful of appearance." In response to Laban's request that Jacob name his wages (29:15), Jacob declared he would work for seven years in order to have Rachel as his wife because he loved her (29:18).
Read "Ancient Marriage Contracts" in the Spring 2008 issue of Biblical Illustrator or Biblical Illustrator Plus (CD-ROM).
Verse 21. For seven years Jacob served his uncle Laban. He was motivated by his love for Rachel. When the seven years ended, Jacob went to Laban to request his bride. Can you imagine the encounter? Jacob, who had deceived his father and brother, had then completed seven years of honest labor for his uncle Laban. The agreement had been straightforward—after seven years of work Jacob could take Rachel as his wife.
Jacob's request was direct and had two parts. First, he said, Give me my wife, for my time is completed, literally "my days are full." Indeed, Jacob had labored faithfully. Second, he declared, I want to sleep with her. The verb for sleep literally means "to go." So Jacob was telling his soon-to-be father-in-law that he was eager to be married to Rachel.
Verse 22. As agreed, Laban made the necessary arrangements. Weddings in the ancient Near East consisted of a full week of celebration. Often wine was drunk in abundance among friends and neighbors.
Verse 23. This verse has been the subject of much discussion among Bible students. Laban practiced such deceit here that he has set the pattern and become the poster boy for how to deceive. However, in spite of Laban's odious treachery, the obvious question is how Jacob could not have known he was with Leah instead of Rachel.
Two ideas have provided the most satisfying answer. First, some scholars think Jacob was so drunk from the wedding celebration that he could not distinguish between the two sisters. Since Laban did not give Leah to Jacob until that evening, Jacob could have been celebrating for hours. Evening also adds the element of darkness, making Jacob's task of identifying the right sister even more difficult. The second idea is that Leah was wearing a traditional wedding veil that covered most of her face. Together with the wine and the evening darkness, Leah's veil prevented Jacob from knowing she was not Rachel.
The wedding was consummated when Jacob slept with her. At this point Laban's deceit could not be reversed. Jacob was then the one deceived. Seven years of honest labor had been paid off with deception.
Verse 26. In the morning the veil, the darkness, and any drunkenness were gone. Jacob discovered his new wife was not the beloved Rachel but rather the older sister Leah (29:25). We can only imagine how Jacob felt at that moment. The seven years of hard service for Laban had been inspired by his love for Rachel. How did the two women feel? Leah was an unwanted bride, and Rachel had to sit back while her older sister slept with her man.
What of Laban's explanation? How did he defend his deception? He recalled a community custom whereby the firstborn daughter must be married before the younger. Was this statement true or false? Laban had agreed seven years earlier to Jacob's agreement to work this length of time in order to be able to marry Rachel. If the custom of the older sister marrying first was legitimate, why did Laban not inform Jacob earlier? The timing of Laban's appeal to the custom makes some think the whole scenario is suspect. They believe either the custom was bogus or Laban had set out to deceive Jacob from the start.
Do you think you could continue to work for someone who had deceived you as Laban had deceived Jacob?
Verse 27. Jacob's love for Rachel compelled him to accept Laban's terms for employment for another seven years. The only difference was Rachel would be Jacob's wife at the beginning of the seven years, not the end. Laban proved a formidable adversary for Jacob. In their first labor negotiations Jacob had set the terms. This time Laban set the terms; Jacob would receive Rachel at the end of Leah's wedding celebration week in exchange for another seven years of labor. Jacob accepted Laban's terms because he wanted Rachel (29:28-30).
Read "Polygamy in the Ancient Near East" in the Spring 2008 issue of Biblical Illustrator or Biblical Illustrator Plus (CD-ROM).
Amid Jacob's hard work for Laban in spite of his uncle's deceit, God was faithfully at work fulfilling His promise to Jacob. Jacob had become the husband of two wives and soon would have a family. Surrounded by deceit, Jacob had much for which to be thankful.
And Today. We too can be thankful to the Lord for His faithfulness towards us even if we are victims of others' dishonesty.
Rather soon, Jacob was the father of 11 sons and 1 daughter and the possessor of great flocks, many camels and donkeys, and many servants (29:31-30:43). The Lord had blessed Jacob in spite of Laban's deception. Even more, the Lord watched over Jacob as He had promised (28:15). Jacob had grown wealthy while Laban had grown more controlling.
Faithful Despite Hostility (Gen. 31:1-3)
1 Now Jacob heard what Laban's sons were saying: "Jacob has taken all that was our father's and has built this wealth from what belonged to our father." 2 And Jacob saw from Laban's face that his attitude toward him was not the same.
3 Then the LORD said to him, "Go back to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you."
Verse 1. Somehow Jacob heard what Laban's sons were saying. His growing wealth and the increasing fragility of their father's flocks aroused hostility among them toward Jacob. From their perspective Jacob had taken all that was their father's and had built this wealth from what belonged to Laban. They conveniently forgot Laban's wealth had been a result of the Lord's blessing through Jacob in the first place (Gen. 30:27).
The King James Version accurately renders the Hebrew term for wealth as "glory." This translation reminds us that great wealth in that day was considered the glory of a rich man.
Have you ever experienced hostility from others who might have been jealous of the Lord's blessings on your life?
Verse 2. The hostility from Laban's sons almost certainly reflected Laban's attitude. Jacob discerned from Laban's face that his attitude toward him was not the same. Initially Laban had received Jacob with enthusiasm, a hug, and a kiss (29:13). He then manipulated Jacob, growing wealthier in the process. Laban even acknowledged the Lord's blessings on him because of Jacob (30:27).
When the Lord blessed Jacob more than Laban, the latter had a drastic change of heart. He began to view Jacob as a threat. His anxiety was so deep that he reflected it in his face. As with Nehemiah, his face reflected what he felt on the inside (Neh. 2:2).
Verse 3. In the midst of the growing hostility from Laban and his sons, the Lord proved faithful once again. The word Lord is the covenant name for Jacob's God. He gave Jacob instructions to leave at precisely the right time.
The Lord's command was for Jacob to go back to the land of his fathers, signifying the Lord's continued faithfulness of fulfilling His vow to Jacob. The Lord had promised He would bring Jacob back to the promised land. The Lord also told Jacob to return to his family, foreshadowing a decisive encounter with his brother Esau.
Laban and his sons showed hostility toward Jacob. He could tell from the way Laban looked at him their relationship was deteriorating rapidly. Jacob had cause for concern. If Laban deceived him when their relationship was going well, what could he expect once Laban began to despise him?
Yet, while Laban and his sons grew increasingly hostile toward Jacob, the Lord was faithful to bless him continually, providing for and protecting him. Jacob had much to be thankful for in spite of the hostility he faced.
And Today. We too can thank God for His faithfulness to us even when others are hostile toward us. We should guard against allowing others' hostility to rob us of the gratitude we feel toward the Lord. God is always faithful; in return, we always should be thankful to Him.
The final lesson segment deals with the encounter between Jacob and Laban in the land of Gilead. Laban approached Jacob like a sheriff seeking to confront a lawbreaker. After Laban failed to locate the idols Rachel had stolen (31:19), the momentum quickly swung in her husband's favor. Jacob took the opportunity to show how, in reality, Laban was the one who had done wrong over the past two decades.
Faithful Despite Hardship (Gen. 31:38-42)
38 I've been with you these 20 years. Your ewes and female goats have not miscarried, and I have not eaten the rams from your flock. 39 I did not bring you any of the flock torn by wild beasts; I myself bore the loss. You demanded [payment] from me for what was stolen by day or by night. 40 There I was—the heat consumed me by day and the frost by night, and sleep fled from my eyes. 41 For 20 years I have worked in your household—14 years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks—and you have changed my wages 10 times! 42 If the God of my father, the God of Abraham, the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, certainly now you would have sent me off empty-handed. But God has seen my affliction and my hard work, and He issued His verdict last night."
Verse 38. Jacob defended his innocence by recounting his 20 years of service to Laban. That Laban's ewes and female goats had not miscarried testified to Jacob's careful guardianship of Laban's flocks. Additionally, Jacob had not eaten the rams from Laban's flock, meaning he had not been a burden to his uncle or even taken his due reward. Jacob's entire defense emphasized Laban had suffered no loss while his flocks were under Jacob's care.
Verse 39. Jacob bore the loss of the flock killed by wild beasts, sparing Laban the expense. Jacob met Laban's demands for payment of animals that had been stolen. The phrase by day or by night indicates Jacob was held accountable for the flock even when he was not watching them. Laban's holding Jacob in strictest accountability testified to his overbearing manipulation and control of Jacob's life.
Verse 40. The statement, the heat consumed me by day and the frost by night, conveyed the extremes of Jacob's daily toil. The toll of 20 years of hard labor had resulted in poor or no sleep. Working for Laban had been extremely difficult, yet Jacob had endured the associated hardships for two decades.
Verse 41. Jacob summarized his case. He had toiled for 20 years, working in Laban's household, meaning under Laban's terms. For 14 years Jacob had worked to gain Laban's two daughters, a direct reminder of Laban's earlier deception. Jacob worked an additional six years for Laban's flocks.
Jacob said that during this 20-year period Laban had changed his (Jacob's) wages 10 times, a charge he made earlier to Leah and Rachel (31:7). Jacob's honest and difficult labor is placed side by side with Laban's unreasonable, overbearing, and often dishonest labor practices. Jacob endured all he could. When the Lord told him, "Go back to the land of your fathers and to your family" (31:3), Jacob was more than ready. Laban, however, sought to detain Jacob longer. Jacob's defense was effective in making complete the break between him and his uncle.
How might Christians address unfair labor practices while preserving their witness for Christ?
Verse 42. Jacob acknowledged God's faithfulness in the midst of his hardship. He referred to the Lord as the God of my father, the God of Abraham, the Fear of Isaac. [See Exploration: "Fear of Isaac," below.] This way of referring to the Lord heightened the sense of God's faithfulness through the generations, extended here to Jacob.
The Lord's presence had prevented Laban from sending Jacob away empty-handed. The phrase my affliction and my hard work appears before the subject and verb in Hebrew for emphasis. Jacob acknowledged God has seen every moment of his hardships.
Jacob used a legal concept, issued His verdict, to declare his innocence and Laban's guilt. This declaration was a reversal of Laban's accusation that Jacob had deceived him and had stolen his gods (31:26-30). The words last night refer to Laban's dream the previous evening (31:24,29). Jacob acknowledged the Lord had been with him during 20 years of deceit, hostility, and hardship.
And Today. What about you? Can you look back on the difficult times of your life, when you might have felt God did not care, and see how He faithfully provided for you? You can thank God for His faithfulness even when others cause you undue hardship.
Biblical Truths for Spiritual Transformation
- We can thank God for His faithfulness to us even when we are victims of others' deceit.
- We can thank God for His faithfulness to us even when others are hostile toward us.
- We can thank God for His faithfulness to us when others cause us undue hardship.
Have you thanked God for those times He helped you even when you felt abandoned or hopeless?
Step 1: Introduction
Why do you think trusting God is so hard when things get tough? How would you describe God's faithfulness?
Step 2: Faithful Despite Deception (Gen. 29:16-17,21-23, 26-27)
How would you have felt if you had been Jacob, Leah, or Rachel? How can you demonstrate confidence in God even when others deceive you?
Step 3: Faithful Despite Hostility (Gen. 31:1-3)
What role can hostility or conflict play in shaping a believer? How can we express confidence in God when facing hostility?
Step 4: Faithful Despite Hardship (Gen. 31:38-42)
How can you focus on the positive results of the hardships you face? How could focusing on the potentially positive results help a person endure life's hardships?
Step 5: Conclusion
How can you follow the example set by Jacob, remaining faithful to God even when facing deception, hostility, and hardship? What are appropriate ways for you to express thankfulness to God for His faithfulness to you?