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A Taste of His Own Medicine

Series: Genesis: The Foundations of the Faith

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Oct 10, 1999

Genesis 29:21-35

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Genesis 29:21-35

A Taste of His Own Medicine

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Genesis 29. You may actually want to keep open your hymnals to 558 because I want to come back to Psalm 1, and I want you to think about something that the Lord says in that Psalm that we've just sung. It pertains to Jacob. As we review the life of Jacob, you may ask yourself up to the point that we begin reading tonight is the Lord's word as set forth in Psalm 1 really coming true in Jacob's life? So we’ll talk about that in just a moment.

Now, let's look at Genesis 29. Let me remind you of that story. We are continuing our study of Genesis tonight, and we're concentrating on the life and times of Jacob right now. All the way back in Genesis 25, verses 12 through 34, we saw God's revelation to Rebekah, Jacob's mother, about her twin sons, Esau and Jacob, and especially about Jacob's role in the line of the covenant. And we also saw the story there of Jacob's gaining the birthright from Esau. Especially we remember that prophecy that the older would serve the younger.

Now keep that lodged in the back of your mind because that's going to come into play in the passage that we're reading tonight, as well as the one that we’ll read next week. Now that oracle of God given to Rebekah when those boys were still in her womb was brought to fruition in a most surprising way in Genesis, chapter 27. We saw that when we studied Genesis 27, verses 1 through 29. Isaac was doing everything that he could do to keep the oracle of God from coming true. He wanted Esau to be blessed. He loved Esau just as Abraham had loved Ishmael. And even as Abraham had asked that the Lord would bless Ishmael, so also Isaac wanted the Lord to bless Esau, and in fact, he intended to thwart God's direct command as revealed by that oracle. And yet God's decree triumphed, and Jacob indeed received the blessing. But, in the process of receiving the blessing, Rebekah, his mother, and Jacob sullied the promises of God by obtaining it through deceit and scheming. But God's holy will prevailed.

And so that story highlighted the grace and the sovereignty of God and the sinfulness of man, even amongst the covenant people. And, as we said when we studied that passage, everybody comes out looking bad. Nobody looks good. In fact, the person that you feel the most pity for in that story is Esau, who was clearly a worldly man without many thoughts at all about ultimate spiritual realities. But at the same time, that story shows how God's sovereignty and goodness overrules man's willfulness and sin unto blessing.

Now there were, of course, consequences for Rebekah's and Jacob's sin that first became apparent in Genesis, chapter 27, verses 30 through 46. But for the most part those consequences for Jacob's actions have been in the background as we've studied Genesis, chapter 28 and the first part of Genesis, chapter 29.

In Genesis, chapter 28, verses 1 through 9, we saw the repentant Isaac freely bless Jacob his son, and confirm that he was the rightful recipient of the covenant blessing. So though Isaac had the first time given that blessing to Jacob under the conditions of deceit, and though we might have expected maybe Isaac to revoke those blessings once he found out about the deceit. In fact when he found out about the deceit, he recognized that he had been rebelling against God by what he had done, and so he freely bestowed that blessing upon Jacob. And so again Jacob, though he has done wrong, comes out with the blessing of his father, the free blessing of his father. And you’re scratching your head and you’re saying that man is blessed who fearing God from sin restraints his feet. What's all this blessing on Jacob.

And then we look at Genesis, chapter 28, verses 10 through 22 and we see God Himself come to Jacob and graciously confirm His promises to Jacob, this unworthy man. And this reminded us as we studied that passage that our salvation is about what God has done first and foremost. And it's only secondarily about what we do in response. Only when we realize that our hope rests on God's grace, will our hope be firm and our heart assured. But God and His grace comes and with His own voice reconfirms the promises of Abraham to Jacob. And again in the back of our mind, that man is blessed whose fear in God from sin restraints his feet. Jacob has not restrained his feet from sin. Though he is part of the covenant line, we keep wondering, Lord, what are the consequences for this man's actions going to come home to roost?

And then in a sense it gets worse. You get to Genesis, chapter 29, verses 1 through 20 and we see again God's good providence being showered on Jacob. He's not only protected on his way to Haran, but he gets the most beautiful girl in the kingdom. He sins and still gets the girl. And we're beginning to wonder now. Lord, are you going to let Jacob off the hook? You read those first twenty verses and you see that incredible love story developing between Jacob and Rachel, and at that point you’re either thinking, with a little bit of irritation for the Lord, Lord, how could you let this man off the hook? Maybe, just maybe you’re tempted to think that there's some circumstances where crime pays. He sins, the Lord blesses him.

But the reality begins to set in Genesis, chapter 29, verses 13 through 20. Because in those verses God shows his love to Jacob in the discipline that he receives at the hand of willful and deceptive Laban. And that my friends, is a portent of things to come. You know, Andrew Murray once wrote a book called With Christ in the School of Prayer. Well the story of Jacob's life from this point on might be called with Christ in the school of hard knocks. To this point, he wasn't a man of prayer, but the Lord loved him, and so the Lord was going to change him one way or another, the easy or the hard way. Jacob had chosen the hard way. So with that as an introduction, let's turn to Genesis, chapter 29 and the 21st verse and let's read to the end of the chapter. This is God's holy words:

Genesis 29:21-35

Our Father, we ask that You would teach us from Your holy word. And especially we pray that You would teach us to have hearts which are compliant, compliant with Your will, desirous of doing Your will, desirous of doing Your way and Your word that we might learn the hard way. By the Holy Spirit and by His work of grace make us anxious, desirous to do as you have commanded. And so grow in grace. But O Lord, in Your love, if we have resistant hearts to your plan of obedience in Your love, correct us, train us, discipline us, reprove us, rebuke us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him in fellowship with you forever. We ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.

In this passage we catch a glimpse of God's sovereignty in His divine parenting. And we see God's tough love here and his chastening mercy. We had been wondering, Lord, when are You going to get around to dealing with Jacob? Yes, yes, he's had to be exiled from his land, but you know You have protected him every step of the way, You've blessed him by his father's mouth, You've blessed him by your own mouth, You have given him a beautiful woman who adores him to be his wife. When are You going to get around to do some character crafting here? And we're going to see an example of God's divine parenting in this passage. You know the Lord loves His children too much not to discipline them. Even in the midst of this discipline He advances the purpose of His decree for the sake of the church. And that's exactly what we see here.

There are only two things that I'd like to focus on tonight. The first you will see in verses 21 through 30. In those verses we see the consequences of Jacob's sin begin to come home to roost more than ever before. And then when you look at verses 31 through 35 you see God beginning to build the patriarchs. The first four of the patriarchs are born into what we would call today a dysfunctional family. And yet even that is a sign of God's overruling grace. Let's look at this passage together then.

I. The consequences of Jacob's sin.

First in verses 21 through 30. Here God saddles His son, Jacob, with the consequences of his sin in his family life. I want you to see that in this passage. The Lord is going to give Jacob some consequences to live with that he literally has to live with. He will never be able to get away from the consequences that the Lord is going to give him. They are literally going to be with him for the rest of his life, and they’re even going to outlive him. The Lord does that because he loves Jacob. And even though the Lord is going to use the deception of Laban, the Lord's ultimate plan is to craft the character of Jacob, and we learn in this passage that God models in His own dealing with us. He models a first principle of biblical parenting.

And that first principle of biblical parenting is whom the Lord loves He disciplines. You knew it was coming. You just knew it was coming. You knew that this string of fortune, this good luck, these blessings that Jacob was experiencing, you knew that at some point the Lord was going to deal with him. And here it is. Jacob had fallen in love with Rachel. He had been promised Rachel as his wife. The day came for him to receive Rachel as his wife. He had fulfilled seven years of labor for her. Those years had seemed very short because of his love for Rachel, and then the wedding feast is put on. It was customary in the days of Laban and in that culture that the bride would be veiled. There was an evening party, there was a great reception. They would have danced and sung and fellowshipped into the wee hours of the night. And then the veiled bride would have been given to her husband, and they would have gone in for their conjugal night together. It was dark. It was the desert. And the next morning when he woke up, wrong bride.

Jacob has just bumped into the first and greatest consequence of his own deceiving plan. Having deceived himself, he is deceived. And in a way that will never, ever leave him. Jacob didn't want Leah. Leah apparently really loved Jacob. The more you know Leah, the more you like her, and you just wonder how in the world she could have liked Jacob. And you really do feel genuine pity. And you’re supposed to because this passage makes it clear that God Himself pitied Leah in the situation in which she found herself.

But again her own situation was brought about by the sinfulness of her father, to a great extent. His own wickedness brought tremendous consequences in his daughter's life, as women in those days had very little to say about the person to whom they were given in marriage. It was simply her job to follow through on her father's demands.

And so God lets Jacob live with the consequences of his actions. The first of those consequences is he's fallen into the hands of a deceptive uncle who is going to deal with him as he has been dealing with other people.

I just want to pause there for a second and say is that not a principle for us to reflect upon. Yet it is often our tendency as parents to want to soften the consequences of sin for our children. We don't want them to suffer the full force of what they have wrought in their deeds from time to time. And of course there are times when mercy is certainly in order. But if that is our consistent pattern, we are not following the pattern of God. Because God Himself, because He loves us, lets us live with the consequences of our sin in order that we will not learn the lesson that we can sin and get by with it, because sin will destroy us. And so precisely because of His love for us, God lets us live with the consequences of sin. And that is such a vital issue for us as parents. If we constantly defend our children, if we never allow them to face the consequences, then who knows where they will be. You know, in fact, children want to be disciplined, even when they don't know that they want to be disciplined. So often radical behavior patterns in children is the attempt of a child to get the parent to draw a line and say that's it, enough is enough. You know what, sometimes children never find that line, and they keep pushing and they keep pushing and they keep pushing, and they keep pushing and finally they do something completely off the screen because they want someone to say you may not act that way with impunity.

That is exactly how the Lord deals with Jacob in this setting. He loves Jacob, He said that He loves Jacob to Jacob, He said that He loves Jacob through Isaac, He's shown him His grace, He's shown him his mercy, He's made it clear, Jacob, I'm a God of grace, and I love You with all my heart. But I love you with all My heart so much that you are going to get what you deserve. You are going to face the consequences of what you've done. And isn't it interesting that the punishment and the consequences in this passage correspond precisely to Jacob's crime. There are three incredible ironies in this passage. Let me just remind you of them.

First, do you remember in the promise given to Rebekah it was said what? Esau will serve Jacob. The older will serve the younger. Isn't it ironic that Esau will not serve Jacob until Jacob has served Laban for twenty years. The Lord knew what His son Jacob needed. Twenty years of hard labor. Even the golden boy in the patriarch's house. Yes, he was industrious, yes he was intelligent. But now he was going to hard labor for an unfair master for twenty years before he would be served by his brother.

The second irony that we see, in receiving Leah, Jacob had to learn to respect the rights of the first born. What had he done with Esau? He had conspired on his own to usurp the rights of his first born brother, and now he wakes up and he's with the wrong woman. He's enraged. He goes to his father-in-law. How could you have done this to me? This woman is not the woman that you promised. Well, around these parts, Jacob, we don't marry the younger daughters before we marry off the first born. Isn't it interesting? He usurped the rights of his first born brother and now he will have to honor the rights of first born Leah. I'm not excusing, by the way, what Laban did here. What Laban did was just wrong. But isn't it interesting that God is going to make him taste the exact corresponding fruits of his own deception in his own life. But that's not the last of the ironies, and it's certainly not the least.

Finally, you have Jacob being deceived by Leah's father in exactly the same way that he deceived his own father. Remember the scene? He goes into Isaac's tent, disguised as the first born, Esau. And then seven years later, Leah goes into Jacob's tent disguised as Rachel. He thinks he's getting the second born. He gets the first born. He is duped by the disguise of his father-in-law, even as he duped his father by disguise. The Lord gives consequences for Jacob that correspond to his crime. Is that not a lesson for us as parents? The Lord shows grace to Jacob. He loves Jacob, and even when you scratch your head and Lord, ask why do you love Jacob? It's very clear that He does. But He loves him so much that He's going to make sure that Jacob faces the consequences of his action. In Hebrews, chapter 12, verses 4 through 11 the author of Hebrews quotes Proverbs, chapter 3. And he reminds us that whom the Lord loves, He disciplines. And we're beginning to see a long life of discipline for Jacob.

Realize what God has now done. He has set Jacob now in a home setting where he will have two wives. He will be in a polygamous relationship against the creation ordinances. But not only will he have two wives, he has one wife that he doesn't care for and he didn't seek who loves him and wants to be loved by him. And low and behold she's fruitful. She's able to have children prolifically. And then the woman who is the love of his life, she's barren. So the Lord puts him in a household where he's going to have two women at each other's throats all the time in competition for him and against him. The love of his life is going to be bitterly complaining in one ear that she can't have children. The one who is not the love of his life is going to be bitterly complaining in the other ear that even though she can have children, he doesn't love her. The Lord has given Jacob consequences that he’ll never get away from. In that process he's going to craft his character.

II. God blesses even as He disciplines.

Then in verses 31 through 35 we see that even while Jacob is being disciplined, God is blessing Leah and building His church. You know, the Lord builds His church in spite of us, and He works His grace even in a dysfunctional family.

Leah was an unloved wife, but she was a spiritually-minded woman. We see that in the names of her children. God, for whatever His purposes, even though this woman did not grow up in a God-fearing home like Jacob had grown up in. She clearly knew something of the Lord. All of her first four children's names are named with reference to the covenant God. Look at the list. It's given for you. Rueben. His name sounds like the Lord sees. The Lord has seen my affliction, she says, and heard. Then there's Simeon. That name is like the Hebrew word, similar to the Hebrew word, Shimar. Here. And again, it's in reference to prayer. The Lord has heard me. I have been praying for the Lord to cause my husband to love me. And so he's named Simeon. And then comes Levi, which sounds like the Hebrew word for attachment. And again she's longing for her husband to be attached to her, and she's praying that God would bring that about. And then finally she names her son Judah, because she desires to praise the Lord. Her spirituality shows through in the names that she gives to her sons.

And then alongside Leah we have Rachel, the barren. Look at verse 31. “Now the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, and He opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.” This passage is here to remind us that God is just and God in his own way, according to his own wisdom, is answering the needs and the circumstances of every individual in this passage. There's not anyone who's going to come out of this experience, not Laban, not Rachel, not Leah, not Jacob, not having learned a divine lesson that God intends to teach. Rachel would have to wrestle with barrenness. Leah would have to wrestle with being an unloved woman, an unloved wife. Jacob would have to live with the consequences of his deception. Laban himself would finally be taken advantage of and vested in the end.

And in the very process of all this divine discipline, what is the Lord quietly doing? Building His church. The first four of the twelve patriarchs are born right in the middle of this enormous family problem. And God is working His purposes out. And they will work out, despite the circumstances, despite the people who are involved. They will work out. Will there be consequences? Absolutely. But God's church will be built. His nation will be established, and the very patriarchs of His people will be born right in the midst of this character-molding process which He is working on Jacob.

God loves His children too much not to discipline them. Do we follow Him? Do we follow His model there? Do we love our children and discipline them? Do we recognize the Lord's dealings with us? Do we look at friends that we think are getting by with sin and flourishing and think Lord, it's just not true that the man is blessed who fears God and restrains his feet from sin. Do we think that? We’re tempted to think that. Remember Jacob. The man that the Lord loves, if he will not restrain his feet from sin, the Lord will discipline him. The Lord will discipline him. The man who is wicked, his end will be no good.

Turn with me to Proverbs, chapter 13. The Lord is teaching Jacob the lesson of Proverbs 13. Proverbs 13, verse 15: “Good understanding produces favor, but the way of the treacherous is hard.” Satan wants you to think that the way of the treacherous is easy, and that nice guys finish last. God wants you to know that if He loves you, if you insist upon going the way of the treacherous, well He's going to bring you back the hard way. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, we thank You for the truth of Your word, and we ask that You would write it upon our hearts, not only as we examine our relationship with You, but as we serve as parents and helpers to parents in this congregation. We ask, oh God that You would raise a godly seed in our midst, and that we would be faithful in ministering to them both the grace and the tough love of God. We ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.

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