Jacob’s Journals of Grace 5. Hard Times in Haran
Genesis 29 “Everything that goes around, comes around.” We talk about the chickens coming home to roost and the skeletons rattling out of the cupboard. The Bible has much to say about retribution - “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” 2 famous Bible verses speak about retribution: "Be sure your sin will find your out.” (Numbers 32: 23) “Be not deceived; God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.” Galatians 6:7 Jacob has been sowing for a long, long time. Reaping day has come. He’s been sowing the seeds of deceit, and the harvest is about to come.
A New Spring in His Step When we left our hero, he has just woken up from a hard night’s sleep on a rock. He had that strange dream about a ladder stretching from heaven to earth. In that dream the Lord himself had spoken to Jacob—reassuring him that if he went, God would go with him.
Before that night, Jacob’s heart was filled with fear; afterward he walked with a new spring in his step. Before he felt the weight of his past; afterward he looked with excitement to the future. Before he was running for his life; afterward he was running to find a wife.
v. 1 - suggests a new spring in his step as a result of the encounter with God at Bethel. If before he was a fugitive, now he is a seasoned traveller. After many days of traveling, Jacob arrives in Haran. He plans to stay there for a few months, find a wife, and then return home to Beersheba. Little does he know that Haran is going to be his home for 20 long years - hard times in Haran.
1. Why God Sent Jacob to Haran 4 reasons - A. To Find a Wife (v. 1 – 12) When Jacob finally arrived, the first thing he saw was a well, with a flock of sheep nearby. When Jacob asked the shepherds if they knew of a man named Laban, they replied, “Yes, we know him.” At that very moment—seemingly by coincidence but actually in the providence of God—the shepherds pointed to a beautiful young woman who was walking toward the well with her sheep. She “happened” to be Rachel, Laban’s daughter – v. 10 - 12.
This is one of those rare cases of “love at first sight.” Jacob rejoices because he recognizes in his “chance” meeting with Rachel the providential care of God. Rachel doesn’t mind the kiss because she runs to tell her father Laban—brings us to our 2nd reason -
B. To Meet His Uncle Laban v. 13, 14 Uncle Laban is going to change Jacob’s life forever. Up until this point, Jacob has survived by relying on his intelligence and his ability to take care of himself in any situation. True, things haven’t always worked out for him, but even when things have gone bad, Jacob has somehow managed to land on his feet.
All that is about to change because in Uncle Laban, Jacob is finally going to meet his match. Laban is about to take Jacob to the cleaners, and there’s nothing Jacob can do about it. 3rd reason -
C. To Marry Leah (v. 14 – 25) Rachel had an older sister named Leah. The text is rather specific on the point of the comparative outward beauty of Laban’s 2 daughters - v. 17. Jacob didn’t fail to notice the difference – v. 18a.
What you have is Leah the older—unlovely and unloved and Rachel the younger—lovely and loved. The stage is set. Jacob moves in with Laban and goes to work for him. When Laban asks, “What should your wages be?” Jacob is ready with an answer – v. 18b. Laban responds with a practical wisdom of a father with 2 daughters on his hands – v. 19.
So the 7 years pass – v. 20. If you don’t understand that verse, it’s because you’ve never really been in love. If you’ve ever been in love, then you know exactly how Jacob felt. Now we’ve come to the wedding night. There is a huge feast in honour of the happy couple. But Uncle Laban has a surprise in store for Jacob – v. 23.
How in the world could something like this happen? When Laban brought his daughter Leah to Jacob, it was late and very dark and she was veiled from head to toe. If there had been much drinking at the feast, that might have impaired Jacob’s faculties. In the darkness, somehow Jacob didn’t realize the woman next to him was Leah and not Rachel. So the marriage was consummated … but with the wrong woman!
(Other questions: Where was Rachel that night? The text doesn’t tell us. Did she know about the swap? Why did Leah go along with this? Was it a case of 2 sisters competing for the same man? Did Leah feel jealous of her younger, more beautiful sister? We don’t know for sure, but Genesis 30 may lead one to conclude that sisterly jealousy was part of this deception.)
v.25a - He wakes up a contented man. He rolls over to kiss Rachel. But the face smiling back at him is not Rachel. It’s Leah! I’m surprised he didn’t have a heart attack. Then it hits him: He’s slept with the wrong woman.
Then a second thought hits him: Laban! It had to be Laban because he was the one who brought his “bride” to him. Jacob jumps out of bed, puts on his robe, and goes after Laban – v. 25b. Jacob has used the same Hebrew word that Isaac used when he told Esau that Jacob had deceived him. Bingo! The noose is tightening around Jacob’s neck. The chickens are coming home to roost.
Laban rather coolly replies that he was forced by custom to give Leah in marriage first because she was the firstborn. This is the 2nd direct hit by God. Jacob had dishonored the principle of the firstborn by cheating his brother out of the birthright and the blessing. Now God forces him to honor the principle he had violated by marrying Leah first. Who had Jacob deceived? His father Isaac. Now the deceiver is deceived by his father-in-law! Everything that goes around, comes around. 4th reason –
D. To Marry Rachel v. 26 - 30 The story now moves swiftly to its conclusion. Laban moves in for the kill. He offers to let Jacob marry Rachel as well, but with one tiny condition: He must serve Laban for another 7 years. v. 28a - Jacob completes the bridal week for Leah, then evidently married Rachel right on the spot, and then begins his second 7 years of service to Laban – v. 30.
What a story! God gets even with his wayward servant who was all-too-willing to cheat others. Note: God evens the score in the very areas in which Jacob had been cheating: 1. He deceives Esau and his father; now his father-in-law deceives him. 2. He ignores the principle of first-born rights; now he is forced to honour that principle by marrying Leah first. 3. Esau was forced to live with the results of Jacob’s deception; now Jacob is forced to live with the results of Laban’s deception.
2. Why God Really Sent Jacob to Haran We know the facts; now let’s go after the reasons. A. So That Jacob Would Have Plenty of Time to Think About the Way He Had Lived All parents understand this. Most of us use “time-out” because it gives our children time to think quietly about what they have done. Perhaps you send your children to their room. Giving your children a chance to slow down, cool off and begin to think.
God’s got Jacob in a place far removed from his comfort zone, a place where he is forced to think about his life. That’s what God does with us. From time to time he just sits us down and says, “You don’t need that job anymore. You need some time to think.” Or “I’m going to put you in the hospital for a couple of weeks so you’ll have time to think.” “I’m going to let your dreams crumble so you’ll have time to consider the way you’ve been living.”
B. So That God Could Humble Jacob at the Point of His Perceived Strength If you had asked Jacob, “What’s your strong point?” he would have no doubt said, “I know how to cut a deal. I know how to handle people. I know how to negotiate a contract.” Then he would have said, “I’m always in control. No one ever gets the better of me.”
When he meets Uncle Laban, all his boasting comes to nothing. Suddenly he’s no longer in control. He’s not on top anymore. He cut a deal and ended up losing. He negotiated a contract and Uncle Laban snookered him. Do you see what God has done? He has touched Jacob at the point of his strength and humbled him.
Peter said, “Even though everyone else denies you, I will never deny you.” Jesus said, “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” It’s the principle: God humbled Peter at the point of his self-perceived strength. God does that to you and me—touching us at the point where we feel strongest. He brings us down so that we will understand our confidence must be in God alone. He wants us to know that even our strength must come from him.
C. So That Godly Character Would be Developed Through Unjust Treatment Was Jacob treated unfairly here? Yes. Laban took advantage of his nephew. Was it fair for Laban to switch sisters on Jacob? No. What was the price Jacob had to pay? An extra 7 years working for uncle Laban. Was that unjust? Yes. Then why did God allow it? Because God knew that was the only way he could develop godly character in Jacob’s life.
So many people go through life saying, “It’s not fair.” True, but God never promised that the world would treat you justly. If God would let his Son be crucified while he was innocent of any wrongdoing, do you think he will exempt you from unjust treatment? No way.
The great danger for us is that in reacting to unjust treatment, we will become perpetual victims. First we get angry, then we get bitter, then we victimise ourselves. Some Christians go through life as perpetual victims. Someone is always mistreating them, always misusing them, always taking advantage of them. They are angry with God for allowing it to happen.
For the most part, godly character is not developed in the good times of life, but in the bad. Godly character is developed in your life as you respond positively and creatively to unjust treatment. A victim says, “Why is this happening to me?” A student says, “What can I learn from this?”
D. So That His Plans For the Future Might Be Worked Out Through Human Weakness When Jacob comes to Haran, he is penniless, homeless and alone. When he leaves 20 years later, he is a rich man, with 2 wives, 2 maidservants, 11 sons, a host of servants, and an abundance of cattle, sheep and donkeys. He comes with nothing, but leaves as a man of means. In between, however, he suffers repeated humiliation at the hands of Laban.
On one hand, God is using Laban to teach Jacob valuable lessons. On the other hand, God is keeping his promise to prosper Jacob and to raise up descendants who will carry on his name. In spite of much personal difficulty—God is keeping his promise. In the wisdom of God, Jacob is being prospered by God at the very same time he is being disciplined by God. The result? Jacob has nothing to boast about. God has done it all. He has kept his promise and has allowed his servant to experience great hardship. Jacob will never be able to say, “I did it.” He will only be able to say, “God did it in spite of me.”
3. Why God Still Sends His Children to Haran Today Haran is any place in your life where you are experiencing suffering or difficulty. It could be a relationship, it could be your marriage, it could be your work situation or your financial condition. Haran for you might be that impossible person you work with every day. Or it might be a troubling health condition.
Why does God still send his children to Haran? Why doesn’t he let us stay in the Promised Land? Hebrews 12: 11 “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness.” When God sends you to Haran, it’s not because he hates you; it’s because he loves you. It’s not because he wants to destroy you; it’s because he wants to make you stronger.
The road to the Promised Land goes through Haran. In the course of a lifetime, most of us will make several extended trips to Haran. No one is exempt. No one gets a free ride. What do you think your personal “Haran” is? What you believe God wants to do in your life through this particular experience?
Have you ever thanked God for that part of your life that is bringing you suffering and difficulty?
You’ve been bitter, you’ve been angry, you’ve been depressed, you’ve wanted to give up. Have you ever tried thanking God? “Lord, this is so painful, but I believe you know what you are doing. I don’t understand the big picture, but I thank you for allowing me to go through this because it has brought me closer to you?”
I offer you no easy answer, no quick fixes, no fast train to the Promised Land. But I do promise this - God has promised that he will go with you. God has promised that you won’t have to stay there forever. As painful as Haran may be, it is God’s way of preparing us for better things to come.