I would suppose the easier thing to write about in this chapter would be that of Rachel and Leah making the same mistake that their grandmother, Sarai (later called Sarah) made. They both at times battled seasons where they were unable to conceive and bear children. I know firsthand from friends and family how troubling this can be for woman. Even in today’s age of smaller families and more work outside the home for women, a woman finds herself incomplete if she is unable to have her own children.
The theme of course that runs generationally in these women’s lives is that it can be awfully hard to trust God when we want something so badly. We feel we need to try to do everything we can, to have a plan, to not give up, but to keep working at it. The problem with that of course, is that if God has different plans for us then we are almost sure to miss out on them. For example, what if God wanted us to fill our home with other children that have none of their own? What if he wanted us to sacrifice the idea of our own flesh and blood for someone else who has no family at all?
If the stories of the patriarchs have one central theme, it would have to be faith.
That brings me to Jacob, and this very odd, some would even say weird, almost hippy-style breeding of his flock and how he became a man of faith.
By now I’m sure you’ve picked up on the fact that Jacob is a bit of a heel. Of course he is. That’s what his name suggests. He is a bit of a scheister, a con-artist even, and seems to have no moral conscience when it comes to stealing from others. Sure, his father and grandfather had their moments and certainly no one is perfect. However, Jacob seems to have a major character flaw here and doesn’t seem like one who can be trusted.
I personally feel that way about Jacob and when reading about his life, I can’t help but wish that we had a more reputable role-model in him. However, out of submission to God’s Word, I have forced myself to reflect a bit more on the facts of his life, and I know that I can’t overlook this one redeeming quality: he stayed in the home of his father-in-law for an awfully long time and I’m not sure that didn’t have any other choice. He wasn’t there under threat, and he had certainly served past his “contractual” obligation by now. He seems to exhibit a similar quality to his grandfather, Abraham. Remember when Lot and Abraham separated? He gave Lot the first choice of where he would settle and Abraham took whatever was left over. He trusted in God’s providence and provision. Jacob, by the same token does something similar here when Lot insists that he stay longer. He could have said no, so without looking over his faults let’s give credit where credit is due. Jacob respected his father-in-law.
Of course he feels that it’s time to start increasing his own territory so that he can leave an inheritance for his children’s children. What follows is a bit of mystery that we are simply left to speculate about. He tells Laban he will stay if he can have all of the speckled and striped animals in Laban’s flock. He even agrees to watch Laban’s flock and vows to keep only the offspring of the speckly-striped troupe that are his. Laban agrees and gives Jacob the first few animals of his very own flock. Jacob then takes branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and peels strips of bark off of them in a striped pattern. He set these branches near the watering troughs whenever the stronger of his flock were in heat. As a result, they gave birth to offspring that was strong and marked with spots and stripes. His flock multiplied greatly because of this.
Some have suggested that Jacob was a master breeder and there was a scientific reason for what happened. I personally think that has the possibility of robbing us of the true lesson we can take from Jacob’s life. I believe that Jacob’s rather bizarre tactics were spirit-led. I believe that in spite of Jacob’s circumstances, God leads Jacob and gives him special instruction. When Jacob listens, God rewards his obedience by blessing him financially.
I would never want to suggest that we shouldn’t be decent moral people. We are instructed in God’s Word to treat others better than ourselves, and Jacob is a total failure on this front many times. However, I can’t help but ponder this reality: God seems to look more favorably on obedience than simple moral behavior. Now I know what you may be thinking, “isn’t moral behavior obedient as well?” Yes of course. Moral behavior comes from obeying the instruction for living found in God’s Word. We are told how to behave and a heart fully surrendered will exhibit certain fruit in his or her life. There is a different kind of obedience found here though…that of being obedient to something unseen.
Every great hero of faith was given the opportunity to trust God when it didn’t seem like a sensible choice. Noah was challenged to build a gigantic boat to save creation from a world-wide flood. Abraham was challenged to offer his own son as a sacrifice to God. Later, Moses would stand up to an entire nation. Daniel would be challenged to disobey the king’s command not to worship God. David fought the giant. The disciples left their jobs and their families. Paul turned his back on the Pharisees. In all of these stories, following God seemed destined for hardship, and yet these mighty faith warriors were all rewarded for stepping out when the path forward was unclear. Worse, it actually seemed clear that they were stepping off of a cliff only to fall to their end.
Have you ever felt challenged to really step out in faith? Not just to live a life worthy of your calling, but rather to follow a particular calling? How did you respond? If I could be real for just a moment, let me confess that I’ve had this happen to me in the last couple of years and while I started out well, I flamed out and shrunk back to what was comfortable as soon as the going got tough. I must confess, I’d really like a do-over.
Luckily for me, I serve a God of second-chances. My prayer today is that if I am given a chance again to follow Jesus that I will fear being out of his will more than the unknown. I want an adventure – the kind that takes place on the road less traveled walking hand in hand with my Savior.