Good things and god things
Throughout college and my ten years in the workforce, I have been forced to sit through several “time management” seminars and “goals and values” lectures and “keeping the main thing the main thing” talks. I am sure many of you with careers in military or in management have also endured your fair share of these talks. All of these courses seem to have one thing in common. Word pictures. Some are certainly helpful, like the glass jar and the rocks and stones and sand and water and the understanding that unless you start with the big rocks, you won’t have room for them later, so you need to figure out what the big rocks are in your life. Another is listing out your life’s priorities as far as relationships go. What goes on the first line? What goes on the second line? What goes on the third line and so on. This again is helpful to a point, although I have yet to meet someone who after making the list noticed that they had put their next door neighbor above their wife. Sometimes these word pictures can be less helpful though. I am sure many of you if given the list will be at least religious enough to put God on line one, then your spouse if you are married then your children if you have children then probably your work relationships either those you work for or those who work for you and on and on the list would go. The further down the list you’d probably begin to struggle to figure out who got listed above whom. Then maybe you’d start struggling if you thought perhaps church should go on the list. But where? Below family? Below work? Another weakness in a prioritized relationships list is that it could lead to neglecting some relationships either because you’ve moved past them and are now onto the next or because you don’t feel that you’ve addressed some adequately and so you never get beyond them.
One picture I’ve seen that helps to bring some balance to this idea of a prioritized list is that of a wheel with a hub and spokes. Every spoke represents a relationship or a responsibility, and at the hub of the wheel is one relationship of driving importance. The catch comes in figuring out and admitting to yourself what or who is the hub around which everything else circles. See both religious people and non-religious people can live without God at the hub. Non religious people simply leave God of the wheel altogether. Religious people add God as one of the spokes to help achieve the hub or as lubricating oil to help the wheel revolve around the hub more efficiently.
Whether you are religious or irreligious, whatever is at the hub of your wheel, the Bible has one word for that. Worship. And whether you consider yourself religious or not, if the hub of your wheel is not God, the Bible has one word for that. Idolatry. Idolatry is simply making any thing into an ultimate thing. When you take a good thing and make it a god thing you’ve done a very bad thing and it ruins everything.
Why do I bring this up here? Because that is where we are with Jacob and with his whole soon-to-be family. This chapter is all about the idols of the family: beauty, wealth, sex, love, children, spousal acceptance. All good things, but when they become god things they become bad things and that ruins everything.
Perhaps some background is in order. After Adam and Eve had sinned against God, God made a promise; what is known as the proto-evangelium the first announcement of the Gospel. In Genesis 3.15. One day God would send a Seed to conquer Satan’s seed. Centuries later God called Abraham from his moon-worshiping family and relationships and promised that through His offspring, his seed, that Messiah would come. All nations will be blessed through you, God promised in Genesis 12. From Abraham on this meant that every generation of Abraham’s descendants there would be one individual one family through whom that promise would continue through the 400 years in slavery in Egypt, through the years of wandering in the desert and battling in the Promised Land; through the dark times of the judges all the the up to King David, from the line of Judah; and beyond centuries later when Jesus Christ would be born to Mary and be raised in the home of Joseph, both descendants of David – of Judah – of Abraham. Abraham had a son, Isaac, through Isaac the promised Messiah of God would come. Isaac and his wife Rebekah had twins, and while Rebekah was still pregnant God announced that the older would serve the younger. In other words God had chosen to bring the line of the Messiah through the younger. In spite of this prophecy however, Isaac set his heart’s attention on his older son, Esau. Isaac set Esau as his hub, his hope. This only served to make Esau proud willful and impulsive while making his other son Jacob, bitter and cynical and grasping for love and attention he was denied by his father. When the time came for aged and blind Isaac to bless his sons he again chose to ignore God’s words concerning his sons and sought to give the blessing of the household to Esau in secret. Jacob with the help of his mother disguised himself as Esau and conned Isaac into blessing him. When Esau found out his rage and hatred for Jacob were evident to all and he vowed to murder Jacob as soon as Isaac died. Jacob had to run from his home, his promised land, his one parent who did truly love him, and flee for his life on a 400 plus mile journey back to the land of his mother’s ancestors.
Jacob’s life was in shambles. He had lost his family. His father never did love him. He would never see his mother again. He had been forced to abandon his inheritance. A few days into Jacob’s flight from home God, in His infintite mercy and grace, came to Jacob. God came not with discipline or wrath or judgment but with promises that He would in fact be with Jacob. He would take care of Jacob. He would indeed bless Jacob and bless the nations through Jacob. Jacob was moved to worship God and even vowed to follow Him. But as we see in this passage, it is as though God is merely a spoke in Jacob’s wheel God is not the hub. God is a means to an end. Jacob seems to be living according to that man-made proverb that none of us would ever voice but so often we live by too, “pray as if God is listening, then live as if He isn’t.” In other words, sure make your vows and pray to God and ask him to be with you and give you direction and care for you, but then take care of yourself.
Jacob’s god thing
You may recall that Jacob is not the first to be sent on this journey to find a wife for the line of the Promised Messiah. Back in Genesis 24, Abraham had sent his servant on this same journey to bring back a wife for Isaac. The similarities of these two men arriving in Haran are so striking but they serve also to highlight the stark differences. Both men arrive at a well outside of the city. Both men cause a stir and the woman they each meet runs all the way back to tell her brother in Genesis 24, her father in Genesis 29, but the same man, Laban. But though the physical similarities are there, the spiritual activities could not be more dissimilar. When Abraham sent his servant he knew the LORD will send his angel before you. The servant upon arriving at the well, prayed to the LORD for his guidance and blessing. The servant praised the LORD multiple times giving God all the credit for Abraham’s wealth and for the success of finding Rebekah.
Jacob does not pray. Jacob does not seek God’s direction or God’s working. Jacob – the constant manipulator – wants to control the situation to make sure he gets what he came for.
Laban brings Jacob into his home and we’re given a summary of their evening conversation in verses 13 and 14. Jacob told him all these things and Laban responds. Laban’s response is a lot like Adam’s response when he first saw Eve in Genesis 2. You are just like me? We are from the same mold. The things Jacob shared were apparently concerning how and why he finds himself in Haran.
After Jacob had been with his uncle for a month working Laban comes to him and offers to pay him for his labor. Name your wages, Laban says. Here the narrator interrupts the account to give us some important details that up til now have been left out. Laban had two daughters. Leah, the oldest daughter, had weak eyes. Rachel, the younger daughter, has a beautiful body as well as looks. Jacob is madly in love with Rachel. But not merely in love. In today’s language we might say that Jacob worships the ground Rachel walks on. Unfortunately that is nearly a literal truth. The love Jacob has for Rachel is idolatrous/ Why do I say this? Jacob offers to work seven years for Rachel. Jacob has nothing. He cannot pay a bride price for her so he offers to work. According to some authors, this is nearly four times the going rate for a bride price at the time. Also in verse 21, when the seven years were completed, Jacob says to Rachel’s dad, “Give me my wife so that I may go into her.” This is an outrageous thing to say to a girl’s dad no matter what age you live in, definitely in a modest time and place of the Ancient Near East. Even today, imagine a fiance saying to his soon to be bride’s father, “Man, I can’t wait to have sex with your daughter.” Why is Jacob so driven? Why has his desire for Rachel overshadowed respect for his uncle or wisdom with his finances? Pastor Timothy Keller says it this way, “Jacob’s life was empty. He never had his father’s love, he had lost his beloved mother’s love, and he certainly had no sense of God’s love and care. Then he beheld the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, and he must have said to himself, ‘If I had her, finally, something would be right in my miserable life. If I had her, it would fix things.’ All the longings in his heart for meaning and affirmation were fixed on Rachel.”
We are all designed to find our meaning and fulfillment in something larger than us. We are designed to be a part of something else that gives us joy and satisfaction and makes our lives worth living. But when we deny that God Himself is that larger greater outside purpose, loving God and being loved by God, recieving blessing from God and giving adoration to Him, we will search and scour the created realm trying to fill that void, to find that purpose, to receive that validation for our lives from something that was never designed to offer it. And when we worship false gods, we are often blinded by them. Notice that Laban in verse 19 never actually said yes. Jacob simply wanted the responses to sound like yes. Jacob’s blindness to how he treated others also reveals his idolatry. He hates Leah. He will have 11 children, 10 sons and a daughter, before Rachel ever gets pregnant, but once her son is born it is as though he is Jacob’s first child ever. Romantic love is so often the drug or god of choice especially today. And just like a drug, false gods blind us to reality. Jacob was not looking for a wife, he was looking for a Savior in Rachel. Just like when you worship the true God and serve your real Savior Jesus Christ – it affects how you see and interpret all of life, the same is true for false gods. Serving a false god, looking to a good thing as a god thing will affect how you see and interpret the rest of life.
Leah’s god thing
It is often said that men use love to get sex, and women use sex to get love. Have you ever considered the miserable lot of Leah? Leah is truly the woman nobody wanted. Laban didn’t want her. He could not figure out how to marry her off so that he could get a bride price for his beautiful daughter. Jacob didn’t want her. First the narrator gives a diplomatic spin to it in verse 30, Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. But then in the very next verse, verse 31, he admits, okay, it was worse than that, Leah was hated. The emptiness Leah felt in her life was just as dominating as the emptiness Jacob felt. Leah is desperate to be valued, to be loved, to be accepted. She needs redemption for her life, and responds in the same way as Jacob had. She does to Jacob what Jacob had done to Rachel and what Isaac had done to Esau. I WILL BE LOVED BY MY HUSBAND. She turns a good thing into a god thing.
Look at how Leah responds to the sons she bears. Verse 32 – Reuben – “see, a son” – now, my husband will love me. Verse 33 – Simeon – “heard” – implication, he won’t hate me anymore. Verse 34 – Levi – “attached” – my husband will be attached to me. You might say that Leah was finding her hope in traditional family values. If I have children, then my husband will love me, and then I’ll be happy, complete, whole. But it did not work. Every son Leah bore became an exclamation point to the truth that no matter what she did, Jacob would not love her, Jacob would always love Rachel more than her. Everything she had looked to for that outside of herself larger than herself value in life had failed to deliver.
All god things have one thing in common – the morning after
Jacob and Leah, whether they are aware of it or not are experiencing what every false god brings with it, the morning after. Every false god every good thing that you elevate to a god thing has a verse 25, “in the morning, behold, it was Leah.”
When you get married and you put all your hopes and dreams for fulfillment and happiness on your new spouse, you will crush him or her. She is not God she wasn’t designed to save you. As your family grows, if your family grows, and you put all your value and sense of worth on how your kids turn out or what your children accomplish or how many you have, you will crush your family, they cannot save you, they were not designed for that. Your job, your friends, success, comfort, achievement, ability, intelligence, beauty, respect, children, morality, knowledge. These things cannot save you. They were not designed for that. All of them, no matter how attractive they seem right now, in the morning, behold, they will be Leah. Two things that all false gods have in common: they are never satisfied when you serve them, and they never forgive you when you fail.
I was speaking with a Christian friend recently who said something that has disturbed and troubled me ever since. He was describing himself and said, “There are four things that define me, my wife, my kids, my job, and one other thing.”
NO! These cannot define you. These are not your life. When you make into god things you will have done a very bad thing and it will ruin everything. When your false gods disappoint, when the morning after comes, and it will come, there are only so many responses you can choose from. You will either blame the ting that has disappointed; you may blame yourself; you might blame the world; or you can re-calibrate your heart. You can reorient your life. C. S. Lewis says “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” St. Augustine puts it this way, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until we find our rest in you.”
“This time I will praise the LORD”
Leah seems to be the only person who even begins to get it in this sad story of good things turned to god things. When we read that God saw that Leah was hated and so He opened her womb, is it just a case of God rooting for the underdog? No. In this God is showing to you HE is husband to the husbandless. He is Father to the fatherless. He is friend to the friendless. God alone is your hope and satisfaction. When Leah has her fourth son, she shows a defiance. Not against God, but against her false gods. “This time I will praise the LORD.” It appears that Leah has taken her heart’s deepest hopes off of her husband and off of her children and has placed them in God alone.
When God came to earth in Christ Jesus, he was Leah’s true son in more ways than one, He was the Seed, the descendant of Judah, but he was also the unloved, unwanted. Isaiah says he had no beauty or dignity that would attract us to him. He was born in a manger under rumors of infidelity. He was despised and rejected by men. Why? To take our place in being ultimately rejected by the father. He came to take on our sin, to take on our punishment, and to truly redeem us. To accomplish what no false god could ever accomplish – to forgive us for our failures and to rejoice over our successes. In Christ the Father says to you and to me directly, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into your rest.”
Colossians 3.1-4: Your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, you will appear with Him in glory. Christ is your definer. Christ is your satisfaction. Christ alone can forgive your failures and give you purpose outside of yourself. I will love you God says in Jeremiah 31. I will satisfy you. I will fill my people with my bounty. Find your rest in Christ alone. He is your hope and your shield. This time I will praise the LORD.