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Jacob Sees the Ugliness of Sin

October 28, 2018 Speaker: Mitchel Kirchmeyer Series: Genesis: Beginning the Journey Home

Passage: Genesis 29:1– 30:24

How does God prepare selfish people for change?

Change is quite often very difficult for us. Change requires adjusting what we are currently doing. It means we need to stop doing certain things and start doing new ones. It means we are no longer doing things as we always have. Change requires us to leave our comfort zone. Because of this, we are usually very resistant to change.

Sometimes, we are presented with a weighty choice: change or die. We’ve all heard stories of someone with heart problems being told by their doctor: if you don’t make a change in your lifestyle, you are going to die. The person hears the warning, but doesn’t make a change. They’d rather keep doing what they know, what’s comfortable, and what they’ve always done rather than change even if it means they will die. Sometimes, a person is unwilling to make a difficult change until they come face to face with the reality of their condition. A doctor telling you that you need to change or die is one thing. Being rushed to the hospital for heart surgery to be kept alive is another. The scare of a heart attack and the realization that “I could have died” can finally wake someone up to the reality of their condition. After seeing their condition clearly, they realize that the cost of staying as they are is greater than the cost of change.

Series Introduction
This evening we are continuing our series called Beginning the Journey Home in the book of Genesis. In this part of the book of Genesis, the focus is on the grandson of Abraham, a man named Jacob.

Sermon Introduction
Jacob is a selfish person who wants what other people have. He lies, tricks, and cheats his own family to get it. He has hurt his dad and his brother and because of it his brother wanted to kill him so he has been sent to live with his uncle for a while. A few days into his month long journey to his uncle Laban’s, God came to Jacob in a dream. He said, “I’m going to bless you to be a blessing and I’m going to be with you and bring you back here safely.”

Jacob responded by making a deal. He said, “If you do what you have said - if you are with me and keep me and provide for me and bring me back here - then you shall be my God.” Even when God speaks to him and makes grand promises to him, Jacob is resistant to change. Rather than surrendering and submitting to God, he wants to hold onto control. He wants to see how things play out before he is willing to trust God. But God is working in Jacob’s life.

The big question this passage answers is: How does God prepare selfish people for change? How does God prepare selfish people for change?

Let’s turn to our story in Genesis 29 and 30.

Arrival (Genesis 29:1-20)

After a month of travel, Jacob arrives in Haran where his uncle lives. This scene should remind us of a similar one in Genesis 24. About 100 years before Jacob arrives in Haran, the servant of his grandfather Abraham arrived there on a mission from Abraham: find a bride from among my people for my son Isaac and bring her back here. The servant realized the difficulty of the task to first find Abraham’s relatives then find a woman willing to come back. So he prayed like crazy and God helped him in his assignment. Jacob’s mom, Rebekah, was the first person he met and the woman who would come back with him to marry Isaac. The servant worshiped God for his help in completing an assignment he couldn’t complete on his own.

Contrast that with Jacob’s arrival 100 years later. Jacob is hoping to find his uncle Laban and stay with him. Jacob stops at a well where three shepherds are waiting around to water their flocks. He asks them in verse 4: “My brothers, where do you come from?” They answer, “We are from Haran.” Oh, what a coincidence. Jacob asks a follow-up question: “Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?” “We know him,” they said. What are the chances that the first people he would meet know his uncle? “Is it well with him?” he asked. They answered, “It is well; and see, Rachel his daughter is coming with the sheep!” Not only did he happen to meet people who know his uncle, but it just so happened that his cousin was on her way to water the sheep at the very well he stopped at!

She was some distance off, so while Jacob waited for her to arrive he decided to question how these guys are doing their job as shepherds. Jacob, you will remember, was the son who dwelt in tents but this didn’t mean he was at home playing video games in his mom’s basement. Back in Genesis 4, tent dwelling is connected to keeping livestock. As we find out here and in Jacob’s later success with Laban’s flocks, he is very skilled when it comes to shepherding.

He says to these shepherds, “Behold, it is still high day; it is not time for the livestock to be gathered together. Water the sheep and go, pasture them.” In other words, “Why are you gathering the sheep in for the night? It’s way too early. Stop sitting around. Water them and bring them back out to graze.” Their response is, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together and the stone is rolled from the mouth of the well, then we water the sheep.” Wells in that time were covered with a stone so that animals wouldn’t fall into them but also to control the use of the water. This stone likely required several men to remove it. Thus it was an accountability system. You couldn’t remove it yourself and take more than your fair share. When others arrived, it was first come first served.

While they were talking, Rachel arrived. Instead of waiting for any other shepherds to arrive or help, Jacob rolls the stone off by himself and had Rachel skip the line by watering the flock of his uncle. Then with excitement and joy he told Rachel that he is her relative and she ran to tell her father. Laban then ran out to meet him, embraced him, kissed him, and brought him to his house. It had been 100 years since his sister left to marry Jacob’s father, Isaac, so this is an exciting reunion!

As we compare this with the arrival of Abraham’s servant 100 years ago, we get insight into Jacob’s spiritual maturity. There’s no prayer for God’s help. No worship of God when he finds his family. No mention of God to his family. The events are nearly the same but they see them very differently. The servant knew his need for God to be successful so he praised God when he was. Jacob does not. When we start recognizing our dependence on God, we will pray more and worship more. If we aren’t praying much or thanking God much, it’s probably because we don’t think we need him very much.

Marriage (Genesis 29:21-30)

After a month of living with and working for his uncle, Laban wants to pay his nephew and asks him to name his wages. Laban has two daughters and Jacob has fallen in love with the younger, Rachel. We are told that the older daughter, Leah, had weak or soft eyes. It’s not completely clear what this means, but what is clear is that if she’s standing next to her sister, Rachel is the one who catches your attention. We are told she was beautiful in form and appearance.

Jacob has arrived in Haran with only a staff so he has no means to pay the bride price traditionally given by the groom’s family to the bride’s. So he generously offers to work seven years as the bride price for Rachel. Laban agrees, Jacob works seven years, but it only seemed like a few days for him because of his love for her. This is a fairy tale love story in the making.

After the seven years, Jacob asks for his bride. Laban gathers everyone together for the traditional feast, but instead of bringing Rachel to Jacob’s tent, he brought Leah! It’s dark and she has a veil so Jacob doesn’t realize that Laban has tricked him until the morning. He wakes up shocked and confronts Laban who says, “Well, around here we don’t give the younger in marriage before the older. Celebrate your wedding week with Leah then I will give you Rachel and you can serve me another seven years for her.”

The fairy tale love story has quickly started to look more like a daytime soap opera. Does this sound similar to Jacob’s family situation back home? Only this time, Jacob is on the receiving end of lies and trickery.

The big question this passage answers is: How does God prepare selfish people for change? The first answer is: By showing them how hurtful their selfishness is. By showing them how hurtful their selfishness is.

We are often resistant to change, especially when change requires transferring our trust from ourselves to God and surrender of our control to him. We would prefer to be in charge, calling the shots and having our will and agenda accomplished. That’s what Jacob is used to. Jacob took advantage of his brother’s eagerness to eat in order buy his birthright from him. Then he took advantage of his dad’s inability to see in order to trick him and steal his brother’s blessing.

But now Jacob is seeing a reflection of himself in Laban. Laban takes advantage of Jacob’s eagerness to serve for Rachel like Jacob took advantage of Esau’s eagerness to eat stew. Laban takes advantage of Jacob’s inability to see like Jacob took advantage of Isaac’s inability to see. Jacob sees a reflection of himself in Laban and it hurts. Laban is deceitful and tricky and it doesn’t feel good to be on the receiving end of that. In Laban, Jacob sees the reality of his condition. God is in the process of waking Jacob up to his need for God.

Verse 30 sets up for the next part of the story. Jacob loves Rachel more than Leah. Jacob is playing favorites. It’s understandable, but we saw how playing favorites made things messy in Jacob’s family when Isaac favored Esau and Rebekah favored Jacob. Things only get messier for Jacob as his wives begin having children.

Children (Genesis 29:31-30:24)

In verse 31, we are told that the LORD saw Leah was unloved, so he granted her four children. But how she names them reveals a lot. The names of her first three kids focus on trying to win her husband’s love and affection through giving him children. Leah wants what her sister has: Jacob’s love. The last son’s name focuses on praising God. Instead of looking for her husband’s attention and praise, she now directs her praise to the LORD who has given her these children. It seems Leah is growing and maturing.

The LORD saw Leah was unloved so he granted her children, but in chapter 30 verse 1 Rachel saw that she isn’t having kids so she is jealous of her sister. She tells Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die.” Even if Jacob isn’t very spiritually minded, he at least knows who grants us children. Verse 2 says: “2 Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, ‘Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?’” (Genesis 30:2). Rachel’s solution? She gives her maidservant, Bilhah, to Jacob as a concubine so she can have children by her. Bilhah has two kids and the names that Rachel gives focus on defeating and rising above her sister.

Because Leah was no longer getting pregnant, she decided to follow suit and gives her maidservant, Zilpah, to Jacob as a concubine to have children. Zilpah has two kids and Leah’s names for them focus on how fortunate and happy she feels to have two more kids. Instead of focusing on winning over Jacob, she is thankful for the kids.

Then we are told a story that should make us a little sick. One of Leah’s sons, Reuben, finds some mandrakes in the field. In that time, mandrakes were believed to aid in fertility. Rachel thus far has been infertile so she requests some mandrakes from Leah. Let’s pick up the conversation in chapter 30 verse 15 to hear Leah’s response.

15 But she said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son's mandrakes also?” Rachel said, “Then he may lie with you tonight in exchange for your son's mandrakes.” 16 When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “You must come in to me, for I have hired you with my son's mandrakes.” So he lay with her that night. (Genesis 30:15-16)

These two women are so wrapped up in their rivalry that they are treating sex with their husband like a commodity! Jacob has become an object to them instead of a person. Leah has a fifth son from this encounter then later has another son and feels confident her husband will honor her now for giving him six sons. She also has a daughter.

Finally, in verse 22, we are told that God remembered Rachel, listened to her, and opened her womb. At this point, we can hear her pain. Having children was the honor and goal of a wife but she hasn’t been able to have any. She says, “God has taken away my reproach.” Her name shows that she is focused on having more though. She names him Joseph, saying, “May the LORD add to me another son!” God will grant that prayer later, but she will die in childbirth.

The verses we have covered today span a fourteen year time period: Jacob’s first month with his uncle, his first seven years of serving for one daughter, then another seven years of serving for the second daughter during which his wives have eleven sons and one daughter. These fourteen years are filled with turmoil. Jacob is deceived and tricked by his uncle. Jacob is caught between the jealousy and rivalry of his two wives. The names of his sons reflect the messy conflict within his household. The names of Jacob’s sons become the names of the twelve tribes of Israel! Not a great origin story. And yet, here it is, raw and unfiltered in the foundation documents for the nation. A feature of the Bible that speaks to its truthfulness and credibility is the fact that it doesn’t filter out embarrassing details. Is this the sort of origin story Israel, God’s chosen people, would want to write for itself? No, but here it is as a testimony to the grace of the God who chose them and who chooses us

The big question this passage answers is: How does God prepare selfish people for change? The second answer is: By showing them how ugly their selfishness is. By showing them how ugly their selfishness is.

Rachel wants what Leah has and Leah wants what Rachel has. The names of their kids are inspired by this rivalry and they disregard their husband’s desires and feeling as they barter for sex with him. Their actions show how ugly selfishness is. Their rivalry is like looking in the mirror for Jacob, who wanted what his brother had and used whatever opportunity he could to rise above his brother. He disregarded both his brother’s and his dad’s desires and feelings in his jealousy and rivalry. That led to an ugly and dangerous family situation that got him sent to his uncle’s. Now as he looks at his two wives, he sees that same ugliness that he had made.

God gives us commands and God does warn us about the consequences of our selfishness. But oftentimes in the Bible you will see that God lets people experience the consequences of their selfishness in order to produce change rather than telling them over and over again to change. Why? Because we often are unwilling to change until we come face to face in the mirror with the reality of our condition God is working in Jacob’s life and in this story, Jacob looks in the mirror and sees a reflection of himself as he experiences how hurtful and how ugly selfishness is.

When you leave today, remember this truth: Know that God is at work to free you from selfishness. God is at work to free you from selfishness. Another way to talk about sin is to talk about selfishness. When we sin, we are living for ourselves - we are living selfishly with no regard for God or for others. The apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5 says that Jesus came to free us from living for ourselves. This freedom happens at two levels.

Without God, we live for ourselves. Our hearts - the core of our being - drives us to live selfishly. When we trust in Jesus, God does heart surgery on us to free us from living for ourselves. He frees us from the power of sin by giving us the power of his Holy Spirit in us. He makes us into his house and dwells in us to change us and remodel us. We are no longer shackled to its power; we can now choose to live for God and love others.

But even though we are free from sin’s power, that doesn’t mean we stop doing it. Set free from sin’s shackles means we can choose not to sin but we it doesn’t mean we never sin. We can relapse back into living for ourselves rather than living for God. The work God has already done to free us from sin’s power he is doing more and more as he works in our lives to free us from selfishness.

We have seen in Jacob’s life that selfishness is hurtful and ugly. In reality, selfishness is self-destructive. It doesn’t get us what we want but only makes things worse. So the question is: if we are set free from sin and living for ourselves when we trust in Jesus, why do we keep acting selfishly? Why do we keep sinning? Why do we go back to something that is hurtful and ugly? Why don’t we grow to love God more and love other people more? Why do we struggle to change?

One of Jesus’ disciples, named Peter, answered this question in a letter he wrote to a church 2,000 years ago. He says that God has given us everything to live a life honoring to him. He’s freed us from sin’s power. He’s given us his divine power in the Holy Spirit. So he tells his readers to make every effort to grow in living a godly life where we act rightly, love others, and honor God. But if someone isn’t growing, what’s the problem? He says if someone isn’t growing in these things, they have forgotten that they have been cleansed of their sins. They have forgotten that they have been forgiven, that God has saved them, that God was wiped their record clean and paid their debt. They forgotten the gospel - the good news of who God is and what he has done for them in Jesus.

Why? Because unless we believe we are forgiven of all our selfish deeds against God and others, we will never desire to live for God or look to God for help to live for him. We will still see him as against us. So if you are here today and you don’t feel like you are growing in your relationship with God and in being less selfish and sinful and more loving, it’s most likely because you have forgotten that you are forgiven. You have forgotten that God has brought you home to him.

I thought of an acronym this week that can help us remember what is true of us because of what God has done. It’s SAFE. We need to remember that we are SAFE. SAFE stands for Secure, Accepted, Forgiven, and Embraced. Secure, Accepted, Forgiven, Embraced.

SAFE

We are secure in Christ. He has paid everything to give us a right standing with God based on nothing we do. So our status with God is not fluctuating up and down. It’s secure.

We are accepted by God. This isn’t God saying, “I accept you the way you are.” If that were the case, Jesus would have never had to die. What’s true is that God accepts us because of what he has done on our behalf. He doesn’t accept us because of who we are but because of who he is.

We are forgiven of everything. When you trust in Jesus, God does not keep a record of your wrongs. He treats you as if they never happened. That’s what forgiveness does. It cancels the debt and now you live debt free.

We are embraced in love. God does not hold us at arm’s length. He loves us, he cherishes us, he nourishes us. He warmly embraces us.

If we could believe we are SAFE with God, we would live to please him and look to him for help to do so. We would turn from sin and selfishness to live for him.

We’ve seen in this passage that God frees us from selfishness is by showing us how hurtful and ugly it is. He holds up a mirror to us. One of the ways God holds up a mirror to us is by having others in our family of believers bring our sin to our attention. He puts his Spirit in us to use us as his change agents in the lives of others. Calling out sin in each others lives is one of our greatest responsibilities and yet it is the one we are most likely to neglect and least likely to do well.

Why? Because we don’t believe we are SAFE. We are afraid of how the person will react or we think it’s mean and unloving. It’s actual very unloving to not bring someone’s selfishness to their attention because then you are letting them live in that hurt and ugliness. You might be the mirror God wants to use so they will finally see it and change.

If we are to correct, call out, and confront sin in each other, we need this mindset: We need to be SAFE people calling others to safety. We need to be SAFE people calling others to safety. If you know that you are secure, accepted, forgiven, and embraced by God then you can call others to that place as well. The goal of pointing out sin is to point people to the Savior. If you aren’t SAFE in what Jesus has done for you, you can’t call others there.

When you talk to people about their sin, they are likely going to immediately feel unsafe and scared. The opposite of SAFE is insecure, rejected, condemned, and unloved. People are going to believe that about themselves. They are going to respond with either FIGHT or FLIGHT. That’s what Adam and Eve did in Genesis 3. First they did FLIGHT by hiding from God and covering themselves with fig leaves. Some people when you tell them they have sinned against you will immediately try to hide. When we do FLIGHT, we are trying to get small. We are scared so we want to just run away and hide in fear and shame. We can’t handle hearing that we have done something wrong so we just want to be unseen.

But Adam and Eve also did FIGHT. When God called them out of hiding, they blamed other people for their sin. Everyone is at fault except them. When we FIGHT, we try to get big. We are scared so we try to scare the other person off with blame, defense, comparison, and justification. We try to convince them that we aren’t as bad as they think we are. Sometimes FIGHT comes out as anger but anger is often a mask for fear.

Which 4Gs help us confront sin in others? Which 4Gs help us receive when others are pointing it out?

4Gs-sheet

Remember, if you aren’t SAFE you can’t lead others there. You may very well feel insecure, rejected, condemned, and unloved by them. They sinned against you. That’s what sin does. But you need to turn to the one who gives you ultimate security, acceptance, forgiveness, and love. You need to get vertically what you are desiring horizontally. When you recognize that you are the worst sinner who is still SAFE with God, then you are in a place to point out someone else’s sin and call them to safety in Jesus.

The family of God should be the safest place to be a sinner. Not because it’s ok to sin, but because you are shown extravagant love despite it.  We should make it our goal to be a SAFE place for people to be sinful but not a safe place for people to stay sinful.

Conclusion
God wants all of us to live changed lives. He not only frees us from the penalty of our sin but from its power.

More in Genesis: Beginning the Journey Home

December 9, 2018

Jacob and the God More Powerful Than Him

December 2, 2018

Jacob and His Sons Fail to Walk with God

November 18, 2018

Jacob's Search for Acceptance