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Hard Times in Haran (Genesis 29)
The Story of Jacob
Hard Times in Haran
Genesis 29
There are many ways in the English language to express the idea of retribution. For instance, we say, “Everything that goes around, comes around.” And we say, “Things have a way of evening out in the end.” We teach our children, “Crime doesn’t pay.”
We talk about the chickens coming home to roost and the skeletons rattling out of the closet. One of the most poetic was offered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who, in one of those great speeches for which he is famous, said, “The arm of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Thomas Jefferson, speaking of the evils of the slave trade, said, “I tremble when I remember that God is just.” One of the most famous quotations on this theme is the little two-line couplet translated by Longfellow:
Though the mills of God grind slowly
Yet they grind exceeding small.
The Bible also has a lot to say about retribution. I’m sure you’ve heard of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, a life for a life.” Two of the most famous Bible verses speak about retribution, one from the Old Testament and the other from the New:
"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)
For several years now, Jacob has been sowing, but reaping day is about to arrive. He’s been sowing the seeds of deceit, and the harvest is about to come.
When last we left the central character in our study, he has just awakened from a hard night’s sleep on a rock outside the city of Luz. During the night 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.
It happened while Jacob was on a long journey from Beersheba in the south of Palestine to a place called Haran—a distance of some 500 miles. It meant leaving the Promised Land and venturing into territory Jacob had never entered.
Before that night at Bethel, Jacob’s heart was filled with fear; afterward he must have walked with a new spring in his steps. 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.
All of that and more is implied by the first phrase of
Genesis 29:1
The English translation misses something of what is said in the Hebrew. A literal translation reads like this: “Then Jacob lifted up his feet.”
And I don't want to read to much into that, but I also don't want to miss what's being said. I may be Moses is telling us that Jacob had a new spring in his step. He's stepping a little livelier than he did before. After all, conversing with God about His promises for you will do that!
After several 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. After all, he is heir to his father's estate. He has the birthright and the blessing.
  1. little does he know that it will be 20 years before he will leave Haran, and he sure doesn't know about the hard times that will be his during that time. So why did God send Jacob to Haran to begin with? Let's explore that.
1. Why God Sent Jacob to Haran
Genesis 29 explains for us the four reasons why God sent Jacob to Haran.
- To Find a Wife
verses 1-12
When Jacob finally arrived on the outskirts of Haran, the first thing he saw was a well, with a herd 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.
This is evidently one of those rare cases of “love at first sight,” because when Jacob saw Rachel, Genesis 29:11 says that he “kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud.” I believe the boy was moved, don't you?
But this is more than sentimental emotion. Jacob rejoices because he recognizes his “chance” meeting with Rachel is actually the providential care of God.
Since Rachel was the daughter of Laban, and Laban was the brother of Jacob’s mother Rebekah, that means that Jacob and Rachel were actually first cousins—"kissing cousins,” I suppose. In any case, clearly Rachel doesn’t mind the kiss because she runs to tell her father Laban—which brings us to our second reason God sent Jacob to Haran.
- To Meet His Uncle Laban
verses 13-14
Uncle Laban is going to change Jacob’s life forever. Up until this point, Jacob has lived by his wits. He has survived by relying on his native intelligence and his ability to take care of himself in any situation.
And even though things haven’t always worked out for him, and sometimes actually gone bad, Jacob has somehow managed to land on his feet.
Like a cat with nine lives, Jacob has been getting into and out of tough spots all his life. Sometimes he’s left the playing field with a black eye, but no matter, at least he always walks off under his own power.
All that is about to change because in Uncle Laban, Jacob is finally going to meet his match. Before this, Jacob has lived as a penny-ante con man, pulling the wool over his brother’s eyes, and deceiving his father with that ridiculous goatskin routine. Kid stuff, you might say.
But unfortunately Jacob has been playing in the Little League. When he meets Laban, he is joining the NFL of con men. Laban is about to take Jacob to the cleaners. And there’s nothing Jacob can do about it.
In the providence of God, Jacob is about to be enrolled in the oldest school known to man—the School of Hard Knocks. And Uncle Laban is about to give his nephew Jacob 20 years of free post-graduate education.
That brings us to the third reason God sent Jacob to Haran.
- To Marry Leah
verses 14-25
To understand this point you simply need to know that Rachel had an older sister named Leah. The text is rather specific on the point of the comparative outward beauty of Laban’s two daughters.
Leah had “delicate” eyes (which perhaps means that they were dull in appearance—or it may mean that they were “weak" in that she couldn't see well, or, as I tend to beli8ve, it may have just been a compliment.
Rachel was “beautiful in form and appearancel.”
And I think what we're reading here is that Leah had nice eyes, but Rachel had a whole lot more than eyes going for her. She was beautiful all over!
It reminds of the story of the guy who fell in love with the opera singer. She sang so beautifully and it jsut moved his heart to fall in love with her. They eventually met and fell in love and got married.
On their wedding night, she took off her wig and laid it on the counter. She popped out a glass eye and took off her prosthetic arm, undid her corset and let it all hang out. He took one look at her and said, "Sing, woman sing!"
I guess Leah would have been alright if you just looked her in the eye, but Jacob looked at more than that and he noticed the difference. In fact, verse 18 tells us "he loved Rachel".
So what you have is Leah the older. unlovely and unloved, and Rachel the younger, lovely and loved. Thus the stage is set.
Jacob moves in with Laban and goes to work for him. When Laban asks, “What should your wages be?” Jacob takes advantage of the opportunity. He says, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”
Laban responds with the practical wisdom of a father with two daughters on his hands:
verse 19
That is not the most enthusiastic answer you will ever find, but bear in mind that fathers with daughters did not value them as highly as male sons, so this is nothing more than a straightforward business proposition.
I'll work for you seven years if, at the end of that period, you’ll give me your daughter Rachel to be my wife.”
So the seven years pass. The Bible sums up this period in one of the most strikingly beautiful verses in all the Bible:
verse 20
And all I can say is 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. First, there is a huge feast in honor of the happy couple. That took most of the day. Then at night, the husband retired to his chambers and the bride was escorted by her father to meet the groom, and thus the marriage was consummated.
Until that point, everything has gone as planned. But Uncle Laban has a surprise in store for Jacob.
verse 23
Now from an American point of view, that raises a lot of questions, with the main one being, "How in the world could something like this happen?"
Well, it couldn't here in the good old United States of America. But weddings there and then were a lot different
And the most likely explanation is that 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, although the Bible doesn't mention anything like that happening.
So in the darkness, somehow Jacob didn’t realize the woman next to him was Leah and not Rachel. Maybe he didn't look at anything but her eyes. I don't know. But the marriage was consummated and with the wrong woman!
I've got other questions also. For instance, 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 two sisters competing for the same man? Did Leah feel jealous of her younger, more beautiful sister? We don’t know for sure, but as we'll see in Genesis 30, there may have been some sisterly jealousy at work.
Anyway, verse 25 tells us the whole story.
verse 25
When morning came, there was Leah! In fact, in the Hebrew, that phrase contains two words: “Behold, Leah!”
Jacob wakes up a contented man, rolls over to kiss Rachel, but the face smiling back at him in broad daylight is not Rachel. It’s Leah!
It's a wonder he didn't have a heart attack! Then it hits him: He’s slept with the wrong woman. How could this have happened? Then the second thought hits him: Laban! It had to be Laban because he was the one who brought his “bride” to his chambers. The deceiver has been deceived!
With that thought in mind, Jacob bolts out of bed, puts on his robe, and goes after Laban.
Genesis 29:25
Why would you do this? We had a deal! Why would you deceive me?
Good question. And I find it interesting that Jacob uses a form of the same Hebrew word that Isaac used when he told Esau that Jacob had deceived him back in Genesis 27:36).
The chickens are coming home to roost! Remember, the arm of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
Notice Laban's answer:
verse 26
Laban rather cooly replies that he was forced by custom to give Leah in marriage first because she was the firstborn. This is the second 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.
And who had Jacob deceived? His father Isaac. Now the deceiver is deceived by his father-in-law! Everything that goes around, comes around.
That brings us to the final reason God sent Jacob to Haran, and that is
- To Marry Rachel
verses 26-30
The story now moves swiftly to its conclusion. Knowing a sucker when he’s got one on the line, 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 seven years.
Genesis 29:28
Jacob completes the bridal week for Leah, then evidently married Rachel right on the spot, and then begins his second seven years of service to Laban.
Verse 30 offers this final note
verse 30
“Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah", that one fact will bring much sorrow to Leah, much bitterness between the two sisters, and much dissension to the children yet to be born.
What a story! God gets even with his wayward servant who was all-too-willing to cheat others. But note carefully: 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 honor 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.
So that's why God sent Jacob to Laban. But why did God really send Jacob to Laban? Let's explore that.
2. Why God Really Sent Jacob to Haran
Now that we’ve looked at the story, lets go behind the scenes to ask why God really sent Jacob to Haran. We know the facts; now let’s go after the reasons.
- So That Jacob Would Have Plenty of Time to Think About the Way He Had Lived.
For all those years in the Promised Land, Jacob had richly earned the title “deceiver.” Now God puts Jacob in a spiritual “time-out” chair in Haran. For 20 years Jacob had lots of time to consider the course of his life.
Most parents will understand this. My parents never used a “time-out”. I wished they would have. Their choice of discipline was generally just to whip and get it over with and ask question later.
I would have much preferred some time to sit and think about it, which is what a time out chair is designed to do. I like sitting and thinking! I could have used some time to sit and think.
From time to time, they would send me to my room, which probably saved my life on a couple of occasions.
Haran is God's time-out chair for Jacob. As long as Jacob was in Beersheba with his momma looking over his should, he could get away with almost anything. But in Haran, Jacob is in foreign territory. God’s got him in a place far removed from his comfort zone 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 he says, “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.”
The second reason is
- 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 best 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.
Wasn’t there a man in the New Testament like that? Peter said, “Even though everyone else denies you, I will never deny you.” And 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.
Third reason:
-So That Godly Character Would be Developed Through Unjust Treatment.
Was Jacob treated unfairly here? Yes. Without question, Laban took advantage of his nephew from Beersheba. Was it fair for Laban to switch sisters on Jacob? No it wasn’t.
What was the price Jacob had to pay? An extra seven 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 to be fair with you. He 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 victimize ourselves. I know some people—even some Christians—who go through life as perpetual victims. Someone is always mistreating them, always misusing them, always taking advantage of them. And 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.
Isn’t that what Romans 5:3-4 tells us? “We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
One thing leads to another—and what begins as injustice leads to perseverance which leads on to character which leads on to hope in God. But if you say, “Nobody can mistreat me,” then what you are saying is, “I will not allow God to develop his character in my life.”
The key to growing is learning to be a student instead of a victim. A victim says, “Why is this happening to me?” A student says, “What can I learn from this?”
Fourth reason:
- 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.
What’s going on here? 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. Through adversity—and 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 when he leaves Haran. 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.” As I Corinthians 1 says, God chooses the weak things of the world in order that he might confound the strong; he chooses the foolish to shame the wise, “so that no one may boast before him.”
Now, let's learn from Jacob.
3. Why God Still Sends His Children to Haran Today
Jacob is not the only one to make the long journey out of the Promised Land to the foreign city of Haran. God still sends his children to Haran today. Here’s a working definition of Haran: 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. So why does God still send his children to Haran? Why doesn’t he let us stay in the Promised Land?
Hebrews 12:11 says, “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.
So as we come to invitation time, let's do some introspection. Let’s make this application very personal. What is your personal “Haran”? With that in mind, think about what you believe God wants to accomplish in your life through this particular “Haran.”
And I want to challenge you to do one final thing and that is thank God for sending you to Haran. Have you ever done that? Have you ever thanked God for your problems and suffering and difficulty?
Have you ever said, “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?”
Your life could be revolutionized if—instead of getting angry—you began thanking God for your personal “Haran.” I offer you no easy answer, no quick fixes, no fast train to the Promised Land. But I do promise this, that if you are on your way to Haran right now, God has promised that he will go with you.
And if you are living in Haran today, God has promised that you won’t have to stay there forever. He’ll bring you back to the Promised Land sooner or later.
You want to go to the Promised Land? The bus stops in Haran. And while we are there, let us console ourselves with this thought: As painful as Haran may be, it is God’s way of preparing us for better things to come.
Let's pray.
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