Jacob's Family (Lie To Me Pt. 2)
When I was a little kid, my mom and I had a garden in our backyard. In early spring we would put in new topsoil, rake careful rows, and plant cherry tomatoes, spinach, and green bean seeds. Over the next few months we pulled out weeds and watered the garden if it didn’t rain, waiting for something to grow. I still remember how amazed I was the first time I saw tiny green tomatoes growing on our tomato plants, just like in the pictures. That summer we had seemingly unlimited fresh food that we had grown ourselves, and I became a life-long lover of vegetables as a result.
A few years later, in a different house, I tried to start another garden of my own. I had found an old Pocahontas gardening kit with long-expired seeds for watermelon and corn. Even though it was only February, I went to the backyard and dug some shallow holes in the ice-cold clay right next to the basement window. I planted my seeds, and then promptly forgot about it. Nothing grew in my “garden” patch this time – except for weeds.
That year I learned the lesson Paul articulates in Galatians 6:7 – “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (NIV). When we put careful attention into planting good seeds and looking after them, we got delicious food as a result. When I planted any old seed in unsuitable dirt and then ignored it, only spiky, inedible weeds resulted.
Nowhere in the Bible is this lesson more clearly illustrated than in the story of Jacob. Where we left him last week, he had successfully tricked his father into giving him his older brother’s birthright. As a result of his deceit, however, he had to run for his life. And – as you can read in Genesis 29:14-35 and 30:1-24 – Jacob’s problems were only beginning.
When Jacob reached his uncle Laban’s land, the first person he met was Laban’s gorgeous daughter Rachel. He fell in love with her at first sight, Disney-style, and begged Laban for permission to marry her. Her father agreed, but with a catch: Jacob had to work for him for seven years first. Jacob agreed without a second thought, and what followed was one of the most romantic sentences in all of the Bible: “So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.”
So seven years passed, until it was time for the wedding, and during the feasting Jacob got very, very drunk – so drunk, in fact, that he didn’t look under the heavy veils of his bride when they went to bed together. When he woke up the next morning, though, he realized that he hadn’t married his beloved Rachel, but her older sister Leah, who was plain-faced and hadn’t been able to find a husband. It was a tactic that should have been familiar to him: bait-and-switch.
“Why have you deceived me?” Jacob asked Laban, furious. Laban just grinned smugly. He’d just married off his older daughter successfully! But he offer Jacob another deal: After a week, he could marry Rachel as well, provided he worked another seven years for Laban.
Jacob agreed again without a heartbeat, but the actions of this week would tear his family apart. The rest of the passage details how Jacob ignored Leah in favor of Rachel, Leah desperately had son after son in hopes of regaining Jacob’s favor, and both women urged Jacob to father children with their handmaids in hope of gaining the upper hand as the favorite wife. This complicated, competing family was not the happily-ever-after that any of them wanted.
The same patterns we’ve seen in Jacob’s ancestors came back to haunt him. His grandfather and father were both deceivers: Abraham lied about his wife’s identity to the Pharaoh and to Abimelek; Isaac also lied about his wife’s identity to Abimelek. Jacob was accustomed to favoritism splitting families; he was his mother’s favorite, and Esau was his father’s. Jacob used disguises and bait-and-switch to get what he wanted, yet he was indignant when his father-in-law did the same.
For the rest of his life, Jacob’s indignant cry must have echoed in his mind: “Why have you deceived me?” The deceiver had been deceived. Jacob reaped what he had sowed. Was it punishment from God? The natural consequence of his actions? And was there any way of breaking the cycle? Would anyone in this family ever be truthful and honest?
- Are we doomed to repeat the actions of our ancestors? Personally? As a species? How do they affect us?
- Were the further problems in Jacob’s family (especially the deception and rivalry of Joseph’s brothers) mostly Jacob’s fault, or did the fault lie with the individuals involved? Did they get the deceptiveness from him?
- Many people point to the story of Jacob as an example of God condoning polygamy in the Bible. Would you agree that the story is presented in a matter that condones polygamy? Does it seem to have positive consequences here?
- Do you see any qualities in yourself that you have inherited from your parents? Are those good or bad qualities?
- Have you ever told a lie that came back to haunt you? If you could go back in time and change it, would you?
- Last week we talked about lying characters who seem to turn out ok, or who even seem to tell lies for good reasons. What does the rest of Jacob’s story tell us about deception of his father? Does it seem like Jacob is getting what he deserves, or was Laban also in the wrong? Can it be both? Neither?