EMPTY-HANDED - Week of November 27th

By Judy Nichols

November 27, 2016


 Genesis 31 tells the story of how Jacob flees from his father-in-law Laban after years of friction turn into open hostility. It contrasts how Jacob was treated by Laban with how he is treated by God.

    Jacob calls his two wives, Rachel and Leah, and explains to them that God has told him to return to his homeland. He also explains that Laban no longer looks on him with favor as he had previously, "but the God of my father has been with me" (v. 5). He says Laban cheated him and changed his wages ten times, "but God did not permit him to harm me" (v.7). Indeed, when Laban had said his wages would be the striped and mottled of the flock, God had caused the sheep and goats to produce striped and mottled young (v.12), in order that God’s intent to bless Jacob not be thwarted.

    The reaction of Rachel and Leah seems crass, as if they care nothing about their father, but only his wealth. "Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house? Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and he has indeed devoured our money. All the wealth that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children" (v.14-16). Their response shows again the contrast between Laban, the cheater who for all intents and purposes had disinherited them, and God who has provided for them.

    So while Laban and his sons are off shearing sheep for three days, Jacob and his family pack up and leave and Rachel takes Laban’s household gods along, as well. When Laban returns and finds out about it, he pursues them and overtakes them a week later. God appears to Laban in a dream, warning him not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad (v.24). When they meet, Laban acknowledges God’s intervention, even as he accuses Jacob of stealing everything, including the household gods. Rachel hides them in a saddle and sits on them while Laban searches through all of Jacob’s belongings. Here we see the contrast between Jacob’s God, who can intervene in the affairs of even unbelieving men, and Laban’s idols that are powerless, to the point of being concealed under someone’s rear end.

    Jacob berates Laban for his unproven accusation of theft and then defends himself, recounting his scrupulous care of Laban’s flocks over a period of twenty years. He concludes with, "I served you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times. If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely you would have sent me away empty handed" (v.41-42).

    Other than being a good example of a compare and contrast essay, what does this story have to say to us? I believe it shows us the difference between a life of serving God and a life of serving idols. Few of us are tempted to bow down to objects of stone or precious metals but many, myself included, are often tempted by idols of the heart: self-indulgence, material wealth, power, importance, or intellectual superiority, to name just a few. Such pursuits will never gain us favor, as they are only concepts, not real things. God is real and His favor is for those who fear Him and wait for His loving kindness (Psalm 147:11). His favor is a shield (Psalm 5:12), lasts a lifetime (Psalm 30:5), and exalts us (Psalm 89:17).

    Idols offer us no protection and their provision is temporal, at best. The Psalmist wrote, "The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul" (Ps. 121:7). And Jesus said, "My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand" (John 10:29).

    Our idols will eventually fail us, disinherit us, as it were. They offer us nothing beyond this world. In Jesus Christ we have an inheritance, reserved in heaven for us. It will never fade away and we have been given the Holy Spirit to be with us in this life, as a promise of the future inheritance with God. (See Eph. 1:11, 14, 1 Peter 1:4.)

    Idols are absolutely powerless and will leave us empty handed in the end. God is able to do "exceedingly abundantly beyond all we ask or think" (Eph. 3:20). Why would we ever forgo all He offers (not to mention that the primary thing He offers us is Himself -- Genesis 15:1) to entertain these puny idols that profit us nothing?

© Judy Nichols 2016

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