Genesis 30:25–31:55. How Jacob Made His Fortune.

Key Notes: A nephew and his uncle manipulate live-stock genetics to get rich. God helps the nephew. Jacob returns to Canaan rich after 20 years of hard labor. Economic justice. Wealth in OT vs. poverty in NT. The dilemma of wealth.

Jacob worked for his uncle, Laban, for fourteen years, and acquired two wives and a dozen children. But he had nothing else to show for his hard work. He remained a servant with no personal income or real estate.

30:25–28 After Rachel finally had a child, Jacob was ready to leave Laban. However, Laban learned "by divination" that God had blessed him because of Jacob. (Laban also had household gods; he was idolatrous.) Jacob had been the secret of the growth of his herds and he asked Jacob to stay, naming his own price.

30:29–36 Jacob agreed that Laban had prospered with the Lord's blessing, but now he needed to provide for his own household. Jacob proposed to work as Laban’s chief shepherd in exchange for any black sheep or odd-marked goats in Laban's flocks. He would go through the herd and take out those few animals on that day. Laban agreed, but the same day took all the odd-marked animals out of the herd and moved them three days' journey (60 miles) away from Jacob in the care of his sons. Jacob was learning about cheating from an expert.

30:37–43 Not to be outdone, Jacob put peeled, striped sticks of poplar, almond and sycamore into the watering pens at breeding time, as if looking at striped or mottled sticks would result in striped and mottled lambs and kids. Were there useful chemicals leached into the water-- poplar, for example? Are there mutagens in these plants? Otherwise we do not know why this method worked. We do not believe in the inheritance of prenatal influences. Later Jacob will say that God was responsible for his success. (31:9). He also selectively bred the stronger animals and set his spotted flocks apart from Laban's, leaving the weaker animals to Laban. "Thus the man grew exceedingly rich...." He had not only cattle, camels and donkeys, but servants as well.

31:1–13 The imbalance in the herds made Laban and his sons angry. Then God appeared to Jacob and told him it was time to go back to Canaan. Jacob called his wives into the field and told them the situation. He had worked for Laban for six additional years--20 years in all (31:38)--and prospered in spite of Laban's “10 times” redefining the animals that Jacob could keep. He told them that the Angel of God, the God of Bethel, had appeared to him in a dream in which the spotted herd was being cultivated and God said that He had noted what Laban had done to Jacob.

31:14–16 Rachel and Leah felt alienated from their father who had treated them like strangers and taken away their inheritance. They supported Jacob's planned escape. Rachel also stole Laban’s household gods.

31:17–24 Jacob left when Laban was not looking, off shearing sheep 60 miles away. It took Laban seven days to catch up with Jacob, who by now had reached the hill-country of Gilead east of Galilee. God warned Laban not to say anything to Jacob.

31:25–30 Laban berated Jacob anyway for cheating him and running away. He did not touch Jacob but complained that Jacob had stolen his gods.

31:31–32 Jacob replied with soft words about fearing that Laban would have sent him away empty-handed, and told Laban he could kill anyone who had his gods. He did not know that Rachel had stolen them.

31:33–35 Laban searched each tent, but Rachel hid the gods under her camel saddle (probably she was not sitting on a camel but in her tent) and would not get up, pleading her monthly period.

31:36–42 Now it was Jacob's turn to be angry for being treated like a common thief. He recounted how Laban had added to his hard life as an honest shepherd and husbandman. He worked for Laban for twenty years. God had been his defense and had rebuked Laban.

31:43 Laban said the only thing left to say: everything he surveyed had once been his--the flocks, the daughters, and their children.

31:44–55 Together they put up two land-marks, a pillar and a mound, and made a covenant. The markers would separate their clans. But Jacob must not take other wives or mistreat Leah and Rachel.
The covenant was called Mizpeh: "The Lord watch between you and me, when we are absent one from the other." It was not a peaceful covenant, although it has been used as a closing prayer in youth groups and camps.

Discussion:

This lesson is a case-study in economic justice. A servant / worker was in an economic struggle with the boss / owner. The worker ran off with a substantial portion of the owner’s property—or so the owner saw it. He had come to Paddan-aram penniless twenty years before and was leaving with a fortune in live-stock. The tension was increased because the contest was between close members of a family: the boss / owner was father-in-law to the worker and his 12 sons. But Laban had agreed to let Jacob accumulate wealth because he saw that God was with him and would benefit them both. Yet he refused to play fair repeatedly with his nephew over six years. It was God who saw justice done.

Old Testament law provides means of preventing and relieving poverty. Prevention of poverty is based on fair distribution of land (Josh.17:14–18) and the redemption of traded land. (Lev.25). Relief of the poor depended on relaxed practices of harvesting (Ruth; Deut.25:14–22) and periodic release from servitude. (Deut.15).

Economic and social justice in America needs a lot of work and Christian are lately realizing it. Capitalism, business cycles, labor movements, monetary policy, loan practices and slave-labor are problems we cannot ignore. We cannot ignore injustice.

What was God doing? He was shepherding Jacob, teaching him and directing his path (Gen.28:13–15; 31:13) and incidentally, frustrating and punishing Laban for his dishonesty.

How did Jacob get wealthy? He worked very hard, and God blessed him, making him "exceedingly rich." God made Abraham "very rich" (Gen.13:2), and Isaac "very wealthy" (Gen.26:13). God also caused everything Joseph did to prosper. Gen.39:3

Prosperity in the OT is not limited to the Patriarchs--Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Job was twice as prosperous after his ordeal as before. (Job 42:10). Solomon exceeded all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom. (IK.10:14, 23). The blessings of obedience, especially in the Old Testament are material prosperity (Deut.28:1–14). Psalm 144:12–15 is a prayer for prosperity.

On the other hand, New Testament culture is quite different. There is a focus on poverty. Jesus was poor; He did not have a place to lay His head. (Matt.8:20). He sent the disciples out as penniless itinerant workers. (Lk.9:3). Jesus' mission was good news to the poor. (Lk.4:18). Jesus told the rich young ruler to give up his possessions else he would not make it into the Kingdom. (Mk.10:17–31). Zaccheus volunteered to give half of his money to the poor. (Lk.19:8). Jesus told the story of the rich man and the beggar, Lazarus, to Pharisees who loved money. (Lk.16:19). Jesus brought down woe on the rich. (Lk.6:20, 24). As The Servant, He poured Himself out. (Phil.2:6–8). James also denounced the rich for discrimination (2:1–7), presumption (4:13–16) and exploitation of their workers. (5:1–6)

A humorist has been said that the blessing of the OT is prosperity and blessing of the NT is adversity. The differences in emphasis are so great as to demand an attempt to harmonize them. It is a false paradox. Peter was promised much more from Jesus than he had sacrificed to follow Him. (Lk18:28–30). Peter had a large group of followers (ICor.1:12) and became world-famous.

But there is a dilemma in the acquisition of money and John Wesley summarized it well:

"I fear, wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger and love of the world in all its branches. How then is it possible that Methodism, that is, a religion of the heart, though it flourishes now as a green bay tree, should continue in this state? For the Methodists in every place grow diligent and frugal; consequently they increase in goods. Hence they proportionately increase in pride, in anger, in the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes and the pride of life." {The Protestant Ethic. M. Weber; Scribners,’30. p.175}.

Paul has this advice: "As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous...."
(ITim.6:17–18)

The solution is simple: work hard; make money; give it away. And love your neighbor as yourself.
Simple. Too simple.