As today’s message begins, Jacob is still living in Haran and working for his uncle Laban. He is nearing the completion of his second set of 7-years service. He had committed himself to serve this period of time in exchange for Laban’s 2 daughters. Jacob has now been married to both Leah and Rachel for a little more than 5 years. While Rachel is barren, Leah has already given birth to 4 sons - Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah.
I. JACOB’S CHILDREN (Genesis 30:1-24)
Rachel knew that she was unable to bear children and had become increasingly jealous of her sister Leah. Desperate to have a child she could call her own, Rachel urged Jacob to sleep with her handmaiden Bilhah. Ultimately Bilhah bore Jacob 2 sons - Dan and Naphtali. Seeing this, Leah - who had temporarily stopped bearing - gave her handmaiden Zilpah to Jacob as well. She also bore 2 sons to Jacob - Gad and Asher. Thus, the competing sisters’ handmaidens actually birthed 4 of Jacob’s sons.
Leah had her eldest son Reuben gather some mandrakes from the field. Mandrakes are flowering plants that were used as a fertility drug in ancient times. Apparently, this strategy was effective because Leah became fruitful again and had 2 more sons - Issachar and Zebulun - and a daughter - Dinah. Rachel also partook of the mandrakes and God opened her womb. Rachel was finally able to give birth, and she had a son named Joseph. She longed to bear another.
It seems highly unlikely that all of these children could have been born in just 7 years. Scripture states that Jacob actually lived in Laban’s house for 20 years (Genesis 31:38,41). He stayed with his uncle for 6 additional years after completing his required 14 years of service. It’s also likely that some of these pregnancies overlapped one another. Thus, there was plenty of time for all of these children to be born while Jacob resided in Haran.
At this point Jacob had 11 sons and a daughter. His sons were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, and Joseph. His daughter was named Dinah.
II. THE FLOCKS INCREASE (Genesis 30:25-43)
During these same years, as his family was expanding and growing, Jacob was shepherding Laban’s flocks. After his son Joseph was born, Jacob seriously considered returning with his family to Canaan. Not wanting them to go, Laban offered to pay Jacob a generous wage. Jacob agreed to remain in Haran and tend Laban’s flocks on the condition that Laban would give him all of the multi-colored goats and black sheep. Because goats are usually solid in color and sheep are typically white, this seemed to be a good deal and Laban readily agreed.
In the years that followed, Jacob employed a primitive and somewhat mysterious method of selective breeding which caused the flocks to produce more and stronger multi-colored goats and black sheep. This resulted in fewer and weaker solid colored goats and white sheep. Thus, over time Jacob’s animals became stronger and more numerous than Laban’s. The approach that Jacob used, which involved peeled rods from poplar, almond, and plane trees, is still unclear to modern scientists. It was probably sheer superstition. The truth is that Jacob’s prosperity came as the result of God’s blessing - not a rudimentary form of artificial selection.
III. LEAVING FOR CANAAN (Genesis 31:1-21)
As time went by Jacob was becoming wealthier while Laban was becoming poorer. Tensions were increasing between the 2 of them and their servants. Some of them believed that Jacob had stolen Laban’s livestock and riches.One day, the LORD appeared and told Jacob that it was time to return to Canaan. Jacob sent for Leah and Rachel and explained to them how he’d been mistreated by their father for many years. He told them of a dream he’d had about the flocks and of God’s blessing to him through them. After listening to his speech, both sisters agreed to return with Jacob to his homeland.
So Jacob gathered his wives, children, servants, livestock, and all of his many possessions and departed. He did so secretly and abruptly, while his uncle and father-in-law Laban was away shearing his sheep. Unbeknownst to Jacob, Rachel took her father’s household idols with them. They journeyed southward, crossing the Euphrates River, bound for Canaan.
IV. LABAN PURSUES (Genesis 31:22-42)
Three days later Laban received word that Jacob and his family had left, so he set out in pursuit. After a week of chasing, he overtook them in the hills of Gilead. That night the LORD spoke to Laban in a dream and warned him to treat Jacob well. When they met, Laban asked Jacob why he’d fled so suddenly without giving him a chance to say goodbye. He stated that if he’d known Jacob’s intentions, he would have thrown a nice going away party. Jacob knew this wasn’t true and explained that he’d left secretly because he feared that Laban would have tried to withhold his property and keep his wives had he been given advance notice.
Laban also asked why Jacob had stolen his household idols. Jacob had no idea that they’d been taken, and allowed Laban to search the camp for them. When Laban came into Rachel’s tent, she was sitting on the idols which she’d hidden in a camel’s saddle. She said that she was on her period, so Laban didn’t ask her to move and chose not to look in the saddle. Ultimately Laban’s search came up empty, and Jacob likely thought that he’d been falsely accused of stealing the idols. He was quite upset and contended angrily with Laban.
V. A COVENANT IS MADE (Genesis 31:43-55)
Although Laban still selfishly believed in his heart that Jacob’s wives, children, and flocks rightly belonged to him, he couldn’t shake God’s warning. Laban realized that the LORD was with Jacob, and that the best decision was to leave him be. So the 2 men made a covenant with one another. Jacob promised to lovingly care for and be faithful to Laban’s daughters. Furthermore, they agreed to live at peace and not fight with each other. They set up a heap and pillar, offered a sacrifice, and ate a meal to confirm the covenant. Early the next morning, Laban said his goodbyes and returned to Paddan-Aram empty-handed.
When Jacob left Canaan 2 decades earlier, he was single and mostly dependent on his parents. Now he was married, had several children, and owned large flocks of livestock. He was returning home a different man. During his 20 year absence, Jacob had worked hard to acquire his success and reach his goals. Though his boss, Laban, was dishonest and difficult to get along with at times, Jacob had remained dedicated to his service and didn’t quit. As such, God richly blessed Jacob’s efforts and allowed him to prosper.
This story is, in some ways, a metaphor for life. As Christians, we are pilgrims living in a foreign land. We began our journey with nothing. Throughout our lives worldly people will take advantage of us, exploit our efforts, and seek to take what we’ve earned. Still there is hope - God has not forgotten us. By living in faithful obedience to Him, we can find joy and success even in the midst of uncertainty and hardship. Like Jacob, we can make the most of our circumstances. And one day when the LORD calls us home, we can go victoriously having lived a full and fruitful life.