Do you ever question God’s timing? Has God ever impressed upon your heart that it was time to act on a decision you’d been putting off? Perhaps you’d been reluctant because you weren’t quite ready to deal with the negative effects that may result?
In Genesis 31, Jacob faces just such a dilemma. He has been a part of his father-in-law’s family for twenty years. While I am sure they had shared some happy times together, for the most part, scripture seems to indicate the relationship had been more of a business deal. Jacob had served fourteen years for his two wives, and six years for the flocks and herds which became his wages. He was more of a servant than a son-in-law.
Jacob was also a savvy businessman. At his suggestion, he and Laban had agreed that the spotted and speckled goats would belong to him, along with the black sheep. In this way, there would be no doubt; it eliminated any conflict over who owned what. Jacob was still a bit of a schemer, so he manipulated things so that the stronger flocks bore speckled and spotted, while the weaker bore Laban’s part. In this way, his wealth and possessions grew to the point Laban’s sons were jealous.
Jacob knew Laban’s favor on him was ending, and it was time for these two large families to separate. I’m sure this idea marinated in his heart and mind for some time, but it came to a head when he heard his brothers-in-law complaining to one another about him. He had seen Laban’s attitude grow distant and more hostile. Finally, God confirmed what he already knew in his heart. It was time to leave.
Genesis 31:3 – Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”
Immediately, Jacob would have thought of the reasons why he shouldn’t leave. Laban would be upset. His wives might not want to go. And to return to his relatives? Except for his aging father, the only relative he had left was Esau, and the last time they spoke, Esau was plotting to kill him. It would have been easy for Jacob to make excuses, to continue in the uncomfortable place with his father-in-law out of fear for the future.
Jacob spoke with his wives, and they were fully on board, having seen their father’s business dealings. They recognized they had simply been used as tokens of commerce, traded for years of Jacob’s hard work. Jacob takes the easy way out and leaves while Laban is out of town, hoping to avoid a confrontation. Of course, this won’t work; Laban is furious because he still considers all Jacob has (including his daughters) as belonging to him (Genesis 31:43) and sets out in anger to bring him back. But God has Jacob’s back. He speaks to Laban (who does not serve Him) and warns him, Be careful that you do not speak to Jacob either good or bad (31:24).
Laban understands God means what he says. While he is not happy or agreeable that Jacob is leaving, they part amicably after a bit of heated discussion. God has taken care of two of Jacob’s obstacles (his wives’ agreement and Laban’s possessive nature).
Now he faces the final complication in returning home: his brother. They haven’t spoken in twenty years, and he has no idea how Esau feels about him. As far as he knows, Esau is still just as angry and bitter as he was, and rightfully so. To make matters worse, he gets word that Esau is coming to meet him with a company of four hundred men. It surely appears that Esau is still out for revenge. But God has already gone before him. Esau has forgiven him, having moved on with his life. Jacob sends multiple gifts ahead of their meeting, and when the brothers meet, it is the reunion for which he could only hope.
There are a lot more details we could talk about during this period of Jacob’s life. He is a complicated character, but one that God chose and used for a very special purpose. What I see in these events is that God will always go before us and behind us when He calls us to do something. We can’t avoid difficult conversations, or complicated decisions because we’re afraid of the fallout or the future. We need to move forward in confidence when God speaks, trusting that He will take care of what we leave behind and prepare both us and those we will encounter for what is ahead.
Are you struggling with a decision? Seek God’s heart. He will speak through His Word to you and make your path clear. And when He does, trust Him to also make your way straight, both before and behind.
Psalm 139:4-5 – You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it.