Business is Business?
Nov.1, 1998 Genesis 29-31
Ps 18:25 To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless,
Ps 18:26 to the pure you show yourself pure, but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.
“Shrewd” is used here in a good sense as God’s wisdom. God is forthright with the honest person, but the deceptive cannot outwit Him.
Mt 10:16 ¶ I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
And we are allowed to be shrewd in our defense against evil, but not in committing it.
Lu 16:8 "The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.
Jesus here assumes that worldly people will be shrewd about their own interests, but this is not to be so with God’s people who trust their interests to Him.
I got a call at church the other day from a man who acted real friendly like he was very familiar with us and wanted to do us a favor. He gave me his name, presumably, and said he was from Xerox. He verified if in fact we were among those on their records who owned a copier model 5114, saying that last time their representative was there he noticed we only had two toner cartridges on hand. He went on to say that Xerox was presently experiencing a severe shortage of materials for these cartridges and they would like to send some our way just to make sure we were kept in supply. As soon as I started to say that, “I am sorry but I don’t recall any such arrangement whereby we were supplied by any company directly,” the phone immediately hung up. What the man was doing was hoping he got someone on the line who didn’t know any better and would buy into his line that they were on retainer by us to keep us in stock on copier supplies - probably at a much inflated price. He was adept at this, but he did not want to respond to anyone who knew what they were talking about.
Its like going to buy a used car and the salesman assures you that they have the best used cars around. You won’t find anything wrong with their cars. But as soon as you buy one and drive it a few days, find out all that was just waiting for you to happen, and go back to the dealer with questions, he says, “What did you expect out of a used car, perfection?” Dishonesty in business abounds.
1. Note the business mind of Laban in vs. 15, always thinking, the wheels are turning, what can he turn to his advantage? Jacob has already tipped his hand that he is star-struck with Rachel. He stays on in good faith, to show good faith, for a month, probably hoping to prove himself and find a way, trusting God, to marry Rachel. It is Laban that sees opportunity for worldly profit and turns their relationship from that of relatives in good faith as uncle-nephew to that of employer-employee or boss and hireling, giving Laban the upper hand in the relationship.
I believe that Laban already has a plan here. Jacob wants something and Laban knows what it is. Laban’s question about wages sucks him in as if he is doing him a favor. It isn’t for wages that Jacob will work but for something much more valuable, the love of his life, from which Laban will take advantage. Jacob names his wages not just as he is told, but as he is coerced to do. He places such a high value on Rachel that he is willing to work for her for seven years. How many of us would work that long for our spouses? I know, most of us would work even longer, and already have. But Jacob shows an honest heart here.
Jacob may have deceived his brother, Esau, out of the birthright. But I believe he was changed by the appearance God made to him in his dream as he was sent by his parents on his way to find Laban. The result of that dream, Jacob’s Ladder, was that God made a covenant with Jacob and Jacob took faith in God personally unto himself. He was now walking in faith with God and had no need to try and deceive Laban, even though that would be his experience from Laban over the next twenty years. You could say that this was payback time for his deceit of his brother as he learns firsthand of its pain, but that does not absolve Laban.
This message is about the duplicitous, deceptive, manipulative, ungodly nature of man that takes advantage even of those closest to him for whom he should have the greatest interest of welfare. But this message is also about our God who does treat us honestly in perfect relationship even while others whom we should be able to trust do not. God is able to multiply our sorrows with blessings, but it is in his way and time as our faith is developed, nurtured, and matured. Ultimately, God will take from those who have received ill gain and give to those who have gained ill. God’s economy will float while all else will crash.
2. In vs. 16 we see the problem emerging of the older daughter, Leah. The usual explanation of her implies that she is ugly because she has “weak” eyes. But that may not be the precise meaning. It more likely means that her eyes are tender, gentle, soft, and delicate, but other than that she is not strikingly beautiful like Rachel. Jacob makes it plain that he is working for Rachel, but Laban allows him to think it without affirming it in vs. 19 because he does not say her name. Jacob is so love-struck that he doesn’t catch it. There is the other daughter that Laban can use to double his profit. Isn’t it amazing how well we can lie, and justify it in out own minds by playing games of words and definitions? (Like, what is a definition of sex?) Must we be so air-tight in our dealings to cover ourselves from what should be obvious as it is here by what Jacob understood?
3. Jacob has now served the seven years in vs. 21 and asks for his wife. He was so in love that those seven years flew by. He so much understands his impending marriage to be with Rachel that now he does not even say her name. He already refers to her as “my wife.” He demands what he understands to be his. Laban does not answer but puts together the wedding and carries out his plan of the last seven years. He does his deed of darkness and slips older sister Leah under the veil and under the bed sheets as well. Now there is a lesson here to us guys. And that is that looks aren’t everything. Jacob is none the wiser until he lifts the visor. Leah ran good in the garage but didn’t fit Jacob’s race car image when the light streaked through the garage door in the morning. Sometimes those vintage models are more reliable that the newer ones. But Jacob still had his mind on the shiny new sports car.
It is interesting to note here that as time goes on, Jacob tallies up 13 children from Leah, Rachel, and their two maid-servants. All but one were sons who spawned the 12 tribes of Israel. Rachel ends up dying in childbirth after Benjamin, her second, was born. It is Leah who produces 7 children, 6 sons and 1 daughter. That is a lot of mileage. This was all a part of God’s sovereignty to produce the covenant nation that he promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Even though Laban intended deception, God intended good.
4. Jacob calls Laban to account in vs. 25. Laban brings up a concern that he never mentioned before, namely that it is custom to marry the older off before the younger. Whether this was true or not true, it was deceptive, and the marriage cannot be annulled once it is consummated. A deal is struck whereby Laban now offers Rachel to Jacob for another 7 years labor, but he offers her on credit. Jacob’s character will make good on it. Jacob can have her now and pay as he goes. This appeases him since he is so in love with Rachel. But Laban now has what he wanted which was Jacob over the barrel of another 7 years. And Jacob did indeed love Rachel more than Leah, to which God blessed Leah with the fruit of the womb in recompense while Rachel was barren as it says in vs. 31. Men, here is another lesson that we must love the wife that God gives us because he loves her.
5. Now there are a lot of truths we could learn from these passages, but we will confine ourselves to the relationship between Jacob and Laban for the purpose of our intent. Skip to 30:25 where presumably 14 years have now passed and Jacob wants to take his leave from Laban. Laban has grown used to the financial blessings that Jacob has brought him and pleads for a continuation by once again asking Jacob to name his wages in vs. 28. Indeed, this was a part of God’s covenant with Jacob, that he would be a blessing (Gen. 28:13-15). And Laban recognizes that it is God who has blessed him through Jacob, vs. 27. So from here on out, Laban knowingly seeks to take advantage not just of Jacob, but of God as he continues to attempt deception.
Jacob knows his own value because he knows the value of the God who is with him, vs. 30, and so he asks not for wages but for the least valued, irregular, and abnormal animals in Laban’s herd, vs. 32, casting his lot with God who is able to give the increase. The Mediterranean sheep are normally white and the goats black. Jacob specifies all the rest, perhaps 20%, shall be his and goes so far to say that if anything but an off-colored lamb or goat is found in his possession, it should be considered stolen. This says something about his knowledge of his father-in-law. That is, that is the way Laban would think, being constantly and suspiciously concerned for his own wealth. In vs. 33, Jacob testifies to his own honesty, however, saying that the future would prove it true.
6. In vs. 34, Laban readily agrees, but again with deceptive motives. He, himself, sends his sons ahead of Jacob to remove all the irregular animals for himself in a separate herd which he locates 3 days away and out of sight. This severely limits Jacob’s prospects of any irregular animals. Because of the principles of genetics, the solid colored animals left would produce few, if any, irregular animals. In a play on words, Laban, whose name means “white”, removes those animals which are not totally white, or totally his at this point. Certainly Jacob knew of Laban’s removal of the initial irregular breeding stock but must not have been unduly worried.
Jacob, with a little superstition, a good knowledge of animal husbandry and genetic breeding, and mostly confidence in the blessing of God, produces quite a herd of irregular animals over time, even to the point of breeding the strongest animals for himself, vs. 41. Jacob became quite prosperous in spite of Laban.
7. As if Jacob did not have enough to contend with in his dealing with Laban’s dishonesty, we note in 31:7 that Laban evidently changed his wages ten times with the motive of cheating him, becoming quite jealous as seen in his attitude toward Jacob, vs. 31:2. We see the same principle at work today as people are jealous of the innate ability of Jews to gain wealth. It is a gift given to them by God from the beginning. How did Laban change Jacob’s wages? Vs. 8-9 tells us that Laban kept switching from one color pattern to another the type of animal that was to belong to Jacob. This is in direct contradiction to what was initially agreed on that all the irregular animals were to belong to Jacob. Evidently Jacob went with the flow and God blessed abundantly anyway. That is faith in action in the face of such cheating.
8. So Jacob has a vision from God, vs. 3, that it is now time to leave. This is not his own volition. And God had reminded him in a dream that it was God himself who was with him according to his vow and who saw all that Laban was doing to him and gave him success anyway, vs. 10-13. Rachel and Leah chime in with agreement that their father has only been concerned with himself, and set their sights on a return journey to Canaan, according to the covenant, 28:15, and they set out upon a clandestine journey with all their goods without Laban’s knowledge. The text in vs. 31:20 says that Jacob deceived Laban by leaving without his knowledge. But we could note that this would be the only way in which he could leave this master deceiver. It was deception in order to get away, not take anything that belonged to Laban.
9. Laban finds out about it after 3 days and pursues Jacob for 7, vs. 22-23. Laban tries to lay a guilt trip on Jacob by bemoaning the loss of his daughters and grandchildren and that he did not even have an opportunity to kiss them good-bye or throw a farewell party. His true personality and intent is revealed by his comment in vs. 29, that he has the power to harm them, and by the fact that God comes to him in a dream and warns him not to. And also note God’s knowledge of Laban’s fallen personality in that he is not to say anything to him either good or bad. In other words, he is not to speak to him from good unto evil. He is not to threaten him nor is he to coerce him with deceptive charm. God has corked the bottle of his aggressiveness. It is God’s purpose that Jacob leave. God has done his work in Jacob’s heart, prospered him according to his covenant, and given witness to Laban over time. In vs. 31, Jacob reveals his fear of Laban that he would use force to keep him captive by not letting him leave without his family.
10. Now in vs. 38-42, Jacob settles his account with Laban by recounting the facts for him. He has been there serving him for 20 years, Laban’s resources were blessed because of him, he has bent over backwards to show good faith, he has been honest, he has paid the fines of Laban’s false accusations, he has labored hard and long - putting up with Laban’s deceptive tactics the whole time, but God was with Jacob and blessed him, and finally God has rebuked Laban for his attitude and actions. Laban in vs. 43 will not admit that he himself does not still own all that Jacob has, but he does admit that with God in the picture, he can do nothing about it. So Laban suggests that they make a pact before God Almighty whom Laban now acknowledges and fears, and Jacob sets up a pillar and a heap of stones to commemorate it, vs. 45-46. Perhaps he does this because Laban’s word has not proven much good over the time he has known him and something more visible is called for, something even for which Laban claims the credit is vs. 51. Throughout the whole discourse, it is Laban doing the talking. Jacob is giving him the silent treatment.
Note in vs. 52 that the heap of stones does not bring them together so much as it serves as a dividing line or boundary marker between them past which neither will now interfere with the other. We should also see that this pact at Laban’s suggestion may be a last attempt at face-saving control of the situation, supposedly protecting Laban from Jacob as well as protecting Jacob from Laban, vs. 52, and charging Jacob not to mistreat his daughters, vs. 50, something with which Laban should be all too familiar in his mistreatment of Jacob. But it is also an acknowledgment by Laban that Jacob has valid complaint against him for which he desires protection by invoking Jacob’s God. Laban desires protection against Jacob for that which Laban himself would be likely to do.
Laban, a man with the obvious sins of idolatry, dishonesty, greed, and envy; overly concerned with what belonged to who, but mostly what he thought belonged to him - disqualifying himself to share in the blessings God was giving to Jacob. Through the eyes of the world we often hear the phrase, “Business is business.” This was Laban’s byline - a statement that tries to excuse itself, but in fact is a cover for a lack of ethic, and for the child of God, we could say a lack of Christian ethic. Laban was one who would, and did, take even his own relative for a ride. But God’s blessing upon Jacob proved Laban’s error. There is a place for business wisdom. We don’t want to needlessly throw God’s resources away. But the truth of God is that ethics and wisdom go hand in hand. The true wisdom of business is pleasing God. Do the ends justify the means? Do Christians, or even the church for that matter, need to operate like the world does? Or are we above that? Are we able to trust God above the tendency to use and rely on our own means of selfish manipulation? In the eyes of the world, business is business. But to the children of God, ethics matter. They matter alot because they matter to God. For the child of God there is no business but God’s business.
I like the truth of the following passages:
1Co 1:25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.
1Co 1:26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.
1Co 1:27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
1Co 1:28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-- and the things that are not-- to nullify the things that are,
This describes the relationship between Jacob and Laban. In the worldly sense, Jacob was weak and Laban was strong. But when the weak trust in God, the formula is reversed and the weak become strong and the strong become weak. Before God called him, Jacob had nothing. He went to Laban’s house with nothing but came out with everything he needed and more because he not only trusted God, but he also did not stoop to Laban’s tactics in the flesh. Jacob became great and Laban became weak and shamed and nullified.
Joh 1:47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false."
Wouldn’t we all want Jesus to say this of us, that here is a child of God in whom there is nothing false?
1Co 6:7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?
1Co 6:8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.
1Co 6:9 ¶ Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?
Certainly Jacob could have reacted in the flesh, but he did not. And he honored God, choosing instead to be wronged. And he inherited the kingdom of God.