The Faith of Laban (Genesis 29:1-30)

So as we catch up to Jacob here, he is on the run, escaping from his brother Esau, who wants to murder him.

Why does Esau want to murder Jacob?

Because Jacob — first — used manipulation to steal Esau’s share of their father’s inheritance, and then — second — he used deception to steal Esau’s share of their father’s blessing.

We remember that story: how the younger brother pretended to be the older brother, and their old, blind father did not figure out the trick until too late.

And then when his mother, Rebekah, realized that Esau was planning to murder Jacob, she told Jacob to run away to his uncle’s house in the far east, and stay there for just “a few days” until his brother calmed down.

Basically, Jacob won the war that these brothers have been fighting since before they were born. He finally got what he has always wanted: a higher place in the family! But in the process of getting he has actually lost his family.

And so now he is running away from the land God promised to his grandfather Abraham, and he is running to the land God commanded his grandfather Abraham to leave.

And this leaves us, the readers, wondering if this is really a very good idea.

Because, so far in Genesis, the land of the east has always been described as a dangerous place: corrupted and corrupting. This is a land of hunters and warriors, city builders, men who worship power and wealth above all else. This is a land of sophisticated politicians, who have created a system that rewards the ambitious, that rewards those who reach out and take power for themselves — but enslaves everyone else who fails to grasp power effectively.

And so far in the story of Isaac and his sons, Jacob has been the ambitious kind of man who reaches out and takes power for himself. Which leaves us wondering if Jacob is going to continue to grasp for power while he is in the east.

And that leads us to wonder: if he does decide to grasp after power in the east, is he going to win, just like he won against his father and brother back home? or is is going to lose, and become a slave of the system?

And this leads us to an even more important question: which outcome would be the better outcome? Would it be better for Jacob to end up on top, again — at the cost of all his relationships? Or would it be better for him to end up enslaved and powerless?

Let’s find out…

Jacob continues his journey, and after what would have been about a month of walking, he comes to the land of the eastern peoples.

And there he sees a well in the open country, with three flocks of sheep gathered around it. And the mouth of the well is covered with a large stone.

Why? Well, Moses explains, this was a system designed to regulate the use of the water: [3] When all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone away from the well’s mouth and water the sheep. Then they would return the stone to its place over the mouth of the well.

In other words: the local government has a monopoly on the water, this precious resource. And in order to make sure that no one takes more than their fair share, they have made a law stating that the well may only be opened when all of the local flocks have gathered there. At all other times, the well is off-limits.

So what Moses is showing us is a fairly sophisticated, regulated society, where those in power have quite a bit of control over those who are not in power. A land like Singapore, perhaps.

At any rate, Jacob sees the men there and he decides to check his GPS: he asks the shepherds, “My brothers, where are you from?”

We’re from Harran,” they replied.

Oh! That was the name of Abraham’s last hometown in the east. So Jacob says to them, “Do you know Laban, Nahor’s grandson?”

Yes, we know him,” they answered.

[6] Then Jacob asked them, “Is he well?”

Yes, he is,” they said, “and here comes his daughter Rachel with the sheep.”

And Jacob realizes that this is his chance to make a good first impression on his uncle’s family. But it’s going to be difficult to have any kind of conversation with all these men and their flocks crowding around, so in verse 7 Jacob basically says, “Hey, the work day is not over yet! Why don’t you guys hurry up and water your sheep and take them back to pasture?”

And this is where we find out that Jacob really does take after his mother Rebekah.

Two chapters ago she proved that she knew exactly how and when to apply pressure to a situation: when dealing with her husband Isaac, she was meekly submissive; but with her son Jacob, she just came right out and told him what to do.

Jacob is every bit as sophisticated: when dealing with Tiger Mom, he shut his mouth and did what she told him to; but here, when dealing with these shepherds, he tells them to get back to work!

[8] “We can’t,” they replied, “…that’s against the law!”

And [9] while he was still talking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherd. [10] When Jacob saw Rachel daughter of his uncle Laban, and Laban’s sheep, he went over and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle’s sheep.

Jacob is a bit like us when we visit Singapore: we wait for a gap in traffic and we cross the road — using “the hand” of course. Safety first, right? And the Singaporeans stand by going, “Hey, you can’t do that! You have to wait for the signal, and you have to walk between the lines…!”

But Jacob’s attitude toward all that is, “Huh. What a bunch of brainwashed losers!” He goes over to the well and he helps himself: he rolls this large stone away — by himself, which is impressive — and since all the other shepherds are now standing back going, “Hey, you can’t do that!” he just goes ahead and waters his uncle’s sheep.

[11] Then Jacob kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud, because [12] He had told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and a son of Rebekah.

And for us: well, it would be nice to believe that Jacob’s tears are real tears of gratitude and relief, having arrived safely at his destination after several dangerous weeks on the road…

But by this point we are a bit skeptical, aren’t we? Because so far Jacob has proven to be a very sophisticated liar and manipulator. And for him to come up and kiss Rachel and weep out loud, “Oh, I am your long-lost cousin on your father’s side!” as if he is has been swept away with emotion…it is almost as if Jacob is trying to make a big scene, as if he is trying to make a big first impression.

But whether he meant to or not, Jacob does make an impression, so Rachel runs home and tells her father Laban about him.

— just like her Aunt Rebekah once ran home to tell her brother Laban about the arrival of Abraham’s servant —

And [13] as soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he hurried to meet him.

— just like he once hurried to meet Abraham’s servant —

He embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his home, and there Jacob told him all these things.

— about how Rebekah is his mom, and Isaac is his dad, etc. etc. —

And so Laban says to him, “You are my own flesh and blood.

“We are happy to have you! Welcome to the family!”

So Jacob hangs out, settles in. Remember, he is waiting for a message from his mother, telling him that Esau has cooled off and it is safe to come home: this whole family reunion in the east is only supposed to last for “a few days” or a few weeks — a few months at most.

But after a month, Laban says, “Listen: just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”

Mmmmmmm…Uncle Laban is offering Jacob a job. Isn’t that nice?

Except that in Laban’s culture, and Jacob’s culture, relatives are not paid a daily wage. When a family works together in a business, the family members all share in the labour together, and they share in the profits together. If business is good, they all prosper together. If business is bad, they all go hungry together, because they are family.

Relatives are shareholders, not wage-earners.

But do you know what kind of people are paid a daily wage?

Employees. Servants. Slaves. When a man works as an employee in a family business, he does not have a share in the profits. If business is good…he gets paid the same daily wage that was agreed on at the beginning. If business is bad…he may not get paid at all. He will go hungry alone, because an employee is not family.

So, what is actually happening here?

One month before this, Uncle Laban said, You are my own flesh and blood! You are a shareholder in my family business!”

But in the weeks since, Laban has realized that Jacob really has no capital to invest in the family business. Yes, Isaac is hugely wealthy — Laban remembers very well the expensive gold jewellery Rebekah received when Abraham’s servant first arrived! — but Jacob has not brought any of that with him. Perhaps Jacob claimed to be the heir to all Isaac’s wealth, perhaps he claimed he was just sent away to find a wife, perhaps he concealed the fact that he is actually on the run from the family…or perhaps Jacob has actually been honest for once in his life and told Laban everything. We don’t know! But for sure, Laban has realized that there is no real profit for him in keeping Jacob on as a shareholder.

However, Laban could perhaps make a profit if he cuts Jacob out of the company and reduces him to employee status. Because a servant who is also your poor helpless relative is really the best of both worlds: you can pay him peanuts because…he’s family! and he’ll still be loyal to you because…he’s family.

So Laban is saying, “Listen, Jake — may I call you Jake? — listen, we can still be uncle and nephew, but we could also be boss and employee, master and servant. That way you can actually earn a little pocket money for your stay here. Doesn’t that sound good?”

And the answer is: no! That sounds terrible!

Why would Laban ever think Jacob would ever fall for such a bad deal?

Because, in the weeks since Jacob arrived, Laban has realized he has something Jacob wants but cannot afford:

[16] Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.

Laban knows that, if you have something someone else wants, but cannot afford, it is actually very easy to make that person your slave. You just dangle what they want in front of them and say, “You can have this if you are willing to pay me on the installment plan.”

And buying things on an installment plan is actually a kind of voluntary slavery. The Book of Proverbs in the bible puts it like this: “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” Because, if you cannot keep up with the payments, you lose what you are paying for and you lose everything you have paid up to that point!

Laban can tell that Jacob is ambitious. He knows Jacob wants to build a future for himself — especially if he has been cut off from his father’s family.

And in those days, in that culture, an especially important part of building a young man’s future was finding the right wife.

Good news: Laban has two potential wives!

Bad news: a wife costs a lot of money, and Jacob has no money!

Oh, whatever is Jacob going to do in order to realize his ambition? If only there was a way to buy a wife on an installment plan!

And so, just like his sister Rebekah did when she manipulated Isaac into sending Jacob away, Laban simply plants the right concept and then stands back to watch Jacob’s own desires do the rest of the work.

Sure enough, Jacob’s ambitions and desires operate as expected: [17] Leah had weak eyes

— which does not sound great. However, this word “weak” actually has several meanings: it can mean gentle, tender, delicate, lovely, so Moses could be telling us that Leah had wonderful, expressive eyes —

but Rachel had a lovely figure and was seriously beautiful.

Guess which one Jacob wants:

[18] Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”

Now, according to Moses’ law, seven years was the maximum amount of time a person was allowed to sell themselves into slavery. So Jacob, who — perhaps — is not very good at bargaining, has just said, “I will pay maximum price for your younger daughter Rachel!”

Actually, Jacob is volunteering to pay beyond maximum price. In Moses’ law, the maximum price for a bride was 50 shekels of silver. The average shepherd earned 10 shekels a year, so: 10 x 7 years…Jacob is offering 70 shekels for Rachel.

And Laban, like all good salesman, pretends like he’s really selling at a steep discount. He says, “Oh, well, I have gotten some better offers you know, there is another young man stopping by to see her later this afternoon, and he is very keen! He sounded very keen over the phone! A very well connected young man…But, you know what: I like your style! It’s better that I give her to you than to some other schmuck. You have got yourself a deal!”

[20] So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.

His mother Rebekah told him to go and stay with his uncle for just “a few days.” Now seven years have passed, but from Jacob’s perspective it feels like he is doing exactly what his mother told him to do.

[21] Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.”

There is no mistake here: Jacob is not marrying Rachel for her personality. She has a lovely figure and is beautiful. And so Jacob speaks to his uncle with that same commanding attitude that he used with the shepherds when he first arrived: “Give me my wife!”

And Laban does not say a word, he simply sends out the wedding invitations and throws the feast. [23] But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. [24] And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant. [25] When morning came, there was Leah!

And people have speculated ever since: how could  Jacob not tell the difference?

One explanation has been that, in that culture, women normally went unveiled — except on their wedding day. So Leah’s face was covered when Laban brought her to Jacob.

But still: in the bedroom also?

And so the most common explanation is that Jacob was really really drunk.

But then some people say, “Well, okay, but then why didn’t Moses just say that?”

This is why: when we read this story about a man who sleeps with a woman and does not even know what is going on, it is supposed to ping our memory. Where else have we heard about a man who sleeps with a woman and has no clue that it happened? Ohhhh yeah: Lot and his daughters. They got him really really drunk, and used his unconscious body for their own purposes.

Now, Laban gets Jacob really really drunk, and sends his daughter in to use Jacob’s unconscious body for his own purposes.

But still, even then, some people have said, “Okay, but what about Leah? Why would she consent to be used in this act of deception?”

But that question assumes that Leah had any power to consent or not consent. And most likely she had no say at all in the arrangements, just like her Aunt Rebekah had no say in the arrangements when Laban first agreed to let her marry Isaac.

So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”

[26] Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one.”

So Jacob, who will break any law that gets in the way of his ambition — Jacob who uncovers forbidden wells, who kisses young women in public, who signs away his life without a thought — Jacob’s arrogant disregard for local laws and customs finally catches up to him.

And there is an additional poetic irony here, because Jacob is now reaping what he sowed: in his country, it is not the custom for fathers to give the younger son a blessing before the older son — but Jacob ignored that custom and exchanged the younger son for the older one. Now Laban has exchanged the older daughter for the younger one.

So what now? Jacob is married, he has a wife — I guess Rachel will have to marry some other guy?

But…no. Laban has a better idea: [27] “Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”

Are we noticing a pattern here? Every time Laban has a new idea, it somehow puts more money into his own pocket!

Coincidence? I think not.

And what should Jacob do? Should he accept this new offer, and accept Rachel as a second wife?

No, he really should not. After all, his father Isaac only had one wife, and his marriage turned out to be pretty rocky by the end. His grandfather Abraham only had one wife — but at least two concubines, and that made Abraham’s family life much more complicated and unhappy than Isaac’s…

Jacob should know better than to take on a second wife. He should definitely know better than to sign away his life for another seven years of slavery to his Uncle Laban!

But Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful.

So Jacob agrees. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. [29] Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. [30] Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.

And so what we are seeing here is that Jacob takes after his mother Rebekah in her sophistication and boldness — and he also takes after his father Isaac in his appetites and his favouritism. Isaac was ruled by his stomach: he liked meat. Esau provided meat Therefore Isaac loved Esau more than he loved Jacob, and this ended up destroying the family. In the same way, Jacob is ruled by his lust: he likes a lovely figure. Rachel has a lovely figure. Therefore Jacob loves Rachel more than he loves Leah. Is this going to end up destroying Jacob’s family as well?

Moses gives us an ominous hint here in this final sentence: he worked for Laban another seven years. But this time the seven years do not feel like just “a few days”. As we are going to find out next week, these seven years are years of conflict and desperate unhappiness, both inside and outside Jacob’s family.

So: there it is.

We were worried that Jacob might continue to grasp after power in the eastern lands — and he has.

We were wondering if he would win or lose, if he would end up in power or in slavery — and now we have our answer. He played the game, and lost. He reached out to take what he wanted, and — ironically — he finally got what he wanted: a family, a future! But in the process of getting he has actually lost his freedom and his future.

And this leads us back around to the most important question of all: which outcome would have been the better outcome? Would it have been better for Jacob to end up on top, again — but at the cost, again, of all his relationships? Or is he actually better off now: enslaved and powerless, but…with the beginnings of a new family?

Well, that is a really hard question to answer! Because Jacob’s situation is really complicated, it has many tangled threads that we would have to sort out in order to answer this question well.

For instance: Jacob deceived his father and enslaved his brother. Now, in our gut, we know that what he did was wrong, despicable. We would not want Jacob for a friend. And we would not want Jacob to get away with it, because that would be injustice. Isaac and Esau have suffered injustice. So for Jacob to now be deceived and enslaved by his uncle leads us to say, “Yes! He deserved that! That is justice!”

And clearly, God agrees. God did not rebuke Jacob back in Chapter 27, and Moses did not write to us and say, “Boys and girls, what Jacob did was naughty!” Moses expected us to know, in our gut, that Jacob was wrong, and that God would make sure to teach Jacob the appropriate lesson at the appropriate time. And now he has! Jacob knows now how it feels to be deceived and enslaved. Jacob knows now — for sure! — that what he did was wrong, and that God was not pleased with his actions.

However, even as we celebrate the fact that Jacob has gotten what he deserved, we do not want to say that what Laban did was right! If it was wrong for Jacob to deceive and enslave, then surely it was also wrong for Laban to deceive and enslave. In other words, in our gut, we also know that Jacob has now suffered the same injustice that Isaac and Esau suffered. And that leads us to say, “No! He did not deserve that! This is injustice!”

So which one would have been the better outcome? If Jacob had managed to deceive and enslave his uncle, that would have just been a continuation of the injustice he perpetrated against his father and brother, and we know that would be wrong. But now that his uncle has deceived and enslaved Jacob, well…now we are as stuck as Jacob: he deserves what is happening to him, but at the same time what is happening to him is wrong.

So what we are finding here is that we are not going to find a real answer to this question — at least, not by reasoning. Because reason gives us both answers at once: it would have been unjust for him to win, so it was better for him to lose…except that it was unjust for him to lose, so it would have been better for him to win…?!

Of course, if we are really thinking clearly, we could say, “Ah! I have the solution: we back up one step!”

See: as soon as Jacob decided to reach out for power in his uncle’s house, he was doomed to suffer the consequences one way or another.

But…what if Jacob had refused to reach out for power? What if he had already learned his lesson, and repented of his ambitions? Then, surely, he would not have ended up in slavery. Right?

…Yes. If Jacob had somehow learned, before coming to his uncle’s house, that he needed to repent and live differently, then yes: everything would have been different. He would never have arrived at his uncle’s house. He would have turned around, gone home, and humbled himself before his brother, his father, his mother, he would have gone back and restored those relationship, and paid everyone back for the injustices he had committed against them.

So, yes, we could back up in our reasoning one step and say that the real solution to this puzzle was for Jacob to avoid getting into trouble in the first place. If Jacob had been good, none of these bad things would have happened to him. He would still be free, he would still have a family, a happy career as a shepherd in the family business, and in the end he would have inherited 1/3rd of his father’s multi-million dollar estate. It would have been a great life!

And of course that would also be the solution to all of our problems, right? If we could just avoid getting into trouble in the first place! if we could just be good, and content, if we could just set aside our selfish ambitions and live lives of perfect trust in God, then we too would be free, really free, our relationships would be blissful and beautiful, our careers would be perfectly fulfilling —

But that is not the solution, is it? Because we do not live in that world! We are not able to simply back up one step, rewind our decisions and just “avoid getting into trouble” next time.

Besides, even if we could rewind our decisions we would simply make the same ambitious decisions again — just in a slightly different way.

For instance, if we had the power, like in a video game, to go back to the last “save point” in Jacob’s life, we could replay the game a million different times in a million different ways and Jacob would still always up in slavery somewhere, somehow, guided there by his own selfish decisions.

And it is the same way for us! We always tell ourselves, “Oh, if I could only do it again, I would do it differently next time!” But it’s not true! The details might be different, but the result would still be the same.

But at this point someone is going to say, “But wait a minute: how can we know that for sure, since no one has ever been able to replay their decisions?”

Because, the truth is, we actually do get to replay our decisions.

God does give us the chance, again and again, to rewind our decisions and just “avoid getting into trouble next time.” No, God does not rewind Time for us, but he does allow us to experience the negative consequences of our decisions. And those negative consequences are supposed to make us think, “Huh: when I made this selfish choice, I reaped this unpleasant consequence. Therefore, next time I find myself in a similar situation, I should make the unselfish choice, and then I will not suffer this unpleasant consequence.”

That is clear reasoning! But we do not practice clear reasoning, do we? Instead, we think, “Huh: when I made this selfish choice, I reaped this unpleasant consequence…but I also gained this sense of power and satisfaction: I won the argument with my wife, or: I got the promotion I wanted. Therefore, next time I find myself in a similar situation, I am going to make an even more selfish and ambitious choice, because that way the payoff will be even greater and should easily outweigh any unpleasant consequences that may result!”

So simply backing up one step in the story and giving Jacob a do-over is not the solution. It is fruitless to look at Jacob’s life or anyone’s life and say, “But what if this had happened or that had happened…?” It would still have led inevitably into a state of slavery.

But this is where we definitely object, right? This is where we say, “But wait a minute: if this is true, then this sounds like fatalism! This sounds like the same thing Islam teaches: that every man’s fate is hung around his neck and he cannot escape it. Is Moses telling us that Jacob really had no choice, no free will?”

No. No! The Christian bible does not teach a kind of Islamic fatalism! The Christian bible does not teach that people have no real choice, no free will.

No. What Moses is showing us here is that Jacob does make decisions, Jacob does have free will, but Jacob consistently uses his free will to enslave himself. Jacob is free to act according to his nature! — his problem is that his nature craves power, and his nature is blind to the fact that power always leads its possessor into slavery.

We are no different. We have the same freedom, and the same blinded and deceived nature. We have freedom, but we continually use our freedom to make choices that lead us further and further into places where we have less and less freedom to make choices.

So, what we actually need — what Jacob needs — is not a do-over, not more freedom or more power, what we actually need is a new nature. A nature that can see the truth about how power leads to slavery; a nature that knows how to reject power and slavery; a nature that knows how to use its freedom to choose a path that leads to greater freedom.

That is what we need. But how are we supposed to get it?

We cannot create it for ourselves, nor will we choose it for ourselves. Because our power-craving natures will not voluntarily choose to repent of our craving for power. Even when we are directly warned that power leads to slavery, even when we suffer the direct and obvious consequences of our actions, we refuse to give up our craving for power, because we all believe that next time, we will do it right, we will beat the system, and come out on top.

Such is our arrogance!

And this brings us back around to the puzzle we are trying to solve: would it have been better for Jacob to end up in power, or in slavery?

We struggle to answer this not because we do not know the answer, but because we do not like the answer. We know it would be bad for Jacob to keep on deceiving and enslaving the people around him. We know he must be stopped. But we hesitate to admit that it is better for Jacob to reap what he has sown and fall into slavery, because if we say this about Jacob, then — if we are being honest — we know we ought to say this about ourselves also.

And that idea — the idea that I should reap what I have sown — fills us with fear.

And so, to avoid affirming that dreadful idea, if we had been in charge of Jacob’s story, we would have made sure that he seized power successfully — because that is what we would want for ourselves. We would know that it is bad for him, but we would just proceed in hope that someday, somehow, he will actually repent of his ambitious ways and miraculously turn into the kind of man who gives away power instead of seizing it for himself…

And we would have condemned him to a lifetime of selfish misery and isolation.

Mercifully, we are not God. God knows that an ambitious man will never repent of his ambition if his ambition keeps on getting rewarded. God knew that Jacob would never voluntarily repent of his deceptive ways, because his deceptive ways were really working for him! God knew that Jacob would never voluntarily change his nature.

People do not voluntarily repent of deeply rooted sins, especially when those sins get them what they want! People only repent when their sins stop working, when the cost of committing those sins becomes greater than the profit of doing those sins. People only change their nature when their nature is changed for them, from the outside.

And God knew that the best way to change Jacob’s deceiving and enslaving nature was to cut off his profits, and let him experience deception and enslavement for himself. In other words, being deceived and enslaved was a necessary part of God’s plan to break Jacob of his old nature and begin to create a new nature within him.

So, in the end here, this really is the answer to our question: Jacob is actually better off now, as a powerless slave to his uncle, than he was when he first arrived as a free man. This is better not because he is finally reaping what he has sown — though that is happening — this is better because Jacob’s fall into slavery is actually evidence that God is still at work in Jacob’s life.

But how can we know this for sure? Because to the untrained eye it sure looks as if God has cursed Jacob to reap what he has sown, to suffer the consequences of all his sins, live in slavery, and then die.

This is how we know for sure that God is still at work here: because last week, as Jacob left the land of his fathers, God met him and said, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will not leave you.”

Jacob is God’s chosen son, and this fact makes all the difference.

If Jacob was not God’s son, then we would have to conclude that he is under a curse, that God has abandoned him to suffer the consequences of all his sins.

But Jacob is God’s son. Therefore God cannot possibly have cursed him, because he has already told Jacob, “May those who curse you be cursed, and those who bless you be blessed.” If God now decides to curse Jacob, he will actually be cursing himself, which is clearly…nonsense.

Threrefore, Jacob is still safe under God’s blessing. His every moment of life belongs to God. Which means that even this terrible fall into slavery is a necessary part of God’s blessing for his beloved son Jacob. This is a necessary part of God’s plan to pour out his blessings upon every nation on earth.

So…what does this mean for us?

This means that, if you have been baptized into Christ and his Church, then you are God’s child. And if you are God’s child, then your Father is absolutely committed to you: committed to your growth, committed to giving you a new nature, a nature that knows how to reject the temptations of power; a nature that knows how to use its freedom to choose paths that lead to greater freedom.

That is our Gospel. That is our Good News: we belong to Christ, and his Spirit is at work within us to set us truly free.

And we have got to keep preaching this Gospel to one another, because we forget so easily! — especially when bad things happen. When relationships fall apart, when careers go off track, when we find ourselves in slavery of various kinds, it is very natural for all of us to start wondering, “Ooooh, does this mean I’ve done something wrong? Am I somehow reaping what I have sown? Is this happening because of some sin in my life?”

And the answer is: maybe! It could be that our bad situation is the result of sinful patterns in our lives, and if the Holy Spirit reveals that to us, then we should definitely repent and ask for help in changing those patterns.

Or it could also be that our bad situation is the result of someone else’s sin, someone else’s ambition to drag us down into slavery.

In many cases it is probably a mixture of both our sinful ambitions and someone else’s sinful ambitions combining to result in something terrible — just like what happened between Jacob and Laban today.

But in any case, as God’s children, we no longer need to be afraid. Even when our Father allows us to reap the consequences of our sinful behaviour, he is our Father! Which means that, for certain, he is using those circumstances to give us the new nature we so desperately need. He loves us! And because he loves us, he is not going to allow us to continue to profit from our sinful ambitions! He is not going to condemn us to a lifetime of success and the misery that comes from it! He is going to use even the consequences of our sins to chip away at our hearts of stone until they can be replaced by living hearts of flesh.

So, if — and when — the consequences of our sins catch up to us, this is not reason for us to give up hope. Let us never say to ourselves or to a brother or sister, “Uh oh, I think this is happening to you because you have fallen out of God’s will!” No! It is impossible for God’s children to fall out of our Father’s will!

Instead, if and when we find ourselves reaping what we have sown, let us rejoice in this evidence that we are in the center of our Father’s will, this evidence that our Father is still strongly at work in our lives! Let us pray for eyes to see what needs to be changed, of course — but above all, let us never fail to preach the Good News to ourselves and to one another: we belong to Christ, and we are being made new.

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