Introduction: This week we learn much about the power of the ‘Fear of the Lord.’ Not only is the ‘Fear of the Lord the beginning of wisdom,’ as Proverbs says, but also one of the key blessings of our Christian lives – and one of the key means by which God protects us from those who would do us harm. My prayer this week is that Psalm 119:161 will increasingly become our testimony: “Rulers persecute me without cause, but my heart trembles at your word.” For if we will bow with trembling fear before God and His word, then we may be assured of amazing deliverances and great comforts too. As Matthew Henry says, “They that tremble at the convictions of the word may triumph in the consolations of it.”
Monday: read Genesis 31:13 and 31:19-28. The Lord’s command to Jacob was clear: “Leave this land at once and go back to your native land,” (Gen. 31:13). But obeying God’s command to flee the difficulties of life with Laban also meant Jacob’s trusting God to provide a righteous way of escape. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
But Jacob failed to wait for God’s time and way. Just as Rachel stole from her father by taking the household ‘gods’ of Laban (Gen. 31:19 – more on that later), so Jacob deceitfully deprived Laban of the honor of saying goodbye to his daughters and grandchildren (Gen. 31:27-28). His fearful flight from Laban without trusting God for an honorable way of escape spells deceit against Laban and distrust of God’s plan. When will we, like Jacob, learn that God’s commands are His enablings? He never commands us to follow Him without laying out the path for us, one safe step at a time: a much better result than stirring up Laban’s anger by leaving on the sly!
Meditate and Pray: Ask God to help you this week in all your dealings in this world of dishonest humanity to always “speak the truth in love.” Make Hymn # 335 verse 2 your prayer: “Truthful Spirit, dwell with me: I myself would truthful be; and with wisdom kind and clear let thy life in mine appear; and with actions brotherly speak my Lord’s sincerity.”
Tuesday: read Genesis 31:28-29 and Matthew 12:43-45. Jesus warns us in Matthew 12:43-45 about the generation who rejected Him on the pretext that they needed more ‘signs’ (Matt. 12:38-39). Their initial excitement at the blessing of having Jesus doing good among them faded and in their hardness of heart they began accusing Him of many harmful things, including being sent by the Devil! In the same way, Laban’s initial thankfulness for Jacob and the Divine blessing which accompanied him (Gen. 30:27) withered, replaced with thoughts of doing Jacob harm (Gen. 31:29).
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for giving you a sincere faith and delivering you from the evil of a superficial joy in God’s blessings. Pray for those you may know in your family or community who are in danger, like Laban, of “receiving the Word of God with joy” (Matthew 13:20-21) but who have no root of real grace in them. Pray for such to be saved from the hardening effects of sin.
Wednesday: read Genesis 31:29-32. Did Jacob deserve God’s miraculous intervention by which Laban was restrained from carrying out his plans to harm him? Certainly not. How ignorant his protests of innocence against the accusation of guilt attached to his thieving wife Rachel! How deceitful he was in seeking to take his whole family away in the night! Yet God in grace protects Jacob by coming to Laban in a dream in Gen. 31:29 – for the first time forcing Laban to speak honestly with Jacob, without flowery compliment or haughty threats. “Be careful not to say anything either good or bad,” (Gen. 31:29) God commands, and Laban has no choice but to listen!
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for His protective care towards His far from perfect saints. Though evil men like Laban may with some justice demand our punishment and even “plot evil against us on their beds” (Psalm 36:4), God can hinder them from “even so much as speaking roughly to us” (John Owen). Thank God for His mighty restraint upon the evil in this world and remember the words of the hymn writer:
“This is my Father’s world, O let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet. This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done; Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heav’n be one.” (Maltbie D. Babcock, # 111, 1901)
Thursday: read Genesis 31:33-42. Up to this point Jacob’s attitude towards Laban has been craven fear and intimidated obedience. But now, as Laban’s search for incriminating evidence against Jacob proves fruitless, Jacob boldly accuses Laban before all witnesses of years of abuse and of suffering under his miserly employment. True, Rachel’s harboring her father’s idol in Gen. 31:34-35 is a reproach on Jacob’s house. But what Jacob says about suffering as a shepherd in all sorts of weather and of having his wages dishonestly changed 10 times still holds true (Gen. 31:40-41). We can see how right Jacob is to give God alone all the credit for helping him survive such treatment: “If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, (Laban) would surely have sent me away empty-handed…” (Gen. 31:42).
Meditate and Pray: Thank God that He is The Protector of His people. He truly sees the abuse and injustice that they suffer and will indeed pay back those who harm His own elect. We see how fierce and loyal God can be to His own in Jesus’ most angry moments, when He rises to the defense of the neglected rights of His own. It was Jesus who said of His Father: “And will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly.” (Luke 18:7-8)
Friday: read Genesis 31:42-53 and Psalm 91:3-11. Laban’s false religion infects even his oaths of covenant peace with Jacob as he is compelled to swear in the name of all the ‘gods’ his forebears worshipped. In Gen. 31:53 he uses the plural ‘judge’ to make clear that he is thinking of each god–Abraham’s, Nahor’s and their father Terah’s – as a separate family idol. But despite such idolatry, God still controls Laban and compels him to promise not to harm Jacob in Gen. 31:48-52. Laban has a conscience which God can still arouse to do His bidding – in this case, to make promises not to harm God’s chosen servant Jacob. In the same way, let us be confident of God’s protection and of His power to move even unbelievers to commit to our safety. God has promised “to guard us in all our ways” (Psalm 91:11).
Meditate and Pray: What is it that can move even the Labans of this world, who actually hate our faith in the One True God, to respect us and even act for our good? The answer is the awesome Name which Jacob gives to the One True God who guides his way. Laban may mindlessly jumble all sorts of family gods together, but Jacob swears in only the Name of the ‘Fear of Isaac’ (Gen. 31:53). We will speak more of this unusual Name for God next week, but let us be thankful in prayer right now that the very same ‘Fear’ that can cow hostile men like Laban into being against their wishes at peace with us can also be such a comfort to us. As Psalm 130:4 indicates, we fear God for a very different reason than Laban: “But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.” Worship God with these words that express our child-like fear, in Hymn # 35, verse 3 of our Trinity Hymnal: “O how I fear thee, living God, with deepest, tend’rest fears, and worship thee with trembling hope, and penitential tears.” (F.W. Faber, 1848)