Sermon: The Adventures of Jacob

The Adventurers of Jacob
Genesis 29:1-20
RUMC 30 July 2017
Pastor Paul R. O’Neil

When the cartoon movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was first shown in movie theaters across America, the movie goers didn’t realize that Disney artists drew over one million pictures. Each image flashed onto the screen for a 1/24th of a second.  Our lives are as complex as that movie.  God puts careful attention into every detail, and like the movie goers of Snow White, we may not realize how much of God’s providence is involved in our lives.

In my scripture text for today (Genesis 29: 1-13), we see how God’s providence led Jacob through his long journey to the relatives he was about to meet. Jacob finishes his long journey and is about to meet his relatives.

Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the people of the east. 2 As he looked, he saw a well in the field and three flocks of sheep lying there beside it; for out of that well the flocks were watered. The stone on the well’s mouth was large, 3 and when all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone from the mouth of the well, and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the mouth of the well.
4 Jacob said to them, “My brothers, where do you come from?” They said, “We are from Haran.” 5 He said to them, “Do you know Laban son of Nahor?” They said, “We do.” 6 He said to them, “Is it well with him?” “Yes,” they replied, “and here is his daughter Rachel, coming with the sheep.” 7 He said, “Look, it is still broad daylight; it is not time for the animals to be gathered together. Water the sheep, and go, pasture them.” 8 But they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together, and the stone is rolled from the mouth of the well; then we water the sheep.”
9 While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep; for she kept them. 10 Now when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of his mother’s brother Laban, and the sheep of his mother’s brother Laban, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of his mother’s brother Laban. 11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and wept aloud. 12 And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son; and she ran and told her father.
13 When Laban heard the news about his sister’s son Jacob, he ran to meet him; he embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things.
This is the Word of God.

Jacob walked some 500 miles in about 30 to 40 days. He came to a place called Haran where his relatives watered their sheep.  Without a map, provisions, guidance, or traveling companions, Jacob traveled 500 miles under difficult traveling conditions.  He came to the right place to a family that had never seen him nor did they know he was coming.  Now some people might call his specific arrival under those conditions that a coincidence, but I would call it Divine Providence.

Though Jacob may be the lead character in the story, it was really all about God and his work behind the scenes, His Divine Providence. For this to work in our lives, consider these two Proverbs:

  • Proverbs 3:6: “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
  • Proverbs 16:3: “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.”

Jacob committed his life to the Lord after his heavenly vision, and the Lord provided the guidance he needed. And the Lord will do the same when we commit our lives to him.

Here is an example of how Divine Providence works in the life of a believer. Cliff Barrows and his fiancée scraped together enough money to have a simple wedding and honeymoon.  They bought two train tickets to the city and made reservations to spend a few nights in a hotel.  When they arrived, they found that the hotel had gone out of business.
Now stranded in an unfamiliar city with little money, they began to hitchhike. A sympathetic driver saw them and took them to a friend who owned a grocery store.  There the newlyweds spent their first night in a room above the store.
The next day, the grocery store owner overheard Cliff play Christian hymns on his trombone, and she too was impressed and wanted to do something nice for the Barrows. She arranged for them to spend their honeymoon in a more suitable place, and while they stayed there, the Barrows were invited to attend a Billy Graham youth rally.
The song leader for the rally was sick; when they arrived Mr. Barrows was asked to take charge of the music in the service. Well things worked out so well that Cliff was offered a position; from that day on, he and Billy Graham were lifelong partners in the work of the Lord.

I would say that the ministry of Cliff Barrows was filled with accounts of Divine Providence.

  1. It began with the marriage.
  2. The travel to the unfamiliar city
  3. The hotel where they were to stay went out of business.
  4. There was the hitchhiking incident.
  5. Their wedding night was spent in a room over the grocery store.
  6. Cliff playing the trombone
  7. Their staying in another room
  8. Their invitation to a youth rally
  9. The song leader had become sick.
  10. The availability of Cliff Barrows to lead the music

Those were ten things where we can see the hand of the Lord or divine providence in Cliff’s life.

Other Biblical Examples of Divine Providence include the following:

  • The shepherd boy David showed up at the right place and time to fight Goliath the Giant.
  • Esther, the poor Jewish maiden from out of nowhere, was elevated to the position of Queen where she saved thousands of Jews from persecution from the Persians.
  • Then we come to the Apostle Paul whose life from his conversion to his imprisonment was one continuation of the Providence of God.

As you look back at your own life, perhaps you can see the invisible hand of the Lord. I am thinking of marriages, children being born, friendships established, career choices and church opportunities.  When you think back on these events, they took place with uncanny timing.  Again some would say it is coincidence, luck, fate, the lining up of the stars.  I would say it is the hand of the Lord.

Now consider this. What happens when things don’t work out the way we anticipated?  What then?  Was there some kind of a mistake?

In Jacob’s situation, God’s providence led him to his uncle’s home, where he became engaged to be married. For seven years he worked as a shepherd and life was as good as could be expected.  Then something unexpected happened; figuratively he had been thrown a curve.  Overnight, his life was turned upside down.  Let us read about this. Genesis 29:14-20.

Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” 22 So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. 23 But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. 24 (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) 25 When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” 26 Laban said, “This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. 27 Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” 28 Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife. 29 (Laban gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel to be her maid.) 30 So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah. He served Laban for another seven years.31 When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.

If you were to read on, Jacob’s family situation had become something that you would see on the Jerry Springer TV show. Unfortunately things happened out of Jacob’s control, and this had become one dysfunctional family.  Nevertheless, God continued to work through the lives of those imperfect people.  One primary lesson that we can gather is that our Lord works even in the worst of situations; he can take broken lives and brings about his purposes.

I often hear people say, “Life is not fair,” and I agree.  Life is not always fair, but we have to make the best of it.  I suppose there is a temptation to blame God.  But as with the life of Jacob, God used all the negative things to bring about his purpose.  What was true for Jacob is also true for all of us.

Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

Difficulties will come; you can count on it, but if we walk daily with the Lord, don’t be surprised to see Divine Providence in operation.

I would like to close with the song “Through it All.” “I’ve had many tears and sorrows.  I’ve had questions for tomorrow.  There’ve been times I didn’t know right from wrong.   But in every situation God gave blessed consolation that my trials come to make me strong.  Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus.  I’ve learned to trust in God.  Through it all, through it all.  I’ve learned to depend upon his word.”