He went out
Hosea 12:12-14:10 (A); 11:7-12:12 (S)
“Jacob’s Maturing Faith”
by Mark Huey
Torah students should realize that after the first 11 chapters of Genesis record a wide swath of human history, from the Creation to the scrambling of the languages, the remaining chapters deal with the four generations, which consist of Abraham, his children, his grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren. From Genesis chs. 12-25, the focus is on God testing Abraham, the person chosen to be the father of faith. From Genesis chs. 25-28, the emphasis is on Abraham’s son Isaac and how he continued along the walk of faith that Abraham had established. When we now turn to the Torah portion V’yeitzei in our weekly readings, the life of Jacob is detailed, and is followed by specific actions taken by his twelve sons and daughter for the balance of the Book of Genesis. The first book of the Pentateuch is primarily concerned with the Lord God, and how He interacted with these individuals and their steadily enlarging family, as they learned to trust wholeheartedly in Him. This Deity is hence forever referred to as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—precisely because their personal testimonies establish a foundation for their successors in the balance of the Holy Scriptures.
It is not only interesting—but also extremely important—for readers to study, analyze, and compare how these different individuals responded to the Almighty. Each generation is unique, and no two people and their experiences with God are identical. Abraham had at least a modicum of belief in the One True Creator, when his father Terah and their family left Ur. When Abraham received the direct call from the Holy One to go forth to another country (Genesis 12:1-3), Abraham responded without any recorded hesitancy. Abraham is so recognized as “the father of faith,” because his intimate relationship with God was not necessarily modeled by his father Terah. Abraham was uniquely chosen by God to establish a special relationship with one man and his family, which would set in motion a system of belief that has endured down through the millennia. It is from the early chapters of Genesis that the foundation of the Judeo-Christian faith system and worldview are derived.
Believers in the Messiah are reminded centuries later how the Torah is to serve as an example of things for instruction and admonition (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11). And, this is one of the primary reasons why one studies the recorded stories of the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Just like modern people today, these early heroes of our faith were human beings with foibles and carnal tendencies, which did not make them perfect in any way. Even though they each had varying degrees of personal interaction with the Holy One as recorded, there were still times when some of their decisions were “curious,” to say the least. Those who annually study through the Torah might identify with many of the specific challenges that the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of these four generations endured, because family dynamics and issues doubtlessly continue down through the generations to our own time. Perhaps in the course of reviewing these lives and understanding some of the problems they had to contend with, people today will learn from these examples and grow in their walks with the Lord. In so doing, may we all continue to receive the blessings promised to those who place their faith in the Holy One of Israel!
V’yeitzei begins with Jacob obeying his parents and heading east toward his uncle Laban’s community. Because Jacob’s demeanor was such that he had a tendency to hang out around the tents during his upbringing (cf. Genesis 25:27)—seemingly learning about the family traditions and seeking to please his parents—when his parents gave him some instructions to avoid marrying the local Canaanite women, but rather find a wife from the daughters of Laban, he did not hesitate or question their wisdom (Genesis 27:41-46). As Jacob obediently departed from Beersheba toward Paddan-aram, he had his first recorded, life-changing encounter with the Lord. Since no other people are mentioned on the journey, Jacob was likely traveling by himself, with many thoughts on his mind about Esau’s anger, and perhaps being separated from his parents.
After traveling some distance, Jacob stopped for the night and had a dream-vision that obviously impacted him for the rest of his life. It is in this dream that the God of his grandfather Abraham and father Isaac appeared to him, and He reaffirmed the blessings that Isaac had recently declared about Jacob receiving the blessings of Abraham (Genesis 28:3-4):
“Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, ‘I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’ So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top. He called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the LORD will be my God. This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You’” (Genesis 28:10-22).
While it is impossible to know just where Jacob’s faith was when this dream and word from the Lord came, Jacob was quite moved. Here, Jacob was venturing out alone on a journey to a foreign land seeking to connect with Rebekah’s brother Laban—and all of a sudden he had a vision of a ladder reaching from the Earth to Heaven, with many angels ascending and descending up and down. It surely must have been something to behold! While staring into the night and trying to discern what he was witnessing, all of a sudden the Lord appeared and repeated to him the blessings that he had undoubtedly heard about, which had been received by his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac. The Lord said how He would be with him and keep him and bring him back to the Promised Land.
Upon awakening from this dream, the reaction of Jacob was elated worship, knowing that he had been in the presence of God. To Jacob, something was very awesome about this particular place on Earth. He felt that this must be the House of God, and a literal gate to Heaven after watching angels ascend and descend. Upon arising in the morning, Jacob took some of the oil he was carrying, and anointed the stone that had been his pillow, naming the place Beit’El, Bethel or “house of God.” Like his grandfather and father before him, who had both built altars to the Lord to honor and worship Him, this is the first recorded time that Jacob not only directly encountered the Lord, but openly worshipped Him. Clearly, Jacob was now confident that the Lord God was with him, not only to protect him, but to eventually be with him until his return to Canaan.
If you consider what Jacob vowed to the Lord after receiving the comfort of knowing that He was going to be with him and protect him until He returned Jacob to the Promised Land—you read that Jacob’s faith had some if/then conditions attached to it:
“Jacob then made a vow, saying, ‘If God remains with me, if He protects me on this journey that I am making, and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safe to my father’s house—the LORD shall be my God” (Genesis 28:20-21, NJPS).
Jacob was overwhelmed with the dream-vision he had witnessed the night before. The promises from God were irrevocable, but it appears that Jacob’s faith and willingness to serve God had some strings attached. Despite the Lord telling Jacob that He would be with him wherever he went, and would bring Jacob back to the Land of Canaan—Jacob made a vow to the Lord that if he were cared for, then Lord would be Jacob’s God, and Jacob would give a tenth of his wealth to the Lord (Genesis 28:22). At the beginning of Jacob’s journey here, there appears to be a nominal faith that he possessed in the Holy One. One wonders why Jacob had a lack of faith. Was it because he was a third generation follower of the Holy One, who had not yet personally seen Him perform His word? Did Jacob need some trials in life, perhaps having lived a sort of “sheltered” existence in the shadow of his grandfather and parents? Was Jacob just used to getting his way, as he had secured the birthright and blessing of Isaac, without trusting in the Lord, but cleverly deceiving Esau and Isaac?
While there is little doubt that Jacob was substantially moved by his encounter with the Lord at Bethel, his reaction to the dream-vision was clearly different than the relative mute responses of Abraham and Isaac, when they had similar interactions with Him. By placing conditions on his willingness to make God his provider, it appears that Jacob still had some trust in his own ability to make things happen, according to his human will. Consequently, as Jacob’s journey continued, the Lord would use conflicting situations with Laban, to teach Jacob how to more fully trust in Him.
Jacob’s Growing Family
When Jacob arrived at his destination in Paddan-aram, in a scene reminiscent of Eliezar’s trek to secure a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24), Jacob found himself at a well where herds of sheep were waiting to be watered. Providentially, one of the groups watering their sheep just happened to be the relatives of Laban, specifically Laban’s daughter Rachel. Jacob had to be elated. After his experience with God at Bethel, he had to sense that the Lord was directing his steps. In a chivalrous move, Jacob moved the rock to attain access to the well and water the sheep of Rachel’s herd. In what seems like a bold gesture, Jacob kissed Rachel while tearfully declaring to her that he was her father’s kinsman. The news of the Jacob’s arrival was received by Laban with great expectations, as he recalled that Eliezar years earlier had brought many gifts to give to his family (Genesis 29:1-20). As we will soon discover, Jacob has met his match when it comes to a person operating in his own strength, rather than trusting in the Lord.
Please remember how Jacob had two primary motivations for traveling eastward. First, Jacob was fleeing from the presence of Esau, who had made some threatening remarks that Rebekah considered potentially harmful to him. Secondly, once a safe distance between Jacob and Esau was established, the next motivation was to secure a suitable wife to continue the faithful line of Abraham and Isaac. Upon encountering Rachel, it seems that Jacob’s concerns over Esau were mitigated, as the opportunity to have a wife that his parents would approve of became paramount. The only problem that Jacob did not foresee was the cleverness of Laban, and how he was going to alter Jacob’s plans to marry Rachel. We see how Laban misled Jacob on his wedding night, by substituting the elder Leah instead of the younger Rachel for his wife:
“So when Laban heard the news of Jacob his sister’s son, he ran to meet him, and embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his house. Then he related to Laban all these things. Laban said to him, ‘Surely you are my bone and my flesh.’ And he stayed with him a month. Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?’ Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. And Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face. Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, ‘I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.’ Laban said, ‘It is better that I give her to you than to give her to another man; stay with me.’ So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, ‘Give me my wife, for my time is completed, that I may go in to her.’ Laban gathered all the men of the place and made a feast. Now in the evening he took his daughter Leah, and brought her to him; and Jacob went in to her. Laban also gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid. So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah! And he said to Laban, ‘What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? Why then have you deceived me?’ But Laban said, ‘It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also for the service which you shall serve with me for another seven years.’ Jacob did so and completed her week, and he gave him his daughter Rachel as his wife. Laban also gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maid. So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and indeed he loved Rachel more than Leah, and he served with Laban for another seven years” (Genesis 29:13-30).
The wedding bargain that Jacob and Laban established for marriage to his daughter was Jacob serving Laban for seven years. The first seven years apparently went by quickly as Jacob anticipated his marriage to Rachel. However, when the wedding night switch of Leah for Rachel took place, the clever Laban negotiated another seven years for his second daughter. Jacob had been tricked by Laban, and had perhaps met his match in terms of deceptive practices. During those fourteen years Jacob had to deal with his father-in-law who continually altered the agreements for wages that they had made. Clearly, the Lord was trying to get the attention of Jacob, as he must have pondered all of these circumstances. What had begun years earlier with an encounter with God, followed by venturing into Laban’s community to find his wife, was surely the Lord’s hand upon him. But the trials of dealing with Laban and the ongoing struggles, as Jacob began to have children, had to try him terribly. Certainly, the Lord was preparing Jacob for the promises He had made to him. But as always, the timing is always up to Him.
Without going into all the details about the births of Jacob’s children, what most concerned him was the lack of a child with the beloved Rachel. For years, as Leah and the handmaidens had children, Rachel was barren. But finally, Rachel conceived and had a child she named Joseph. Jacob now made a request to Laban that he take his family back to the land from where he came. But, there was a conflict between Jacob and Laban, because Laban clearly understood that he was benefitting from the Lord’s blessings that were being bestowed upon Jacob:
“Then God remembered Rachel, and God gave heed to her and opened her womb. So she conceived and bore a son and said, ‘God has taken away my reproach.’ She named him Joseph, saying, ‘May the LORD give me another son.’ Now it came about when Rachel had borne Joseph, that Jacob said to Laban, ‘Send me away, that I may go to my own place and to my own country. Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, and let me depart; for you yourself know my service which I have rendered you.’ But Laban said to him, ‘If now it pleases you, stay with me; I have divined that the LORD has blessed me on your account’” (Genesis 30:22-27).
Jacob finally wanted to return back to the Land of Canaan with his growing family. The Lord had prospered him mightily with wives, children, and the ability to add substantially to the family business of sheep herding. In fact, the overabundance of sheep was creating a logistical problem with too many sheep for the grazing land to support. Laban was in a bit of a dilemma. While he was enjoying the relative prosperity that Jacob was bringing to his own wealth, there was some animosity building between Jacob and Laban. And so, Jacob received not only another word from the Lord, but we see how Jacob was certainly aware that the blessings upon him were from the Lord:
“Now Jacob heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, ‘Jacob has taken away all that was our father’s, and from what belonged to our father he has made all this wealth.’ Jacob saw the attitude of Laban, and behold, it was not friendly toward him as formerly. Then the LORD said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.’ So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to his flock in the field, and said to them, ‘I see your father’s attitude, that it is not friendly toward me as formerly, but the God of my father has been with me. You know that I have served your father with all my strength. Yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times; however, God did not allow him to hurt me. If he spoke thus, “The speckled shall be your wages,” then all the flock brought forth speckled; and if he spoke thus, “The striped shall be your wages,” then all the flock brought forth striped. Thus God has taken away your father’s livestock and given them to me” (Genesis 31:1-9).
With the word from the Lord that he was to return to the land of his fathers, Jacob explained what had been transpiring and gave the Lord total credit for prospering him with the flock’s growth. Obviously, Jacob’s faith had been maturing through all the trials of dealing with his father-in-law, and the challenges of having a large family. Yet, God was given the credit for explaining how to maximize his herd of goats to the detriment of Laban’s herds, while reminding Jacob that He is the God of Bethel:
“Thus God has taken away your father’s livestock and given them to me. And it came about at the time when the flock were mating that I lifted up my eyes and saw in a dream, and behold, the male goats which were mating were striped, speckled, and mottled. Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Lift up now your eyes and see that all the male goats which are mating are striped, speckled, and mottled; for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar, where you made a vow to Me; now arise, leave this land, and return to the land of your birth.’” Rachel and Leah said to him, ‘Do we still have any portion or inheritance in our father’s house? Are we not reckoned by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and has also entirely consumed our purchase price. Surely all the wealth which God has taken away from our father belongs to us and our children; now then, do whatever God has said to you” (Genesis 31:9-13).
After having this discussion with Rachel and Leah, Jacob decided it was time to leave the environs of Laban and take his wives, children, livestock, and property back to the Land of Canaan. The major challenge was doing this without the knowledge and consent of Laban. But having lived and worked with Laban for twenty years, Jacob knew that he was going to have to surreptitiously leave in order to avoid the anticipated conflict with Laban. One curious thing that we find in V’yeitzei concerns Laban’s family idols that were stolen by Rachel. The beloved Rachel was still harboring an affection for idol worship, and was not totally committed to the Lord—who her husband Jacob was trusting even more with his destiny. We also find that the Lord continued to intervene for Jacob, by appearing in a dream to Laban to warn him not to impede the departure of Jacob and his entourage:
“Then Jacob arose and put his children and his wives upon camels; and he drove away all his livestock and all his property which he had gathered, his acquired livestock which he had gathered in Paddan-aram, to go to the land of Canaan to his father Isaac. When Laban had gone to shear his flock, then Rachel stole the household idols that were her father’s. And Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him that he was fleeing. So he fled with all that he had; and he arose and crossed the Euphrates River, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead. When it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob had fled, then he took his kinsmen with him and pursued him a distance of seven days’ journey, and he overtook him in the hill country of Gilead. God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream of the night and said to him, ‘Be careful that you do not speak to Jacob either good or bad.’ Laban caught up with Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsmen camped in the hill country of Gilead. Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘What have you done by deceiving me and carrying away my daughters like captives of the sword? Why did you flee secretly and deceive me, and did not tell me so that I might have sent you away with joy and with songs, with timbrel and with lyre; and did not allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters? Now you have done foolishly. It is in my power to do you harm, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, “Be careful not to speak either good or bad to Jacob.” Now you have indeed gone away because you longed greatly for your father’s house; but why did you steal my gods?’ Then Jacob replied to Laban, ‘Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force. The one with whom you find your gods shall not live; in the presence of our kinsmen point out what is yours among my belongings and take it for yourself.’ For Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them. So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two maids, but he did not find them. Then he went out of Leah’s tent and entered Rachel’s tent. Now Rachel had taken the household idols and put them in the camel’s saddle, and she sat on them. And Laban felt through all the tent but did not find them. She said to her father, ‘Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women is upon me.’ So he searched but did not find the household idols. Then Jacob became angry and contended with Laban; and Jacob said to Laban, ‘What is my transgression? What is my sin that you have hotly pursued me? Though you have felt through all my goods, what have you found of all your household goods? Set it here before my kinsmen and your kinsmen, that they may decide between us two’” (Genesis 31:17-37).
Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the family idols, or he would never have made the statement that would have condemned to death anyone found with the Laban’s idols. But, since the idols were never discovered, Jacob and Laban finally came to an agreement about any separation of property. Jacob had honorably taken only that which he has earned after twenty years of laboring for Laban. Jacob reiterated the history of their relationship, and once again gave credit to the God of Abraham and Isaac as not only his Provider, but also his Protector. In an effort to maintain peace between the two growing families, the two made an agreement that was exemplified by a heap of stones gathered to mark the spot where the covenant was ratified. Interestingly, even Laban conceded that the God of Abraham, and the God of his father Nahor, was to ultimately judge between the two parties:
“‘These twenty years I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten the rams of your flocks. That which was torn of beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it myself. You required it of my hand whether stolen by day or stolen by night. Thus I was: by day the heat consumed me and the frost by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes. These twenty years I have been in your house; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flock, and you changed my wages ten times. If the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had not been for me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the toil of my hands, so He rendered judgment last night.’ Then Laban replied to Jacob, ‘The daughters are my daughters, and the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day to these my daughters or to their children whom they have borne? So now come, let us make a covenant, you and I, and let it be a witness between you and me.’ Then Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. Jacob said to his kinsmen, ‘Gather stones.’ So they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there by the heap. Now Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed. Laban said, ‘This heap is a witness between you and me this day.’ Therefore it was named Galeed, and Mizpah, for he said, ‘May the LORD watch between you and me when we are absent one from the other. If you mistreat my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no man is with us, see, God is witness between you and me.’ Laban said to Jacob, ‘Behold this heap and behold the pillar which I have set between you and me. This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass by this heap to you for harm, and you will not pass by this heap and this pillar to me, for harm. The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.’ So Jacob swore by the fear of his father Isaac. Then Jacob offered a sacrifice on the mountain, and called his kinsmen to the meal; and they ate the meal and spent the night on the mountain. Early in the morning Laban arose, and kissed his sons and his daughters and blessed them. Then Laban departed and returned to his place. Now as Jacob went on his way, the angels of God met him. Jacob said when he saw them, ‘This is God’s camp.’ So he named that place Mahanaim. (Genesis 31:38-32:2).
After twenty years of living and working together, Jacob and Laban finally came to peace with one another. Clearly over that time, it seems that Jacob’s faith in the Holy One grew considerably. Not only had he encountered the Lord as he commenced his journey, but he had witnessed the Lord providentially guide him to the family which would eventually provide him with the means to have his own children. Even though Laban created a number of challenges as he cleverly manipulated marriages, changed the wages and eventually made the separation difficult—it is obvious that as their immediate association came to a close, the influence of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and now even more so, Jacob, was becoming ever-present. By the time of building a heap of stones to be a witness between the competing groups, reference to God became much more commonplace. Both Jacob and Laban recognized that God was ultimately in charge of the circumstances.
Also important is how the blessing of Laban upon his daughters and grandchildren was completed, and Laban was resigned to the reality that Jacob was taking his growing family back to Canaan. As our parashah concludes, the angels of God met Jacob—and more than ever, Jacob proclaimed that this was “God’s camp.”
Obviously, the maturation of Jacob after twenty years away from Isaac and Rebekah is evident. Jacob was seeing God’s hand upon all that he was doing, recognizing that God had been present in all that he had done.
Thinking back to his experience with God at Bethel, Jacob had to be reminded that God was indeed keeping His word to be with him and keep him in his travels (Genesis 28:13-15). Jacob was also remembering that God said He would bring Jacob back to the land of his fathers, and now that the separation with Laban was complete, the next step was to get back to the Land of Canaan. After all, Jacob was the inheritor of the blessings bestowed upon Abraham and Isaac, and he was aware that his descendants would be like the dust of the Earth and bless all peoples on Earth.
Now on the verge of taking his family back to Canaan, there was only one thing that might have concerned Jacob. This, of course, was the possible threat of his brother Esau. As Jacob sat around the camp at Mahaniam, contemplating all that had occurred in the previous twenty years and the dramatic departure of Laban after securing his blessing, he might have looked at the heap of stones and realized that he was not going back to Paddan-aram, but instead venturing back west to the land where he was raised. Thankfully, his trust and faith in the Almighty God of Abraham and Isaac was maturing. But was he ready to deal with a vengeful brother who years earlier threatened his death? Was he going to trust in the Lord, or would he fall back on some of his clever ways to avoid the inevitable confrontation?
The promises were sure and Jacob had witnessed the Lord fulfill His promises. Now Jacob was ready to fulfill his vow to the Lord and make Him his God. This is a common lesson of life, to many who study the Torah and the lives of the Patriarchs, for they were mortal beings with various strengths and weaknesses, just like those of us living today. They always had the choice to rely upon their own strength or cleverness, or trust and have faith in the Lord.
Perhaps in your meditation on this subject you might consider some significant choices as you go about your daily routine. Do you trust in your own abilities, or are you placing your faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Have you gotten to the point in your own walk that the tests and trials of life have shown you to trust in the Lord?
A maturing faith makes trust in the Lord the best choice. May we all reach the point where our trust in the Lord overcomes our trust in anything else…