The Reality Series part 3
Wife Swap
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
March 19, 2006


Main Passage: Genesis 29:14b-30 (NLT)


Okay, let me see if I get this story straight… Jacob has moved to a new location, where he meets his cousin, falls in love, asks his uncle for permission to marry her, and he grants the permission on the condition that Jacob works for him for seven years. Jacob agrees and works the seven years, but on the wedding night his uncle swaps in his other cousin for him to marry instead. So when Jacob wakes up the next morning and realizes that he married the wrong cousin, he’s mad at his uncle. But yet he agrees to work for another seven years for his uncle in exchange for marrying the other cousin… whew, I need to sit down.

Does that sound like a Jerry Springer story, or what? But there it is… right there in the Bible… what a bizarre story!

And that’s not the whole story! Let me give you some of the background. Jacob was one of two twin brothers born to Isaac and Rebekah. (Isaac being the son of Abraham.) Now, Esau was the other twin, born just seconds ahead of Jacob. In fact, a literal translation of the name “Jacob” is “he grabs at heels.” There’s actually another definition, and we’ll get to that in a minute.

So here you have Esau and Jacob growing up… Isaac and Rebekah are the parents… Esau is a hard worker and a skilled hunter, but Jacob is a Mama’s boy. So one day, Esau is out hunting and when he returns he’s exhausted and he’s hungry. And there Jacob is with a nice big pot of stew. So Jacob negotiates a deal… he gives Esau a bowl of stew in exchange for his birthright!

Years later, when their father Isaac is old and blind, Isaac decides it is time to give his blessing to his two sons. Esau, being the older, was to receive the greater blessing. But while Esau was out hunting, Jacob and his mother Rebekah concoct a plan to deceive Isaac into thinking that Jacob was Esau, and so Jacob received the blessing that was intended for Esau. And that’s the other meaning of the name “Jacob”… “he deceives”. Boy, he sure lived up to that name.

So Jacob had stolen the birthright and the blessing from Esau. And what do you think happened? Esau wanted to kill him, of course. So Jacob fled for his life, and that’s how he ended up in a distant land falling in love with his cousin.

Hey, I don’t make this stuff up. This is one dysfunctional family. And that’s actually one of the great things about the Bible… it’s about real people… their good points, and their bad points… their victories and their failures.

Now, to be honest with you, I really struggled about what to talk about this morning. I decided months ago that I wanted to preach from this passage in the Bible, but what was I going to say about it? I even did a search on the Internet and found very few sites that address this passage. I very nearly gave up and chose to speak about something else this morning instead.

But then I started to notice some of the changes in Jacob between the time he was growing up and how he dealt with his own brother and his father, and when he was dealing with Laban regarding Leah and Rachel. So what I thought we’d do this morning is take a look at Jacob and see what lessons he had learned. Jacob had certainly made his share of mistakes and had plenty of failures. But God was working in his life, and it was during the very time he was working for his would-be father-in-law that he learned some very important lessons and his life began to turn around. So what I want to do this morning is focus in on some of the lessons… just three of them… that Jacob learned through this process, and see if they’re lessons we can learn, too (although hopefully not the same way).


Three Lessons Jacob Learned:

1. The Boomerang Effect: What Goes Around Comes Around.

Think about this… What happened to Jacob was sad and painful for him, and the embarrassment must have been almost more than he could bear. Imagine his frustration when he asked Laban this three-point question…

Genesis 29:25 (NIV)
“What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”

Jacob felt completely betrayed by Laban. He had been duped. He had been cheated. He had been lied to. Sound familiar? There are some haunting correlations in what Laban did to Jacob with what Jacob had done to Esau… twice. And so a lesson God taught Jacob through this whole experience is the principle that says what goes around comes around, or, as the Bible says in the New Testament…

Galatians 6:7-8 (NLT)
You will always reap what you sow! Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful desires will harvest the consequences of decay and death. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.

That goes in stark opposition to what Great Big Sea sang about a few years ago. Remember this song?

Consequence Free
Released June 1999
(written by Doyle/McCann)

Wouldn’t it be great, if no one ever got offended
Wouldn’t it be great to say what’s really on your mind
I have always said ‘all the rules are made for bending’
And if I let my hair down, would that be such a crime?

I wanna be consequence free
I wanna be where nothing needs to matter
I wanna be consequence free
just sing Na Na Na Na Na Ne Na Na Na

But we’re not consequence free. What goes around comes around. Remember David and Bathsheba? We’ve talked about them before. And in their story, we see one of the greatest evidences of reaping what you sow.

King David was referred to in the Bible as a man after God’s own heart. But he wasn’t perfect. One spring while his troops were off to war, David stayed home in Jerusalem. In that day and age kings typically accompanied the troops into battle, but for some reason David didn’t go with them this time. And we’re told that one afternoon he decided to take a nap. So after he tossed and turned for a while, he got up and went up onto the roof of his palace for some fresh air. As he was walking around, he looked over toward some homes and saw a beautiful woman taking a bath. That was just and accident. But he continued to watch her. That was his decision. And eventually he decided that he wanted her for himself.

So he did a bit of research and found out that her name was Bathsheba. She was the wife of Uriah, one of the soldiers in David’s army. Uriah was off to war so he sent for Bathsheba, one thing led to another, and the New Living Translation says that “He slept with her”. But there must have been more going on than sleeping because in the very next verse she discovers that she’s pregnant and sends a message to David to let him know of the consequences of their actions.

So what did David do? He tried to cover it up. And when it appeared they would be found out, he even arranged for her husband Uriah to be placed on the front lines of war so he would be killed. David had an affair with a married woman, got her pregnant, and then arranged for her husband to be killed! Then David took Bathsheba as his own wife and they had a son.

After all this, God sent the prophet Nathan to David to confront him about what he has done. David admitted what he had done, he regretted it, and asked God for forgiveness. He even wrote Psalm 51 to express his deep sorrow and repentance, and you may want to read that on your own. So what happened next? Nathan told David that God had indeed forgiven him. But he also told him that there would still be a consequence. He would still reap what he had sown. The child they had would become sick and die. David prayed and fasted for days, but the consequence remained, and the child did die. Plus, David had to deal with the consequences for the rest of his life as his family and his kingdom endured conflict and turmoil.

[See 2 Samuel 11-12; Psalm 51]

As children we learn that wrong action brings discipline. As adults we need to remember that although the consequences may vary, they are still there. We bear the responsibility for every action that we take, good or bad. We still reap what we sow, whether it happens immediately or sometime down the road.

Oh, I do believe that God in His mercy can and will temper those consequences at times. And perhaps He will occasionally remove the consequences by His grace. After all, Jesus took the consequence for our sinfulness upon Himself when He died on the cross.

But still, there was a consequence. There was a price that had to be paid, and He paid it. So even if you are forgiven, there are still consequences. You will still reap what you sow.

“Earthly sin always brings earthly consequences.”
~ Bob Russell

Jesus talked about this in the New Testament book of Luke. He talked about how what goes around comes around… whether evil or good…

Luke 6:37-38 (NLT)
“Stop judging others, and you will not be judged. Stop criticizing others, or it will all come back on you. If you forgive others, you will be forgiven. If you give, you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use in giving—large or small—it will be used to measure what is given back to you.”


2. The Downward Mobility Rule: Serving is the Pathway to Greatness.

Jacob had been given the blessing that should have gone to his older brother, Esau. He received the greater blessing, and as a result was told that his brother would serve him. This is part of the blessing his father gave him…

Genesis 27:29 (NLT)
“May many nations become your servants. May you be the master of your brothers. May all your mother’s sons bow low before you.”

Even when his deception was uncovered, his father Isaac told Esau that the blessing was irrevocable. Even though it was give to the wrong person, it would be honoured. Esau would bow to Jacob.

And God Himself confirmed this to Jacob when He appeared to Him and told him…

Genesis 28:13-14 (NLT)
“I am the LORD, the God of your grandfather Abraham and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I will give it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will cover the land from east to west and from north to south. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants.”

Jacob’s descendents would become a great nation. In fact, later on, his name would be changed from Jacob to Israel. And when Jesus came to earth as a child, He chose to come as a descendent of Jacob’s.

But before any of this could happen, Jacob, the one who would be served, had to learn for himself what service was really all about. He had to work for Laban for a total of fourteen years before he completed his time. He had to learn that being a person of privilege and promise does not exempt you from learning the lessons of humble service.

Jesus modeled this for us Himself.

Philippians 2:6-7 (NLT)
“Though he [Jesus] was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form.”

In fact, listen to some of the things Jesus said…

Matthew 20:28 (NLT)
“For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.”

Luke 22:26-27 (NLT)
“But among you, those who are the greatest should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Normally the master sits at the table and is served by his servants. But not here! For I am your servant.”

Mark 9:35 (NLT)
“Anyone who wants to be the first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”

Matthew 23:11 (NLT)
“The greatest among you must be a servant.”

So serving others is important. But why? Why should we be servants? Why should we serve today? Should we serve just so we have good church programs? No, I don’t think that should be the reason. Should we serve just so we fulfill our responsibilities and can tell God that we served? No, I don’t think that’s really the motivation God’s looking for, either. I think the simple reason we should serve is because people matter. We should serve out of love, not out of duty or ambition.

You know, there are a lot of ways in which I serve my wife. Why do I do that? Do I serve her because it’s in the job description? No. Do I serve her just to earn brownie points? I don’t mind earning brownie points, but that’s not my motivation. I love her, so I serve her. Plain and simple. I do things for her because I care about her. Our service should flow out of our love for God and love for people.

Mark 12:28-31 (NLT)
One of the teachers of religious law… asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

I’m reading a book right now by Reggie McNeil, and in this book he writes…

“To give to others in Jesus’ name is not an imperialist act but a loving introduction to the main truth about God’s interest in people… Jesus elevated having love for our neighbours to the level of the second commandment, superceded only by the command to love God!”
~ Reggie McNeil, The Present Future, pp. 81-82

Some people think serving others is beneath them. It goes against the value system of our society. But Jesus was God… and He became a servant. Your worth is not determined by how many servants you have, but by how willingly and lovingly you serve others.


3. The Buoyancy Principle: Refuse to Sink to their Level.

You know, it’s ironic that Jacob the deceiver was himself deceived by Laban. Laban had promised to give Jacob Rachel as his wife, but had given Leah instead. You ever wonder how he pulled that off?

Think about it. It’d be pretty hard to confuse the two. Check out how the Bible describes them…

Genesis 29:16-17 (NLT)
Now Laban had two daughters: Leah, who was the oldest, and her younger sister, Rachel. Leah had pretty eyes, but Rachel was beautiful in every way, with a lovely face and shapely figure.

Rachel? She was HOT! Leah? Nnnyah, she had nice eyes. But Rachel… Whooo! And Jacob confused the two? I mean, sure it was dark, but I think even in the dark I’d be able to tell them apart. Of course, they had just had a big feast, too, so Jacob was probably drunk. So that would have helped Laban pull off the wife swap. But put yourself in Jacob’s position. You wake up the next morning with a hangover and with… Leah.

Actually, I feel a little sorry for Leah. She was the one caught in the middle. She was the unwanted wife. It must have been humiliating for her, but she had to do what her father told her to do.

Well, regardless of the obvious differences between his two daughters, Laban was able to pull off the swap. And by the time Jacob realized it, it was too late. He was married to Leah. And he’s angry about it. But instead of dropping all of his responsibilities or trying to get even, he works out another deal with Laban so he could marry Rachel, too.

Now, just let me interject here a couple of clarifications about things you’re probably wondering about. First of all, polygamy has never been part of God’s plan. If you read through the Bible, you learn that God has always intended for marriage to be one woman for one man, and one man for one woman. But the truth is, polygamy was part of the culture. Even so, you do not usually find righteous people involved in a polygamous relationship. And when you do, it’s generally due to a moment of weakness or because they’ve been duped, as was the case here with Jacob. In fact, the only good thing about polygamy is that it breaks up the monogamy.

Secondly, you may still be wondering about how Jacob could marry his cousins. I mean, isn’t that immoral? Isn’t that against what the Bible says? Well, yes and no. When God created Adam and Eve, he told them to multiply and fill the earth. Well, seeing that it all started with just two, it was necessary early on for close relatives to marry. In fact, it wasn’t until the days of Moses when God gave the laws preventing these marriages. And that was centuries after the time of Jacob.

So what seems very strange and very wrong to us today were part of the culture at the time. Now back to our regularly scheduled program…

Jacob had been cheated by Laban. If it were me, I might be thinking about getting revenge. But Jacob? He negotiated another deal and agreed to work another seven years so he could marry Rachel, too. But this time, he was able to marry Rachel right away, at the start of the seven years.

What would you do? You’ve already been cheated by Laban. You now have the wife you wanted. Would you stick around and work those seven years? Or would you pack everything up in the middle of the night and take off and never contact Laban again? I wonder if Jacob was tempted to do that. I wonder if he considered it for a time. I wonder if he went down to the grocery store and got some extra boxes, just in case.

But even if he thought about it, he didn’t do it. And if you read on in the story, you discover that Laban continued to try to trick Jacob and cheat him and deceive. I don’t know how much of that I would have taken. But Jacob did not allow Laban’s behaviour to determine how he would act. He refused to sink to the same level. Oh, there was a time when he would have. But he had grown. He had matured. He knew better now. He knew that he was responsible for his own actions. And so he determined he would uphold his end of the bargain.

The apostle Peter wrote these words in the New Testament…

1 Peter 3:9, 14, 17 (NLT)
Don't repay evil for evil. Don't retaliate when people say unkind things about you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God wants you to do, and he will bless you for it…
But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don't be afraid and don't worry…
Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!

And listen to what Jesus said…

Matthew 7:12 (NLT)
“Do for others what you would like them to do for you.”

Jesus doesn’t say to treat others the way they treat you. He says to treat others the way you’d want them to treat you. And that’s how Jacob treated Laban. He wanted Laban to treat him with respect and honour and dignity and honesty and integrity… so that’s how he treated Laban. It didn’t matter that Laban didn’t return the favour. Jacob was responsible for his own actions and wasn’t about to let Laban determine what those actions were going to be.

Have you ever felt like cutting corners or cheating someone because they’ve cheated you? Every year about this time I hear people saying things like that about the government. A year or two ago, I was talking with someone about their taxes, and they told me straight up that they felt like the government cheated them and so they should cheat the government.

But that’s not God’s plan for you and for me. He doesn’t want that kind of attitude to emerge in our taxes or in our business or in our friendships… he wants us to be people of integrity who do what we say we will do and who treat others with the same respect and consideration that we would want them to treat us with.


Let’s pray.

God, you know we all mess up. We all make mistakes and we all have failures. But it’s our prayer this morning that You will teach us and help us grow and mature, becoming more and more like you. May we be like Jacob, who was able to overcome his past and became someone You could use to bless the entire world. Place in us hearts that love people and want to serve out of that love. Break down any barriers of pride that may prevent us from serving. Help us to follow the example of a servant that you set for us.

And in all our dealings, may we be people of integrity… people who act honestly and honourably, regardless of how others may treat us. Remind us that represent You, and so we should treat others with the same compassion and respect that You would.




Copyright © 2006