Jehoshaphat was the fourth king of the Kingdom of Judah. We are told that he “sought the God of his father and followed his commands rather than the practices of Israel.” Jehoshaphat sent out leaders throughout Judah to teach the people from the Book of the Law of the LORD. He was a good king, but we are informed of a couple of mistakes he made in his life. In one instance, he allied himself with Ahab, the evil king of Israel. He even joined forces with Ahab to enter a war even though they were warned by God’s prophet that they would lose that battle. When he returns, he accepts the correction from Jehu the seer. We can learn so much from this.
When we find that we have sinned and realize that we have messed up in our spiritual lives, it is so important for us to repent and offer our situation up to God. He will forgive and restore us. Of course, no one wants to deal with the consequences of sin, but God will also give us the courage and strength to face the consequences as well. Paul assures us that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Let’s remember:
We are God’s children. (Romans 8:14-17)
God is for us. (Romans 8:31)
God gave up his own son for us so He will graciously give us all that we need. (Romans 8:32)
God has forgiven us. He justifies us, declares us righteous in Christ. Do not doubt, because no one condemns us. We are in Christ. (Romans 8:33)
Christ is interceding for us. (Romans 8:34)
Christ loves us and there is nothing that can separate us from His love. (Romans 8:35-39)
God and Christ will help you overcome. We are told that in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. What does it mean to you to be “more than a conqueror” through him who loves you? Trust Him to lead you to victory!
As much as I could go on and on repeating exactly what Paul says in Romans 2, I have much more to add and apply from the Chronicles passage, so focus your reading on those chapters. Mostly, I’ll be looking at chapter 6. Solomon has just built the amazing perfect temple that David definitely did not build (even if he prepared all the materials, drew the blueprints, and basically left only the annoying part of building a building to Solomon). And in chapter 6, Solomon is dedicating this temple to God. Take a look at verse 14, the opening of Solomon’s prayer where he addresses God. Notice, there’s almost a lesson in that God’s faithfulness is kept with those who “walk before [Him] with all their heart.” Of course, Deuteronomy 6:5 says more and Jesus even more of how much of you should be dedicated to God on a daily basis (hint: it’s literally all of who and what you are, Mark 12:28-31). But I mostly want to look at verses 36-39.
“36 “When they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to a land far away or near; 37 and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captivity and say, ‘We have sinned, we have done wrong and acted wickedly’; 38 and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their captivity where they were taken, and pray toward the land you gave their ancestors, toward the city you have chosen and toward the temple I have built for your Name; 39 then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their pleas, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you.” – 2 Chronicles 6:36-39 – NIV
Reread those verses and think for a second… You may be saying “How does this apply? Isn’t this just an ironic prophecy about Israel’s inevitable collapse and occupation by Babylon?” And, yes, it probably is. But the beauty of the Bible is taking historical accounts and creating life lessons from them, so hear me out. When you’re buried in sin, and truly lost, it almost feels like you’re a captive in enemy land. And, in some spiritual sense, you are. Sin is the land of the world and of Satan, not of God. And you feel far and cut off from everyone, but look at 37. Then 38. Because if you pray to God, he will hear you, and if you truly wish to repent – to turn in your ways – and return to God in all of your heart (and soul, and mind, and strength) then God will forgive you.
“…Now, my God, please, let Your eyes be open and Your ears attentive to the prayer offered in this place…” – 2 Chronicles 6:40
You are a powerful man in ancient Israel. You hear about a miracle worker and rabbi. This guy, in just the last couple days reportedly saved a slave of some centurion without even being near him. More than that, he brought the dead back to life! Could such a thing be? Nothing like it has happened in your lifetime. This man reminds you of Moses, Elijah, and the prophets that you have grown up hearing about and spent your life studying. You know that such a man must be holy, must be from God. You invite this man to eat with you, so you can see for yourself how this holy, miraculous man interacts with people.
So you see him. And he’s shorter than you expected. Actually, he’s quite unremarkable in appearance. He is not wealthy, he does not come from money or make much when out teaching. He is lean from walking and fasting. He has an entourage of men with thick accents, no training, and a certain lack of decorum. They look and act like fishermen. To your surprise, you learn they ARE fishermen. One is even a tax collector. It’s only natural to begin to doubt. But when he opens his mouth to teach, it intrigues you. The passion with which he speaks. The intensity in his eyes. The compassion in his touch, to all people, draws you in, and you invite him over for dinner. Doubts gnaw at your mind, but surely in a personal setting those will fall away.
However, at dinner, things get really out of hand. As per usual, you have your home open to use by the people of the city, because God has blessed you for your devote life and upright character. Everyone, all thirteen (and more) of this teacher’s usual crew start to relax, kick back their feet, and eat. But, in the middle of dinner, she comes in. The years of hard life, of acting in such impolite, anti-social, uncouth, wicked and sinful ways, of trying and failing to do better, showed in every movement in the presence of this teacher. But instead of running like she should have, she bends down, weeping, and cries on his feet, wipes his feet clean with her tears. She takes his barely washed feet and anoints them with the sweetest perfume, the smell wafting over you all. She is making a scene, at YOUR dinner. And you know what kind of person she is. She doesn’t deserve this attention, she only wants to ruin your hospitality, because that’s the kind of person she is.
No, no this man must be a phony. How could a man who raises the dead not know what this woman does every day? How could such a “holy man” allow so much uncleanness to caress his feet? Why let someone like her defile someone like him?
Then he says your name and breaks you out of your reverie. He calls your name. He tells you about two debtors, both forgiven – one much and one little. He asks “Who will love the forgiver more?”
“The one who was forgiven much,” you answer wisely.
He turns to the woman and takes her worried, nervous, anxious trembling hands in his own. He turns his soft but piercing eyes to her own, red from weeping. He says to you, “Do you see this woman?” He lets the words hang in silence for a moment. She rubs her nose. For the first time you notice that some of her hair is starting to turn gray. You notice that she is not old, but the lines come from stress. You notice that she must have washed to come, as she looks cleaner than you have seen her in a long time… You see yourself seeing this woman, who you see everyday, in a new way. She is a whole person. She is more than the sum of her mistakes. She is loving this teacher. She is showing him honors “She has done for me what you have not,” he says. “She has much to be forgiven for, and so she loves, knowing now that she is forgiven. In your own eyes, your sins are so much smaller, and so your love is so much less.”
The rest of the table murmurs about the teacher forgiving sins, but as they talk he says to the woman “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.” She smiles at him with gratitude and joy…
Do you see this woman?
Or do you see the sins? The immorality? The wickedness? The hardness of life? The addictions? The abuse?
Jesus opened the eyes of the blind, and more importantly, causes the spiritually blind to see the world. May this imaging open your eyes. This man who raised up the dead, more importantly, raised up the living to new life. May this story cause you to raise the living to new life.
And may this question reverberate in your head all day :
Do you see this woman?
(Optional note for those confused about the devotion : spiritual imagining, putting ourselves in the story, is an ancient spiritual tradition. One great example that is often used is in Luke 15, the parable of the “Lost/Prodigal Son”, or better “The Lost Sons” or best “The Searching/Prodigal Father”. You may see yourself as the son who runs off, the servants rejoicing, the son who is angry for forgiveness, or the father looking for his boys. It says much about ourselves and our relationship with God and others to see who we identify with, and to put ourselves in strange places in the story. Today we looked through Simon’s eyes in Luke 7, not because it is the best, but because of course he would doubt Jesus. Of course he would question him. Of course he would be offended at the woman. And of course, all of that is undue, because Jesus overcomes our doubts through miracles, our questions through answers and better questions, and our offense by unending grace. May this story take a new meaning to you as you ask yourself: Do you see this woman?)
You can read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway – Numbers 33-34 and Luke 7
According to Leviticus 11, there are plenty of animals that are forbidden for God’s people to eat: pigs, rabbits, and bats are all in this list (who would want to eat a bat anyways?), along with plenty of other animals. However, if you are like me, you enjoy a side a bacon with your eggs in the morning, or enjoy a nice, grilled pork chop for dinner. For those of you who are concerned about breaking God’s food laws today, I will encourage you to look at Mark 7:19 and Acts 10, where these commands are no longer applicable for God’s people (Christians).
However, beneath the surface of these food laws is an important concept that does still apply to us today. The reason God gave these laws for His people is put simply in Leviticus 11:44: “For I am YHWH your God. You must consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.” The whole point of these food laws, and others in Leviticus, is to be holy for God. The word “holy” simply means “separate” or “different”, as God wanted His people to look, live, and behave differently than the rest of the sinful world that they found themselves in. Of course, this obligation to “be holy” still applies to Christians today (see Matthew 5:48).
What does it mean for Christians to be “holy” in 2021? At a simple level, it means that we follow God’s commands that were given through Jesus Christ, even when nobody else does. Specifically, it means that we do not pursue the sinful decisions and pride that we find all around us. Christians cannot sinfully enjoy the same things that the non-believing world does, like pornography, homosexuality, sex before marriage, drunkenness, drug abuse, gluttony, or any other form of behavior that goes against the commands in the Bible. Put simply, Christians must look, live, and behave differently than the rest of the sinful world that we find ourselves in. Although there is forgiveness when we fail in any sinful area, we cannot ignore the fact that it is sinful; we must seek repentance. You may face verbal or physical abuse, lose friends, or other forms of persecution for living differently, but our obligation is to please God and Jesus Christ above all else; that is the only thing that matters to Christians.
Fellow Christians, we need to stand out as a light in this world (Matthew 5:14), being different than everybody else. We can do this by pursuing holiness and purity, serving the poorest in our communities, and sharing the gospel message with those we love. We have our instructions: we need to be faithful to God and Jesus Christ in everything that we do. Let’s be holy; let’s be different.
One thing that absolutely amazes me about God is that He desires that everyone would turn to Him and be saved (Ezekiel 18:23; 1 Timothy 2:4-5). Although we know that not everyone will make this decision, this is a description of God’s heart; He earnestly wants all of us to join Him in the Kingdom of God! Since we know this to be true, it makes sense that God would provide a way for anyone to come and have their sins wiped clean, regardless of their circumstances. Within the descriptions of the sacrifices in Leviticus 5-6, we find that God does not only look out for the rich, but also for those who are poor and are struggling. God does not favor those who make more money, but provides for everybody, regardless of their wealth.
In describing the guilt offering in Leviticus 5, God commands that a lamb or goat be offered to Him to cover whatever sin that the person is guilty of (Leviticus 5:6). However, the next few verses are revealing of God’s nature and heart; if they cannot afford a lamb or goat (which were expensive in their time), there are other ways of offering the sacrifice to be forgiven. Even the poorest individual, who can only afford a small amount of flour (Leviticus 5:11) has the opportunity to be forgiven and come into God’s presence to be cleansed.
There are two revealing truths within these chapters of Leviticus. The first is that God does not favor the rich, but looks out for the poor as well. This truth is continued in the New Testament, even declaring that it is the poor who will inherit the Kingdom of God (Matthew 5:3; James 2:5). Those who do not have much to offer are still able to come before the throne of God, through the sacrifices back then and through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ now. In fact, Jesus teaches that those who sacrifice when they have little are giving more than those who have much, but choose to give little (Luke 21:1-4).
The second lesson is for those who are rich; you are expected to sacrifice more. Jesus stated that “everyone who has been given much, much will be required…” (Luke 12:48) God has entrusted you with more resources, but not just for your own benefit. You are expected to sacrifice more for God, which means giving more to those who are in need today (Matthew 25:31-40; Ephesians 4:28). You must also not think more highly of yourself, simply because you have more money than others. God does not look at financial well-being as a sign of blessing, since the poor will inherit the Kingdom of God (James 2:5), but is simply a means for you to test your faith. What are you doing with your vast resources?
Every believer is expected to sacrifice something, whether great or small. What are you willing to sacrifice to follow Jesus Christ fully, and what is holding you back?
Yesterday, we looked at the seriousness of sin and the reason why the Israelites were expected to offer sacrifices for those sins. Before we continue on, I want to offer some helpful advice for reading the first few chapters of this book, so that you don’t become overwhelmed. There are only five sacrifices listed here: the burnt offering (ch. 1), the grain/cereal offering (ch. 2), the peace/fellowship offering (ch. 3), the sin offering (ch. 4-5), and the guilt offering (ch. 5-6). Each of these sacrifices are included for different purposes, not always for sin, and all of them have their own process of being offered. Usually a good study Bible will point this out, but just in case you don’t have one, I wanted to offer this to help you along the way.
Have you ever considered how your sins have affected someone else, whether in your family or in your church? When you act out in a sinful way, you are not only affecting yourself, but are infecting the entire community that you are involved in. Leviticus is very strong in chapter 4 on this point, and calls out the leaders and the congregation in the same breath. For those leading churches, homes, or any other area of life, you are responsible for those whom God has put under your care, and when you sin, you are affecting everyone. In Leviticus 4:3, it states that when the anointed priest (i.e. the leader) sins, he brings guilt on the entire congregation. What a responsibility! Maybe that is why the New Testament is so strong on the moral qualifications of those who want to be leaders in the church (see 1 Timothy 3).
It is not just the leader who affects the whole congregation, but the people that are being led also. Leviticus 4:13-21 discusses how the whole congregation is responsible for the sin that takes place within their midst. This truth still carries on today; whatever you do in sin affects those within your community. From “minor” sins like lying and gossipping, to “major” sins like being sexually immoral; these all have results and those results are deadly. The whole congregation of people has an obligation to confront the sin in their midst (in a loving way) and remove that practice from their group (see 1 Corinthians 5).
Church, we need to do better about both confessing sin and confronting it within our midst. When we allow sin to continue unchecked in our churches and homes, we are allowing a deadly cancer to affect everyone within. Leaders, you are responsible for making sure that the people you are leading are taken care of and being as holy as possible for God’s presence. Those of you who are being led, you have a responsibility for keeping your leaders accountable and for doing everything you can to personally confess and deal with your sin. We can all improve in this area, as difficult and awkward as it can be to admit to our faults. However, there is much peace and healing that comes from confessing and confronting the sins in our lives (James 5:16).
At the end of Exodus, after the Tabernacle has been finally built, God’s glory comes to rest in it, but Moses is unable to enter (Exodus 40:35). However, at the beginning of the next book, Numbers, Moses is speaking with God in the Tabernacle (Numbers 1:1). This middle book, Leviticus, is the explanation about what is necessary to come into God’s presence and enjoy His fellowship. Since God is so holy and separate from us, there are things that we are expected to do in order to come into His presence. Thankfully, out of His love, mercy, and desire to be with us, God provided a way for us to come before Him, both for the Israelites back then and for Christians today.
Immediately in Leviticus 1 and 2, we find descriptions of different animal sacrifices and what is necessary to perform certain rituals in God’s presence. Since we don’t have a Tabernacle or Temple to worship in, and we don’t perform animal sacrifices anymore, how is this really relevant for us?
In Leviticus 1:4, we are told that these animals are dying in the place of the person who is offering it to God. The truth of these sacrifices is simple: sin is serious and deserves death. Whenever you do something that is contrary to God’s laws, both minor and major, it is offensive to the One who gave you life in the first place, and we deserve death for it. The mantra of our age that “everyone is naturally good in their own way” is simply not true; we are all broken, sinful, and corrupt human beings in need of God’s saving grace. For the Israelites back then, the answer to the problem was an animal sacrifice to cover their offense against God; for us today, it is the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ that is sufficient.
The New Testament continues the teaching that sin is serious, offensive to God, and deserves death: “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a) We cannot forget the seriousness of our situation, because when we do, we lose the power of the gospel. The good news for us is that we don’t have to die for the things that we did; Jesus died in our place, like the animal sacrifices in Leviticus. “… but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b) The sacrifice of Jesus was sufficient to cover over every sin that we have ever committed or will commit (Hebrews 10:10). We need to thank God for providing a way out for our sinfulness, both in Leviticus and today through Jesus Christ. Through this sacrifice, we can enter the presence of God and enjoy fellowship with our heavenly Father (Hebrews 4:16).
Yesterday we got to spend our whole devotion thinking about a great party and the thrill of receiving an invitation from God to honor His Son. Today – no such fun. The parties and parables are gone and today, in Matthew 23, we read only of strong warnings, harsh words, and blasting condemnation. This is the last recorded time in the book of Matthew that Jesus addresses the crowds. This is what he is going to leave with them – too important to not say. Anyone who believes Jesus would never condemn because he just loved people no matter what, just full of overflowing forgiveness and love, could benefit from a little sit down with Matthew 23.
It is clear that Jesus was not happy with these Pharisees and teachers of the law. He starts by warning the crowd to not be like the Pharisees as he begins describing them: they don’t practice what they preach, they make it harder for people to be godly, they love being honored by men and they pridefully exalt themselves. And then, speaking directly to the Pharisees and teachers of the law he lets loose on what has become known as the “7 Woes”. Six times he will begin with “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” and once with “Woe to you, blind guides.” Jesus uses some choice language to describe these men: son of hell, blind guides, blind fools, blind men (notice a pattern?), snakes and brood of vipers.
So, what in the world were these people doing that was so bad to receive this 7 part hellfire sermon. After all, we know Jesus often responded to people’s sins with mercy, grace and forgiveness and the all-important chance to start over. He hadn’t called the lying cheating thieving Zacchaeus a son of hell? What was different here?
The Pharisees and teachers of the law were supposed to be the ones to guide people to God. The Wiersbe Bible Commentary suggests there were about 6,000 Pharisees at the time – mostly middle-class businessmen who had devoted themselves to being separate – becoming the religious leaders who would show the Jews how to please God. And, some were indeed authentic in this quest (Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are two named in Scripture). The crowd gathered was likely shocked to hear Jesus speaking of and to the Pharisees in this way because they had been taught (at least by the Pharisees themselves) to revere the position and spiritual leadership held by this Jewish sect.
What started out as a good goal became warped and ungodly. As the Pharisees kept puffing themselves up there was no room left for what really pleases God. They had become blind guides. And it is obviously very dangerous to follow a blind guide. They could lead you straight to somewhere you don’t want to go. And that is exactly the warning Jesus was giving the Pharisees and the crowd. “You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matthew 23:13 NIV).
The Pharisees loved the law and specialized in knowing and enforcing each and every little detail of a long long list of do’s and don’ts. This, they thought, would make God happy. But all the while they neglected the larger heart issues of justice, mercy and faithfulness. They mastered in the dotting of i’s and crossing of t’s, but failed to see that the novel they were writing with their lives was tearing down every attempt others were making to please God. They were quick to point out other’s errors, but saw none of their own. It became most important to them to look good before man. So important that they forgot about how to actually look good before God. They were puffed up and proud, greedy and selfish.
It is easy to read this chapter and shake my head and point my finger and say, “Boy, I’m glad I am not like one of them.” But, in so doing – I become like one of them.
Dear God, help me to do what is right – with a heart that is right. May I see the error of the Pharisee’s ways – and my own – and work to clean up my own insides. Help me be humble and not seek the honor of men. Open my eyes to who you are and what truly pleases you. Open my ears to the teachings of your Son, to not just know it but to live it. Help me guide others to you, not armed with a legalistic checklist, but with a heart of justice, mercy and faithfulness. In your precious Son’s name, I pray.
I have watched just enough mobster movies to know the awful fate of those who anger the mafia boss and receive the “cement shoes” treatment. That is the vision that always comes to mind when I read of the seriousness of leading a child to sin. “And whoever receives one such child in My name, receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:5,6 NASB) Jesus was giving a pretty heavy answer to the disciples who had asked who would be greatest in the kingdom. He answered that instead of trying to be great, they should focus on being childlike instead – not immature (we see enough of that), but humble, knowing that they don’t know everything and they need a Father and a Savior. And while the child is standing in their midst – Jesus commends those who welcome a child and blasts those who recklessly (or accidentally?) lead a child to sin. As a parent and a Christian this is a strong warning that I will be judged based on how I am spiritually leading and guiding God’s children. I do not know where the line will be drawn. We might be able to safely point out some cases that would definitely receive Jesus’ condemnation (those who exploit children and youth for sex trafficking, pornography, cults or gangs). But what of the parent who signs their child up for the youth sports, campouts and Sunday morning jobs knowing it will take them away from opportunities for God’s little children to grow closer to Him? I don’t know. But it seems wise to do my best to err on the side of caution. What else can I be doing to spiritually guide His children away from sin? Life is easier when you don’t feel the weight of a millstone around your neck or cement hardening in your shoes.
And, if that isn’t scary enough – Jesus broadens the picture next – to all people and sinners and the extreme measures that need to be taken to keep oneself from falling into sin. “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:7 NIV). And then comes the gruesome cutting off of body parts that causes you to sin. This gives a strong mental picture of doing whatever it takes to hold oneself accountable and keep oneself from sin. If your eye causes you to sin, cut it out, to save yourself from judgment and hell. This is definitely true in a metaphorical sense. We need to do all we can, even what would be considered extreme measures, to keep ourselves from sin. And, sometimes that will mean cutting off the influence some people hold over us – cutting off a friend or family member or social media/entertainment who entices us to sin. It’s a hard thing to do, just like cutting off your hand – but it could save your eternal life. And, we must watch ourselves to make sure we are not the ones enticing others to sin!
While I love the parable of the lost sheep and it hurts to skip over it…I am going to skip ahead to the next two passages in Matthew 18 which both deal with the brother who sins against you. Having just established the seriousness of sin, the consequences for those who lead others to sin and the extreme measures we are to employ to keep us from sin – it is easy to assume that the best course of action is to shun all sin and sinners. But, wait, what kind of cut off, silent, lonely, bitter world would that be? While we are all sinners – God gave us a way to be forgiven and to restore relationships. Jesus begins to explain it here.
First, if a brother sins against you – go and talk to him. Matthew 18: 15-17 goes through an important series of steps to work towards either resolution or healthy distance and cutting off -and it starts with talking to the “offender”. Too often when we feel someone has sinned against us we talk to others about it. I know I am guilty of this and need to do a better job of lovingly confronting the person I have an issue with – first. So the steps Jesus laid out are: talk privately to the person, if he doesn’t listen take 1-2 witnesses and try again, if he doesn’t listen tell the church, if he still doesn’t listen cut him off. The goal is always to win him back to ‘God’s saving side’, not to humiliate, point fingers or feel better about ourselves or peace at any cost. But, sometimes repentance doesn’t happen, and then we must be willing to cut the ties that would bring others down to sin as well.
So, let’s assume we correctly followed the steps Jesus left. Peter asked how many times he needed to forgive a brother who sinned against him. He thought 7 sounded like a lot. But Jesus said no – 77 or 70 x 7 or whatever number you want to use to remind yourself to keep forgiving – the same way you want others to forgive you. And the same way God has forgiven you. I think we can safely assume this is not the brother who was unrepentant and cast out of the church, but a brother who was repentant and seeking to live a godly life – but still tripped up – like you and me. And so Jesus lays out the powerful Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (make sure you read it again). Now the harsh words and judgment are not for the sinner who tripped up, or even the one who caused him to sin, but for the one who didn’t forgive. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.” (Matthew 18:32-34).
It isn’t that sin is nothing – and easily forgiven. Sin (of all kinds) is something huge and serious and able to block us from eternal life. If we could see how much our sin hurts others, handicaps ourself and damages our relationship with God we might more readily run from it. But we don’t always, and God in His mercy still lays out a way for us to restore a relationship with Him, ultimately it would cost Him the death of His Son Jesus. To accept the forgiveness offered to you, but not extend it to others puts you again in grave danger. Sin is a big deal – and so is mercy.
In Genesis 29, Jacob arrived in Padan Aram and found his first cousin, Rachel, at a well. I’m immediately reminded of Genesis 24, where Abraham’s servant came to this same place, probably to this same well, and found Rebekah, the then-future wife of Isaac. We’re not told if Jacob had prayed for God’s direction like Abraham’s servant did in Genesis 24. But we do know Jacob went there not only to run away from his brother, whom he had cheated, but also to find a wife. And bonus, Rachel was a virgin and was gorgeous.
After spending a month working for Laban, Jacob’s uncle, and working hard the whole time, Laban asked what wages Jacob would like as he continued to work for Laban. In Genesis 29:18, we read, “Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.” He must have really been in love, because we’re told, “So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.” Wow, that sounds like a romance novel (although I haven’t actually ever read one).
At the end of seven years, there was a big wedding ceremony. When Jacob woke up the next morning, he woke up with Rachel’s older sister, Leah. Laban had tricked Jacob, and had him marry the wrong girl! Personally, I can’t imagine how this happened. Did Jacob celebrate a little too much to notice who he was marrying? Leah had to be complicit in this subterfuge. Did Leah keep her veil on until it was dark? Did she not talk, because presumably the two sisters’ voices sounded different. Where was Rachel while all this was happening?
Regardless of the answer to any of these questions, Jacob had been tricked into marrying the wrong sister. After complaining to Laban, he agreed to work another 7 years for the wife he really wanted, and married her a week later.
Polygamy may sound wrong to us, but there are several examples in the Old Testament of men marrying multiple women. Having said that, there are no examples of this working out well anywhere in the Bible. According to Jesus in Matthew 19:4-9, God intended from the beginning that one man would be married to one woman for life.
Anyway, Jacob had tricked his father, and had cheated his brother. Now, Jacob was tricked by his father-in-law, and (spoiler alert) he would be cheated by his father-in-law repeatedly for 20 years.
This is an example of a principle that we see demonstrated throughout scripture, and in our lives today. We read in Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” You may have heard the old axiom, “What goes around comes around.” Basically, these both mean the same thing – everyone eventually has to deal with the consequences of their actions.
But wait, God had promised rich blessings to Jacob. Shouldn’t God have prevented Jacob’s problems? Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Followers of God are promised, in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” This takes away God’s punishment for our sins, but it doesn’t take away the natural consequences of our actions.
Despite this, we can still rely on another promise, found in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
In his early life, Jacob was opportunistic and deceitful – looking out for number one. After working for Laban for 20 years of hardships, Jacob grew to understand that God was looking out for him (See Genesis 31: 38-42).
I think this isn’t just the story of a historical character and his family. I think these truths still hold true for us today, and we can learn from them. God will forgive us if we confess and repent. But we will receive natural consequences for our actions. Despite this, if we are living in a right relationship with God, everything, even those natural consequences will turn out for our good.
There is an easier way. We can save ourselves a lot of pain and trouble by just following God from the start. But we each have to make that choice for ourselves. What’s your choice?