Jacob: Return to the Land

Genesis 31:1-21

Laban and Jacob had a relationship that went from bad to worse. While Laban was growing in material prosperity and Jacob was materially weak and dependent upon his uncle, Laban was content, happy even. But, when Jacob’s prosperity increased, Laban and his sons showed their envious and contemptuous hearts. Jacob served Laban for twenty years, seven years a piece for each of his wives and six more years to build up his flocks of speckled, striped, and mottled goats and sheep. It was time to go, before things got really ugly. Even more, it was time to return to the land that God had promised to his offspring.

Exile and Exodus

Two of the more common themes in the Old Testament, really the Bible as a whole, are the concepts of exile and exodus. The people of God were promised the land of Canaan. Throughout their existence, from Abraham until the coming of Christ, they sojourned in the land, they possessed it, or they were exiled from it for one reason or another. The two most important exiles were (1) Israel’s time in Egypt from the time of Joseph until the time of Moses and (2) Judah’s time in Babylon for seventy years from the end of the Davidic monarchy until the returns of Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. On both occasions, the people of God were away from the land, under the oppression of another people, and awaiting God’s deliverance.

Jacob’s time in Haran was similar. He was away from the land of Canaan, which had been promised to him and his offspring by God (Genesis 28). He was under the oppressive rule of Laban. He was awaiting God’s deliverance. He was in exile, but his exodus was coming by the grace of God. What comfort this passage must have been to the Israelites as they journeyed through the wilderness following their own exodus from Egypt, being delivered from the bondage of Pharaoh. The LORD, who had been so faithful to see Jacob through his exile and to return him to Canaan, was the one guiding them to the promised land. The same LORD is the one who entered into our exile and won our exodus from sin and death in the person of Jesus Christ by His crucifixion and His resurrection. He is the one who now guides us by the Holy Spirit to our heavenly home, the New Jerusalem, for our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:17-4:1) and our promised home is a city with eternal foundations, the one which Abraham, Jacob, and Moses truly longed for (Hebrews 11:8-10, 13-16).

God’s Promises

God called Jacob to return to Canaan, promising to be with him (v. 3). Jacob then called Rachel and Leah to meet with him in secret, out in the field, away from listening ears. He unveiled his plan to leave. In doing so he also expressed his reasons for departure: (1) Laban, their father, was greedy and untrustworthy and (2) God, who was always faithful, was calling them to make the journey. Near the end of his speech, Jacob shared that the LORD said to him, “I am the God at Bethel…” This of course refers to the night Jacob spent at Bethel where God gave him the vision of a stairway connecting heaven and earth, with angels ascending and descending to do the business of the LORD. That night, God promised Jacob that He would be His God and would be present with him, would protect him, would provide for him, and would return him to Canaan.

Throughout his speech to his wives Jacob expressed God’s faithfulness in contrast to Laban’s unjustness. Laban no longer regarded Jacob with favor but God had been graciously present with Jacob all along. Laban had cheated Jacob ten times over, doing financial and emotional harm to him and his family, but God had protected Jacob, not permitting any ultimate harm to be committed against His elect. Laban had oppressed Jacob, using him to get rich, but God provided for Jacob by “rescuing” the livestock from Laban and giving them to Jacob and his offspring.

In Christ, by the Spirit, God is present with us in the face of all manner of struggles in this life. He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5-6). Though the threats of this world be real, they are only temporal, while God’s ultimate protection through trials and tribulations, even death itself, is eternal. We know this to be the case because of His victory over sin and death, therefore nothing can stand against those who are in Christ, not even death. Though the treasures of this world be tempting with the current comfort they provide, we know that our eternal provision in Christ is far better than anything we might store up in the here and now. All of this is because by grace through faith in Christ, we have already crossed over from death into life, leaving behind the oppressive ways and things of this world, and being set free to make our journey home well-protected and abundantly provided for in Christ Jesus.

Discuss & Pray

1. Our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20-21) and we are sojourners in this life (1 Peter 2:11-12). How does this spiritual reality affect the way you live in the here and now? How should it affect you all the more in the days ahead?

2. What are some ways you have experienced God’s presence, protection, and provision?

3. What hope does God’s past faithfulness to His people give us, individually and corporately as the Church, for our own present and future?

4. What instruction can we glean from this passage to help us deal with the Labans (those who treat us and others unjustly for their own gain) in our lives?