April 24th 2016

listen to last Sunday’s worship set.

One of the things I do is read through my passage as many times as I can when I prepare for a sermon. I read through this one a couple times and was asking God what kind of analogy I should use, what kind of story to bring up and something hit me.  Benedict Arnold came to mind!  One of the greatest deceivers and traitors in American history. The interesting thing about Arnold….I thought I knew the story pretty well, but as it turns out, I had only scratched the surface about what really was going on in Benedict Arnold’s life when he betrayed the American forces.  The thing is is that Arnold had been dealt a pretty tough hand in life.  That’s no joke.  He had some pretty significant challenges to overcome and he had struggled and struggled to be a successful general in the American Army.  He had had some success in several battles previous to his treason, but it was limited.  To make matters worse for him, his comrades or his colleagues, other generals had been known to take credit for his very few successes that he had experienced.  To make matters worse for ole Arnold, he had very little money.  He lived with an incredibly high level of debt and he was constantly borrowing money.  At one point, his co-officers took him to court and demanded that he be court-martialed for some of the issues he had.  They found him innocent of those charges, but the stigma stuck with him.

He was a widower.  At 37, he met someone by the name of sweet little Peggy.  Peggy was 17 years old when he married her.  The interesting thing about Peggy is that Benedict Arnold thought that she had all this money.  As it turns out, she didn’t.  She had status, which back in those days were two very different things.  She knew a lot of people.  She had connections.  Her family had connections.  It’s through Peggy that he made his connections to the British military.  Because of his difficult life, he decided to commit treason.  He decided to go against the forces that he served and commit treason with the British military.  It was a pretty simple plan; he’s not a genius guy.  He was going to let George Washington trust him enough to take over a very important fort, West Point. Maybe you’ve heard of it?  West Point Fort in New York, right at the edge of the Hudson River.  This fort was so powerful that it was considered the sticking point of the war.  Whoever controlled this fort had a really good chance at winning the war.  Arnold succeeded.  He gained Washington’s trust and he took over the fort.  He began weakening it from the inside out.  Interesting.  He let supplies diminished and didn’t do the updates to the facility of the structure like he should have.  He did these things to weaken it and it WAS in a weakened state.  Through his wife Peggy, he introduced himself to a British officer.  The plan was to just kinda give the keys of the fort to the British officer and he (Arnold) sneak away in the night and be scot-free.  The British government had promised to bring him back into the British-fold and to give him huge amounts of money and to take care of him for the rest of his life.  You see the enticement, right?  Fortunately for us, fortunately for George Washington, his plot was found out.  His co-conspirator was found and captured and on him was documentation about what Benedict Arnold was doing.  As soon as Benedict Arnold found that out, he jumped in a boat and he crossed the Hudson River to the British side.  Poor sweet little Peggy was left behind.  She found herself in enemy territory with the American forces and they captured her.  Benedict Arnold wrote a letter to George Washington pleading for her life.  He said, “If you are the man that I know you are, if you have the stature that I know you have, if you are honorable like I know you are, you will release her.”  George did.  He  released her and gave her an armed escort all the way to Philadelphia to reunite with Benedict Arnold.

As the war continued, Benedict Arnold was not received the way he had anticipated being received by the British government.  As it turns out, once a traitor, always a traitor, or so everyone assumed.  He did not get the lump sum monies that he had been promised.  He did not get the land or the estates or anything and he found himself in a very poor state.  So he decided to write George Washington, again, to ask for money.  This is the way he started out his letter requesting financial aid.  He said, “When your Excellency considers my sufferings, and the cruel situation I am in, your own humanity and feelings as a soldier, will render everything I can say further on the subject unnecessary.”   One of the greatest deceptions of American history and his (Arnold’s) response is “If you knew the pain that I was in, you would understand.”   Well, George had been fooled once….he did not send the money.  But the interesting thing is how slippery the road is of playing the victim. That’s exactly the struggle with Benedict Arnold….he played the victim. 

As I go through the story of Jacob, the narrative that we’ve been looking at, there is a lot of victims.  It’s a pretty tough story.  There’s a lot of deceit and bitterness.  The section I have to go through is quite large, so we’re going to be looking at chapters 28-30.  But have no fear, I’m not going to read it all to you!  Please do it later; it’s a fascinating story!  I’m only going to cherry-pick a couple of passages I want to look at.  To keep you up to speed at where we are in the story…..last week, Jacob had betrayed his brother Esau.  He deceived his father Isaac and he, at this point, has fled to Laban’s territory.  Jacob has traveled a great distance and has overcome several difficult obstacles in the journey.  As he arrives in Paddan Aram, Laban’s territory, he almost immediately meets Rachel at a watering hole.  As the audience would be reading the story, as soon as he arrives in Paddan Aram and he is at the well to meet the new bride, they’re immediately going to go this is a parallel story.  Years and years before, Abraham had sent his servant to find a wife for his son, Isaac.  But there’s a stark difference in the parallel stories.  One difference is that Abraham’s servant is obsessed with God.  He was obsessed with what Yahweh thought.  He was obsessed with the way he thought Yahweh wanted him to act.  He came into this area and he prayed.  He said, “Lord, show me the woman.  Show me the woman that you picked out.  Let her be the one that carries her water jar on her shoulder and let her be the one that, when I ask, gives me a drink and let her be the one that when I even ask, ‘Can you give my camels a drink,’ she does that, too.” The story parallels are very stark.  Here, in our story, there’s no mention of Jacob praying to God and asking which woman He would have him take.  There’s no mention of it and even though, in the story before, {and we’re a little mixed up in our timeline, but Ryan is going to talk about the story before, next week} the Lord had shown up to Jacob and given him a dream and given him this promise.  This has to be fresh in Jacob’s mind, what the Lord is doing, yet no mention of him praying.  So, he introduces himself to Rachel and there’s almost instant electricity!  There’s magic in the air and there’s love in the air.  He falls almost immediately in love with this woman.  He introduces himself to Laban and almost immediately agrees to work seven hard years of hard labor for her hand in marriage.

As Laban is introduced into the story, again, that parallel becomes very evident.  Because, lo and behold, crazy Uncle Laban was present when the servant of Abraham came looking for Rebekah, Isaac’s future wife.  The text makes a point in the previous story, that Laban notices.  He notices the jewels and jewelry that the servant has given Rebekah already.  He notices the ten camels…..who travels with TEN camels??  This guy does.  Laban notices and sees it and he tries to work a little bit more resources out of the servant in order to get a better trade.  Everyone knows that’s what Laban is like.  So you come to this story with a little bit of back history of crazy Uncle Laban.  It’s no surprise that when Jacob falls in love with Rachel and promises way too much of a dowry—dowry requirements are set out in Leviticus—two and three times MORE than what was allowed for the greatest dowry, it’s no surprise when Laban goes oh, seven years, you say.  I think I’ll take that deal.  You can almost feel Laban looking Jacob up and down going, “Ah, I’ve been here before.  What are you going to offer me? Oh, seven years? Okay.”  Seven years goes by.  He works hard labor.  There’s this cool little line in the text that says: ….they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her (Rachel).   Isn’t that sweet?

Seven years is up and you have this strange exchange between Laban and Jacob.  Jacob is demanding his wife.  He says, “Look, Laban!  I’ve worked seven years.  Give me my wife.  You owe me my wife.”  Laban says, “Calm down, big guy.  We’ll get it taken care of.  Everybody’s cool.”  He sets up the wedding party.  Everything is going well as planned.  There’s probably a lot of alcohol involved at these soirées, if you will, and Laban swaps Rachel with Leah in the night.  Jacob, probably pretty intoxicated, spends the night with Leah instead of Rachel.  Now I want to take a time out and ask if you’ve ever thought of Leah in this?  Have you ever thought of what was going through this poor woman’s mind?  Her dad sets up a deception for this newcomer.  This newcomer is obviously infatuated with Rachel—to the point that seven years feels like several days—yet she (Leah) is forced to marry this man.  She knows he doesn’t love her.  She knows he doesn’t even care about her.  Yet, she is the one that has to take the hit.  That’s hard.  When Jacob finds out what Laban has done, the interesting thing is that out of the his mouth comes the sound that he knows all too well.  It’s the sound of betrayal.

Up to this point, Jacob has lived a pretty tough life.  I don’t mean that sarcastically.  He’s been dealt some pretty tough hands in life.  Let’s go through them.  First, he’s the second born in a first-born society.  He has been named “swindler or cheater.”  That’s not somebody you invite to a party!  He has a ginger Chewbaca for a brother.  {You can’t un-see that!  Once that image is in your head, it sticks with you.}  He’s hairy and he’s red and that’s the pinnacle of popularity.  To make matters worse, he has a father that seems to only love this ginger Chewbaca and not him.  He’s a mama’s boy in a patriarchal society.  His mother puts him in danger by suggesting that he takes Esau’s first born blessing.  Now, I want to point out that Jacob went ahead and did it. I’m not letting him off the hook.  He deceived his father.  But to add insult to injury, his brother wants to kill him…..and if ginger Chewbaca wants to kill you, you start running!  The man’s a beast!  So his mother tells him to flee, with almost nothing to his name, to this strange territory.  In the back of his mind, he’s got two things running.  The first is the promise that God gave his mother Rebekah:  Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger. (Gen. 25:23)  That’s not exactly a fortune cookie type fortune.  That doesn’t sound nice.  That doesn’t sound like he’s going to be living a life of pleasantries and comfort.  That sounds like war!  That sounds like the two nations in her womb will be at war for the duration.  That’s the first thing he has in his head.

Second thing he’s got in his head is the promise and the blessing that’s really not his….that he essentially stole. This is the blessing that Isaac gave to he thought was Esau but was really Jacob.  (Gen. 27:27-29) Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed.  May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness—-an abundance of grain and new wine.  May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you.  Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you.  May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.   Doesn’t that sound nice?  Except it wasn’t for HIM!  And it wasn’t just not for him, it was for his exact opposite.  This is for the popular, strong, hunter-provider and that’s not what Jacob is. Can you imagine hearing something so wonderful that isn’t intended for you?  It’s like he has his dad on the phone and his dad thinks he’s talking to the oldest son, but he’s talking to the younger son and he goes on and on about how wonderful the older son is and all the wonderful things he’s going to accomplish…..that’s like, wow! thanks, dad!  No mention of the younger brother in there, huh?  Okay.

So far, pain and frustration has marked Jacob’s life.  His life has been hard, which has made him hard and it’s made him the victim.  His life is marked with the sound of bitterness.  Do you know anybody who sounds like this?  Who sounds like their life has been hard?  Maybe it’s you.  Maybe it’s a friend.  Maybe you’ve gotten the raw end of the deal on something small…..like a deal on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in your lunch room. Maybe you’ve gotten the raw end of the deal on being deceived and believing someone who isn’t who they said they were.  Ouch!  I have a friend right now who is going through the throes of deception as he wrestles with a potential divorce.  And his life is a mess and he knows it.  And the sound is so prevalent in his voice.  He’s tired of it all.  He’s not innocent in this.  He’s given it as well as he’s taken it.   There’s blame on both sides of the aisle.  But I can hear the sound in his voice.  The sound of deception.

I imagine Jacob being in a place like this when he figures out what Laban has done to him.  Same sound that he heard from Esau.  This is what Esau said about Jacob when he found out what Jacob had done to him.  Esau burst out with a loud and bitter cry….and said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob?  This is the second time he has taken advantage of me. (Gen. 27:36 NIV)  That’s ringing in Jacob’s ears as he hears, for the second time, the sound of betrayal.  But this time it’s coming out of HIS mouth.  The narrator says: When morning came, there was Leah!  So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? {Can you imagine Leah hearing that?} I served you for Rachel, didn’t I?  Why have you deceived me? (Gen. 29:25)  Oh, how ironic!  The one who is doing the deceiving is now deceived.  The trickster has been tricked.  Laban recoils and explains how he can get away with this.  He says, “Hey, it’s customary not to give the youngest before you give the oldest.  Jacob, I thought you knew this!  Everybody knows this.  Everyone should know it.  I didn’t say you could have “Rachel.”  I said you could have ‘her.'”  Laban never named Rachel.  He just said ‘her’ and he let Jacob’s infatuation with Rachel make his assume it was Rachel.  Laban sets the trap even further at this point.  So right at the point where Jacob realizes he’s been deceived, he is faced with yet another manipulation.  Laban says, “Calm down!  No need to get all feisty.  I’ll give you the other one if you work another seven years.”  Just digs it in a little farther. Jacob’s bound.  He has taken this deception hook, line and sinker.  He’s madly in love.  Can you imagine what he’s been thinking about for seven years?  We know….it seemed like a few days because he loves Rachel so much.  What’s he going to do?  Say no?  Of course not.  He agrees.  The next seven years are a blur in the text, but the one thing that is constant is the sound of betrayal.  Now the sound is everywhere.  It’s like it’s echoing off the hills.

His two wives are almost immediately at each other’s throats.  They’re pitted against each other.  To make matters worse, he really only does love one of them.  Laban and Jacob go on to continue to try to take advantage of each other with sheep and spotted sheep.  {It’s really interesting.  Read it.}   They don’t change their tune.  They try to get rich from each other.  That’s their goals.  Until finally, Jacob senses Laban’s animosity growing to the point that he fears for his life and his family’s life.  He flees the territory.  Laban finds out.  Laban’s a powerful man and he gets his family, the text says, with him to go get Jacob.  That means his hired goons, his brothers, his sons.  When they catch up to Jacob, who’s traveling with an entire family, lo and behold, we hear the same sound.  That same sound of betrayal.  This is what Laban says to Jacob:  What have you done? {The deceiver who is now the deceived has been deceived.} You’ve deceived me, and you’ve carried off my daughters like captives in war. (Gen. 31:26)    For Laban this was the last straw.  You don’t mess with my daughters….even though I let you marry both of them at the same time.  You don’t mess with that!  Laban’s furious.

The sad thing about this narrative is that Laban and Jacob never fully heal their relationship.  The best they can do is have a meal and have a treaty.  And the treaty states that they’ll never enter each other’s territory again–you stay over there, I’ll stay over here and we won’t cross.  That’s sad.  Seems like they missed some pretty huge opportunities.  What in the world is the narrator trying to accomplish?  This is something that I’ve thought a lot about lately.  I read through this story over and over and over and I’m going what in the world am I suppose to take away from a story that’s so filled with deception and deceit and that sound of bitterness.  I began to wonder where in my life do I hear this sound.  As soon as I wondered that I realized how foolish a question that is.  An estimated 6.6 million children will be abused, in this country alone, by the time the year’s over.  Less than half will be noticed or investigated.  Just to get your head around that number…..that’s enough children to fill Sports Authority Field 87 times.  That’s a foolish question to ask: Where’s the bitterness?  Where’s the sound in our culture, our society?  It’s everywhere!

Where is God?  6.6 million children.  Where is God?  Where is He?  Where is God in this story?  He seems to be missing.  This is the Bible.  I’m reading it and reading it and reading it and going where is He?  There is one part where God shows up in this story.  Here it is:  When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. (Gen. 29:31)  There’s this tiny, little spark of love in a story where the sound is just bitterness and deception and deceit and greed and anger.  A little spark of love and her name is Leah.  She named her first son Reuben (Gen. 29:32).  That means the Lord has looked on my affliction.  She named her second son Simeon (v. 33), which means the Lord has heard that I am hated.  She named her third son {my favorite} (v. 35) I will praise the Lord.  That’s what Judah means.  She’s the only one in the entire story that has worshipped God despite her afflictions.  Even though she’s been dealt a very difficult hand, she worshipped God in her own way.  That’s the spark.

Here’s the deal: when you convince yourself you’re a victim, even if you are a victim, you blind and confuse yourself.  I heard a commercial this week that has stuck with me.  It was one of those moments where I had a lot of things going on while I was driving.   The phone’s ringing, the light’s turning red and the radio’s on.  So the thing I do is turn the radio off.  I turn the radio off right as the announcer says, “Don’t you think you deserve…” Click.  As I came to a complete stop, I began to think, “What do I deserve?  What does Josh Billings deserve?”  I thought of all the things in my life…..all the bad choices, all the good choices, everything in between.  What do I deserve?  What does Jacob deserve?  What does crazy Uncle Laban really deserve?  If you want to know, technically, they deserve judgement and separation from God.  They deserve the same from God that I deserve and that WE deserve.  Ecclesiastes 7:20 says: Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.  Paul even references that passage in Romans 3:10.  Not one of us is pure. The interesting thing is that I’m not going to get that separation like I deserve.  Because of this:  When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive…   God is a God of love.  He’s a God of forgiveness. When we are obsessed with justice for ourselves, we focus on taking advantage of people to get it.  But when we are focused on grace that God has extended to us, we become obsessed with giving that grace away.

Jesus said:  Blessed (or happy) are the merciful for they will be shown mercy. (Matt. 5:7)   When we understand what’s wrong with us—and that’s sin, by the way—we then can see others as the same victims of the disease that effects us.  When people hurt us, we can say, “Look, I know.  I know how you feel because I have the same sickness in me and that’s sin.”  If Jacob had not been so obsessed about getting what was his, he might have seen the pain in Leah’s eyes, his own wife.  He might have seen the selfishness in Laban’s heart and been able to reach out to him and care for him in a way that moved him.  If Benedict Arnold had not been so obsessed with the bad hand he had been dealt, he might have been able to see what he was doing to his own brothers-in-arms.

I don’t know where you are this morning.  Have you been deceived?  Maybe you’re sitting in your chair going you don’t know the deception that I’ve gone through.  Maybe you have deceived.  Maybe you’ve been so obsessed with your own suffering, which could be very great, that you’ve justified all kinds of things.  Maybe your life really is hard.  Maybe it is hard.  Or maybe you’re sitting there, like me, and you’re just sick and tired of the sound.  That sound that came out of Jacob’s mouth and out of Laban’s mouth and out of Esau’s mouth.  The sound of bitterness and deception.  The thought of 6.6 million children being abused.  I’m sick of it!  I want it to go away.  I heard about a ministry that rescues children from human trafficking.  Children from human slavery which, by the way, is rampant in our own city.  I was so encouraged by the stories of these children getting pulled out of these situations.  But I was also sick.  I’m sick and tired of sin running rampant.  Let’s stop being obsessed with our own pain, our own bad lot, the bad hands that we’ve been dealt, like Jacob and Laban, and see the truth.  And the truth is that we are really messed up people.  The world is really messed up.  It’s infected with sin.  That’s the truth.

While Jesus was in pain and agony of death, he said: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. (Luke 23:34)   The very people that put him on the cross, he asked forgiveness for.  Have you ever wondered how Jesus could have so much mercy on the very people that were crucifying him?  I usually think of that and then chalk it up to a big theological answer like: He’s God so I guess he just did it.  But the truth is He knew better than anyone, in that moment, what was wrong with them.  He knew why they were killing him. Because Jesus became sin.  2 Corinthians 5:23 says: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   The thing that was wrong with his crucifiers wasn’t that they were misinformed.  The thing that was wrong with them wasn’t that they hadn’t made all the right decisions in their life.  It was because they were sinful.

The first step in all of this….when we hear the story, when we hear this narrative, when we think about all the things that are going on in our life….our own pain and the pain of people around us….regardless, of how bad your life IS right now, you have to blame the correct thing.  You can’t blame each other.  You can’t blame Laban.  You can’t blame Jacob.  You have to blame SIN.  That’s the truth.  The second step, regardless of how bad your life is—and I know your life could be a mess—is admitting that everyone has the same disease.  We all have this thing called sin in us.  The third, and most important step, is giving credit to the one who stole death’s sting.  The only solution to our problem is Jesus.  He’s it.  So no matter where you find yourself this morning….maybe you’re guilty of the deception, the trap that you’ve just laid.  Maybe you’re a victim of a trap and you’re feeling horrible.  Or maybe it’s both.   Remember this:  1) Sin is the enemy.  2) We all have it in us. You have just as much sin as the person sitting next to you.  3) Jesus is the only solution to sin.  He’s the only one.  Let’s pray.

Lord God, your love for us is so great.  Your love for us is shown in what you did for poor Leah.  You’re a loving God.  You’re a forgiving God.  You’re also a just God, so Jesus had to die for us to be with you.  Lord, I’d ask, first and foremost, if there’s any person sitting here this morning that has not trusted you for the problem of sin, that they would do it.  That they would put their trust in you and claim You as their new master and not serve sin any longer.  Lord, the second thing that I would ask is for those of us who have trusted you that you would give us eyes to see that people around us, as much pain as they may bring us, are suffering from the same disease that we suffer from: sin.  Lord, help us trust you.  Wherever we are on the spectrum of faith, help us to gain more faith in You.  Thank you for dying for us.  Thank you for loving us.  And now, Lord, would you walk with us through this really messed up world.  We love you so much.  In your name.  Amen.