“That We Might Have Hope” (Rom. 15:4)
Genesis Chapters Twenty-nine To Thirty-two
Working For A Living
Labor Dispute! Unfair Practices by Employer Causes Disgruntled Employees to Walk Out. Higher Wages Demanded!
Headlines such as these can be found nearly daily in our newspapers, and they aren’t only talking about the ballplayers.
Does management in our day and age have a legitimate complaint that unskilled workers must be hired and too often workers are lazy? What about the employed? What can be done about grievances? What if the employer really is mistreating or mishandling the employees? And our most important question — how do all of these arguments wash with God as arbitrator?
In our continuing series on the book of Genesis, let us consider the example of Jacob and Laban in Haran.
A Necessary Part Of Life
Work is a necessary part of life — not just to keep our hands from being idle and thus keeping us out of trouble, for it is also good for the spirit. Sinful man’s concept of paradise is often seen as an individual lying in a hammock on some deserted isle with a drink in hand and no worries in the heart. Contrast this with our holy God’s concept of Paradise: “Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). It is also clear that, after the fall into sin, God intended man to work when He said: “Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. . .” (3:17). We know our God gives only what is good for us, body and soul, and so it is with work.
Jacob needed a job. We have seen in our earlier lessons how he had to flee for his life to Haran. He brought nothing save a staff in his hand, his talents and abilities, and trust in his God.
Did Jacob really deserve any job opportunities or preferential treatment from God or the natives of Haran? Here is a man who had deceived his father and brother in a most despicable manner, and now he staggers in from the wilderness with virtually nothing to his credit.
What about us? How often hasn’t the sentiment “I deserve better than this!” crossed our minds when considering our station in life? What opportunities do we really deserve? We too have despitefully abused our heavenly Father and our Brother Jesus Christ. While dead in our trespasses and sins we wanted nothing at all to do with our Lord and His will. We fled into the wilderness of sin with nothing save our guilt to our credit.
Yet Christ sought us out! Jacob’s ladder still descends to us. Christ breached the gap between us sinners and our Father by His holy sacrifice on the cross. We surely deserved nothing but punishment from our God, but — glory be! — He is a God of mercy! He not only showers us with heavenly and spiritual blessings, but with materials, abilities, and talents for our use in this world as well!
The job opportunities we’ve had in the past — have we viewed them as gifts of God or necessary evils? Let us look at each job opportunity as a chance to give our God-given talents and abilities the work-out they deserve. This will also prove to be a rich witness to others as to how mightily the Lord blesses His own.
The Deceiver Deceived
By the grace of God Jacob did get a job opportunity with his uncle Laban. After a full month of free labor, Laban finally asked Jacob to name his wage. Jacob chose Rachel, Laban’s daughter, as his wage and also named the terms — seven years of labor. Laban agreed.
We can only imagine the shock when Jacob discovered he had married the elder sister Leah rather than his beloved Rachel. The deceiver had been deceived! Perhaps a guilty conscience helped Jacob humbly accept Laban’s clause — work another seven years and Rachel can be your wife as well. Little did Jacob realize that this was only the beginning of Laban’s deceit.
After fourteen years of labor for his uncle, Jacob decided it was time to labor for himself. The Lord had blessed him with eleven sons and a daughter by this time, and no doubt Jacob was anxious to start his own flocks for their sustenance.
Now Laban was worried. He knew that the only reason his own flocks had done so well was due to the Lord’s blessings through the labor of his nephew. And now the gravy train seemed to be at an end. Laban pleaded with Jacob to stay and name his wage once again.
Jacob named a very modest wage indeed. He would take only the speckled and spotted animals of Laban’s flocks. Since the sheep and goats of the area almost always bore solid-colored young, Laban had a bargain on his hands. But it wasn’t good enough for Laban. The very day of the agreement Laban had all of the speckled and spotted animals removed from his flocks and hidden three days journey distant.
Life Isn’t Fair — God Knows
How could Jacob stand it? How do we take it? “Life isn’t fair” is an often used sentiment, but it does little to salve our hurt when we feel we’ve been wronged by an employer. Should we think of ways to get even? Couldn’t we cheat just a little on the time card or slip a few “won’t be missed” items into our briefcase so we can feel like we’ve come out on top for once?
Jacob didn’t, because he believed what the Lord reminded him in a dream: “. . . I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you” (Gen. 31:12). Life isn’t fair and God knows it. He had seen the mistreatment of his servant Jacob, and how Laban had changed his wages ten times. But the Lord knows how to reward and how to chastise. In the case of Jacob and Laban, it happened that all of the strong animals of Laban’s flocks produced speckled and spotted young. In this way Jacob acquired large flocks of his own.
How had Jacob viewed his working for Laban? He did not work as a man-pleaser, but as for the Lord. He had borne Laban’s losses and deceit. He could bear up under his mistreatment for the same reason we will bear up under our own. Jacob said to Laban: “Unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the labor of my hands …” (Gen. 31:42).
When work-related problems arise, and we know they will, we must keep in mind the One we’re really working for. Remember that our wages, both temporal and eternal, are from our Lord. Then we can truly appreciate Jacob’s assessment of his own labor: “Then Jacob said, ‘O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, . . . I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which you have shown Your servant. . . ‘” (Gen. 32:9f).
May the Lord bless our working for a living.
—Teacher David Bernthal