Have you ever felt like life has dealt you an unfair hand? Don’t worry, be happy! Believe me, you are in the good company of heroes and heroines of faith!
As I ploughed through Genesis 30 in my devotions, I was intrigued by Jacob’s unenviable predicament. I have read it before, of course, but something gripped me this time round: this ultimate hustler (let us whisper that word!) was dealt an unfair hand by Laban, leading to the messy situation we find in his marriage and family life, plus back-breaking labour without rightful wages. All this had taken a total of twenty donkey years, in which Jacob endured roasting in the sun by daytime and freezing in the cold at night, as he watched over the flock of his mean father-in-law. He who had outsmarted his brother two decades earlier was finally tasting the bitter truth in the Swahili proverb: Pwagu humpata pwaguzi! Still, it is impossible to miss the poignant note of Jacob’s lament about the unfairness of having his wages changed ten times (v. 41)!
Unfortunately, Brother Atwoli was not yet born, and there were no industrial courts to help! Still, Jacob put his foot down and let Laban know it was time he did something for his own household (vv. 29-30). Eventually, following direction by God to return to his homeland, Jacob disentangled himself from the tightening noose of Laban to begin a new chapter in his life. That encounter with God in Genesis 32:22-32 was the important turning point that changed his life forever. He who sought to be a self-made man, through deceit and hustling, now desperately sought for a blessing that only the heavenly Father could bestow. Indeed, true significance could not be found in the wealth of animals and servants he had accumulated.
Three things stand out for me from the saga of Jacob’s sojourn in Laban’s household.
First, I realize that assurance of God’s purpose for our lives, even spectacular affirmations as Jacob had (Gen. 28:10-17), may not guarantee us immunity from the messy and frustrating imperfections of life. Let us also whisper here: That mess may not spare the touchy areas of marriage, family life and career! While Jacob’s story here is descriptive, not intended as a prescriptive template, the naked truth about it is that his is a reality of the kind many sincere people of God may have to grapple with, and live with very real consequences! I know many wonderful folks who have had to put up with prickly ‘porcupines’ in the name of spouses. Sometimes, it is kids going crazy despite tonnes of money invested in their education and the fine things of life. No doubt, such folks have to drink to the dregs a bitter cup of lemon juice with its peels, seeds and the works!
Secondly, this reality of imperfections does not justify a holiday from personal responsibility on the practical matters of life that call for our attention. Jacob came to that point and manned up to his shrewd father-in-law. He put it categorically, “But now, when may I do something for my own household?” (v. 30). And this was the crucial beginning of six years of strategic planning and preparation for the great emancipation we find in Genesis 31. From this point, Jacob had to chart his own path, away from Laban’s patronage. As for the strategy our hustler employed, that abracadabra he did with Laban’s animals to raise his own is a story for another day! What we do know is that “In this way (the abracadabra) the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and maidservants and menservants, and camels and donkeys (Gen. 30:43).
Thirdly, we learn that behind-the-scenes of the messy imperfections, the sovereign God is working to ensure that the bigger picture of our life’s purpose is being fulfilled, even in surprisingly unexpected ways! In God’s Mysterious Ways, Gary Inrig pictures this as part of the often painful twists and turns of God’s redemptive workings, by which he seeks to accomplish his purposes of salvation. In so doing, He takes the lemons of our bitter life experiences and turns them into sweet lemonade! And he takes the broken pieces of clay, remolds them into a vessel that He can use to do his good work. For Jacob, we find that beyond the obvious material prosperity acquires (Gen. 30:43), God keeps his promises to build him up into a community of people. Now, there is an interesting twist in the way God weaves that story. Who would have thought, for example, that two of the mothers of the nation of Israel would be servant girls Bilhah and Zilpah! On a light note, may the Lord deliver us sons of Adam from any thought of pulling out a Bilhah and Zilpah! God closed that chapter with the 12 sons of Israel!
Here is the point, though: While God may not guarantee immunity from the messy imperfections of life, ultimately, he is more than able to use them to shape us into the instruments of his noble purposes of blessing to the nations of the world. And God does more than turn lemons into lemonades; He redeems imperfect people, and turns them to vessels of honour!
Will you give your mess to him?