Tonight we're in Genesis chapter 30, believe it or not, before we take communion. Now about a week and a half ago, I was in Israel and we were up in En Gedi, beautiful place where David fled from Saul and it was one of those caves, we don't know exactly which one, but David took refuge, trusting in the Lord, from the provocations of King Saul. There he wrote Psalm 57 and other psalms. It's a beautiful, beautiful spot--an oasis. There David said under the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge. Well while I was there, I was asked a question by somebody and I had my little phone with me, my iPhone. So I glanced down at my iPhone at the Dead Sea, now I'm 1,290 feet below sea level, lowest place in the earth, middle of the wilderness, and I notice I have all the bars lighting up. I have full access and so I was asked a question and I got on Google and I went through the internet and found some answers and then I'm, it struck me, I thought, what's wrong with this picture? It just doesn't seem right. This seems wrong to be in this ancient site, biblical site, primitive site, and yet here with modern technology. I know that's the modern world but there's some things, when you put them together, they just don't seem right or make sense. Ice cream on top of pizza would be one of those things. It's just not right. Vanilla yogurt with Tabasco sauce. It's not right. Communion and Genesis chapter 30 don't at all seem to go together. If you know anything about this chapter, it's a chapter about a dysfunctional family, about superstition within the family as one tries to take these magical plants called mandrakes to procreate and then the chapter ends with Jacob stripping off pieces of bark from pieces of wood so that his animals can be fertile. I mean, it's a bizarre chapter and you think what on earth does this have to do with communion? Well I'm not certain yet but actually the more I pondered it, it seemed to make sense because, you see, it is a story of a dysfunctional family, it is a story of a dissatisfied worker working for a greedy employer. Chapters, or verses 1 through 24, is Jacob's home life. Verses 25 through the end of the chapter is Jacob's work life. It's a mess! This chapter is a mess! It's the story of opposition. It's the story of superstition. It's the story of oppression of the worst kind. But it's the story of redemption. While you have faulty, frail, fickle man upon the earth making stupid choices, you have sovereign God in heaven enacting His perfect will in the midst of the dysfunction. So you might say chapter 30 is about a God who functions in the dysfunction. The family is a mess. It is dysfunctional. There's a God in heaven who is able to superimpose His perfect will and divine plan while man is making dumb choices on the earth. We pray that, do we not? Didn't Jesus teach us to pray: Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven? Prime example of God's will being enacted on earth from heaven while the people that He's doing it through are losers. I love this chapter for that reason. I take heart in this chapter for that reason. I love the fact that the Bible tells the truth about the heroes of the Bible. It doesn't write a sweet little biography and then embellish it and talk about how wonderful Jacob the great patriarch of Israel was. It tells us the truth. It shows us the truth but in the midst of that, how God powerfully works in the midst of failure. And that brings us, and it will bring us, right up to the cross of Jesus Christ. The worst event in all of history would be putting God to death. But it happened to be the very best thing that could happen. God's will was being worked out through Pontius Pilate, Peter will later say. In accordance to Scripture and in the midst of the worst possible circumstances, God is working. Or put it this way: while man does his worst work, God sometimes does His best work. And they may not be in parallel tracks. It's that God will work in spite of who we are not because of who we are. Well, I am going to go through this chapter very quickly. It'll be a quick jet tour because we do want to take the Lord's Supper. But I want to recap for you where we are. If you remember, Jacob was a con artist--a really good one. He wanted his brother, the firstborn, Esau's blessing and he was able to con him out of that by cooking him some stew and having his brother swear that he could have the blessing because after all, he could care less about a spiritual blessing, whatever that is. So Jacob was able to take the blessing of the firstborn for himself, the second born. Then this con artist has to flee for his life from home at his mother's bequest. He's out in the wilderness. God appears to him. He says, this is awesome, this place is awesome, God is in this place and I knew it not. I know it now but I knew it not and he names the place Beth-el. He goes across the river up to the mountains, up to the highlands, and to the ancestral home of his father and grandfather Abraham, goes to work for a man by the name of Laban who has two daughters. The youngest daughter is gorgeous. She's a knockout and he wants to marry her and Laban, his uncle, says no problem. If you work for me seven years, you can marry her. He says you got a deal. But on the wedding night the chickens come home to roost. On the wedding night, the conniver gets royally connived. Because Laban takes his oldest daughter, Leah, whom the Bible says in soft terms that she wasn't all that great looking, and puts her in the bedchamber instead of Rachel. So when he wakes up in the morning, he doesn't find the girl he's in love with, Rachel, but Leah. He's shocked! As any male who said vows to a different woman would be if he found somebody else in the marriage bed. He goes to Laban and Laban says, well you can't, you don't think you can steal the right of the firstborn, do you? The right of the firstborn, Leah, is that she gets married first--not Rachel. So here's somebody who tried to steal a blessing of the firstborn and he was successful and you reap what you sow. And now Laban does something that teaches him a great lesson. So for fourteen years he works for Uncle Laban. Now in chapter 30 verse 1, you're about to read the story of a man who will get, not just two wives, I know that's what you think, he has two wives, Leah and Rachel, he gets four wives. That's right. He gets Bilhah, the maid, and Zilpah, the maid of these two women, and they bear him children as well as the other two. He will have four women in his home. Without remarking too much upon that, to save myself arguments later on by some, it's enough to say that Jacob was not good at relationships. He was very, in fact, poor at personal relationships. Oh he was a good cook, he was a good chef, he was a great con artist, but he was poor with interpersonal relationships. His wife Leah, the one who's not so good looking, happens to be very fertile. And we saw last time we were together she bears him four children. We've already seen them. Now we get to Rachel's desire in verse 1 of chapter 30: "Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister, and said to Jacob, "Give me children, or else I die!" And Jacob's anger was aroused against Rachel, and he said, "Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?" All her life Leah lived in the shadow of her younger sister Rachel's beauty. She was gorgeous. Beautiful to look at. But Leah clearly dominated the matriarchal status of the family because she's able to give birth to four boys. They're mentioned in chapter 29. As she's giving birth to boy number one, boy number two, boy number three, boy number four, listen carefully, what she really wants all along isn't children. She wants her husband's love. She wants her husband's affection and attention. How do I know that? Well just review for a moment. Go back to chapter 29 and notice verse 32: "Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben; for she said, "The Lord has surely looked on my affliction. Now therefore, my husband will love me." Then she conceived again and bore a son, and said, "Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also." And she called his name Simeon. She conceived again and bore a son, and said, "Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him [my] three sons." ... "And she conceived again," verse 35, "and bore a son, and said, "Now I will praise the Lord." Therefore she called his name Judah." Every human being needs and craves to be loved and to be appreciated. Especially in a marriage. A woman seeks to feel the security, the strong love, the abiding love, of a husband. Gentlemen, that's why you can never say 'I love you' too often. You can say it all day long. You can call in the middle of the day. You could wake her up in the middle of the night. Just say, just, I love you. She won't punch you. And children seek to get love from their parents. Just the acceptance of a dad or a mom. I got a note here in the agape box sometime back from a little boy, a prayer request: "Please pray that my dad would love me." That's what he wants. That's really all he wants. That's what she wants and gives him these children. Well he says, I'm not in God's place. I'm not the one in control of the genetic structure or your makeup or your inability or ability to have children. God, verse 2, has withheld you from the fruit of the womb. "So she said, "Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, and she will bear a child on my knees, that I also may have children by her." Now that little phrase 'a child on my knees' is an ancient expression that speaks of adoption, as though this child would be my own. In other words, she will have the child but then the child will be placed on my knees for my care. This will be my child. I will adopt the child you have with her. About 800 years before Moses was ever around, there was a guy whose codified law ruled the ancient near east. His name was Hammurabi. And you may have heard of the Code of Hammurabi. What he codified in writing, governed people from Persia to the Caspian Sea, from the Euphrates River to the Mediterranean Ocean. And in the Code of Hammurabi it was stated that if a wife who's married to a husband has a maid, because she herself cannot bear children, if her maid bears children on her behalf, they will become the property of the wife. It was standard operating procedure. It was the very law that Abraham and Sarah lived by. You remember the story with Hagar. So it was just what people did. It was, you could say, everybody's doing it! And not only is everybody in the world doing it but my own family has done it. My grandpa did it with Hagar. They had Ishmael. You have a classic case of conforming your character and behavior to that of the world. Well what does Romans tell us? It says that we're not to be conformed to this world but what? Transformed by the renewing of our mind. We're to think differently than the world thinks and here's the big point. The consensus of the group should never determine your morality. Well the world does it! They sleep together! They live together! They kick the tires of the car before they buy it! Well why can't we? We, we should have that freedom. Now you're letting the world determine what is right and what is wrong. That's a huge mistake. It was a huge mistake for her to do this. And yet God is superimposing His will, bringing the twelve tribes of Israel. "Then she gave him Bilhah her maid as a wife, and Jacob went in to her. And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Then Rachel said, "God has judged my case; and He has also heard my voice and given me a son." Therefore she called his name Dan." Dan means judge. Danielle is God is my judge. So this is where the tribe of Dan comes from. "And Rachel's maid Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, "With great wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and indeed I have prevailed." So she called his name Naphtali. When Leah saw that she had stopped bearing, she took Zilpah her maid and gave her to Jacob as wife. And Leah's maid Zilpah bore Jacob a son. Then Leah said, "A troop comes!" So she called his name Gad." Gadzooks--a troop comes! It's as if these two women are trying to start the first baby boom. And notice it's a competition between them. One is trying to get her husband's love; the other feels left out because, by the way, in ancient times it was seen as a divine disfavor to not be able to bear children. And it was a, it was a sign of divine favor and blessing if you were able to have children, especially sons to carry on the family name. "And Leah's maid Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. Then Leah said, "I am happy, for the daughters will call me blessed." So she called his name [happy] Asher." Now Reuben went," and he's probably about eight or nine years old, that's the firstborn of Leah, "went in the days of the wheat harvest and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, "Please give me some of your son's mandrakes." But she said to her, "Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son's mandrakes also?" And Rachel said, "Therefore he will lie with you tonight for your son's mandrakes." I'll tell you what. I'll work you a deal. You can have our husband tonight and sleep with him in exchange for your son's mandrakes. Now this shows me that Jacob had stopped having intimate relations, had stopped sleeping completely with Leah, altogether. So that Rachel was in firm control of her husband. Now they're swapping a deal. What is a mandrake? Technical term: mandragorus autumnalus. What it was was a perennial fruit that grows in the Mediterranean regions, bluish flowers in the winter, dark green leaves, and a yellow plume-like yellowish fruit in the summer. It also had a root, it was a carrot-like root, and the belief, the superstitious belief, is that it was an aphrodisiac. It increased sexual appetite and it opened the womb, enabling barren women to conceive. It did not. It was simply superstitious. She's following the superstitions of her time trying to get more children. "When Jacob came out of the field in the evening," now he had no idea what's happening, he's hard day's work, he comes in and he yawns in the tent, wants to grab the Jerusalem Post and sit down and read the paper, "Jacob came out of the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, "You must come in to me, for I have surely hired you with my son's mandrakes." I told you it was a weird chapter. "And he lay with her that night." Interesting. It's as though she's believing this ideology. Well God hasn't helped me and my husband, he's not helping me any, so maybe these mandrakes will help. Also, they were called love-apples. You know, I've trusted in the Lord, where has that gotten me? Now that same philosophy I've heard over and over again on a number of different levels. Well God isn't doing anything so I guess I have to help God out. It's what Abraham and Sarah thought with Hagar. That's what she is thinking. So, "And he lay with her that night," verse 16. Their marriage had been reduced to a legal contract. "And God listened to Leah," evidently then means she had prayed, "and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son." Now the writer, Moses of Genesis, wants you to know that it's because God did it that they had the child. God listened to the prayer and gave her another son. And "Leah said, "God has given me my wages, because I have given my maid to my husband. So she called his name Issachar," which means hired or for sale. "Then Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. And Leah said, "God has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will dwell with me, because I have borne him six sons." So she called his name Zebulun," which means to dwell. "Afterward she bore a daughter, and called her name Dinah," which means judgment. It was very difficult to be a woman in those days. Here's just a little insight. When a woman was about to give birth, they brought in the food and the singers and the wine and they were all ready to party hearty if a boy was born. If a girl came out, well congratulations but pack up the wine and the party attire and we'll see you next time. She's competing with her sister. She has now has six to zero--that's the score. Six and O. She has a daughter. The daughter is mentioned. But her name is judgment. Verse 22 is a highlight: "Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb." So after the mandrake madness was over, that didn't work, but prayer did. She's trusting in the Lord. She's leaning on Him and the Lord opened up her womb. "And she conceived and bore a son, and said, "God has taken away my reproach." So she called his name Joseph," which means to add, "and said, "The Lord shall add to me another son." Now Joseph we'll get to later. He dominates the last 11 chapters of the book of Genesis. He is the one who is sold out of jealousy by his brothers into Egypt. He is in Potiphar's house. He will eventually become a ruler in Egypt. In fact, the prime minister, and deliver the world from a famine. But his name is interesting because it really is a prophecy. The Lord will add to me yet another son. She's going to have two children. The second son will be Benjamin, but he won't come around for awhile. But Joseph, her one and only up to now son, is born by natural childbirth. So so far it's a sad picture. It's a dysfunctional family. It's a family that never learned how to resolve conflict and children were placed in the middle of adults who are at war with each other. Now I want you just to think for a moment about how couples resolve conflict. And people do it different ways. Some people resolve conflict by not resolving conflict. They never deal with it. Don't want to talk about it! And they give the cold shoulder to the mate. Honey, what's wrong? Nothing! It seems like... Oh, no, nothing wrong. Why do you ask? Oh but honey... No! And it's awfully hard to snuggle a bobcat. But that's how many will try to resolve it, just by not resolving it, don't deal with it, don't talk about it. But it's still lying there. Other people deal with conflict by just kind of letting it simmer. They'll be very passive about they just let it simmer. And then it simmers a little more and a little more until eventually they can't control it and they blow up like a volcano and take half the house with them. Others place their children in the middle of their conflict. If that ever happens, please don't be surprised if your children grow up to handle conflict exactly the same way it's been modeled to them. If you use your children like these two gals, as weapons, that's a mistake. Pitting one against the other. I see husbands and wives using their children as weapons, especially if there's a divorce. Other parents worship their children, alienating their spouse--it's now all about the child. All about the baby. All about that child. All... and their whole life. So what happens is when the empty nest comes around, they're so used to neglecting the spouse and not nurturing that relationship and it's all about child-centered parenting, once the child leaves the home, they look at each other and say, now who are you and why should I remain with you? Give me a good reason. Best way to resolve conflict is to sit down, look each other in the eye, get a mediator if need be, a counselor or pastor if need be, somebody skilled at biblical counseling, but put your heart on the table and deal honestly and be submissive to the Lord's will and ask for forgiveness. And then move on. Jacob did none of that in his family and neither did these two gals and you'll see their children as they grow. Enough said. The second part of this chapter, and we want to go quickly, is the workplace. He works for Uncle Laban. Now watch what happens: "And it came to pass, when Rachel had borne Joseph, that Jacob said to Laban, "Send me away, that I may go to my own place and to my country. Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, and let me go; for you know my service which I have done for you." You betcha. Fourteen years of that service. "And Laban said to him, "Please stay, if I have found favor in your eyes, for I have learned by experience that the Lord has blessed me for your sake." Then he said, "Name me your wages, and I will give it." See the word experience? Some of the modern translations rightfully translate it divination. For I have learned by divination that the reason I'm so blessed is because you're here. That is more accurate. Laban was also superstitious. The idea that omens and signs would predict the future because the pagan belief is that evil forces control the world, not a sovereign God. Now he uses God's name because he's clever. The Lord has blessed me. Yahweh is the word, has blessed me because of you, but don't be fooled by this cat. He's not interested at all in Jacob's God, only the blessings that will come from Jacob's God. Stay! Dude, I feel so much better when you're around! [inaudible] it's a beautiful principle. And it's a promise. God had promised Abraham that the descendants of Abraham would be the source of blessing to the world. Through you and your offspring all the families of the earth shall be blessed. And it's wonderful when God blesses other people because of you. It's a wonderful thought, is it not? That you could be the reason that other people get blessed. Well it happened with Isaac. Isaac went down to Gerar and King Abimelech of Gerar realized that God blessed him, the king of Gerar, because of Isaac. Later on, chapter 40, 41, Joseph will be down in Potiphar's house in Egypt and Potiphar will be blessed for Joseph's sake. Laban realizes that's happened to him. "So Jacob said to him," verse 29, "You know I have served you and how your livestock has been with me. For what you had before I came was little, and it has increased to a great amount; the Lord has blessed you since my coming. And now, when shall I also provide for my own house?" So he said, "What shall I give you?" And Jacob said, "You shall not give me anything. If you will do this thing for me, I will again feed and keep your flocks. Let me pass through all your flock today, removing from there all the speckled and spotted sheep, and all the brown ones among the lambs, and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and these shall be my wages. So my righteousness will answer for me in time to come, when the subject of my wages comes before you: every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and brown among the lambs, will be considered stolen, if it is with me." And Laban said, "Oh, that it were according to your word!" And that means I don't know if I can trust you or not. You have one con artist facing another con artist and they don't trust each other. Now what's the deal here? Here's the deal. Jacob is basically saying Laban, all of the purebred, blue-ribbon stock, the best--they're yours. Your flocks have increased because of me but the best should be yours. I'll take the leftovers. All I want is the opportunity to build my own flock. "So," verse 35, "he removed that day the male goats that were speckled and spotted, all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had some white in it, and all the brown ones among the lambs, and gave them into the hand of his sons." Now Laban takes the lambs Jacob said he wanted, he takes and gives them to his sons. "Then he put three days' journey between himself and Jacob, and Jacob fed the rest of Laban's flocks." So here's what's happening. Laban doesn't trust Jacob, takes the ones he said he wanted, puts them in a flock by themselves and separates them so that at any time Laban could go check on that flock to make sure that Jacob hadn't stolen any others to add to it. He doesn't trust him. He's keeping a close eye on him. "Now Jacob took for himself," verse 37, here's, if you thought it was weird up till now, it gets even weirder, "Jacob took for himself rods of green poplar and of the almond and chestnut trees, peeled white strips in them, and exposed the white which was in the rods. And the rods which he had peeled, he set before the flocks in the gutters," that is the feeding troughs or the drinking troughs, "in the watering troughs where the flocks came to drink, so that they should conceive when they came to drink. So the flocks conceived before the rods, and the flocks brought forth streaked, speckled, and spotted." Now you're thinking by now what on earth is going on? And I have to say I'm not quite sure. Some, and there's different explanations for this, think it's a selective breeding process whereby he's keeping tallies with him with these different rods that have markings on them, so selectively he could breed them. But most people think that, just like the mandrakes were superstitious for Rachel, these rods are superstitious for Jacob. They did nothing at all but it was based upon this superstition that the embryo within a female would be affected by whatever the female sees at the time of and after in the initial stages after conception. That was their belief. They saw something weird, it's going to affect the outcome. It was, had nothing at all to do with the outcome, God was in control just like He was in control of human gestation, He's in control of blessing the flock. Now here's the result: "Jacob separated the lambs, and made the flocks face toward the streaked and all the brown in the flock of Laban; but he put his own flocks by themselves and did not put them with Laban's flock. And it came to pass, whenever the stronger livestock conceived, that Jacob placed the rods before the eyes of the livestock in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods. But when the flocks were feeble, he did not put them in; so the feebler were Laban's and the stronger Jacob's. Thus the man became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks, female and male servants, and camels and donkeys." There's something you should know and I think this is one of the reasons it's here. There's a play on words in the original Hebrew, I'm told by the commentators. You remember back when we talked about Esau and the alternate name he was given, the name of Edom, which means red? And there was a play on words with red stew, old man red had his blessing taken from him. It's a play on words. The word Laban means white. So there's a play on words with the white that's on the shafts or the rods of these pieces of wood and Laban himself. As if to say old whitey got outsmarted and God added to his flocks and strengthened the flock of Jacob and it was God doing it regardless of what Jacob did or didn't do. God added to the flock. How do I know that? Because in chapter 28 the Lord appears to Jacob when he's on the way to Uncle Laban's and He said, I want you to know something, Jacob. I am the God who's going to bless you. I'm going to be with you wherever you go and I'm going to bless you and you're going to be a blessing to others. So God is simply doing what God promised before he got there that He would do. He's blessing him. Blessed him with many children and now He's increasing and strengthening his flock. Let's bring it to a close and see how this fits into communion. This guy's home life was an utter mess. His work situation--an utter mess. But in the midst of that mess, God superimposed His will and brought a great blessing. Out of what you might call the worst family came the best blessing. And what was the best blessing? The Jewish nation that brought forth the Messiah to fulfill the promise in you, all the nations of the earth will be blessed. Why would God ever bless these folks? These are weirdo's! Eating mandrakes and pulling stuff off of sticks and all of this trickery and conniving. What a horrible family yet God blesses the most unlikely. And will take the very worst and often make the very best out of it. And again the prime example is the cross. The worst event in human history, from a human perspective, would be killing God. From any perspective, killing God, doing away with God, that's a tragedy--that's horrible! Yes it was a travesty of justice. It was a breach of justice. But God was behind the scenes working it all out because of the death of His Son, He could save human beings who believe in Him. There's a philosopher from Boston College named Peter Creeft who puts it this way: suppose you're the devil. Now I know that's going to be hard for some of you to imagine it, for some others maybe not so hard. Suppose you're the devil. You're the enemy of God and you want to kill Him but you can't. However, He has this ridiculous weakness of creating and loving human beings whom you can get at. Ah-hah! Now you've got hostages. So you simply come down into the world, corrupt humankind, and drag some of them to hell. When God sends prophets to enlighten them, you kill the prophets. Then God does the most foolish thing of all: He sends His own Son and He plays by the rules of the world. You say to yourself, I can't believe He's that stupid! Love must've addled His brains! All I have to do is inspire some of my agents, like Herod, Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, and the Roman soldiers, and get Him crucified. And that's what you do. And so there He hangs on the cross, forsaken by man, and seemingly forsaken by God, bleeding to death and crying out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" What do you feel now as the devil? You feel triumph. You feel vindication. But of course you couldn't be more wrong. This is His supreme triumph and your supreme defeat. He has struck His heel into your mouth, you bit it, and that blood has destroyed you. The very worst thing in history became the very best thing in history. Now if that is true with the cross, couldn't that be true with lesser tragedies? I want you to think tonight about your own life. You might have a very difficult home life. You may have a very difficult work environment. And maybe you're tempted, like Rachel and like Jacob, to sort of descend to the lower level and get legitimate needs met at an illegitimate source. That's idolatry, by the way. It's the meaning of idolatry. Getting your needs met at an unauthorized, illegitimate source. Instead of saying, in the midst of this mess, O Lord, redeem it and make it something wonderful. Shape my life, my children's lives, for Your glory.