By Mike Baird
Faculty, College of Theology
The Jacob Journal is a reflection on the life and times of the biblical character of Jacob, son of Isaac and Rebekah.
The Deceived Deceiver
If Haran was anything, it was a time for growing up. Of course, like most young adults, I had assumed that leaving home and getting out on my own meant that I had already grown up.
But life has a way of handling deceivers, those who think they have it made, who think they can finagle their way into or out of anything.
One of my fellow shepherds, who moved into the area from another culture, would use the word hubris. “Hubris!” he would say. “You are young, and you think you know everything. You wait and see.”
I guess hubris means something like pride. But to a person like me, who had made the vow to get what he wanted and succeed despite the odds, hubris seemed absolutely essential. In reality, I was just “finagling” myself, fooling myself.
I thought I had the world by the tail (or heel if you will). I thought my plans for life and my methods for getting what I wanted were foolproof.
The only problem was, the fool was me.
When I left home to seek my fortunes, I had some growing up to do.
Learning My Lessons
My lesson in hubris came in the form of Laban, my uncle. He was one of the first people I met when I arrived in Haran. In a way, I am thankful for that. He gave me my first real job. I had worked hard on the family ranch back home, but this was my first exposure to responsibility for myself, with nobody like Esau or mother to cover me.
As you know from the record, one of the best parts of meeting Laban was getting to know his daughter, Rachel. Just to show you how naïve I was, I kissed her the first time I ever laid eyes on her. It’s a wonder I didn’t lose her right then.
But I was in love. “Love at first sight,” as the old nomad saying goes. Fortunately, she was an open-minded girl. With my first job and my first real love, I thought in my hubris that life was going in exactly the right direction.
But early on, Laban taught me a lesson. He taught me that I was not the only deceiver in the world, that I was not the only one who was grabbing for heels. He definitely played on my hubris.
I was sure I wanted to marry Rachel and that I could afford to take her as my wife despite the fact I was dirt poor. So I signed up to work for him for seven years to earn the dowry. During those years, he provided for me very well.
So when the wedding day came, I was expecting to receive the reward for my hard work. I still cannot explain exactly how he did it, but when the honeymoon was over, I was married to Leah, Rachel’s older sister.
“It is our custom to marry the oldest daughter first,” he explained to me. That didn’t change the fact that he had deceived me, Jacob, the expert manipulator. The deceiver had become the deceived.
Opening My Eyes
The lesson didn’t stop there. I had to work seven more years to earn the right to take Rachel as my wife, too. During those years, he often changed the agreements we had made about work and wages. He would give me less wages than we had agreed upon.
At one point, he told me I could start a flock of my own, but he watched me like a hawk circling over a dead carcass and never gave me a break.
The only reason I finally succeeded in gaining my independence was my own resourcefulness. I studied the old parchments that recorded the secrets of tending sheep and goats. In those long hours of reading and study, I learned some techniques for increasing the yield of the flock. I used the mating secrets to build a very large flock.
And what did these lessons teach me? For one thing, I learned that I had been deceived. Not just by Laban, but by myself, by life, by circumstances.
In my upbringing I had chosen to learn the wrong lessons. I had decided that I could make it only if I followed my own wisdom and used every natural ability God had given me to my own advantage.
Now I was learning that my primer was wrong. I couldn’t operate on ambition and self-drive alone. I couldn’t exclude kindness, generosity, love and God from my life. Isn’t it interesting that when you are the deceiver, your eyes are closed to what is really going on. It is only when you become the deceived that your eyes are opened.
Untangling the Web
During these years, I learned that something else was going on in my life. Have you ever watched a sheepherder’s dog “cut” a sheep from the flock? Cutting is isolating one sheep from the rest to work with it in some way.
I now realize that life was cutting me. Life usually does that to each of us, moves us on to find a life separate from our families of origin and to form new ties. In this process we are growing up, becoming adults. If we are ready for this process, we won’t buck and run like a scared sheep, although some of us do that I suppose.
Each of us will go through eye-opening, heart-breaking experiences. Then we can either retreat into bitterness and skepticism, or we will reach down inside and find the resources to move up and move on. Some make the cut, some do not.
A person can learn how to be skeptical through this maturing process! It began to dawn on me that the wages of sin are not always paid directly to the sinner.
What do I mean? Often a person’s deceptions and selfishness hurt those around him or her more than they hurt the person. Some of our poets compare this to a tangled web—the more you deceive and manipulate those in your circle of life, the more confused and difficult your circumstances become.
I had woven a tangled web for myself; my life was full of people whom I had taken advantage of, whom I had hurt. I guess that is why I began to realize that the “wages” I was being paid were the return on my evil investment. I had created the tangled web in which I was enslaved.
We suffer in groups, families, friendship circles, not just in our own little worlds. We share the sufferings of one another. We live in a world where my selfishness may not hurt me immediately, but it will eventually come back to me through another Jacob (or Laban) somewhere.
Skepticism flooded my mind. I wanted to conclude sometimes that honesty was not the best policy. I had decided to work hard and do my best, yet I was cheated and used. I was strongly tempted to sacrifice my integrity in order to untangle my life, to take one more step up the ladder of my ambition.
But somewhere in the middle of this confused and vicious cycle of life, I resolved to make the cut. I decided that I wanted to go through life in one piece and not leave behind an arm or a leg, or my conscience or my soul.
Without doubt, the greatest lessons I learned were about God. He was barely more than a word to me when I left home, but He was in my heart nonetheless.
My father may have left some scars on my soul, but he had also planted the seed of salvation by his faith in God. I knew my father feared God, trusted Him. I was learning the same lessons.
God is on the side of the deceived and not the deceiver. He doesn’t honor hubris, selfishness and pride. But He is loving and gracious. He is forgiving and patient for those who have even a faint awareness of Him in their hearts.
Laban taught me that I cannot trust myself, nor can I count on my fellow man in the crucial situations of life. God taught me that I can trust Him.
This whole whirlwind ended one quiet day after I had been in Haran for 20 years. One day God spoke softly to me, “I am the God of Bethel, leave this land and go back.”
At first, I panicked because of the mess I had left behind in Canaan. Then I looked into my heart and discovered that I had grown up. I realized that God had sent me out from Bethel. He had been with me all the way, and He would bring me back to confront my past and move into the future.
So I took Leah, Rachel and the kids and headed for home.
Questions for Reflection:
- Are you living in a tangled web of your own making? Perhaps you need to consider that your own resources and wisdom are limited, that you need God’s help.
- The process of maturing to adulthood, integrity and stability is just that: a process. Has God been doing things in the circumstances of life that are calling you out of the tangled web into His way and wisdom?
Keep reading the Jacob Journal! Scroll through all of our entries to revisit your favorites or get caught up on posts you may have missed.
About the Author
The 21st century author of this journal is Mike Baird, PhD, retired professor of Christian studies. The ideas and insights found here come from a life lived, not from a fantasy world. It is his prayer that you will see yourself mirrored in some of Jacob’s struggles and decisions, and that you will discover the timeless spiritual resources which Scripture and the Holy Spirit speaking through it have made available to us.
Dr. Baird originates from Glendale, AZ. He received his BA at Grand Canyon College (now GCU). His MDiv and PhD were completed at Southwestern Baptist Theology Seminary, Fort Worth, TX (Go Cowboys!). He and his wife have three children and five grandchildren.
He has enjoyed teaching college students for the last 35 years. He is a member of First Southern Baptist Church, where he teaches a Bible study class on Sunday mornings and sings in the choir.
What he has enjoyed greatly over the years is participating in the Ethington Theatre Series as a guest actor. He has been in 27 productions, his favorites being the Shakespeare productions.
He encourages students to use their time at GCU to clarify and sharpen their sense of calling. You are here to equip for the work of the Kingdom. Don’t squander the opportunity.