Summary: When Jacob has to flee Laban, he learns Esau is comming at him with 400 armed men. His schemes have caught up with him as he finds himself between a rock and a hardplace. What was God doing in the situation? What do we do when we find ourselves in a place
What do you do when you find yourself between a rock and a hard place? I’m talking about those times in life when there seem to be no good options. Your current job is almost unbearable, but there are no other jobs available—and you do need the paycheck. The people you’re living with are crazy, but you don’t have the money to get your own place. You need knee surgery, but you don’t have health insurance. You may or may not be between a rock and a hard place right now, but at some point in your life, you will get in on the experience.
What do you do when nothing seems to work and you don’t know what to do?
That’s where Jacob was in our text this morning.
For the last 20 years he has been working for his uncle, Laban, in Mesopotamia. It has been a cat and mouse relationship: Laban constantly cheating Jacob; but Jacob coming out with increase anyway. Have you ever had a boss who wouldn’t keep his word? Have you ever tried to work in an environment where others have no integrity? That’s what Jacob was dealing with. He had made a deal with Laban to work for Rachel’s hand in marriage. He worked the 7 years, and instead of giving him Rachel, Laban gave him his other daughter, Leah. So Jacob worked for another 7 years for Rachel. I cannot imagine the emotional pain and rejection Leah went through, the way these two men treated her—but that’s another sermon.i After those 14 years, Jacob worked for Naman another 6 years for flocks and other livestock. During that time both men are manipulating and maneuvering. All that was stressful, but bearable.
Then Jacob overheard Naman’s sons saying how much they hated Jacob for the way all this is going.ii Jacob also realizes Naman has turned completely against him. The situation is no longer tolerable or even safe. This job is not going to work. The relationships have turned completely sour. Jacob has to leave and God gives him the go ahead to do so (Genesis 31:3).
Jacob cannot risk even telling Naman that he’s leaving. He has to sneak out with his family and possessions. Later when Naman finds out that Jacob has gone, he is furious and pursues him. There is no telling what Naman would have done to Jacob, except that God intervened. In a dream God told Naman to not to harm Jacob.iii Still the bridges have been burned. Jacob cannot go back to Naman’s place. That is no longer a possibility.
So Jacob proceeds to his homeland in Canaan. But there is a problem with that too. The reason Jacob had spent those 20 years with Naman is that he had to flee from Canaan for similar reasons. Do you remember the story of Jacob and Esau? They were twin brothers. Twice Jacob had cheated his brother Esau. Once he had manipulated him out of the firstborn birthright and secondly when he and his mother tricked Isaac in giving Jacob the covenant blessing instead of Esau. Esau was so enraged over what Jacob had done to him that he had decided to kill Jacob.iv That why Jacob fled from Canaan to Laban’s place.
So here is Jacob’s situation. Behind him is Laban—the proverbial rock. He can’t go back there. In front of him is Esau, the proverbial hard place. He is terrified of what Esau will do—so much so that encountering a host of angels at the border of Canaan does not alleviate his fears. Consistent with his nature, Jacob develops a plan to appease Esau. He sends messengers ahead to ask favor and friendship of Esau. Maybe over time Esau’s anger has cooled. Maybe Esau will let him return unharmed. But the messengers come back with an alarming message. Esau is coming to meet you and he has 400 warriors with him (Genesis 32:6). “This does not sound good. This sounds like a disaster about to happen. And I don’t know what I can do about it. I can’t go back to Laban—that door is shut. I don’t have men to fight Esau’s warriors—all I have is a few servants, women and children. If I flee to the left or right, they will easily overtake use.”