God’s Sovereignty in the Story of Jacob

I have the privilege of teaching a Sunday morning class at my church called “The Message of the Bible.” What it amounts to is a year-long biblical theology. Well, we’ve been at it for three weeks now, and I just finished an overview of the Pentateuch and Genesis. I had an interesting question after I taught on God’s blessing and individuals’ faith in these passages. It reminded me of a short discussion I have recently done on the way God worked in Jacob’s life, and I thought I would share it with y’all.

“So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah!” (Gen 29:25a).

Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Most of us are familiar with this story: After working for seven years for his wife Rachel, Jacob became the object of one of the most cunning tricks ever. In an ultimately ironic twist, Jacob—the one who had deceived his brother into selling him his birthright for a bowl of soup and tricked his father into blessing him instead of Esau—had been duped. He had pretended to be his brother; Leah pretends to be her sister. The tables had turned, and he had experienced the betrayal, the hurt, the embarrassment, and the rage that he had caused others. The story is replete with irony.

If you are like me, you are wondering how such a bewildering thing could have occurred. Unfortunately for inquiring minds, the text remains silent. We could certainly postulate some reasons—darkness, lack of soberness after a day of feasting, a heavy veil. Yet, at the end of the day, it would simply be our “sanctified imagination,” because the text is really unconcerned with the cause … at least in a way.

Since the author does not reveal what allowed such a trick to occur from a human perspective, we must conclude that his purpose goes beyond that. In other words, the reader can only conclude that the ironic twist played successfully by Laban was the work of a divine plan. That is, the ultimate reason that this happened was because God wanted Jacob to marry Leah. This is the only explanation for why the events happened as they did. God had promised His protective presence upon Jacob’s life when he left his father’s house in search of a wife: “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Gen 28:15). Thus, all the things that happened to Jacob while in Laban’s service were occurring under divine supervision.

Nothing we read in the story of Jacob would hinder the success of God’s will, and the Lord was using all of these things, even the feeble plans of fallen men, to bring about His bidding. Even here, the Lord’s plans went far beyond Jacob’s wives. Sure, Jacob also married Rachel, but we must remember that in the larger picture Leah had two significant sons—Judah and Levi. Rachel remained Jacob’s beloved wife; Leah was chosen by God to be the one through whom kings and priests would come. Two of the major topics in the rest of the Bible—the kingship and the priesthood—come from an unwanted and unplanned marriage. Only God’s sovereignty can explain that. And lest we forget, our Messiah and our Great High Priest, was the Lion of Judah. In a great ironic twist, which God was often well-pleased to do, God would bring our Savior through Leah, not Rachel.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. This was a fun post. Thanks!

    I have a question about its argument:

    Is the claim that whatever God uses, God must have planned? We can see how God used Leah’s son’s. But does that mean God was guiding Laban’s trickeries so as to get Leah’s sons?

    I enjoy posts that make me ask questions. Thanks!

  2. Oh! Micah asks a great question…if I was asked the question I would say that God plans whatever He ‘uses’, and simply ‘uses’ a lot less than we would want Him to…

  3. Micah,

    This is a good question, which could be asked repeatedly in the narratives of Genesis. In my opinion, the answer could vary. For example, in the story of Isaac’s blessing on Jacob, I would say that the narrative is intended to show that God’s will cannot be thwarted, even when a man attempts to bring about the promise of God in his own strength. (Remember, God had already promised that Jacob would receive preeminence over his brother even while in the womb.) Thus, although we could hypothetically wonder how God would have brought this about if Rebekah and Jacob had not conspired, as it is, the narrative shows that God’s will was accomplished even in the presence of (wo)man’s deceitful trickery. Many of these narratives show the threat to the fulfillment of the promises of God when man or woman take things into their own hands. In the case of Jacob with Isaac, the narrative is told in such a way as to build suspense as Isaac never seems completely convinced that Jacob is Esau.

    On the other hand, based upon Gn 28:15 which I referred to in the post, it is clear that God promised His presence with Jacob while outside of the land. Thus, the theological perspective of the narrative is that God was orchestrating the events to bring about his will. Further, my point would be the following: if the narrator had wanted us to see that God simply “used” Laban’s trickery, he would have couched his story within the context of the promises God had made to Abraham and extended to Jacob not within the context of God’s protective presence with Jacob. The reason I would argue that this is different then the example above is that Laban seems to not have a clue about God’s promises to Jacob. The writer would know this and in my opinion see the distinction. Furthermore, by not elaborating on how Jacob was tricked, I believe the narrator is showing God’s sovereign hand in working things according to His purposes. The author is writing from a perspective after these events, and so Judah and the promises made to him in Gen 49 are already in the picture. The narrator’s perspective is beyond just simply recounting the stories for entertainment; it’s a theological perspective.

    But, I will be the first to say that perspectives on the sovereign work of God in narratives is difficult.

    Blessings,
    Randy

  4. Sofyst–
    What a great quip (though I don’t mean to say it’s only a quip)! *laugh* I like it.

    Randy–
    You make a compelling point. Your analysis seems very insightful to me.

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