Principles for Divine Guidance
Rev. Toh Nee Lim | On 17, Feb 2015
Scripture Reading: Genesis 31:5-13
“And said unto them, I see your father’s countenance, that it is not toward me as before; but the God of my father hath been with me. And ye know that with all my power I have served your father. And your father hath deceived me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me. If he said thus, the speckled shall be thy wages; then all the cattle bare speckled: and if he said thus, the ringstraked shall be thy hire; then bare all the cattle ringstraked. Thus God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me. And it came to pass at the time that the cattle conceived, that I lifted up mine eyes, and saw in a dream, and, behold, the rams which leaped upon the cattle were ringstraked, speckled, and grisled. And the angel of God spake unto me in a dream, saying, Jacob: And I said, Here am I. And he said, Lift up now thine eyes, and see, all the rams which leap upon the cattle are ringstraked, speckled, and grisled: for I have seen all that Laban doeth unto thee. I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred.”
Jacob’s flight from Mesopotamia has its parallel (is similar) with Abraham’s leaving the Mesopotamia City of Ur in obedience to God’s call. Then Abraham took all his people and possessions and left for the land of Canaan. In Genesis 31 his grandson Jacob took all his people and possession and returned to Canaan. Jacob’s departure thus parallels Abraham’s initial obedience. In this chapter we find that Jacob leaves without giving notice. Is it right for Jacob to leave? What is the principle for discerning God’s guidance?
Mankind needs guidance from God because man has been given the ability to make choices. Believers often ask, “How can I know the will of God?” Each person knows the awful sense of being unsure, directionless, lost, confused, disoriented and oh so vulnerable. . Thus we must know that God has plans, appointments, timing, and finally a destination for your life, all of which, He determined long before He created the world. His will for you is the working out of your destiny, and the purpose for which you were uniquely designed. And in all this He is not a passive father, but rather, One who is very involved with His children. Well, look at the experiences of Jacob. What happened to him? What are the principles for divine guidance?
1. Jacob had a desire
Well, first of all there came a desire in his heart to go home. That was implanted there by God.
Please note the 20 years that Jacob was with Laban he had not received any revelation from God. You could be in that condition before the guidance of God come. Prior to today, or in the case of Jacob in that incident, there was not a word, which suggests that he had any dealings with God during that whole period. And 20 years is a long time. There is no mention of altar, no reference to prayer, nothing to distinguish him from a worldly man. The altar speaks of communion and sacrifice. Are you in that position? You have no communion with God daily and have not make any sacrifices for God? So are you like Jacob, out of communion with God? Yet God was faithful to you all these while even though you had been unfaithful to him. I call it grace. If Jacob or you had forgotten God, God has not forgotten you. Even though God had not forgotten Jacob and was faithful to Jacob, we must not deny the true conditions of Jacob, and likewise yours. And that is God is dealing with a man who was a very sinful man in many ways and yet a man whom God would not give up. We are like that song which says ‘I am a sinful man’. More than 20 years ago, the Lord had promised to be with Jacob and to keep him in all places wither he went and he does make good His word. Like a watchful friend at hand, He observes his treatment from Laban and bids him depart. And an occasion has risen now that Jacob begins to be in real need. Along with that comes a desire. The desire arises as a result of a need. Jacob had a desire. He had a desire to go to Bethel. God has called him and He had a desire to obey God. For Jacob he had a desire to return to God. How about you? Do you have a desire to seriously return to God? A bible commentator, while preparing to write a commentary on this portion of scriptures says this: ‘As I write commentary for these chapters, workers are still cleaning away the rubble of the World Trade Centre Towers, and the Marines have set up a base in Afghanistan. For several months Americans have been attempting to make sense of the awful tragedy which killed more than twenty five hundred and began a war whose magnitude is not measureable at this time. On September, 27, 2001, Bryant Gumbel interviewed Ann Graham and asked, ‘Why didn’t God stop this or do something about this?’ Ms Ann Graham responded, ‘For years we have told God we didn’t want him in our schools (bibles was forbidden in the school), we didn’t want him in our government (the ten commandment had to be removed from government offices), and we didn’t want him in our finances. And God was being a perfect gentlemen and doing just what we asked him to do. We need to make up our minds – do we want God or do we not want him? We cannot just ask him questions when disaster strikes.’ The world has a need today. But did that need created a desire to return to God.
Christianity is not an invitation to become a moral person. It is not a program or a method to reform society. It is an invitation to leave everything behind and heed the call of God and follow God. That is what happened to Abraham. That is what happened to Jacob. And it begins with a desire. What is “desire”? According to the dictionary, it is defined as “a wish; a longing expressed with a wish.” Augustine said, “Longing is the heart’s treasury.” George Eliot said, “It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good and we must hunger for them.” What is your desire today? To heed the call of God and to follow God? To long for a child, like Hannah? To find a godly wife like Ruth? To be successful in business like Jacob? To fulfil the purpose of God for such a time as this like Esther? These are all godly desires. Remember the first principle for divine guidance starts with a desire.
And the first thing God speaks to you is ‘I am the God of Bethel, return to Bethel. This can be found in Genesis 5:13 which says, ‘I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar; and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred.’ God goes back to the time He appeared to this boy when he was running away, that first night away from home which he spent at Bethel. God had reminded Jacob of his Bethel vow. The backslider now had to return and fulfil his promises to the Lord who had blessed him.
God has so obviously protected him outside his homeland that to return is obligatory on one who has made such a vow and has received a guarantee of even greater blessing in the future.
Bethel is the place where Abraham camp east of Bethel and built an altar to Yahweh. We must understand why God said to Jacob, ‘I am the God of Bethel.’ For Jacob, Bethel was the starting point of his realization of God, who for him is the God of Bethel. As a result of Jacob’s vision of Yahweh, he named the place ‘House of God.’ And Jacob is summoned to Bethel to build an altar and set up a pillar there. Many of us has been so flimsy when we come to the house of God. We allow the rain, the little headache, the jobs, the barbada, the picnic to draw us away from the house of God. Not only are we flimsy when it comes to the house of God, our altar, communion with God has been a few seconds of prayer thanking God for the food. We don’t know anything about our God.
Another reason God wants him to return to Bethel is because by this time his eleven boys and a daughter, who are growing up are beginning to learn some things which they should not be learning. God wants to get Jacob and these boys away from the place of idolatry just as He got Abraham out of a home of idolatry. God recognized the influence of Laban’s household is not good for Jacob and his growing family. The boys are going to be heads of twelve tribes of Israel, and God is anxious to get them out from that environment and back into Abraham’s Promised Land
2. Circumstances necessitated a change of some sort
The second principle for divine guidance is that circumstances had become favourable. I will call the favourable circumstances as the open door.
There was a lot of envy and evilmindness at work in the family of Laban towards Jacob. Laban’s sons were murmuring at Jacob’s prosperity. But Laban was plainly of the same mind and he bore an unkindly demeanour towards Jacob. For 20 years Laban and Jacob had a stormy relationship. And now after 20 years Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban and behold it was not towards him as before.
Jacob is leaving Laban for 2 reasons: Laban’s sons was growing against Jacob and Laban’s mood was dangerous. Laban’s ugly mood did not bode well for Jacob. But then I believe God was stirring up the nest. Is God stirring up the nest of your life? Those who have studied eagles know that eagles have some very interesting little habits and little ways of teaching the young eaglets how to fly. Eagles and their young like to stay in the nest for a considerable period of time, but the time comes when the little birds must be thrust forth from the nest, and so the result is that the eagles destroy the nests and then push the little birds out, and as they fall out into the air, not realizing that they have the capacity to fly, they have to learn by the experience of fear and then of the mother’s help, but they do have it within them to fly and to make their way along in the air. So the result is that as they fall, the mothers catch the eagles and then drop them again and then catch them and drop them until finally they are able to fly for themselves.
God reminded him of his vow he made 20 years ago. As Laban and his sons became increasingly hostile to him, Jacob prepared to leave. Even though Laban cheated him for 20 years, God overruled so that the flocks always bred in his favour. Truly God can overrule and allowed this church and the members to grow in his favour. Jacob could bear Laban’s persecution no longer and accused him of heartless ingratitude in view of Jacob’s twenty years hard work for him.
But the circumstances for Jacob is such that he cannot stay in Mesopotamia anymore. So that circumstances confirm the desire that God had put in his heart.
And when the time comes for action, circumstances, like glow-worms, will sparkle along your path. You will become so sure that you are right, that you could not be surer though an angel beckoned you on. The circumstances of our daily life are to us an infallible indication of God’s will when they concur with the inward promptings of the Spirit and when you must act, they will open, and a way will be made through oceans and rivers, wastelands and rocks.
3. God’s word came strongly
Thirdly God spoke to him from His word. To me that is the most important point when it comes to divine guidance. You will notice in the gospel that Jesus always seem to have a scripture verse in His mind that relates to what He is doing at the moment. Somehow scripture is involved in how He was led.
The driving point of the narrative of Jacob’s escape here in Genesis 31 is that God did it all. Firstly God stirred up the nest. Second, God told Jacob to return to his own land. Here was a divine call to leave for the land of promise. Jacob heard the voice of the angel of God calling his attention with these words, “I am the God of Bethel.” “I have seen all that Laban hath done to thee,” The word contain actual truth; and the dream is regarded as a divine revelation. We can safely say that God’s word came strong as a direct revelation. This word came to Jacob for 6 years already and at the beginning of the 7th year, he decided to obey God. We know 7th is perfect. And trials is never meant to be permanent and thus after suffering as a slave for 6 years, it is the year of release for Jacob.
Concerning God’s word, we must believe in the supremacy and sufficiency of God’s word. If you keep firm hold on God’s word your position is unassailable (irrefutable). What I am trying to say is that you can never go wrong. As Christian we have the immediate guidance of the soul by the Holy Spirit. Martin Luther says this ‘I am convinced by the testimonies of the scriptures, I am overcomed by the scriptures I quoted, and my conscience is taken captive by the words of God.
If Jacob had left because of a resentment against Laban or a personal injury inflicted by the children of Laban, then Jacob would have sinned against God. Many a times we leave a family, go to another place, because of personal reasons or issues and we use the name of God in vain saying, ‘God told me to go’ I will say that you are sinning against God and God will not go with you. So before you do anything concerning guidance, do you have a direct leading from God? For Jacob the word was so clear “Return unto the land of thy fathers and to thy kindred and I will be with thee. Here His ways became plain before Jacob. When you have a strong word from the LORD, it is necessary to act if you are hoping for God’s divine presence and blessing to attend to you. But if you did not have a strong word from the LORD and you leave without his permission, you could be fleeing from one trouble only to fall into another; or worse you can fall into many troubles and be less able to endure them.
When we obey God’s strong word, things happen. One of the beautiful things about Jacob’s flight is that we see that Jacob has made spiritual progress. When we obey divine guidance, there is always spiritual progress on our part. He actually starts to appear in favourable light. He is now utterly faithful to God. He begin to obey and does not waver. He was so unspiritual but he has become spiritual. Actually we start seeing him building altars, taking leadership in his family, etc. Most significantly this chronically self-sufficient man gives all the credit to God. And everything is beginning to set in place. He now has a people, the genesis of a vast people. His possessions are such that he is remarkably rich. He knows that his people and possession are from God.
4. There was confirming support from his wives despite their natural ties to Laban
There is the backing of the family. The backing of the church. The backing of people close to you.
When the Lord told him that the time had come to return to Canaan, Jacob enlists his wives. First he called Rachel and Leah and discussed the matter, rehearsing how Laban had cheated him and changed his wages ten times, how God had overruled so that the flocks always bred in his favour, how God had reminded him of the vow he had made twenty years earlier (28:20–22), and how the Lord had told him to return to Canaan. Jacob made reference to God by name seven times, because God and His word and work were the controlling factor in his decision. His wives agreed that their father had not dealt honestly and that they should leave. Please understand that Leah and Rachel are Laban’s daughter, yet when it comes to divine guidance, Jacob had the support from his wives despite their natural ties to Laban.
Jacob did not say, I am the man of the house follow me. No, there was agreement from those who are going to be affected by your decision. Someone said this thing about Pastor Lily and I. When Pastor Lily and I agree one something, more often than not it is always right and powerful.
The two women, Rachel and Leah, side with Jacob, but the reason they give is not grounded in the justice of Jacob’s case. They have their own grievance against their father (31:14–15). Rachel and Leah declare Laban has treated them as foreigners (nokriyoth). Laban has sold them and used up the proceeds. They apparently interpret the marriage arrangement by Laban as “selling,” an interpretation consistent with the words used in some ancient Near East marriage agreements. Again, to describe the agreement by which Rachel and Leah were married as “selling,” involving a “bridal price,” is only one way to interpret those events (Vawter, 1977: 335). Again we find the family embroiled in unending conflict. This time Rachel and Leah unite against their father.
Preached at E_tab Iloilo on Feb. 15, 2015