Sermon: From Whom All Blessings Flow

LORD, open our ears to hear your word, open our hearts to receive your blessing, and open our hands to pour it back out to others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

I’ve had a song in my head all week. I think it goes like this:

Praise John from whom all blessings flow…

No, that isn’t right. I got now. Praise Gord from whom all blessings flow…

No, so close and yet so far. Praise me from whom all blessings flow…

That feels good, but doesn’t quite sound like the right words.

Can someone help me out?

Praise God from whom all blessings flow…

Do you really believe that? I know you sing it, I know you say it, but do you really believe it? Who do we truly believe is the source of all our blessings?

In our story this morning in the life of Jacob, we will see that both Laban and Jacob affirmed what we sing in the doxology, but their response is very different. It’s Genesis chapter 30, verse 25-43. Feel free to turn there with me. Genesis 30:25-43. Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God:

When Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country. Give me my wives and my children, for whom I have served you, and let me go; for you know very well the service I have given you.” But Laban said to him, “If you will allow me to say so, I have learned by divination that the LORD has blessed me because of you; name your wages and I will give it.” Jacob said to him, “You yourself know how I have served you and how your cattle have fared with me. For you had little before I came, but it has increased abundantly, and the LORD has blessed you wherever I turned. But now when shall I provide for my own household also?” He said, “What shall I give you?” Jacob said, “You shall not give me anything; if you will do this for me, I will again feed your flock and keep it, let me pass through all your flock today, removing from it every speckled and spotted sheep and every black lamb, and the spotted and speckled from among the goats, and such shall be my wages. So my honesty will answer for me later, when you come to look into my wages with you. Every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats and black among the lambs, if found with me, shall be counted stolen.” Laban said, “Good. Let it be as you have said.” But that day Laban removed the male goats that were striped and spotted and all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had white on it, and every black lamb and put them in charge of his sons, and he set a distance of three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob was pasturing the rest of Laban’s flock.

Then Jacob took fresh rods of poplar and almond and plane, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the rods. He set the rods that he had peeled in front of the flocks in the troughs, that is, the watering places, where then flocks came to drink. And since they bred when they came to drink, the flocks bred in front of the rods, and the flocks produced young that were striped, speckled, and spotted. Jacob separated the lambs, and set the faces of the flocks toward the striped and completely black animals in the flock of Laban, and he put his own droves apart and he did not put them with Laban’s flock. Whenever the stronger of the flock were breeding, Jacob laid the rods in the troughs before the eyes of the flock, that they might breed among the rods, but for the feebler of the flock he did not lay them there; so the feebler were Laban’s, but the stronger Jacob’s. Thus the man became exceedingly rich and had large flocks, and male and female slaves, and camels and donkeys.

This is the Word of the LORD. Thanks be to God.

Question: Who do we truly believe is the source of all our blessings?

From beginning to end, this story in the life of Jacob proclaims that the blessings we receive – the good gifts of prosperity and provision, shelter and success, a household and a home – all of them come from the hands of God. God keeps his word by blessing the hard work of Jacob, but also through less typical means, like striped rods which we will talk about in a minute, but at every turn the blessing flows from the LORD.

Jacob gets it. He says to Laban, “You yourself know how I have served you and how your cattle have fared with me. For you had little before I came, but it has increased abundantly, and the LORD has blessed you wherever I turned.” Jacob was a good worker, not lazy and just doing enough to get paid. Jacob worked for the success of Laban’s flocks, he was diligent, smart, and faithful in his service and both he and Laban knew it. But Jacob says that it was the LORD that blessed Laban wherever Jacob turned. Though the LORD blessed Jacob’s hard work in the flocks of Laban, Jacob knows that every increase for his father-in-law came from the hands of God.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Even Laban gets it. After Jacob asks to leave with his family (presumably once the 14 years of service was completed), Laban says, “If you will allow me to say so, I have learned by divination that the LORD has blessed me because of you; name your wages and I will give it.” In the book of Deuteronomy, God forbids his people to use divination (Dt 18:10), but not only had that law not yet been revealed, but Laban is not particularly concerned with walking in God’s ways. But even Laban recognizes that it is the LORD who has been blessing him through Jacob.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

In this story, both Jacob and Laban, both those inside the people of God and those without, recognize the hand of God in blessing. We live in a cultural moment where many find it difficult to imagine that what they have comes from the hand of God. We are conditioned to believe that effort + time = work. We are conditioned to see the world as closed as if we are the only actors on the stage and everything we have, from the roof over our heads, the clothes on our backs, to the opportunities we have, comes because of our hard work or our birth. We are told that

Yet, Genesis 30, like all of scripture, invites us into a different world. A world where God is the central actor, where God is the one who brings blessing, who preserves, redeems, and saves. Genesis 30, like all of scripture, proclaims that the world we think we live in, that closed world of our own making, where our blood, sweat, and tears are the primary means of manufacturing blessing, where God is irrelevant or non-existent to the world of work – Genesis 30, like all of scripture, proclaims that world an illusion and invites us to taste and see reality. In fact, we live in a world where God is living and actively present with his people and his creation. In fact, we live in a world created and sustained by God, who makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. In fact, we live in a world that belongs to the LORD, even as it still lives in rebellion.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Jacob and Laban proclaim the same thing: all blessings flow from God. Yet, they respond to this blessing very differently. I want us to look at their two different responses to God’s blessing and then close by briefly considering God’s work through poplar rods and mating sheep.

Jacob desires God’s blessing to go through him, not to him.

Jacob spent fourteen years serving his father-in-law Laban. Every lamb that was born, every ounce of increase in the flock, went to Laban. Jacob served and served and the blessing went through him to Laban. This is what Laban recognized when he said, “The LORD has blessed me because of you” and what Jacob was saying when he said, “The LORD blessed you wherever I turned.” The blessing went not to Jacob, but through Jacob to Laban.

Now that Joseph has been born, Jacob now looks to leave and return with his family to the land God had promised him. Laban tries to keep Jacob by offering him wages. But Jacob’s concern is not for himself. He says, but when shall I provide for my own household also? Jacob has spent fourteen years serving Laban, but he has nothing of his own with which to provide for his family. Jacob desires God’s blessing to go through him, not to him.

Jacob rightly claims that it is his responsibility to care for the family God has entrusted to him. It was good to serve others, but when God has entrusted people to our care, we must not forget to provide for them. It is our responsibility to care for the people God has given to us, and it is a sin to neglect them.

Jacob’s primary concern in his negotiation with Laban is to provide for his family. Jacob does not see God’s blessing as an opportunity to serve himself, but to care for those he has been entrusted with.

By contrast, Laban wants God’s blessings to go to him, not through him. The fact that after fourteen years of service, Jacob has nothing in the ways of this world, and even has to ask that he be able to provide for his family, shows that Laban has not been treating Jacob well. Laban has been blessed by God through Jacob. We are told that Laban had little before Jacob came and it has increased abundantly. But so far all of that blessing has come to Laban and none of it has been poured out.

Laban recognizes the LORD’s blessing through Jacob, so when Jacob asks to leave, Laban tries to keep him. Jacob is the golden goose that keeps laying the golden egg for his flocks. By keeping Jacob materially poor, even if he kept his bargain of offering his daughters, Laban has, in some ways, trapped Jacob so that it is difficult for him to leave, since he has no means of providing for himself.

Laban offers to give Jacob a gift, but Jacob refuses to be indebted to Laban. Instead, Jacob offers to take the speckled and spotted animals as his wages and, in exchange, he will keep caring for the flock. Most of what I found suggests that the spotted and speckled sheep and goats would have been a small percentage of the animals. Jacob is asking for a small share of all the prosperity that God has given Laban as a way of providing for his family.

Laban agrees, but immediately tries to swindle Jacob. Before Jacob can go through all the flocks and pick out his animals, Laban has them all removed and separated a three days journey away. When Jacob goes to collect his wages – to gather the spotted and speckled animals, there are none. In this way, Jacob is forced to keep working and has nothing to show for it. All the good blessings will go to Laban and none to Jacob.

But this is Laban. Laban sees that God is blessing him through Jacob, so he wants to make sure all the blessings come to him. Laban wants God’s blessing to go to him, not through him. So he swindles, tricks, and cheats his own son-in-law in order to try and get all the blessing for himself.

Two different responses to God’s blessing: Jacob’s and Laban’s. Jacob’s desire is that God’s blessings would come to him so that they can go through him to others, particularly his family. He is blessed in order to be a blessing to others.

Laban tries to hoard God’s blessing for himself. He sees that God pours out blessing through Jacob and his only plan is to try and figure out how he can get more for himself.

Jacob’s response leads to service. Laban’s to injustice. Jacob’s to a wider net of blessing. Laban’s to a reversal of fortune where even what he has is weakened, while Jacob is blessed.

Each of you has been blessed. As the doxology causes us to sing and all of scripture proclaims, these blessings flow from the hand of God. So how will you respond? Will you be like Jacob, who receives blessing and gives it, who turns his life toward serving others, particularly those entrusted to him? Or will you be like Laban, who saw God’s blessing as a way to enrich himself, who saw wealth and prosperity as an end in itself instead of as a gift to be used to bless others?

Both Laban and Jacob recognize the same truth, that all our blessings come from the hand of God. Jacob responds by working to care for his family, while Laban works to care for himself. Jacob turns to service, Laban to selfish injustice. How will you respond?

The story ends with striped rods and speckled goats. Laban takes away all the animals that should have been Jacob’s wages in order to keep Jacob tied to him and working for him, to keep the blessing for himself. Not only does Laban rob Jacob of his wages, but he removed the speckled and spotted animals from the gene pool, making it less likely any would be born in the future.

However, Laban’s scheme fails because God overrules the injustice Laban has done to Jacob. Jacob had been tending the flocks for years and must have noticed immediately that all the spotted and speckled animals had been taken away. However, he does not fight Laban. Jacob is consistently a planner, not a fighter. Jacob’s strength as a herdsman was always his breeding (hence the multiplication of Laban’s herds at the beginning), so he tries to breed the animals in a way that would most likely produce spotted and speckled animals. He cut branches from trees and made them striped and put them in the water. He wanted the animals to see spots and stripes while they were mating (at the water troughs) and he even turned the animals to face to the spotted and speckled ones. Jacob believed that what animals saw when they mated would influence the young they gave birth to. I am not an expert on animal breeding, but I am pretty sure that that is not how it works. However, that didn’t matter, because the blessing comes from God. “While [Jacob’s] belief is not scientifically valid, the Lord honored it and prospered Jacob” (ABC 58).

Despite the odds, despite what seemed likely on the surface, God worked to bless Jacob and provide for his family. Laban was a wicked and unjust boss and his plan ultimately failed because God promised to be with Jacob and God always keeps his promises.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Question: Who do we truly believe is the source of all our blessings? Jacob and Laban both believed that it was God’s hand that poured out every blessing they received. However, Laban tried to hoard the blessing for himself, resorting to injustice and trickery to get more for him and less for others. Jacob saw the blessing as a way to provide for others, especially his family.

Question: Who do we truly believe is the source of all our blessings? Our answer will not just be in what we sing on Sunday, but what we do with God’s blessings in our lives throughout the rest of the week. Whether we desire God’s blessings to go to us, or through us to others.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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