Genesis 31:1–21: The Flight of Jacob
When Jacob left Canaan, he demonstrates a paradoxical pattern in life. From one perspective, Jacob sought after the things of God in a way that his brother, Esau, did not. From another perspective, Jacob was brash, arrogant, and unscrupulous. To his credit, Jacob pursued the birthright that his brother Esau despised (Gen. 25:34) and the blessing that his brother Esau forfeited through marriage to Hittite women (Gen. 26:34–35). To Jacob’s shame, however, he exploited his brother’s desperation to gain the birthright, and he manipulated and deceived his blind father to secure the blessing (Gen. 27:1–29). In contrast to Esau, Jacob has desired the right things all his life. Nevertheless, he has been willing to trespass even the closest, familial boundaries to gain them.
After Jacob’s two decades of service under Laban, Jacob’s heart has significantly changed. No longer does Jacob rely upon himself in the way that he did in the past. Instead, he has become increasingly dependent upon God, who has been with him at every step of his journey. When Jacob now prepares to flee from his bondage in Laban’s house to return to this homeland in Canaan, God reveals more fully how his providential grace has been at work in the life of Jacob. Jacob, then, does not depart for Canaan according to his own desires, but according to God’s word to him (Gen. 31:3, 13). Where Jacob departed from Canaan a selfish man who lived by his own scheming, he returns to Canaan as a humbled man who lives by faith in God’s promises. In this story of how Jacob and his family prepare for their exodus out of bondage and into the promised land, we see a type of how God calls his church out of the corruptions of this world (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14–7:1). In our case, God does not call us to depart out of this world entirely (cf. 1 Cor. 5:10). Instead, God calls us out of the world’s way of living in order to make us into a royal priesthood and a holy nation in front of the watching world (1 Pet. 2:9–12). As Jacob proclaims God’s word to his family, urging them to follow God’s call by faith, Genesis 31:1–21 reminds us that God calls his church out of this world into his holiness.
1. What kind of risk does Jacob take by pursuing the inheritance of his fathers, rather than the inheritance of Laban (Gen. 30:43–31:2)? What kind of comfort and stability might you need to risk to follow God’s call? What lifestyles, relationships, or even careers might you need to abandon to walk by faith? What makes the inheritance God offers in Christ worth such risks?
2. How many ways has Laban attempted to cheat Jacob and change his wages (Gen. 31:4–12)? How many ways has God thwarted Laban? In what areas of your life do you recognize threats against you? How have you seen God protect you in those circumstances? What confidence does that give you as you seek to follow Christ by faith through difficult circumstances?
3. Why are Rachel and Leah willing to go with Jacob (Gen. 31:14–16)? Do their responses demonstrate great faith? Why are they willing to risk so much to go to a land they have never visited in obedience to a God they do not know? Do you know any stories of people who come to faith in Christ not because of great knowledge, but to find refuge from a crumbling world?
4. When Rachel steals her father’s household gods, how does she behave like Jacob when he was preparing to leave Canaan (Gen. 31:19)? What does this tell us about her faith at this point in time? What sins held you captive when you first came to faith in Christ? What sins are you still battling today? What steps toward holiness is God calling you to take by faith?