“So Jacob took an oath before the fearsome God of his father, Isaac, to respect the boundary line. Then Jacob offered a sacrifice to God there on the mountain and invited everyone to a covenant feast. After they had eaten, they spent the night on the mountain.”
What preceded the verse above … previously: “But Jacob soon learned that Laban’s sons were grumbling about him … And Jacob began to notice a change in Laban’s attitude toward him. So Jacob called Rachel and Leah out to the field where he was watching his flock. He said to them … “You know how hard I have worked for your father, but he has cheated me, changing my wages ten times. But God has not allowed him to do me any harm.” Gen. 31:1-4
“(Laban) caught up with Jacob seven days later in the hill country of Gilead. But the previous night God had appeared to Laban the Aramean in a dream and told him, “I’m warning you—leave Jacob alone!” “See this pile of stones,” Laban continued, “and see this monument I have set between us. They stand between us as witnesses of our vows. May the Lord keep watch between us to make sure that we keep this covenant when we are out of each other’s sight … God will see it even if no one else does. He is a witness to this covenant between us. I will never pass this pile of stones to harm you, and you must never pass these stones or this monument to harm me. I call on the God of our ancestors to serve as a judge between us.”
Conflict. Relationships. Boundaries. The story of Laban and Jacob in Genesis 31 is one I had kind of forgotten. But it’s a story we can easily relate to today. In fact, most of us have likely found ourselves in a situation where there has been conflict, damaged relationships, maybe some unfair treatment, and just plain hurt. What do we do with that?
Jacob was Laban’s son-in-law, and had worked hard for years, toiling to earn Laban’s daughters — first Leah, then Rachel. (That’s a whole other storyline!) Laban and his sons, however, did not seem to be on the up and up in this whole deal, and Jacob began to take note of how Laban’s attitude had begun to change toward him. Similarly, we can find ourselves in a friendship where trust had been established, good will extended, and then we notice a shift in the wind, a change in the air, and the relationship has changed from one of trust to one of mistrust. Misperceptions and assumptions appear, trust erodes, conflict is likely, and damage occurs.
But what can we learn from Jacob and Laban’s mountain experience? They agreed to a covenant. To boundaries. They erected a monument, and vowed not to harm each other, and called on God to serve as judge of their motives and actions, even as they are out of each other’s sight — God would know and see, even if no one else did. Jacob offered a sacrifice, extended the hand of graciousness to the one who had mistreated him, and they all ate together and stayed overnight on the mountain. They established a covenant, boundaries, and found unity on the mountain.
It is a sacrifice to give up our own way, to give up our right to be “right” for the sake of unity. And we do this because we honor God — and want to please Him. And when we choose this in obedience, we release the chain that holds judgment into the hand of the Judge. And like Jacob, we are free to live out His blessing:)