Perhaps you have heard the term “hagiography.” It’s a word used to describe a biography which ignores or covers over the faults of its subject. Literally, the word means “holy writing.” It’s a way of presenting a sinner as a saint. One might expect the Bible to try to follow this practice in the record of its key players, especially those as important as the Patriarchs. But the Bible does not ignore the sins and frailties of its central figures. That is certainly the case with Jacob. Though God is using various circumstances to sanctify Jacob, the process is nevertheless a long and painful one.
Coming on the heels of the great vision at Bethel, we would expect to see immediate transformation in Jacob. Likewise, we may expect that following such a marvelous vision depicting God’s great grace and the promise of his blessing and presence that the Lord’s providence for Jacob would lead him into pleasant pastures. And it certainly appears that way when Jacob weeps with ecstatic joy upon meeting Rachel. But then Laban enters the picture. And with that ominous turn, we see that God’s grace toward Jacob will include the painful means of his growth.
We can no doubt appreciate that Jacob needed to be disciplined for his acts of deception against his brother and father. But, his years in Paddan Aram were far more than discipline for sins committed. Those years were God’s gracious and painful providence overruling Laban’s deceit and bringing great things from it. Eight of the twelve tribes of Israel would trace their ancestry back to the unloved Leah and her maid, Zilpah. Surely there is a great lesson in that. God blesses and uses the poor, the weak, even the unloved to extend his grace to the world. “God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).