Deceiving the Deceiver

“After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month, Laban said to him, ‘Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.’ Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, ‘I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.’ Laban said, ‘It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.’ So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, ‘Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.’ So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant. When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, ‘What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?’ Laban replied, ‘It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.’ And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.”—Genesis 29:14-30 (NIV)

In 2008, a massive financial scandal broke when the well-respected financier, Bernie Madoff, was arrested for running a Ponzi scheme that cost his investors $65 billion. Madoff had convinced investors to trust him with their savings with the promise of consistently high returns on their investments, but had actually used the money from new investors to pay off the promised returns to older ones when no actual profit was being made. Madoff had deceived people who trusted him, and what sounded too good to be true really was.

Today’s passage recounts another tale of deceit that involves Jacob, who in Genesis 27 had tricked his brother Esau into selling his birthright for a bowl of stew. As you may recall, he carried out his mother Rebekah’s ill-advised plan to deceive his father, Isaac, by dressing up as Esau in order to steal his blessing.

Years later, and having fallen in love with Rachel, Jacob negotiates a deal with her father (and his uncle), Laban, to work for seven years in exchange for her hand in marriage—a business arrangement that was common to the culture of that time. Laban agrees to Jacob’s terms but doesn’t disclose the fine print. He neglects to tell Jacob that it’s not customary to marry off a younger daughter before her elder sister. And so, Laban gives Leah to Jacob on their wedding night, whose identity was veiled until morning. Through his trickery, Laban gains another seven years of labor out of Jacob.

Jacob is understandably upset by what has happened, as he confronts Laban about his deception. But the irony is clear: The deceiver is now the one who’s been deceived.

What can we learn from this story? One commentary on Bible.org concludes by noting that “one of the consequences of the sin of Jacob’s deceiving Isaac was his physical and emotional separation from those he loved. A second consequence is the moral parallel to Newton’s law of motion: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. In our Lord’s words, ‘all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword’ (Matthew 26:52). Jacob chose to get ahead in life by means of deception. Jacob learned the sad lesson that those who seek to deceive shall be deceived.”

For us today, the story is also a sobering reminder of the deception of sin in our lives. It fools us into thinking we’ll find contentment apart from God and can hide it from others, only to discover we’re the ones who have been deceived.

DIG: Have you ever deliberately tricked anyone or tried to hide your sin? Have you ever been deceived by someone else? What did it feel like to be on either side of the deception?

DISCOVER: Read Galatians 6:7-9. What do you think God is lovingly warning us about in terms of our actions and the consequences of living apart from His Spirit?

DISPLAY: If you struggle with being honest in your dealings or if you’ve been hurt by someone who misled or lied to you, bring it to Jesus and ask Him to help you. He is the one who makes the crooked paths straight (Isaiah 45:2) and who can comfort you in your pain (1 Corinthians 1:3-5).