The story of Jacob from the time he leaves the promised land to the time he returns especially illustrates that sometimes (not always), our hardships serve as a form of God’s “tough love” for us. It’s his way of disciplining us in love as his children in order to purify us from our sinful ways. Jacob’s Uncle Laban was just like him, a deceiver, manipulator, and cheater (see Genesis 29:1-30). In Laban, Jacob got a taste of his own medicine. But God was disciplining Jacob through Laban for his ultimate good.
The author of Hebrews writes, “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:5-11).
Derek Kidner put it best when he wrote, “In Laban, Jacob met his match and his means of discipline. Twenty years of drudgery and friction were to weather his character; and the reader can reflect that presumably Jacob is not the only person to have needed a Laban in his life.” (Kidner, Genesis, 170)
And so, before we think, “why did God bring these kind of people into our lives?!”, we need to take a hard look at ourselves. It may be that they are a lot like us and God is disciplining us through them. But through it all he wants us to grow in grace and to become more like Christ and less like our sinful self that we see in them.
Do we get frustrated with impatience in our children? What about our impatience with others and with God? Do we see selfishness and stubbornness in our spouse? What selfishness and stubbornness do we need to put to death in our own lives? Do we hate it when our boss takes advantage of us? How have we taken advantage of others this week? The list could go on and on. Whenever we are frustrated with others, even though we may have a right to be frustrated, like Jacob did, we must always look within ourselves and put to death our own sinful ways by God’s grace and strength.
Now, I’m not saying that if you are going through hardships like Jacob that you have necessarily sinned. It’s not that simple. The story of Job refutes such simple and false theology. Sometimes we suffer simply because we live under the common effects of the fall. But we should always be mindful of our sin and seek to humbly put it to death whenever we see that we have in any way contributed to our problems.
And no matter what difficulties we face in life, we must never conclude that God doesn’t love us. As the author of Hebrews points out above, God disciplines us in love, as a Father for his beloved child. And He will never leave us nor forsake us, even though we are so often stubborn rebellious children. His promises in Christ are gracious and are received by faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9). No matter what we have done, God so loved us that he sent his only Son to fulfill all righteousness on our behalf and to die for all of our sins, securing God’s love for us forever (John 3:16; Rom. 8:31-39). And because of Christ we can be sure that all of God’s promises for us in Christ will be fulfilled for our ultimate good (Rom. 8:28; Phil. 1:6; Rev. 21:1-4).
In the words of Iain Duguid, “God’s promises stand secure and will prevail. God’s purpose for good in sanctifying you in and through trials and suffering may not be comfortable, but it is sure. Even rough diamonds like Jacob–and like you and me–will be polished by providence until we shine like stars.” Amen! (Iain Duguid, Living in the Grip of Relentless Grace: The Gospel in the Lives of Isaac and Jacob, 72)