How long can we stay at a hostile place? For Jacob, he endured 20 years.
Thus have I been twenty years in thy house; I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle: and thou hast changed my wages ten times.Genesis 31:41 (KJV)
Jacob lived 147 years (Genesis 47:28), thus 20 years would have been 14% of his life. To have a sense of how long that is for us with a lower life expectancy, it would be about ten years.
It felt like a long time, yet not inconceivable if you consider adult working life. Ten years was how long I had stayed in my latest job. I would absolutely believe it if someone had told me that they had stayed ten years at a job they didn’t like, or ten years with someone they didn’t wholeheartedly love. Ten years would be the time to care for a newborn till the child is a tween.
Journey with God & Moving On when it’s time
Jacob knew when he escaped from his brother Esau (because Jacob had stolen his brother’s blessing), that his destination was to return to the promised land. God first appeared to Jacob on his escape journey and promised him that.
I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”Genesis 28:15 (NIV)
Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, who masterminded the stealing of the blessing, had promised him that she would send word to bring him back once Esau was no longer angry (Genesis 27:45). No word came from her (though we were not told why, including whether she had passed away as there was no mention of when she died).
While Jacob was working for a petty and scheming father-in-law (Laban), he wasn’t always negative about it. A summary of the twenty years could give us a hint on his decisions:
- Laban asked what Jacob’s wages should be, and the latter named Laban’s younger daughter Rachel in return for 7 years’ work. Those 7 years passed by like a few days to Jacob because he loved Rachel, who was beautiful (Genesis 29:20).
- When 7 years was up and it was time to marry Rachel, Laban tricked Jacob into marrying his elder daughter Leah. Laban then demanded another 7 years of work and he would let Jacob marry Rachel the following week.
- There was no mention of how the next 7 years went by – however, it was a time of discord and rivalry as both wives and their maids had children with Jacob.
- After the birth of Joseph, Jacob spoke to Laban about returning home (Genesis 30:25).
- The atmosphere got more tense as Jacob’s flock grew and Laban’s sons felt that Jacob had taken their father’s wealth. Laban also became hostile (Genesis 31:1-2).
- God told Jacob it was time to return home and that He would be with him (Genesis 31:3)
Jacob seemed to have stayed those 20 years, firstly out of love, then out of obligation as he agreed to Laban’s terms. However, when the situation got worse and at the same time, God confirmed it was time to leave, Jacob started to plan their escape.
Life in Transition
- Someone to fight for
For Jacob, it was Rachel who he was fighting for – he wanted to marry her and was willing to work 7+7 years. When Laban tricked him after the first seven years, Jacob could have gone ‘enough is enough, I don’t really want your daughter that much’. But he didn’t – he accepted the other 7 years.
This reminded me of the few times that I took major career detours – out of my industry, and out of my country. Were they worth it? Absolutely not if you consider the potential lost income, but absolutely worth it for the person. The first detour I took, I found God in the foreign country – China. The second detour I took, it was for my husband.
Sometimes, certain decisions may seem foolish by the world’s standards. Maybe when we are in life transitions, we keep in mind who we are fighting for, instead of dollars and cents.
Someone to lean on
It is less straightforward when it comes to fighting for ourselves. Is this dream worth it? What am I even doing? These are doubts that often cross our minds when we make major decisions. In Jacob’s case, the external circumstances were getting unfavorable and at the same time, God affirmed the decision to move back home.
When it is God who guides us, we make the move. Naturally we will worry if we are even hearing him right, and this takes prayers and a relationship with God. For Abraham’s servant, his prayer was answered immediately and so specifically because it was God’s plan (Genesis 24 devotional). Sometimes we know because of the circumstances, for instance, sharing with a Christian friend who confirmed the same thought.
Faced with a dilemma, we may google, research, talk to many friends and fret. Maybe, the next time we are faced with such a decision, we pause to pray. Fretting is so hard not to do, but it’s definitely not the way to move forward.
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;Psalm 37:8 (NIV)
do not fret—it leads only to evil.
Moving on, with confidence
Genesis 31 Journaling Prompt
Do you feel like you are in a life transition?
Are you looking at moving on to the next stage of your life?
God, you know that change is scary. We do not know if it will be for better or worse. That’s why I am scared, I need to lean on you. I need to hear your voice, I need your guidance.
Books on Change
I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.
Every time I feel like I have to do something different, it is to do something more creative. That’s why I enjoyed reading Creative Confidence by IDEO partners. While I haven’t read Joyce Meyer’s Seize the Day and Marie Kondo’s Spark Joy, both books offer very practical advice.