Living With Integrity

We are coming up on a tense time of the year for many people, the time when budgets for the coming year are established. It is a time when employees wonder: will my job be slashed due to “down-sizing”? Will I get the raise I’m hoping for (and in some cases need)? Will I at least get a cost of living adjustment? Anyone who has every had to worry about their wages will find this account of Jacob interesting.

Jacob, has been working for his uncle Laban. We have discovered Laban to be a scheming, selfish and deceitful man. He is not concerned about Jacob . . . he is only concerned about himself. He feels no obligation to Jacob and no sensitivity to Jacob’s responsibility as head of a family of twelve. Jacob has now worked for Laban for fourteen years. On paper his service was a payment for the wives he married (Leah and Rachel). His obligation having been fulfilled, it was time to renegotiate or to get another job. We read in Genesis 30:25-30,

After Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me on my way so I can go back to my own homeland. Give me my wives and children, for whom I have served you, and I will be on my way. You know how much work I’ve done for you.” But Laban said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, please stay. I have learned by divination that the LORD has blessed me because of you.” He added, “Name your wages, and I will pay them.”

If I have pieced the details together correctly, Jacob had 12 children during the seven years he was working to “get” Rachel. This is possible, remember, because Jacob had in essence, four wives. This would means that Jacob had twelve children all under seven. This guy didn’t just need a raise . . . he needed a vacation! This was one guy who may not have minded spending the night with the sheep.

Laban acknowledges that he has been blessed because of Jacob. Laban wants . . . he needs Jacob to stay. He says, “Name your price.” It would seem that Jacob is in pretty good bargaining position. If we follow this story carefully we can discern three important life principles.

LIFE IS NOT ALWAYS FAIR BUT GOD IS GOOD

All throughout the Bible we read of people of God enduring struggles.

  • Abel was murdered by his brother
  • Lot had to flee for his life while his home was destroyed
  • Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son on the altar (God stopped him before he went through with it)
  • Jacob had to flee the wrath of Esau
  • Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers
  • Moses was exasperated by the people of God
  • Jeremiah was the weeping prophet
  • Hosea was told to marry a woman that would break his heart
  • God took Ezekiel’s wife from him suddenly and told him not to grieve
  • Job lost everything
  • The disciples (other than John) all died martyrs death

So it should not surprise us when we see Jacob treated unfairly.

  • It was unfair that he had to work fourteen years for the wife he had agreed to work seven years for.
  • It was unfair that Laban profited but Jacob did not share in the profit
  • It was unfair that Laban changed his wages a number of times after he agrees to give him the stripped, spotted and black lambs.

Sometimes evil people prosper. Sometimes good people (relatively speaking) suffer. Some people try to do the right thing and are taken advantage of. Some are con artists yet hear the applause of the crowd. But we must never forget our concept of fair and God’s are different. God sees the big picture . . . all we see is the current pain. This story of Jacob reminds us that life may not always be fair . . .but God IS always good.

Do you remember the movie “The Karate Kid?” In that movie Mr. Miyagi (played by Arnold of Arnold’s Drive-in in the Happy Days TV series) is asked to teach Daniel Larusso karate. Daniel has been the victim of the bullies in the neighborhood. He wants revenge so he is eager to learn. So, in their first lesson Mr. Miyagi has Daniel paint the fence. The next lesson he has him wax his car (“wax on, wax off”). Daniel is gets frustrated. While others are learning kicks and jabs, Daniel has painted a fence, waxed a car, swept a floor and tried to catch a fly with chop sticks. Daniel feels that he is being cheated. It’s not fair! He says. But as we learn, Mr. Miyagi had a plan. He was teaching Daniel basic Karate moves by these exercises and was teaching him to concentrate In the end (it is Hollywood) Daniel comes out the champion.

We sometimes face situations like Daniel Larusso. And we may feel that God has turned a deaf ear to us. We cry for justice and God tells us to “paint a fence”. “It’s not fair!” we say. But, remember my friend, don’t draw conclusions until the story is over. Your pain and frustration comes from your inability to see the big picture. In those “unfair” times we must trust that the hand of God is working in unseen ways for our ultimate good. Jacob may have felt like he was being treated unfairly . . .but God was shaping him.

GOD’S PROVISION IS SUPERIOR TO THAT OF THE WORLD

We seem to see a new Jacob here. The hardship was making him softer. Jacob is ready to trust God. Here’s what he proposes:

Don’t give me anything,” Jacob replied. “But if you will do this one thing for me, I will go on tending your flocks and watching over them: Let me go through all your flocks today and remove from them every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb and every spotted or speckled goat. They will be my wages. And my honesty will testify for me in the future, whenever you check on the wages you have paid me. Any goat in my possession that is not speckled or spotted, or any lamb that is not dark-colored, will be considered stolen.” (Genesis 30:31-33)

In this area, sheep are almost always white. Jacob proposes that he be given all the “unusual” sheep, the the speckled, spotted or dark colored lamb and any speckled or spotted goats. In the future only these sheep and goats will belong to Jacob. Anytime Laban was concerned that Jacob was cheating him, all he had to do was go to Jacob’s pen and see if any white sheep were there. It sounded like a good deal to Laban. So what does he do?

That same day he removed all the male goats that were streaked or spotted, and all the speckled or spotted female goats (all that had white on them) and all the dark-colored lambs, and he placed them in the care of his sons. Then he put a three-day journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob continued to tend the rest of Laban’s flocks. (Genesis 30:35, 36)

Laban wasn’t holding these animals in escrow for Jacob. He was making sure there were no speckled, spotted or dark colored animals. He was ripping Jacob off once again. Jacob begins his new independence with nothing. Jacob is still the victim.

Jacob, having nothing, begins the process of building some holdings of his own. First, whenever the animals were mating he had them face either the striped branches or the streaked and spotted animals of the flock. It seems that Jacob believed that if an animal looked at the striped or spotted branch or the stripped and spotted members of the flock, they would deliver a stripped or spotted offspring. Second, Jacob engages in a little selective genetics. He only puts the sticks out when the strong animals are mating. So . . . the strong animals went to Jacob and the weak ones went to Laban.

Commentators disagree at what was really happening here. Some suggest that Jacob was up to his own schemes and was relying on superstition to get himself a flock. Others attribute great wisdom to Jacob. They see in Jacob an expert in sheep who knows what works and uses his knowledge to get a flock of his own. They believe that Jacob knew some scientific fact that we don’t know about.

But I don’t think that is the case. Look at verses 8-13 in chapter 31. Jacob is trying to convince his wives that it is time for them to leave. He refers to the “flock building exercise” this way,

“In breeding season I once had a dream in which I looked up and saw that the male goats mating with the flock were streaked, speckled or spotted. The angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob.’ I answered, ‘Here I am.’ And he said, ‘Look up and see that all the male goats mating with the flock are streaked, speckled or spotted, for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land.’” (Genesis 31:9-13)

Jacob claims that the idea about being paid with “odd” animals was God’s idea. God was the one that was making it happen. It seems apparent that God told Jacob to do what he did. Do you remember in the Book of Numbers when poisonous snakes were killing the people in the Promised land as punishment for their rebellion? Moses pleaded for the people and God told Moses to make a bronze snake, put it on a pole and then whoever looked at it would be saved.

Was there any power in the bronze snake? Of course not. But to look at the snake was to believe God enough to do what He said. This is the reason they were saved . . . . because of their faith, not because of the replica of a snake. I think the same thing is happening here. There was nothing magic in the striped sticks . . . but Jacob acted in faith by doing what God told him to do . . . no matter how silly it seemed. God honored Jacob’s faithfulness. No matter how Laban changed the wage . . . Jacob prospered.

Oh that we would learn the lesson of Jacob. That which the world can give us, that which we can obtain by our own ingenuity is so much less than what God offers to the one who is obedient.

  • The promotion you could get if you “used your influence” is not near as satisfying as knowing you “fought the good fight, your finished the course, you kept the faith.”
  • The stuff you can amass by borrowing money is not near as satisfying as learning to be content in every circumstance.
  • The appreciative eyes of the crowd at a well maintained body is not to be compared with the satisfaction and strength that comes from a soul that has been nurtured and developed.
  • The applause of men cannot be compared with the “Well Done” of the Father.
  • The renewed friendship after forgiveness is greater than the “sweet feeling of revenge”
  • The satisfaction of giving to another far surpasses the satisfaction of being given to.

So, why do we push ahead? Why do we ignore God’s counsel? Why don’t we do it God’s way and trust that He speaks with a wisdom that will astound and amaze us? I wish I had a good answer to that question. Is it because we forget the Lord’s faithfulness? Is it that we don’t really trust Him? Is it because we are so full of ourselves that we will always choose our instinct and plan over His instruction? I don’t know what the answer is. What I do know is that I want to be more like Jacob.

INTEGRITY IS TO BE ESTEEMED ABOVE RICHES

But there is something else I want you to see in Jacob. Jacob had other options open to him. He could have,

  • taken his family and run away before his agreed time of service was over
  • stolen some of the sheep for himself
  • taken the attitude that “I may have to work for you, but I don’t have to work hard.”

Instead, Jacob did his work and he did it to the best of his ability. He dealt honestly with Laban even when Laban was seeking to “rip him off”. After working for Laban for twenty years it was time for Jacob to head back home. Because of the resentment of Laban and his sons, Jacob has take his family and leave without telling anyone.

When Laban finds out, he heads out after Jacob. When he catches up to Jacob he asks him why he left. He is upset. He says he wanted to have a going away party. But that is a smokescreen. Laban is mad. He hints that he wanted to attack Jacob but God had spoken to him and warned him not to. He charges that Jacob has stolen from him. Jacob feels that his character is being called into question and he doesn’t like it. (He doesn’t know that Rachel had stolen Laban’s gods.) Jacob challenges Laban to search through everything. After the search comes up empty the frustration Jacob has held in for 20 years pours out.

Your sheep and goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten rams from your flocks. I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself. And you demanded payment from me for whatever was stolen by day or night. This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes. It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household. I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times. If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you.”

Notice Jacob’s defense: I did nothing wrong. Jacob was the model worker. He took care of the sheep, he absorbed losses, withstood terrible weather. Notice something here . . . Laban does not disagree with Jacob. He cannot argue with the example of his life. He agreed to serve for seven years, and did so. He agreed to serve another seven and did. He said he would only take the spotted, stripped and black of the flock and a quick look at the flock would tell you that this is what he had done . . . and no more.

In 1997, USA Today reported that 48% of American workers admit to taking unethical or illegal actions during the past year. The five most common unethical/illegal behavior that workers say they have engaged in because of pressure were:

  • cutting corners on quality control
  • covering up incidents
  • abused or lied about sick days
  • lied to or deceived customers
  • put inappropriate pressure on others

Do you see how this contrasts with Jacob? Jacob was a man of integrity. Ted Engstrom has said, “Integrity is not only the way one thinks but even more the way one acts. Simply put, integrity is doing what you said you would do. It is as basic as keeping your word, fulfilling your promises.”

Isn’t it frustrating to read of athletes who insist on signing a multi-year guaranteed contract and then half way into the contract hold out because they think the contract should be re-negotiated? One of the things I respected about Michael Jordan is that he played out his entire contract even while dozens of players were making lots more than he was. When asked, Jordan said simply, “I signed a contract”. That’s integrity.

Bill Hybels has written a book with a great title, “Who You Are When No One is Looking”. The person you are in private is the person you really are. Jacob didn’t have to do a good job. No one was looking. But he did his best because it was the right thing to do. He did it because He was serving the Lord and not just himself.

There was a young Christian man in a southern university. He made the football team as the starting split end (no, it has nothing to do with hair). And he was continually before God saying, “Help me in the climax of moments to be absolutely honest. I pray for honesty–that one mark of integrity. I want to be that, Lord, and I’ll work on it through the season.”The rival team came that night, homecoming. He ran his route and went into the end zone. The quarterback shot him the pass and he got it love. He landed on it, and the referee shouted, “Touchdown!” But that boy knew that he had trapped the ball. (In other words, he really didn’t catch it. He landed on it while he was on the ground and it looked like he caught t.) The stands were just cheering, he was the hero of the game. But he said, “Wait a minute.” He walked up to the referee and shook his head. He said, “I trapped it.” The referee canceled the touchdown and they lost the game.Now you may not understand much about football, but you know that this boy stood all alone, not only against a team that said, “What does it matter, man?” but against the stands full of people. He said, “I can’t take the credit. I did not catch it.” [James K. Krames, “Tender Loving Heart” LIVING FREE]

Here’s a question for you: what would you have done if you were that boy? What would you have done if you were that boys teammate? His coach? His parents? And what do you think God said?

Jacob revealed that he was a man of character and integrity. Even in difficult, unfair, and trying times he faithfully kept his word. He did his best in whatever he had to do. And God was pleased.

CONCLUSIONS

I conclude this morning with some simple questions:

1. Do you feel that you are underpaid, overworked and under appreciated? If so, I encourage you to ask: Who are you working for? What are you working for? Life isn’t always fair . . .but God is trustworthy.

2. Look around you house. Look around you garage. Make a mental list of all the stuff you have. Now try to estimate how much time and energy and money you have devoted to getting this stuff. How much of the stuff is already garbage? Now here’s the key question: How much time, energy and money have you been investing to “lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven?” How much of yourself have you invested in the things that are eternal. . . the things that will last forever?

3. Do you live a double life? Are you prim and proper when you are in public or when at church but in reality you are something much different? Do you think you are fooling the Lord? Which person do you think the Lord will judge on the final day: the pretend you, or the real you?

The measure of a person and of that person’s faith is not how they behave in church. It is how they handle the tough, painful, and unfair times of life. It is shown in who we are when no one is looking. It is seen in how we handle the routine “wax on” and “wax off” chores of life. Jacob is not perfect . . .but he is growing. He is becoming a person of character. May the same be said of us.