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Being an Honest Person in a Dishonest World

June 26th, 2014

So shall my righteousness answer for me in the future…

Genesis 30:33a

To what degree Jacob was a schemer and a manipulator of others is the subject of debate among Bible scholars. Being his mother Rebekah’s favorite, and seeing the manipulative family that she came from, we would be surprised if he had not learned from her manipulation as a second nature. But God still chose Jacob for His own purposes, and Jacob was learning to become God’s man.

One of the traits of God’s people is honesty, in this passage described as “righteousness.” The modern translations seem to use “honesty” but the word in Hebrew is zedek or “righteousness” of which honesty is only part. Jacob did not set out to become honest only – he sought to be righteous in his heart and actions, and that included being honest in his business dealings. It is surprising how often this trait surfaces among God’s best in the Old Testament – the life of a man of faith was being produced in Jacob.

God told him at Bethel as he fled from the wrath of Esau, “I will be with you,” and one of the chief ways God makes His presence known in our lives is by the change of our hearts. For us who live in the New Covenant of the Gospel of Christ, we have the Holy Spirit who indwells us and transforms us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). In the day of the patriarchs God’s Spirit moved in their lives, but they were not aided by the written Word of God, as the Bible had not yet been inspired of God. They lived in the Age of Conscience, yet it is clear that they had knowledge of the sacrificial system, that they tithed their incomes to God (Gen. 28:21), and they sought to be fair-minded, righteous people. And, as in every age, it was through their faith in God that they were saved, as we read in Genesis 15:5, Romans 4:3, and Galatians 3:6, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Laban, however, was a man of the world and his words always had double meanings. Jacob had worked for him for several years, had a family of his own – two families, in fact, and was Laban’s son-in-law. But it appeared that none of that meant anything to Laban – he had bartered his daughters away so that he might have a good worker, a steward whom he could trust. Laban was untouched by Jacob’s personal needs and unmoved by his growing piety, and Jacob finally sought to protect his own family’s interests. They set upon a plan of action, to help Jacob get established on his own. All of their wealth was tied up in livestock, not money, and Jacob requested to have all of the spotted lambs and goats as his. Laban readily agreed, but before Jacob could go in and separate them from the flocks, Laban’s men did it first and put them far away, in the care of his sons.

There is in this a clear message, as Paul wrote, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14) In some matters of life we have no choice but to share the responsibilities of living in today’s world with unbelievers, but when there is a choice, when there is an opportunity to do otherwise, we are wise if we seek out good and righteous people. Unfortunately, not everyone who claims to be a follower of Christ truly is an honest person. Many “Labans” exist among believers, so we cannot naively imagine that the name “Christian” is enough alone. Proven character is the issue, and this is the goal of the Spirit in each of our lives.

The traits of Laban were dishonesty in speech, conniving in agreements, flattery and appearance of friendship, and treachery in the end. In Proverbs 23:6-8 we read:

Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy; do not desire his delicacies, for he is like one who is inward calculating, “Eat and drink!” he says to you, but his heart is not with you. You will vomit up the morsels that you have eaten, and waste your pleasant words.

These are the people we should avoid when and where possible.

Chapter 30 closes with the response of Jacob to his situation, and it is difficult to picture exactly what the passage is describing. It appears that Jacob was crafty and through good animal husbandry increased his wealth, and that, as he had done with Esau earlier, deemed Laban and his sons as unworthy of the animals in their care, as lazy and careless. But, Jacob was, as we all are, a work in progress, still learning to trust in God. A Christian does not need to resort to treachery, but should in every situation seek to be honest, righteous, good, fair, and patient, trusting in God to bring the increase.

Jesus said in Luke 16:10-13:

One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

The true riches Christ spoke about is the knowledge we gain of His grace and love, and the personal experience we have in our relationship with Him. It matters now how much of this world’s wealth we have do not have Christ.


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