What To Do When the Man Keeps You Down
Jacob Prospers at Laban’s Expense
When Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country. Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, and let me go; for you know very well the service I have given you.” But Laban said to him, “If you will allow me to say so, I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you; name your wages, and I will give it.” Jacob said to him, “You yourself know how I have served you, and how your cattle have fared with me. For you had little before I came, and it has increased abundantly; and the Lord has blessed you wherever I turned. But now when shall I provide for my own household also?” He said, “What shall I give you?” Jacob said, “You shall not give me anything; if you will do this for me, I will again feed your flock and keep it: let me pass through all your flock today, removing from it every speckled and spotted sheep and every black lamb, and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and such shall be my wages. So my honesty will answer for me later, when you come to look into my wages with you. Every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats and black among the lambs, if found with me, shall be counted stolen.” Laban said, “Good! Let it be as you have said.” But that day Laban removed the male goats that were striped and spotted, and all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had white on it, and every lamb that was black, and put them in charge of his sons; and he set a distance of three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob was pasturing the rest of Laban’s flock.
Two Kinds of Wisdom
Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
Like many working families, growing up we did not go on vacations. Summertime and Sunday afternoons were used for catching up on yard work and housework that could not be done during the week. One particular job I can remember well was painting our front porch. We had a big, Victorian style house with close to twenty white wooden columns and a rail that went all the way around the front of the house, and while I’m sure we did not repraint the entire porch, it was big enough that there was always a part of it that needed redone. It was a constant reminder of the futilities of life, especially for those with few options. The work is always there, but it is not rewarding work, and it will never be finished. Long after we are dead and gone, the wood will need another coat of paint.
So, give me a power sander and lets go to work, right? Nope. My dad was old school, which meant we might be able to use a small block to wrap our sand paper around, but for the most part it was just sandpaper and our hands. For many of the smaller spindles in the rail, it probably was just as well, but wow it seemed like the most boring work you could possibly do. Sometime, during my youth I saw the original Karate Kid. My dad must have as well. Mr Miyagi was his parenting hero. I’m sure I resented him for it then, but I can see know he was simply teaching me what he knew best: Patient, hard work.
James tells us that we are to show our wisdom, not by guile or showboating our knowledge, but instead by a “good life” whose “works are done with gentleness born of wisdom”. You don’t get that kind of wisdom without spending time and sweat preparing wood for painting. Some believe that true wisdom comes from life experience, particularly in learning from many mistakes. Learning from mistakes is important, but some kinds of wisdom are not learned that way. Patience, diligence, and the gentleness that is required for delicate, laborious work, are not learned by making mistakes. They are learned by pushing out our selfish ambition and grudgingly succeeding, one step at at time.
Jacob had intelligence and guile. He could have simply run off with Rachel from day one. After all, Laban had been less than honest with him. Instead, Jacob would beat Laban at his own game with hard work. It was the slow game, the long walk, but in the end, it is only these that truly get us to where we need to be, and more importantly, help us become the people we were created to be. We rise, not through talent and ambition, but ultimately, through perseverance and discipline, because without these, we will have no balance to stay in those high places we seek to ascend.
What experiences have taught you patience and hard work?
What is the task that takes your patience and perseverance today?