‘Hiraeth’ is a Welsh word that doesn’t translate easily into English and although I can’t speak Welsh; I feel I know what it means. It’s a sort of longing for home. It’s the feeling that I get when I’m away too long. It’s a feeling I had when returning to Wales as a child, even though I’d spent much of my childhood outside Wales; there was still this call to go home. I’m not sure if any of this would have resonated with Jacob but things were changing and it was time to leave Haran and head for the Promised Land again. Canaan that is, not Wales.
Jacob had negotiated wages with Laban and even though Laban had changed his wages ten times, God still prospered Jacob. Just as his father Isaac had been envied by the Philistines, so Jacob was envied by Laban’s family. It wasn’t that Laban’s family were becoming poor, they just resented Jacob’s growing wealth. It’s easy to allow envy to creep into our lives but it is a sin that needs to be dealt with;
“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:16)
‘I will be with you.’ That word from the Lord must have stuck with Jacob. He repeated it twice in this chapter (31:5, 42). Just to make sure Jacob knew it, the Lord repeated it to Jacob again (28:15, 31:3). That didn’t mean Jacob’s life would be trouble free; he was about to embark on a very dangerous journey and he was clearly frightened. Neither did it mean that Jacob and his family were people who had everything sorted; Rachel stole from her father, just as Jacob had stolen his father’s blessing from his brother. It did mean however, that God was guiding him, that the wealth he was now acquiring owed nothing to Jacob’s craftiness and hard work and everything to God’s kindness.
“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32)
The command from the Lord was for Jacob to go back to his native land (31:13), the land of his fathers (31:3). When he shares what the Lord is saying with his wives, they agree that they are already being treated like foreigners by their father (31:15). It’s clear, these are people who are not comfortable where they are and are ready to head for Canaan.
The Lord told Jacob;
“Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.” (31:3)
We’ve already considered some of the elements here but it’s interesting that in the middle of the sentence, we read ‘to your relatives’. Jacob had grown up in a home that was hopelessly divided and dysfunctional with Jacob and his mother, Rebekah on the one side and his father, Isaac, and his twin brother, Esau, on the other. Jacob had treated his father and brother very badly and the main reason he had been forced away from home was the very real threat that Esau was going to kill him. We are not told when Rebekah died but it is assumed it took place during the years Jacob lived in Haran so the sin of mother and son resulted in them being parted never to see each other again. That leaves the question, who are the relatives that Jacob needs to see? We know he is about to meet Esau, he will see his father again before he dies (35:27) and there are no other relatives in Canaan. It seems to me that Jacob needs to make peace with his family. Perhaps some of us need to go back to our relatives.
I hear your voice and I catch my breath, “well done my child, enter in and rest.’
Tears of joy roll down my cheek, it’s beautiful beyond my wildest dreams.
I want to run on greener pastures, I want to dance on higher hills.
I want to drink from sweeter waters, in the misty morning chill.
And my soul is getting restless, for the place where I belong.
I can’t wait to join the angels and sing my heaven song. (Heaven Song – Phil Wickham.)