Can Your Gods Be Stolen?
March 1st, 1989 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-01-89 7:30 p.m.
Our message tonight is entitled Can Your Gods Be Stolen? In our preaching through the first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, we have come to an unusual passage in the thirty-first chapter. In this chapter, Jacob has taken his two wives and their children and the substance that God has given him in Padan-aram, and he’s returning back to the land of Canaan; and Laban, the father-in-law of Jacob, the father of Leah and Rachel, his wives, pursues him as he leaves.
Now we begin at verse 30 in Genesis 31:
And now though thou wouldest needs be gone because thou sore longedst after thy father’s house – returning back to Canaan – yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods?
And Jacob answered and said to Laban,
"With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live. Before our brethren, discern that what is thine with me and take it to thee." For Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them.
And Laban went into Jacob’s tent, and into Leah’s tent, and into the two maidservants’ tents, but he didn’t find the gods. Then went he out of Leah’s tent and entered into Rachel’s tent.
Now Rachel had taken the images – the idols, the gods – and put them in the camel’s furniture, and sat upon them. And Laban searched all the tent but didn’t find them.
Then Rachel said to her father, "Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise up before thee, for the custom of women is upon me." And Laban searched, but found not the images.
One of the most unusual stories in the Bible. Can your gods be stolen? The answer is a decided and emphatic "Yes!" If you bow down at the shrine of the gods of this world, your gods can be stolen. If you make money your god, your god can be stolen.
Jay Gould, back yonder in two generations past, was the richest man in the world, and when he came to the end of his life, he said, and I quote him: "I suppose that I am the most miserable man in the world." ["Jay Gould on Himself," Waikato Times, Vol. XL, Issue 3218, 11 February 1893]. If your god is success, your god can be stolen. I so well poignantly remember when George Eastman who invented the Kodak and built one of the great corporations of America – the Eastman Kodak Company – I remember so well reading George Eastman sat in his luxurious, and beautiful, and palatial home and shot and killed himself – committed suicide.
Can your gods be stolen? If it is to be famous and to be known, they can be stolen. Someone else can wear your laurels. I don’t think there’s anybody in this part of the world that does not read every day about the coach of the Cowboy football team – one of the most famous men in our part of the earth. But there is another man by another name who is taking over, and the laurels of the past will be sought to crown the brow of this one who is the new leader of the football team.
If your god is beauty, it can be stolen. Those Hollywood stars – and I think of the most famous and possibly the most beautiful woman of them all; she committed suicide. Why? As she looked in the mirror and saw her beauty fading away, it was more than her heart could bear. Your gods can be stolen.
This is the story of Rachel which is a sad, sad story, and we’re going to follow it for the moment. Somehow in the providence of God, Rachel’s sorrow and tragedy seemed to be as long as her own life. For example, in Genesis 35, verses 16-20 is recorded the death of Rachel. From Bethel, Israel goes south to Ephrath toward Bethlehem. She is heavy with child. She can go no further; and in the agony of childbirth, she lived but for a moment – long enough to name the child Benjamin – and then was buried there. That scene of the death and burial of Rachel was never forgotten by Jacob. In Genesis 48 and verse 7, on his dying bed in a hieroglyphic chamber in Egypt, Jacob recalls the infinite sorrow of the tragedy of Rachel’s death and the lonely grave he left behind where she was buried in Ephrath.
One thousand years later than that, one thousand years later than that, in Jeremiah 31:15, when Jeremiah is describing the infinite desolation of the land wrought by the Assyrians and the Babylonians, he brings to mind that even in her grave she is weeping for the child. "In Ramah was there a voice heard, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not."
And five hundred years after that, five hundred years after that, in Matthew 2:18, the place where the Son of God was born, her spirit is wailing at the birth of the Son of God. Jesus was born there and was called by the prophet a "Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" [Isaiah 53:3].
Now, I have three things that come to my mind out of the sorrows of life – God’s purposes in the things that sometimes overwhelm our souls.
The first one is sympathy. I read from the Book of Hebrews:
For verily He – our Lord – took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took upon Him the seed of Abraham – like us.
Wherefore, in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest . . . to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.
For in that He Himself hath suffered, being tried, He is able to succor them that are tried.
Seeing then that we have a great high priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.
For we have not a High Priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tried as we are, though He without sin.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Jesus is a great sympathizing high priest representing us before God’s throne in heaven, and He understands and sympathizes with all of the trials and hurts and sorrows of our life because He experienced them Himself.
I heard of a preacher who was a fine and gifted minister of God, and a man was describing him – what a wonderful preacher he was. And the man to whom he was speaking said, "My brother, you have heard him in these days past, but you ought to hear him now. He has gone through a great sorrow, and you ought to listen to him now."
Right down there, right down there, every time Truett stood up here to preach, right down there sat a woman in widow’s tweeds – black from the hat she wore to her black shoes – whose husband Dr. Truett had accidentally killed, shot; and I’ve been told ten thousand times that after the tragedy of that, a pathos came into the voice of Dr. Truett people never forgot. It’s remarkable what sorrow will do to you.
Let me take a leaf out of my own life. We don’t look upon this today as they did when I was a youth. This world has changed. In the little church where I pastored, the superintendent of the Sunday School had a daughter, and that daughter gave birth to an illegitimate child which in that community was an unspeakable sin. I had a deacon in the church, and what he said about that superintendent and that daughter who gave birth to that illegitimate child – what that deacon said about that man and that girl was continuous: all the denunciation and the castigation!
And did you know the deacon had a daughter? She was middle-aged. Her sister was giving birth to a child in the home; and the husband of that sister went to bed with this daughter, and she became pregnant and gave birth to an illegitimate child. And the deacon came to me; and you never heard a man cry and lament in your life as that deacon did saying to me, "Young pastor, what makes it so sad and so tragic is what I have said about the Sunday School superintendent and his daughter and what happened to that daughter."
Sorrow and tragedy do something to you. What is that saying that comes to my mind? "There is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us that it doesn’t behoove any of us to talk about the rest of us." That’s the Lord’s truth.
A second thing of the sorrow: There was brought into Rachel’s heart and life an earnestness and supplication that would never have been known had it not been for the tragedies in her life when she pled for that child: "Give me a child, or I die" [Genesis 30:1].
And a third: it brings to us a submissiveness and a surrender that is so acceptable unto God. The Word of our Lord here in the Book of Hebrews:
In the days of His flesh, He offered up prayers and supplications, with strong cryings and tears unto Him who is able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He bowed before God,
Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered.
Isn’t that a remarkable thing? He learned obedience, surrender – submitted to God by the things which he suffered.
I copied out of Spurgeon’s sermon on Lamentations 1:12: "Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow. Behold all of you that passed by, behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow." Now, here I have copied out of Charles Spurgeon:
I shall never forget when I shook the hand of David Livingston. I count it one of the great honors of my life to have known him . . . It was the love of Christ that made him tread pathless Africa and die among the heathen.
But he was not the first who counted it all joy to succumb to climate and to perish among strangers for the cross of Christ . . .
Look at the first centuries – how men marched to the rack to be tortured, to the stake to be burned, to the amphitheater to be fed to the beasts for Christ’s sake . . . The Roman empire [sic], with all of its legions and cruelties, could not stand against the insignificant, unlettered, humble but earnest and intense followers of Jesus . . .
Later ages tell the same story. Our own land has seen the heroes of the cross enduring unto the end . . . There at Smithfield
– that’s in Essex County where they burned the Baptists. You know, it’s hard for us to believe such a time ever existed. They burned them one after another there at Smithfield –
There at Smithfield were men and women who early in the morning were summoned forth to be burned at the fiery stake, and they were seen to clap their hands, when every finger was a candle, and cry, "None but Christ! None but Christ!"
And the crowd that stood around them, who were they? There were cruel men and brutal priests, but there were also men and women and children of whom it is written, in the humble Church records of the day, that they went there to see their pastors burnt, to learn the way to die . . .
["Is it Nothing to You?" by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, September 11, 1881]
Can you think of that? They stood there to see their pastors burned at the stake that they might learn the way to die. Even boys and girls learned at their mother’s knee so much of Jesus’ suffering that they became invincible. " . . . We are ready," Spurgeon says, "by the good hand and Grace of God . . . to seal our faith with our blood . . . This is what the cross of Christ can do! It can make men suffer for His name’s sake" ["Is it Nothing to You?" by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, September 11, 1881].
What do you think of that? I just, oh, ten thousand times have I reviewed it long and hard. Lord, here I am the pastor of the church. If I lived in that day in Smithfield, or if I lived in the day when the pastors were fed to the lions or were tortured on the rack, Lord, could I exalt Thy name and praise Thee for the privilege to suffer and to die for Thee? O God, would I be thus faithful?
May I conclude, sweet people, by saying that when we grumble, and grow bitter, and find fault, and are miserable and unhappy because of the sufferings that come in our lives, we are just that much unlike our Savior and like our forefathers. If there are trials, and troubles, and sorrows, and hurts that come in life, let’s thank God for them [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18]. Lord, You’re teaching me the way of the cross, and You’re making me ready for heaven [Matthew 5:11-12; Romans 8:18; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-9, 4:12-14]. God be praised for His goodness to me that He counts me worthy to suffer for His Name’s sake [Acts 5:40-41].
Now, Brother Fred, we’re going to go sing us a song; and while we sing the song, I’ll be standing here in front of this sacred pulpit desk. If there’s a family here that God would send to us tonight, a thousand times welcome; a couple to dedicate your home and life to the Lord; a one somebody to give himself to Jesus – come and welcome. This did our Lord do for me. He died in my stead [Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24]. He was raised for my justification to see to it that I make it to heaven [Romans 4:25-5:2]; and to accept Him as my Savior is the greatest, happiest, dearest privilege in life. If God has spoken to somebody you, come and welcome while we stand and while we sing.
RACHEL: CAN YOUR GOD’S BE
The story of the stolen
Can your gods be stolen? If
in this world, yes.
Knees bow at the sound of so
many gods in this world
a. Jay Gould, “I suppose I am the most miserable man in the
a. Eastman, Geo., Kodak..Suicide
a. some one else wears the laurels.
1. Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson
Time steals away, Marilyn
The story of Rachel a sad
Like the story of most beautiful
compare: Gen. 31:32
Gen. 29:1-35 Jacob and
Rachel and Leah
Gen. 31:13 call to return
after 20 years.
Gen. 32:24-32 Peniel
Gen. 35:1-5 call to
Bethel. Buries the fake gods first
Rachel’s sorrow, tragedy.
Gen. 30:1 Leah 4 sons:
Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah
Rachel barren. Tortured for
The heartbreaking agony of
(a) India, watching at temple: husband forced them to leave, thrust
them out, to starve.
Young, beautiful: no rights,
Gen. 35:16-20 Rachel’s
From Bethel to the south to Ephrath (Bethlehem). She can
go no farther. Agony of
childbirth. Lifted but a moment, to name……Buried there…..
1. the scene never forgotten by Jacob.
48:7 on dying bed see him
…………the lovely spot seen
2. 1000 years later.
Jer. 31:15 Assyrian, Babylon: wept for her child.
Rachel, Joseph, Benjamin
3. 500 years later.
Matt. 2:18 When place became
birthplace of Son of God, her spirit wailing for the children of sorrow.
Jesus born there. Isa.
53:3 “man of sorrows….”
God’s purpose in sorrow.
a. Preacher after his son died, “But you ought to hear him
b. Truett, Arnold, note of pathos, I weeping as I listened about
Galveston flood 6,000 drowned.
c. Deacon Davis, Will Burt.
d. “I lay at ease in my little boat.”
2. Supplication in earnestness.
Bowed low in barrenness, her
prayer not routine, but desperate “give me children.”
a. Parodied by John Knox in 16th century. “Give me Scotland
or I die.”
Praying with a broken heart
Moses Ex. 32:31,33
Paul Rom. 9:2,3
Jesus Heb. 5:4-9
b. Beulah Park, Nazarene Assembly
The altar a place to die on,
a cross an instrument of execution.
3. Submission, surrender
Jesus Heb. 5:7-9
Commitment, surrender to
a. Spurgeon, “To learn the way to die.” Lam. 1:12 “behold and see if there be
any sorrow like unto my sorrow….”
“I shall never forget
when I shook the hand of David Livingston.
I count it one of the great honors of my life to have known him. It was the love of Christ that made him
tread pathless Africia and die among the heathen.
"He was not the first who
counted it all joy to succumb to climate and to perish among strangers for the
cross of Christ. Look at the first
centuries—how men marched to the rack to be tortured, to the stake to be
burned, to the amphitheatre to be devoured by beasts for Christ’s sake. The Roman Empire, with all it’s legions and
cruelties, could not stand against the unselfish, unlettered, humble, but
earnest and intense followers of Jesus.
"Later ages tell the same
story. Our own land has seen the heros
of the cross enduring unto the end.
Over there at Smithfield were men and women who early in the morning
were summoned forth to be burned at fiery stakes: and they were seen to clap
their hands, where every finger was a candle, and cry â€˜none, but Christ! None,
"And the crowd that stood
around them, who were they? They were
cruel men and brutal priests, but there were also men, and women, and children,
of whom it is written, in the humble church records of the day, that they went there to see their pastor burnt to
learn the way to die. Even boys and
girls learned at their mother’s knee so much of Jesus’ suffering that they
"We are ready, by the good
hand and grace of God, to seal our faith with our blood. This is what the cross of Christ can do, it
can make men suffer for His name sake.”