If God will be with me... and will give me bread... and clothing... so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. Gn 28:20-21.
The instinct to make a good bargain is inherent in human nature, as is the attraction of getting something for nothing; hence our enthusiasm for cheap offers, free gifts and concessionary rates (whether we want the advertised goods or not).
Jacob was a past master at manipulating circumstances to his best advantage, and at Haran he did God the favour of allowing him to be his God in return for having his material needs met. He even went further and promised to give God a tenth of his earnings. True, he did admit that his possessions came from God (v 22), and he did keep his promise. Many of us, too, allow God a place in our lives in return for the gifts he gives.
In his love and mercy God often first accepts us on these terms. But, as with Jacob, it may take years, sometimes our best years, to find the misery of making a commercial contract of God's blessings. How often, when we should know better, are we guilty of saying that God is slow to give us all the things he promised to those who seek first his kingdom and righteousness (Mt 6:33), or, like Peter, of asking `What's in it for us then? After all we have left everything and followed you' (Mt 19:27).
But God is never in a hurry. Read Genesis 32:6-12 and 24-31. It took Jacob a lifetime to find his own worthlessness. It was only when he had played his last scheming card that he realised how much he needed, and indeed longed to know for his own sake, the God he had used for so many years. He found a new kind of bargaining. Staking everything on the promises of a faithful God, he pleaded for deliverance from the murderous anger of his brother (vv 9-12). God did more -- he delivered him from himself and `blessed him there' (v 29).
From that unforgettable confrontation Jacob went on his way crippled as a successful business man (v 31), but with a new power with God (v 28). He was alive for the first time, knowing face to face the presence of the living God (v 30).
Pity it took so long! but whose fault was that?
Further reading: Gn 28:10-22. 32:6-32.