Please read Gen 30, 31 beforehand
Jacob honoured his dowry contract for Rachel
Though Jacob could not withstand the temptation to manipulate matters to his benefit, yet he was, at the same time, a man of his word and worked the additional seven years sacrificially, paying the full purchase price for his two wives, before giving notice that he wanted to return to his country.
“You cannot keep a good man down”
During this period, Laban saw clearly that the Lord had prospered Jacob exceptionally by letting his (Laban’s) flocks increase supernaturally. More than that, he thoroughly realized that on this road of success, it was Jacob that was leading, because he had his eyes fixed on the Lord and therefore did the right thing at the right time and that he, Laban, was just following after him, reaping what his son-in-law had sown.
But Laban was greedy, keeping everything for himself. He was not stirred by his own heart to provide Jacob with a more beneficial contract of service so that he could build up an estate for himself and provide in the needs of his growing family. It suited him well that his son-in-law was nothing but a needy squatter on his estate and that he had to render labour like a slave without being compensated for it. (And that which Jacob brought in, Laban, on top of it all, squandered (31:15).
Jacob’s hard work pays off
It was only when Jacob indicated that he wished to move away, that Laban had no other option but to offer him a proper reward for his services (30:31-34). An agreement was settled by which Jacob was to receive all the speckled or spotted livestock as well as their increase. On this condition, Jacob agreed to continue to tend to Laban’s stock, while committing the shepherding of his own stock to his sons and keeping a distance of a three day’s journey between the two herds (30:28-36).
Switching sides in a game of chess: 10x
With a manipulator on each side, one could expect that there would be shifts and contra shifts in the contract. Laban was in a stronger bargaining position because the stock from which Jacob’s portion had to come, was his, and he misused his position of authority by unilaterally changing the agreement not less than ten times (31:7, 41).
When the speckled stock increased speedily, he wanted them, but when the streaked ones increased supernaturally, he wanted them; and the poor Jacob, again and again had to agree to the new contract, “Yes boss, yes boss,” because there was no labour court to which he could turn for assistance. Laban acted dishonestly. He too was given to attain advantages for himself in a dishonest way; it seemed to have been a family trait – it ran in the blood.
On the potter’s wheel
For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and He scourges every son whom He receives. (Heb 12:6).
God continued to use Laban’s dishonesty to chastise Jacob in order to eradicate this flaw from his personality.
Although he could not openly manipulate matters like Laban, he did so secretly by placing into the troughs, striped branches with the purpose of letting the stronger livestock having striped offspring (30:37-42). Was Jacob’s conduct to try to manipulate the increase of the stock in this way acceptable? Take it a step further: did the idea come from God to overcome Laban’s manipulation or was it Jacob’s own idea – like the animal skins which his mother had put around his arms? Should we say that this was Jacob’s own plan, why then did the stock increase supernaturally fast? After all, the Lord will not be partner in our dishonesty.
Possibly the Lord was not at all using Jacob’s, “operation striped branches”. The fact that the Lord showed him in a dream that the male goats that were mating with the stock were all streaked, speckled and spotted, could have been to say to him: “Do not try to enrich yourself unjustly, because I, Who judge fairly, am already busy blessing you exceptionally” (31:10-12).
Another possibility is that the Lord was just honouring Jacob’s faith because his case was a righteous one, while that of Laban was unrighteous. Whichever way it was, the Lord increased Jacob’s flocks exceptionally and he became quite rich (30:43). If God is for us, who can be against us (Rom 8:31, 32)?
God’s ways and his timing are always best
Again the option of moving away came up. This time it was not Jacob’s planned solution to escape from a difficult situation, but it was God Who directed him to return to his country and relatives, promising that He would be with him (31:3).
Irrespective of how difficult your circumstances might be, you should not just flee from it, but wait on God to deliver you and lead you to a place He prepared for you. If Jacob had previously followed his own mind, and moved away, he would have had to roam all over the land, hoping to find better conditions for building up his own estate, but God had planned that he was to get rich from Laban’s possessions and now, six years later, he was able to tackle the future as an exceptionally wealthy man. He had, all in all, worked for Laban for 20 years: 14 years for his two wives and 6 years for his livestock (31:41).
Fear versus faith
Unfortunately, in leaving Laban, Jacob’s faith that God would enable him to depart in a dignified way, failed him once more. Having discussed this matter with his two wives in detail (which was commendable) he decided to flee while Laban was away, sheering his livestock.
If we as human beings, were to comment on Jacob’s fleeing from Laban, we would have phrased it in a more diplomatic way, but God’s Word simply states that Jacob misled Laban by not informing him that he was leaving (31:20).
Can beautiful women really cheat?
But the dishonesty did not stop with Jacob. Rachel, his angel of a wife with the sparkling eyes, pilfered her father’s house gods (31:19). She therefore also displayed a streak of dishonesty. In that family, it was each one for himself; the one trying to outwit the other. (The house gods were something like mascots. Although not seen as equal to God, yet they were idols.)
Woe to the children born from such a double-fold, unholy blood line; and yet, is this not true of most families from which the human race is stemming? Yet, God allows them to be born for He is great enough to give his attention to each one individually, pulling him to Himself.
Twenty years of sacrifice and toil could suddenly have come to nothing because of one decision taken in fear. For the second time in his life, Jacob was fleeing desperately from a disaster he had brought upon himself. This time he was fleeing from Laban. Initially he just wanted to move away from him and be on his own, but his leaving secretly enraged Laban, who now chased after him accompanied by a small army of his brothers which spelled grave danger (31:17-21).
The relationship between these two men had soured to such a degree that they could not sit down and resolve their problems by way of discussion. They no longer talked to one another, but their countenances said it all. A cold war had been waged for some time which now erupted into violence. Just as with Esau years before, it almost resulted in the shedding of blood. Both Jacob and his sons could have been massacred.
Even in believing (Christian) families and churches, emotions can sometimes run so high that blood may flow, or that seriously wounding words be cast to and fro.
God was watching Laban and intervened in time
The Lord mercifully intervened by warning Laban in a dream not to harm Jacob in any way (31:24). (Oh, thank you Lord, You are our peace.) So, when he and his retinue caught up with Jacob, he had calmed down because he could not dare to disregards God’s warning.
Using the knife of sarcasm
To cover his embarrassment towards his “army” which he had unnecessarily called up “for active service,” and to “save face,” he resorted to sarcasm, asking Jacob in a mocking way, whether he had so much longed for home that he had left without even greeting his relatives (31:30).
Rachel, honey, why are you so pale?
Another branch of thorns with which he could scourge Jacob, was the question about the missing house gods. Wasn’t it shameful for God’s blue-eyed boy to steal his father-in-law’s property?
This accusation, understandably, upset Jacob very much and he summarily pronounced the death penalty on anyone of his people in whose possession these items might be found, not knowing that his beloved little Rachel was the guilty one. There were dark patches in her life of which her dear husband knew nothing.
Does not the Word say in Jeremiah 17:9: “Deceitful is the heart above all else and desperately wicked, who can know it?” But Rachel, seemingly, was well trained in extricating herself from difficult situations. She hid the house gods in her camel saddle, then sat down on it and excused herself for not being able to arise because she wasn’t well. So, she had to ad a lie to her crime of theft. The thrill of outwitting her father however, covered her mild sense of guilt.
Again Laban lost the argument because God had allowed it to be so, because of Jacob, His beloved. On top of it all, Jacob thoroughly chastised Laban for all the injustices of the past which he had had to endure.
Roles swapped: Laban becomes the loser and Jacob the winner
Now Laban changed his approach and presented himself as the great benefactor, the peacemaker, who had come to enter into a covenant of peace with Jacob, so that they would not, in years to come, harm one-another. Perhaps he had, at last, come to realize that Jacob was God’s favourite with whom one had to live in peace.
Jacob saw no good in arguing the point and let it pass in order that they might enter into the suggested covenant and get it over with. He got everyone to participate by taking up a stone and raising up a memorial (31:34-55).
Jacob the leader
He then went some distance away, brought a sacrifice to God and invited his pursuers to join him in the accompanying meal. Jacob, who had for such a long time, to be satisfied with being the underdog, now took the initiative and stepped forward as leader of all the people gathered there.
This is an important principle: the leader must be first to forgive and reach out to shake the hand of the loser. All will then see whose is spiritually more mature.
Jacob, God’s champion and conqueror
“Behold, there are some who are last who will be first, and there are some who are first who will be last.” (Luk 13:30, WEB).
Sometimes it seems as if the wrongdoers are always best off, but God determines who will be first to cross the final finish line.
A beautiful closing chapter
This episode ends on a friendly note, with Laban making peace with Jacob with whom he had farmed and lived together in a family relationship for 20 years, now blessing his son-in-law and his daughters before departing home (forthwith to shepherd his sheep himself).
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