54 Then Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat bread: and they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the mount.
55 And early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his daughters, and blessed them: and Laban departed, and returned unto his place.
Breaking bread together has long been seen as a symbol of peace and friendliness. Jacob did not send away Laban and his men as soon as the matter of their separation was resolved, he invited them to share a meal and spend the night. Of course, it isn’t like Jacob was inviting them to stay at a well-furnished home, they were still out in the middle of the mountains, but the intent behind the gesture is what matters. Then Laban made his farewells, and left Jacob and his entourage in peace.
This may not seem like a very significant exchange, but I am grateful that it was preserved in the Old Testament record. It shows an example of two men who do not like each other, who need to get away from each other to preserve peace, who have personal flaws and failings, but who are still able to part on amicable terms. What a wonderful example to us that even when we are hurt and must remove ourselves from others, there is a way to do so with dignity and respect. It may not be possible for everyone to be our friend, but it is possible to not make ourselves someone’s enemy.
43 And Laban answered and said unto Jacob, These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and these cattle are my cattle, and all that thou seest is mine: and what can I do this day unto these my daughters, or unto their children which they have born?
44 Now therefore come thou, let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee.
46 And Jacob said unto his brethren, Gather stones; and they took stones, and made an heap: and they did eat there upon the heap.
48 And Laban said, This heap is a witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed;
52 This heap be witness, and this pillar be witness, that I will not pass over this heap to thee, and that thou shalt not pass over this heap and this pillar unto me, for harm.
53 The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge betwixt us. And Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac.
After Jacob’s impassioned criticism Laban responds with an endearing gesture. He reminds Jacob that his family is Laban’s family, too, and he could not harm Jacob without damaging his daughters and grandchildren as well.
But clearly, a rift has grown between the two men, and Laban proposes a solemn covenant to preserve the peace between them. They erect an altar and make a pledge that neither of them will cross it to the other’s domain with an intention of harm.
Verse 53 I consider to be a particularly significant passage. Laban invokes their two ancestral fathers: Abraham and Nahor, who were brothers, and also Terah, who was the father of them both. These two lines have continued to have interactions from time-to-time, but now it is an end of an era. Laban and Jacob are wise to recognize that the relationship is strained, and so it is best of everybody that the two lines go their separate ways.
36 And Jacob was wroth, and chode with Laban: and Jacob answered and said to Laban, What is my trespass? what is my sin, that thou hast so hotly pursued after me?
38 This twenty years have I been with thee; thy ewes and thy she goats have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flock have I not eaten.
39 That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee; I bare the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it, whether stolen by day, or stolen by night.
40 Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes.
41 Thus have I been twenty years in thy house; I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle: and thou hast changed my wages ten times.
42 Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely thou hadst sent me away now empty. God hath seen mine affliction and the labour of my hands, and rebuked thee yesternight.
This is quite the tirade from Jacob! We saw him run from his old home in fear of Esau and we saw him steal away quietly from his second home in fear of Laban. Now, though, being chased by Laban seems to have been one terror too many. At long last he comes out and expresses all his frustration and hurt.
I can’t help but imagine Jacob has inwardly yearned to give this speech to his father-in-law for a long time. One affliction after another spills out of him in a rapid-fire rant. He bore the loss of every goat, he served for twenty years, he had his wages changed ten times, he exposed himself to the elements, and after all this Laban would have left him empty-handed if it hadn’t been for the intervention of God!
These are the words of a man who is not worried about what happens to the relationship afterwards. Laban already told Jacob that he has been commanded by God to do him no harm, so he is emboldened to say whatever is in his heart without restraint.
30 And now, though thou wouldest needs be gone, because thou sore longedst after thy father’s house, yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods?
32 With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live: before our brethren discern thou what is thine with me, and take it to thee. For Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them.
33 And Laban went into Jacob’s tent, and into Leah’s tent, and into the two maidservants’ tents; but he found them not. Then went he out of Leah’s tent, and entered into Rachel’s tent.
34 Now Rachel had taken the images, and put them in the camel’s furniture, and sat upon them. And Laban searched all the tent, but found them not.
35 And she 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 he searched, but found not the images.
Laban demanded why Jacob had stolen his idols, which Jacob obviously denied. His pledge to put to death anyone who stole the idols seems a very bold oath to make. Obviously, Jacob knew that he had not taken them, I wonder what made him so mistakenly sure that no one in his household did either. Who knows how they would have resolved things if Rachel had been discovered as the culprit.
As for her sake, Rachel adds lying to her theft. I do not mean this as an excuse for her deceitful practices, but it is worth noting that Laban was also a deceitful father. After Jacob completed his first seven years of service, she had been robbed of her intended wedding by Laban’s lies, and now she is robbing him of his gods with hers. Two wrongs do not make a right, but it is a fact of life that the wrong things we do set an example to others that are usually used against us later on. Though it may be indirect and years in the making, we are often the authors of our own harm.
26 And Laban said to Jacob, What hast thou done, that thou hast stolen away unawares to me, and carried away my daughters, as captives taken with the sword?
27 Wherefore didst thou flee away secretly, and steal away from me; and didst not tell me, that I might have sent thee away with mirth, and with songs, with tabret, and with harp?
28 And hast not suffered me to kiss my sons and my daughters? thou hast now done foolishly in so doing.
29 It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt: but the God of your father spake unto me yesternight, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.
31 And Jacob answered and said to Laban, Because I was afraid: for I said, Peradventure thou wouldest take by force thy daughters from me.
In these first verses Laban sets out a strong case that Jacob has behaved in a way that is consistent with a liar and a thief. Why did you steal away so secretly? Why have you carried away my daughters as if they were captives? Certainly, Jacob’s behavior is that of one who is trying to hide something.
But people do not hide only because they are guilty of some crime. They hide because of fear. In some cases, that might be a fear of their guilt being exposed, but in other cases it is only a fear of the other person harming them. And as it turns out, that is exactly Jacob’s situation. He comes clean with exactly what his fear was: that if he was forthright about his intentions, Laban would wrest his household from him by force.
Fortunately, God had intervened to calm this volatile situation. The expression God said to Laban, repeated now in verse 29, is commonly translated as “from good to bad,” and it is a Hebrew expression that means to not try to turn or prevent another. Thus, Jacob was emboldened to be forthright by the knowledge that God had commanded Laban to not do the very thing that Jacob had been so afraid of.
22 And it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob was fled.
23 And he took his brethren with him, and pursued after him seven days’ journey; and they overtook him in the mount Gilead.
24 And God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said unto him, Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.
25 Then Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the mount: and Laban with his brethren pitched in the mount of Gilead.
We were told that when Jacob was looking for more independence he moved his family three days’ journey away from Laban, and given that Laban heard about the family’s departure on the third day, it seems likely that there was some servant or neighbor who saw what Jacob had done and immediately set off to tell Laban about it.
But even with a three-day head-start, Laban and his men were able to catch up to them after only a week. No doubt he was aided by the fact that he knew exactly where Jacob would be headed, and also that Jacob was slowed down by all the cattle and children. Fortunately, God intervened, warning Laban upon his arrival that Jacob was under His protection.
As I read all this, I saw a pattern that will reappear many years later when the Israelites flee from Pharaoh and are pursued by his armies. They too will be slowed by their young, and they will also rely upon an intervention from God. Surely Jacob and the Israelites would have preferred that God had caused their pursuers to never come upon them, that He had kept trouble as far away as possible, but He didn’t. In each case He protected His flock but did it in His own way.
Often, we wish that God wouldn’t let trouble overtake us either, but we can take comfort from stories like these, which show that when God commands a retreat, He will guard the rear, no matter how near the danger looms.
17 Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon camels;
18 And he carried away all his cattle, and all his goods which he had gotten, the cattle of his getting, which he had gotten in Padan-aram, for to go to Isaac his father in the land of Canaan.
19 And Laban went to shear his sheep: and Rachel had stolen the images that were her father’s.
20 And Jacob stole away unawares to Laban the Syrian, in that he told him not that he fled.
Things had certainly deteriorated very far between Jacob and Laban, that Jacob would feel it necessary to steal away in secret. Given that he was living three day’s journey away it must not have been very hard to sneak away. But it is important to note that he did not depart secretly because he was a thief. He took only the things that belonged to him, the cattle that he had earned and not the ones that he didn’t.
What’s more, it does not appear that he abandoned his duties to Laban’s cattle either. Verse 19 seems to suggest that he did not leave them to fend for themselves, but waited until Laban took them in from the field for their shearing.
But while Jacob may have conducted himself honestly and honorably, the same could not be said for Rachel. Before leaving she stole the images, or idols, of her father. There are a few disturbing details here. First, evidently Laban was worshipping false gods, which is another mark against his character. Secondly, why did Rachel take them? Had she inherited her father’s superstitious idolatry? Did she intend to sell them to make up for receiving no dowry? I suppose she might have been trying to remove the temptation from her father, but overall, her behavior seems highly suspect.
14 And Rachel and Leah answered and said unto him, Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house?
15 Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath quite devoured also our money.
16 For all the riches which God hath taken from our father, that is ours, and our children’s: now then, whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do.
If Jacob had been concerned about how Rachel and Leah would feel about leaving their father’s household, it turns out that he didn’t need to be. Rachel and Leah felt that Laban did not view them as his daughters anymore, and they in turn left off viewing him as their father. After all, he had sold each of them to Jacob for seven years’ service and had never so much as given them a marriage dowry.
But just as God had taken from Laban and given to Jacob, He had also been accounting for Rachel and Leah. For through Jacob they had received all of Laban’s wealth anyway. Jacob had provided for them in the place of their father, and God had provided for him. Thus, they did not need their old father any longer, they only needed God, and in a declaration of faith they encouraged their husband to follow the Lord in whatever He required.
27 Fulfil her week, and we will give thee this also for the service which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years.
28 And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also.
30 And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years.
It was Jacob who originally suggested that seven years was the amount of time that ought to be served for a bride, but Laban wasn’t shy to then prescribe an additional seven years for Jacob to marry the woman he had intended.
It does not seem that Jacob had to wait the full fourteen years before being united to Rachel, though. Verse 28 suggests that Jacob fulfilled the week-long wedding ritual to Leah, after which he immediately married Rachel. Then, with both wives already joined to him, he began the second set of seven years’ service to Laban.
So now he was a husband and presently a father, yet it would still be another 2,500 days before he was clear of his debt and able to work for his own gain. This may not seem like a promising foundation for his household, but Jacob was industrious, and we will soon see how he flourished under these conditions.
22 And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast.
23 And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her.
25 And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah: and he said to Laban, What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me?
26 And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.
Thus far in the story Laban has treated Jacob with dignity and respect. It is interesting, then, to see this deceptive turn from him. Tricking a man into marrying a woman he did not intend is a very egregious offense. The explanation that Laban gives, that in their country the first daughter must be married before the second, in no way accounts for the fact that he did not tell this to Jacob beforehand. One would assume that he knew he would play this trick on Jacob all the seven years that his nephew labored for him, making him a liar for all of those 2,500 days!
However, I cannot help but see this as a sort of karma balancing out in Jacob’s life. He had deceived his own father and stolen the place of honor from his brother. He had done this by pretending to be someone that he was not, and now he gets to be on the receiving end of a very similar trick. Life has a way of holding up a mirror to each of us, causing us to collect the same sort of payment we have given out.
Better for Jacob to balance the cosmic scales here and now, and be clear for the rest of his life. And, as it would turn out, Leah was to become a key part of his growing heritage. So even this setback was ultimately meant for his own good.