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A. JACOB WORKS FOR LABAN, MARRIES AND HAS CHILDREN (Please read Gen 29; 30:1-24)
Jacob on his way to Haran.
And so, Jacob, after his dream night at Bethel, “Picked up his feet,” and set off (briskly and cheerfully, AMP) on the long road to Haran in Padan-Aram. He now was some 97 km’s from his parent’s home, Beersheba, and ten km’s north of the later Jerusalem. By now he would have had more peace of mind, knowing that he had escaped his brother Esau, but there was still a long and dangerous road ahead of him.
(Depending on the route, he took, it could have been some 650 km’s he had to travel. At 25 km per day, his journey would have lasted 26 days. One wonders why his rich father had not provided him with a camel? Or had it been safer to travel on foot to escape detection?
What is ironical, is that after all his manipulating to lay hold of Esau’s heritage, he now had to leave it all to his brother and meet the future with meager supplies. The spiritual blessing of God was upon him and accompanied him wherever he would go, but the material blessings were denied him.
When at last he found the shepherds of Haran as well as his niece Rachel at a well, he was overwhelmed with relief and joy so that tears coursed down his cheeks. The welcome he received from Laban, was just as overwhelming. He however had to explain to him why he just popped up there out of the blue: “And he told Laban all these things,” (29:13) All these things? That he and his mother (the sister of Laban) had deceived his father and that he was a fugitive because his brother was out to kill him? It would have been a great embarrassment to spill all the beans and keeping in mind his tendency not to be all that concerned for the truth, causes one to speculate – well, perhaps he did indeed relate the whole story because he was convinced that he had done the right thing to deceive his father because had he not bought Esau’s birth right?
However it may be, for the following month he could take a break while enjoying his family’s hospitality (29:2-14), while God kept His Beth-el promise and saw to it that Laban provided him with board, lodging and clothes (the ironing out of the flaws in his character would follow later on).
But Jacob was a thrifty and handy man who, even among strangers, could take the initiative (29:10) and would certainly have started rendering a helping hand with the farming activities right from the start. Laban noticed this and after a month, offered him a service contract (29:15).
Laying a foundation for his future.
In the meantime, he was fascinated by the beautiful Rachel and she too, must have indicated that she had taken a liking to him. But how to go about now, because he did not even have a lamb to offer her father as dowry? The service contract which Laban was offering him, gave him an idea, so he responded by offering to work, not for wages, but for his daughter Rachel for seven years during which he would receive only board, lodging and clothes (29:15-19).
This, “long term investment,” of his life, also indicates that he realized that it would not be wise to wait in uncertainty on the day that his brother’s wrath against him had subsided. He had to continue with his life and make peace with the fact that he had lost his material heritage, because Esau was now in control of it and would most definitely not give it up. What no one could take away from him, was God’s blessing, which his father had pronounced over him and which God had confirmed to him at Beth-El. He therefore decided to pursue the way which the Lord had opened for him and, as we will see later on, this was indeed the best way.
We need to make the best of the circumstances in which God places us.
So, from then on, Jacob was herding sheep and goats under the basking sun and through the freezing nights, and if a lamb was lost because of a lion or jackal, he had to replace it. But he persevered, true to his word, for seven full years. Every time he wanted to give up, he saw Rachel’s enticing, sparkling eyes and his will was strengthened to press through: only another two years, one year, six months, 3 days.
Do men nowadays still fall so deeply in love with beautiful girls? If fathers-in-law-to-be would set such conditions to their “sons-in-law-to-be, there would be fewer marriages and hardly any divorces!
At last, the great day dawned and Laban collected all his people for the marriage feast that would last many days. Rachel was sitting there, beautifully adorned in her bride’s outfit, but so heavily veiled that Jacob was not able to see much of her. Quietly the dusk descended over the land and Rachel was escorted to the marriage tent to prepare herself for her first night with her husband. Had Laban perhaps ensured that his son-in-law had taken a couple of extra tots? It certainly was not above him to have done just that. Much later, Jacob lifted the tent flap and disappeared inside.
That night he and the bride became one as God intended it to be. But short after daybreak, Jacob lifted the blanket which obscured her face so as to look upon her beautiful features once more. But then, shocked, he jumped up, shouting, “But this is Leah!” Laban had deceived him unbelievably, tricking him into marrying his daughter Leah (29:22-27)! What now? His desperately thought for a way out, but, there was nothing doing, the damaged had been done irrevocably; he had had intercourse with Leah, taking away her virginity.
What you sow is what you reap.
Just as Jacob and his mother Rebekah had conspired to deceive Isaac, Laban and his daughter Leah now connived to deceive Jacob. Just as Isaac was, because of his blindness, unable to see that he was blessing Jacob instead of Esau, were Jacob’s eyes in the dark of night, kept from seeing that he was having intercourse with Leah and not with Rachel. Just like Isaac had sown the seed of God’s blessing over Jacob and had been unable to recall it, Jacob had now committed his seed to Leah and was unable to recall it. What you sow is what you will reap.
The Master pruner at work on a very special tree.
“Lord, why did You, the all-knowing God, allow this to happen to me? How does this fit in with the ladder dream and Your promises that night?” God does not work what is wrong, but He uses it and here He used Laban and Leah’s crafty plan to begin to prune away that wild shoot, that ugly character trait of dishonesty from Jacob’s character, that he might become a tree that would bear splendid fruit from which all the nations of the earth would benefit; the patriarch of God’s people had to be cleansed and to be made holy.
“You have not yet resisted to blood, striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which reasons with you as with children, ‘My son, don’t take lightly the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by him; For whom the Lord loves, he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you endure. God deals with you as with children, for what son is there whom his father doesn’t discipline?’” (Heb 12:5-7).
Jacob would have grasped quite clearly that these two incidents in his life were related to one-another and during the ensuing days and weeks, when he was on his own with his thoughts, tending to the sheep in the veldt, he must have thought deeply about it. The enemy of souls could even have attacked him, causing him to doubt whether the promises of God would come true, as also happens to us when we sin. It is then when we need to distinguish clearly between chastening and retribution (punishment). A tree bearing fruit, is pruned in order that it may bear more fruit, not because of the owner hates it and wants to punish it, because it is not bearing sufficient fruit (John 15:2).
When Jacob confronted Laban with what had happened, he just shrugged his shoulders, countering that in their culture, it was just not done to give out the younger daughter in marriage before the older one.
Ointment on the raw wounds.
Then, to ensnare Jacob to work for him for another seven years without compensation, he offered that, at the end of the bridal week with Leah, he could immediately marry Rachel (29:27). Laban was a crafty manipulator. He himself did not work much, but spent a lot of time sitting under the veranda, planning how he could wangle circumstances to trick other people to work for him. How could Jacob have refused this offer? Did he not desperately desire to marry Rachel? Therefore, shaking his head, he acquiesced, and this time, married his beloved Rachel, and slept with her.
In this way, the Lord had at least softened the blow, but what a bitter-sweet marriage feast this was in comparison to the one to which he and Rachel had been looking forward to for seven years.
The bitter fruit of Laban’s fraud.
Laban had caused Jacob to commit polygamy which probably did not trouble him, but what he did not realize, was that he had caused his two daughters to become life-long competitors or even enemies. Sin always bears bitter fruit.
The shiny side of Jacob’s character.
It is terrible to have to work hard for seven years for a wife you never wanted in the first place and then having to live with her for the rest of your life; taking care of her and her children in all their needs! Jacob’s reaction to this injustice done to him, was commendable. He did not threaten, like Esau, to kill his deceiver Laban, but accepted Leah as his wife, look after her and slept with her so that she could have her own children.
Wives at war.
As was customary in those days, Laban gave each of his daughters a slave girl as personal servant; to Leah he gave Zilphah and to Rachel, Bilhah (29:24; 29:29). These two names are important, because the sons of these women would also become patriarchs of God’s people.
So, within two weeks Jacob was the better for four ladies: two wives, and two slave women but this was not a fortunate or blessed situation at all, because Leah was very jealous of Rachel because she was Jacob’s darling wife. So she birthed one son after the other in a desperate but waisted effort to make Jacob love her more than her sister; this was all in vain. She even blamed Rachel for taking her husband from her (30:15) – her emotions were continually in a cauldron of unrest and over-ruled her rational thinking, for was it not she who had highjacked Rachel’s bridegroom?
As regards Rachel, she was barren and the more sons Leah bore, the higher her frustrations and jealousy flared up until one day, it boiled over onto Jacob and she yelled at him, “Give me children, or else I die.” But he certainly was not to blame, for he was fertile and was conceiving children with Leah and, in time, became the father of twelve sons and a daughter! On another occasion, on returning totally spent from the veld, Leah awaited him along the way and shamelessly demanded: “You must come to me tonight because I have honestly hired you with my son’s mandrakes (love apples)” (30:14-16, So 8:13) and for the sake of peace he had to meekly do as she had commanded – sleeping with her that night. (a mandrake could have been a fruit which they believed worked fertility in a woman.) Rachel described this competition between herself and her sister as follows: “I have wrestled with my sister with mighty wrestlings, and have prevailed.”. (30:8, WEB). When the two women were, for a period, unable to conceive children, they even used their slave women to bear them sons.
Who won and who lost; which race?
Although Rachel was more beautiful, Leah was more fertile and gave birth to six sons, just as many as Rachel and the two slave women had birthed together. Furthermore, it seems as if she had a more intimate relationship with God than Rachel and took her problems to Him in prayer (29:32,33,35 and 30:17). Her sons also played a greater role in the kingdom of God than those of Rachel. Rachel’s eldest son, Joseph became the preserver of lives for his relatives, the Egyptians and many other people during the seven years of drought which came later on, but Moses, who lead God’s people from Egypt and by whom the Lord gave the first five books of the Bible, was of the descendant of Leah’s son Levi. So also, Aaron, from whom stemmed the priest order (Ex 2:1) as well as the Levites that served at the tabernacle and the temple (29:34). Her son Judah (29:35) became the leader of all the tribes of Israel and from him their greatest king, David, as well as the Son of God the Saviour of mankind was born.
One must not give up hope when it seems as if you have less talents or when, due to circumstances beyond your control, you land up in a weaker position than others; trust God and let Him fertilise your life as He pleases.
God’s plan found its way through the confusion.
Apart from these five role players in the Jacob family, God also was still there, working unobtrusively in the midst of all the strife, raising up for Himself twelve men that He would use as patriarchs for His covenant people, Israel. Praise the Lord! He is greater than all the doings of mankind.
B. JACOB BECOMES RICH AND LEAVES LABAN (Please read Gen 30:25-31:55).
Jacob honoured his contract and paid the full dowry 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 him exceptionally by letting his flocks increase supernaturally, but 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 had brought in, Laban, on top of it all, squandered (31:15). 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 his own to his sons and keeping a distance of three day’s journey between the two herds (30:28-36).
“Loading the dice.”
With a manipulator on each side, one could expect that there would be shifts and contra shifts. 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.
God continued to use Laban’s dishonesty to chastise Jacob in order to eradicate this flaw from his personality.
Although Jacob 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). Possibly 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 a person’s 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).
Oh, no, still resorting to dishonourable ways.
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 report 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).
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, endeavouring to pull him to Himself.
20 Years of toil could suddenly have come to nothing because of one fearful decision.
So Jacob, for the second time in his life, was fleeing desperately from a disaster he had brought upon himself. This time he was fleeing from Laban, knowing that he would pursue 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, just as with Esau years before, it almost resulted in the shedding of the blood. Both Jacob and his sons could have been massacred. Laban and Jacob had reached a point where 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.
Even in believing (Christian) families and churches, emotions can sometimes rise so high that blood may flow or that at least 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. 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)!
Another skeleton in Jacob’s cupboard.
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 with whom 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 the theft, but probably delighted herself by the fact that she was not caught, which totally 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 him for all the injustices of the past which he 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). He then went some distance, 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.
“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.
This chapter of Jacob’s biography ends more gracefully than the first one.
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. (Rachel must have been very relieved to see the dust of their camels vanishing over the horizon so she could up from the saddle.)