Jacob has paid his debt for both his wives and has fathered at least eleven children, ten of which were boys. He wants to go home now. But Laban wants to keep getting rich off of Jacob’s work.
The first thing that has me scratching my head here is that Jacob asks Laban to give him his wives and his children. Jacob’s debt has already been paid through his service. Laban sold his daughters and therefore should have no claim to them. And any children born to Jacob are HIS, not Laban’s. Why is he asking Laban for them? In MY mind Laban has no claim to any one of these members of Jacob’s family. Maybe it is a custom that I’m not familiar with.
In many marriages in the United States the minister asks, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” To which her parents respond, “We do.” This is the official relinquishing of any claim to the daughter’s future. This doesn’t mean that she is cut out of the family but that her husband is now her provider, not her parents. The couple forms a new family and is free to live as they desire without having to clear it with the bride’s parents.
Moving on to Laban’s reply, he doesn’t even mention the daughters and grandchildren. Instead he mentions his pocketbook. He has become wealthy because of God’s favor for Jacob. I find it interesting how he garnered that information. He didn’t ask God. He didn’t seek Jacob’s opinion. Instead he used “divination.” In other words, he consulted the spirits. We aren’t told which spirits he consulted though. But his answer was correct no matter how he arrived at it.
Laban next offers to hire Joseph at whatever cost! “Name your wages, and I will give it” (verse 28). Jacob could have easily have quoted him some huge sum or hourly wage, but he didn’t. First he reminds Laban of how his flocks have prospered under Jacob’s care. If Laban was being fair with Jacob he would have had to provide a dowry for both his daughters so some of his flock should have belonged to Jacob already.
Jacob has already worked for and earned what he asks for from Laban. He doesn’t want it as a gift but as his wage. He is naming his price. “Let me go through all the flocks today. I’ll take the rejects and make keep them as my own flock. You can keep all the fine colored sheep. I will keep them separated but care for both flocks with the same level of responsibility I have already shown you.”
Laban likes this idea but SOMEHOW he delay’s Jacob from making his inspection while spiriting away all the livestock that Jacob would have claimed as his wages. Not one sheep or goat remained in the flock Jacob was allowed to inspect. His wage was zero.
Can we agree right now that Laban is a thief? He stole seven years of Jacob’s life by giving him the wrong wife. He stole the dowries he should have given with his daughters. Now he has made off with Jacob’s rightful wages. This man is crooked as the day is long!
I want to “run down a rabbit trail” here. Did you notice that Laban hid Jacob’s “wages” with his sons? Do you also remember that when Jacob first came to this area that Rachel was caring for the sheep? This tells me that God not only blessed Laban’s livestock but his family line too. If Rachel had brothers when Jacob arrived THEY would have been caring for the sheep. They may have been too young at the time to do the job themselves but they certainly would have helped. Now Laban either fathered at least two sons, who grew up while Jacob was working off his debt, or sons that he already had have matured and learned to care for the sheep under Jacob’s tutelage.
Back to the great livestock caper. Laban put three days distance between Jacob and his sons. Was this so they didn’t recognize the wrong their father was doing to Jacob? Did they know of Jacob’s intention before moving off with the livestock? Were they willing participants in cheating Jacob? Or were they just “following orders?”
It didn’t matter how Laban tried to keep Jacob down, God blessed him anyway. I’m not an animal breeder but I don’t think laying sticks in front of them, striped or not, would normally affect their offspring. I may be wrong in this though. I have a funny feeling that this was something Jacob received from God. If it was an accepted practice then there would never be a “reject coloring” from the sheep because the breeders would know to have the area clear of such objects. But God caused Jacob’s breeding strategy to work as bizarre as it sounds.
Jacob used his shrewdness too against Laban. He had to in order to survive. Laban would have taken everything from him. Later on we will see just how crooked Laban was during this time Jacob was supposed to be getting to “name his own wage.” I think Jacob was living the command Jesus would give His followers later on. Jesus told them to be “wise as serpents but innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
Did you notice that Jacob didn’t have to throw a fit and demand his “wages” from Laban? Nor did he choose to “get even” with Laban for his behavior. Jacob worked towards his own best interest and left the rest of it in the Lord’s hands. He let God choose how to deal with the Laban issue. He just kept doing the work he had promised to do.
God expects us to live up to our promises, even if the other party doesn’t live up to theirs. God will choose how to make things right for us. We need to use wisdom too in how we interact with those who try to take advantage of us. We are not to repay evil for evil but to do what is right. This will entail listening for God’s leading in such situations so that you can remain in His will regardless of what your “opponent” does. God WILL repay; both righteous and unrighteous acts. I personally would be happier with receiving “payment” for my good acts than worrying about the consequences of bad ones.
Father God, thank You for Jacob’s example. He wasn’t the most innocent man in Your stories but he relied on You to judge his heart. I have a feeling that Laban was part of that judgement. Jacob deceived his own brother and Laban repaid Jacob with the same kind of behaviors. Jacob has to lean on You to get him through Laban’s tricks. I have a feeling it also changed how Jacob thought about “putting one over on someone.”
You have taken me on some of those “lesson trips” like Jacob walked. Thank You for those Jesus. There is nothing so eye opening as having someone treat you the way you treated another when it is hurtful. Thank You that I could recognize those lessons as meant to alter MY behavior instead of letting myself feel resentful towards the other who was Your instrument of instruction. No. I’m not saying that everyone who has hurt me in some way was directed to do so by You, but that You use those instances as lessons for me to grow from.
Thank You also Holy Spirit for showing me when I need to be “wise as a serpent” in some of my dealings, while remaining in His will; innocent as a dove. Keep my eyes open to danger and my heart open to showing Your love even in the midst of it.