Genesis 31:1-55 Leaving Laban
Jacob has worked for Laban long enough! It’s time to take what is his and go home. But Laban doesn’t want to turn loose. Jacob and company have to sneak out.
Jacob’s breeding policies have left him better off than Laban but both have huge flocks. Jacob has also accumulated a lot of possessions while in this land. We were told in our last reading that Jacob “had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys” (chapter 30 verse 43). He is wealthy by the world’s standards because God has blessed him as He promised He would do.
Laban has also benefited from that blessing but not as much as before. I wonder why Laban never figured out Jacob’s trick in the breeding process. I still question how putting sticks in sight of the animals while breeding would have any impact in the offspring UNLESS God told him to do this. Then His power would be sufficient and Jacob’s obedience would make the difference.
Laban’s sons notice the difference in the flocks and are jealous. I believe their flocks are still large in number but not as robust as Jacob’s. I wonder when they have time to compare the two. They are three days journey apart. Did they move back in proximity after Jacob made his own flock? Do they have friends who check on how Jacob is doing? The flock they are pasturing are the original “irregular” sheep that were stolen from Jacob. Jacob is still caring for two flocks; his and all that was left of Laban’s after the great sheep caper. There has to still be some distance between Jacob and the brother’s flocks to allow time for Jacob to escape.
Laban’s sons were even complaining about Jacob having ANYTHING! “Jacob has taken all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has gained all his wealth” (verse 1b). What did Jacob take? NOTHING! Laban tricked him into marrying both his daughters and stole away his first “wages.” Jacob came with nothing and by hard work and God’s blessing he has amassed a substantial fortune. Laban did EVERYTHING he could to keep Jacob down but it blew up in his face. Now him and his sons are angry with Jacob for prospering.
God tells Jacob that it’s time to go home. It appears Jacob has overstayed his welcome. The first thing Jacob does after hearing God’s instructions is to speak to his wives about it. Jacob carefully lays out the situation to them.
- “You know that I have served your father with all my strength” (verse 6)
- “Yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times” (verse 7a)
- “But God did not permit him to harm me” (verse 7b)
- “God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me” (verse 9)
- “I (God) have seen all that Laban is doing to you” (verse 12b)
- “I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me” (13a)
- “How arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred” (verse 13b)
GOD gave Jacob his wealth, not Laban. Laban has done everything he can to keep Jacob dependent on him and under his thumb. Jacob has stolen NOTHING of Laban’s. Rachel and Leah agree with Jacob’s assessment. They have a few charges of their own to add.
- Our inheritance is gone because our father took it away from us
- Our father regards us as foreigners
- Our father sold us and used up any money that should have passed to us
- The wealth that God took away from our father belongs to us and our children too
- God has proven Himself faithful to you. Do as he says.
They are behind him 100%.
Once this decision has been made by the three, Jacob has to put it in motion. He knows better than to bring his concerns to Laban. The last time he tried to leave Laban found a way to keep him. Not this time! Laban isn’t going to get a chance to talk Jacob out of it or to try and keep what he has earned or paid for.
While Laban is busy with the flocks tended by his sons Jacob makes good his escape. His wives and children ride camels and he herds. They weren’t running full tilt but they were making the most of the head start they had.
Rachel did something sneaky and WRONG before they left. She stole her father’s “household gods.” I don’t know if she did this to rile him or if she felt she still needed those god’s help in her new life. Maybe she wasn’t ready to make Jacob’s God her God yet. When she and Leah are discussing their plans they don’t mention that God is Jacob’s God, just to do as He says. They even recognize and agree with Jacob that it is God who prospered him.
We are told that “Jacob tricked Laban the Aramean, by not telling him that he intended to flee” (verse 20). I’m assuming it was the custom to say goodbye then just as it is today. I know I would want to say goodbye to my children and grandchildren if they were moving a great distance away. But Jacob knew it would create a big problem if he did.
Laban was furious when he found out. I don’t know what he was angrier about; Jacob leaving or his household idols being gone. I’m thinking it was the former but the latter gave him a legitimate reason to hunt him down. Laban didn’t find out for three days that Jacob had left but that didn’t stop him from chasing after him. Laban put as much speed into it as he could but it still took a week to catch up to Jacob and company.
If God hadn’t intervened by speaking to Laban in a dream I have no doubt that he would have tried to kill Jacob and “reclaim what was his.” Even though he sold his daughters to Jacob and told Jacob to “name his wage” he didn’t really turn loose of anything. He was FILLED TO THE BRIM with greed. We even see his greed when Abraham’s servant came for Rebekah. Laban saw the jewelry given to Rebekah and THEN ran out to meet the man who gave her these. He didn’t get rich that day but he wasn’t about to give up on his dream. Only the fear of God prevented him from acting on his nature.
Rachel’s theft was kept a secret from everyone. This was her sin alone. Jacob knew nothing about it and neither did Leah or either of the wives’ servants. We see by Rachel’s behavior that she learned well from her father over her lifetime. She was able to fool him with “the way of women.” None of his searchers were about to touch her while in that condition or to search under her. She got away with it. I wonder if she overheard Jacob’s statement about anyone being found with Laban’s goods. Was she in fear of her life when the search began? Or was she planning this all along if challenged? Why did she feel the need to take Laban’s gods in the first place? They certainly were of no help when she was trying to get pregnant. She hadn’t met the REAL God’s jealousy yet. He doesn’t share His glory.
After the search is over and nothing is uncovered a “line in the sand” is drawn. There is no way these two men can live together in peace and they don’t trust one another any longer. I don’t know why Jacob would trust Laban’s word even in front of his kinsmen. But they made a promise anyway. Laban would go back his way and Jacob would continue on towards home. Neither would venture further than this marked spot towards the other.
Laban and Jacob’s relationship reminds me of a saying. People come into our lives for a “reason”, a “season” or for a “lifetime.” Laban fit both the first two categories but definitely NOT the last one. God had a reason for Jacob to “rub up against” Laban. He had some lessons to learn. I believe on of the biggest ones he learned from Laban was honesty. Laban was anything but honest. Jacob suffered from that same sin in his life before meeting up with Laban. I believe their relationship taught Jacob how it felt to be on the other side of the equation. Laban was also just for a season. God had no intention of leaving Jacob in Laban’s company for life. Once Jacob had learned all he needed to and acquired all God had for him in that place, it was time to break ties completely. God told him when to get out.
He does the same with us today. He brings people into our paths to grow us in ways we would never have imagined. He also removes people that are not healthy for us. We need to let go of the relationships HE directs us to do so with. We also need to hold fast to the ones He leads us to cling to. Only God knows what lies ahead in each of our lives but our willingness to obey, even if it hurts or we don’t understand it, is all He asks of us. He knows what He is doing, even when He doesn’t let us in on all the details.
Father God, thank You that some of the people that have come into my life were only for a season. I’m MORE than happy to move on from some of them. Thank You for those that came/will come for a reason too. Sometimes that “reason” is easier to take than others. Not all lessons are difficult but they ALL strengthen and grow me deeper in relationship with You. I’m glad not all lessons hurt. Thank You VERY much for those that come into my life for a “lifetime.” They are the ones who keep me going even when I don’t feel like it. They speak to my spirit. Our interactions aren’t always “rosy” but they are part of me forever. I need them by my side and I KNOW they were sent by You. Remind me of this when I’m tiring of the demands of our relationship. Funny how You did just that right now! Thank You Lord for those relationship. My life would be so lonely without them. I know You would fill those voids with Your love but there would still be an empty place “at the table” every day. Thank You that I KNOW You will comfort me when those times come. But until then, help me cherish each moment together with these special people, even if I don’t always enjoy every second of our time together. This too is by Your design.