Genesis 30:25-32:2; 35:2, 4 – Through His Servants the LORD Humbles a Rebel

My family in Christ, shalom.

Welcome and thanks for joining me on my journey through the Bible. Last time we saw Jacob finally arrive in Paddan-aram in Haran. He saw his cousin Rachel and he instantly fell in love with her. But her devious father, Laban, manipulated events so that Jacob married his elder daughter, Leah. The general biblical principle of monogamy is violated here so that Jacob marries Rachel as well. If being married to two women, (with each bearing children) wasn’t bad enough, both Rachel and Leah give their maidservants to the husband. And they each had children. [1] Now, just like Lot and Abraham before them, Jacob and Laban must part company.

It is almost twenty years since Jacob arrived at Laban’s door (31:38). In that time he has married both of the latter’s daughters, produced almost a dozen children and, because God blesses everything that Jacob does, Laban’s wealth has increased abundantly. Life has been great since the arrival of Laban’s son-in-law, and Jacob’s labour has cost him next to nothing! Now Laban has fallen into the same trap that we are all vulnerable of falling into in such circumstances. That is, taking things for granted.

It is the LORD’s command that Jacob return to his family in Beer-sheba (vv. 3, 13). Jacob has no option but to obey. When he annouces to Laban his intentions to depart, the trickster sees his prosperity threatened. Is it surprising that the later part of chapter 30 contains the only record of Laban and his kinsmen working on the land? Though adequate, their efforts are nothing compared to what ADONAI’s servant can achieve. If Laban can’t keep Jacob in his service, he can certainly cheat him out of his wages. [2]

In return for his years of service Jacob asks that he be allowed to take every striped, spotted and dappled sheep and goat (30:32). [3] Such a request must have set Laban’s scheming mind in motion. Jacob’s own suggestion that …

“…if there are among my goats any that are not speckled or spotted or any sheep that are not darked-colored, they got there by theft

(30:33b JPS) …

… must have seemed to Laban like his own deceitful conscience had manifested itself as his ‘ungrateful’ servant. He craftily agrees to Jacob’s request; but later that day Laban and his kinsmen set about manipulating events. They thought that if they hide all of the striped, spotted, dappled animals then the only ones that Jacob can take are those which violate his own oath. When Laban does finally catch Jacob with stolen goods the latter will be indebted to his father-in-law for life! However, things don’t go the way that the godless man planned.

Genesis goes to great lengths to describe the way whereby the animals with just plain light-coloured skins can be made to give birth to ones which Jacob is allowed to take (30:37-42). I am no scientist, and cannot say if this is possible or not. According to Baruch Korman there is much debate about the process that the text presents here:

As with all biblical text, there is a deeper meaning, but as you heard in the video above many (if not all) scholars are baffled by this. I prefer to look at the period in which this was done. Laban and his kinsmen were only away for three days (30:36), six at the most, and I think that for these things to have occurred in such a short space of time suggests to my modern mind nothing less than a miracle (31:9)!

Laban has been deceitful once too often. His attitude toward God’s servant has changed, and Jacob, eager to follow God’s command, asks his wives if they have any doubts about leaving. Their answer (vv. 14-16) leaves us in no doubt that they have a very low option of their father. This, undoubtedly influenced by the ways in which they have seen their husband being mistreated over the years, was probably also influenced by a more explicitly spiritual matter.

For centuries the Patriarchal family had held Abraham’s ancestral family in higher regard than all the peoples of Canaan. One gets the sense that from this family came the Melchizedeks of the Mesopotamian world (cf. 14:18-20). Just like the Priest-King of Salem Abraham’s blood-relatives enjoyed a spiritual heritage that the rest of the earth were denied. Their monotheist Yahwistic belief meant that they were the salt of the earth. As part of this family, Laban was also set apart from Mesopotamian spirituality; but his salt had well and truly lost its saltiness (Matthew 5:13; Mark 9:50).

In Genesis 30:27 Laban says that it is via “divination” that he has come to know that El-Shaddai brings blessings to him because of Jacob. I have no doubt that the LORD Himself revealed this to Laban, and that he is falsely attributing its communication to pagan ways. This is a gross violation for a member of such a privileged family. This family has a (still relatively) unique relationship with the one true God and Laban goes and throws it all away in favour of superstitious nonsense! So when Jacob does finally depart in secret Rachel steals the household idols in an effort to free her father of his chains (31:19-21). [4]

Gen31

Although Laban was angered by the sudden disappearance of Jacob, I think it would have been slightly easier to digest if his carved ornamental gods had not been removed (31:30b, 33-35; cf. vv. 26-30a). Thus a chase ensues just so he can retrieve them. Neither Laban nor the people with him are super-human and so they need to rest on the way. And he then hears a voice as suddenly and as powerfully as so many people have experienced it ever since light first penetrated darkness:

“Beware of attempting anything with Jacob, good or bad”

(31:24; cf. 1:3).

Unfortunately, however, Laban is stubborn. (Notice that God said do nothing, whether it be good or bad.) After all, he has overtaken someone who had a head start! But God’s ways are not our ways, and I believe that YHWH planned the course of what follows. When Laban and Jacob do engage in their final confrontation, Laban’s long greeting is I think full of a lot of untruths; and he only gets to his true reason for coming at the end. (And this is just casually added on to the end of a sentence!) Jacob however is not fooled, and knowing exactly why Laban has pursued him, gives him leave to inspect the camp and see for himself that the idols are not there.

When I first read these verses I thought that Jacob genuinely did not know that the idols where there. After all, what possible purpose had this God-fearing household in take them? However, after reading the beginning of chapter 35 I started to think that Jacob must have known they were there, and relied on Yahweh’s providence and Rachel’s resourcefulness to keep them hidden. (Maybe it was Jacob who told Rachel to steal them in the first place.) Perhaps saying that the thief should be put to death (31:32a) was simply said to convince Laban of his sincerity.

Finding nothing (and leaving other people to form their own opinions about v. 35), Laban has no option left but to create a pact with Jacob. They build a mound of stones, promising that neither of them will cross its boundary with hostile intentions. Jacob then offers an animal sacrifice and they feast (31:46-54). The next day, Ladan departs, from both Jacob’s life and from the biblical record. Moving on from there, Jacob encounters some angels at a place that he renames God’s “camp” (32:2-3). Whatever happened during this encounter, it is evident that the vision gave him further impetus to rid his household of all foreign gods (and whatever else tied his people to old pagan ways) and to put God’s Kingdom first (35:2, 4).

Here we have seen Jacob’s final days in Haran. He prepares to leave in accordance with God’s commands, but this does not stop Laban attempting to halt Jacob’s departure. By the LORD’s grace Jacob does go, and despite Laban’s attempts to the contrary Jacob leaves with great wealth. Laban, although a relative of Israel’s Patriarchs and born into a family with a somewhat unique relationship with El-Shaddai, has rebelled against God and needs to be humbled. Whether Jacob knows about it or not, Laban’s idols are taken away in Jacob’s fleeing caravan, and Laban pursues him simply to retrieve the useless statues. Inspecting Jacob’s caravan, Laban does not find them, and after establishing a pact with Jacob, he disappears from the biblical record. My hope is that, like Jacob, Laban also had the strength of the Holy Spirit to cast out all foreign gods.

I hope you have enjoyed my exploration of this section of the Bible, and that you will join me again soon.

Lehitra’ot and God bless you.

Endnotes

[1] For a cult which treasures genealogical information, I can see why many Mormon leader got behind banning the practice of ‘plural marriages’ in 1950.

[2] How evil, considering that the household which depends on Jacob’s finances includes Laban’s own daughters and grandchildren.

[3] Strange, considering that in later years such animals would be deemed as unsuitable to sacrifice.

[4] Compare Robin A. Brace who suggests that Rachel stole the idols to stop Laban divining their whereabouts.

[5] However, a number of prophets, Isaiah and Ezekiel among them, were granted experiences of God’s Kingdom.