When Leah and Rachel had given birth to their children, the Lord called Jacob to return to the land of his family. The calling of God posed a dilemma for Jacob between the approving wives and the disapproving father-in-law, Laban. The lesson serves as a lesson for us in regards to following God’s command while facing the opposing realities and how we respond to them.
Did You Know...?
- Green Poplar (30:37) is probably the white poplar, Populus alba, whose under leaves are especially white. The branches of white poplar are long and straight, providing pleasant shade. [ref]
- Almond (30:37) is most likely the Amygdalus communis. The almond tree bears its snow-white flowers in the midst of winter. [ref]
- Chestnut tree (30:37) or the Platanus orientalis typically sheds its bark in sheets, revealing a smooth interior bark of white or yellow color. [ref]
- Prosperous (30:43): The word “prosperous” in Gen 30:43 uses similar word-root in Hebrew as the word “spread” of the promise of God to Jacob in Gen 28:14.
- “God has taken away” (31:9): this phrase can be literally translated in Hebrew as “God snatched away.”
- Household idols (31:19): The Hebrew word is “teraphim.” The teraphim paralleled a Hurrian practice known from the 15th century Nuzi documents, where the possessor of the household gods identified the legal heir of the estate. In this case, the teraphim parallels the Mesopotamian house gods—the chief heir received the household gods exclusively and thus prohibiting the sharing or selling to any other claimant. Since Rachel and Leah recognized that they did not have an inheritance, it was understandable why Rachel stole the teraphim and why Laban searched for them so vigorously.
In the Old Testament, the use of teraphim involves a cultic function along with the ephod (Judg 17:5, 18:14; Hos 3:4), divinations (Ezek 21:21; Zech 10:2) and idolatry (1 Sam 15:23,
2 Kgs 23:24).
- “Jacob stole away, unknown to Laban” (31:20): In Hebrew, the phrase can be literally translated, “Jacob deceived the heart of Laban.”
The phrase “give me my wives” was said by Jacob the second time in Gen 30:26. The first time Jacob said such a phrase was in Gen 29:21, when he had fulfilled the seven-year work contract with Laban to obtain Rachel as his wife (Gen 21:18-20). The second phrase, in Gen 30:26, was said by Jacob when he had performed his additional seven-year work contract with Laban.
Unlike the first phrase, the second phrase “give my wives” was uttered by Jacob with the emphasis of returning to his own country (Gen 30:25). Here, Jacob made clear to Laban that his additional seven-year work contract service had been completed and he also had fully served Laban in exchange for his wives. Thus, Jacob asked Laban to let him go to his own place and own country with his wives and children (Gen 30:25-26).
What was Laban’s reply to Jacob’s request? What can we learn about Jacob’s diligence from Laban’s negotiation?Hide Answer
In replying to Jacob’s plea, Laban asked him to stay because Laban learned that he had been blessed by the LORD due to Jacob’s sake. Laban’s persistence to hold Jacob with the proposed wages showed that Jacob’s presence had brought forth blessings in Laban’s life. Clearly, the proposed negotiation of wages showed that Jacob’s diligence in his work and service were desperately needed by Laban (Gen 30:27-28).
List from the Scriptures the events of one is blessed because of the sake of God’s people. See also Gen 12:2-3 and 39:5.Hide Answer
Apart from Laban’s example, there were two other events. First, in Gen 12:2-3 the LORD promised Abraham that all the families of the earth would be blessed because of Abraham. Second, the LORD blessed Potiphar’s house and on all that he had in the house and in the field for Joseph’s sake (Gen 39:5).
Share an experience on how your life can be a channel of the Lord’s blessings to others around you.
What can we learn about Laban’s greed and selfishness from his phrase in Gen 30:31?Hide Answer
When Jacob answered Laban and asked him when could he provide for his own house, Laban persistently replied, “What shall I give you?” (Gen 30:29-31). Laban’s answer shows us that not only was he selfish but he was also greedy.
First, Laban was selfish. Jacob explained to Laban that he had served and worked for Laban for fourteen years in total and now he wished to provide for his own house that consisted of his wives and his children (Gen 29:20, 30, 30:30). In other words, Jacob wanted to focus on providing for his family since he had finished his service to Laban. But Laban did not allow Jacob to go back to his country and instead he wanted to use Jacob like a slave who was supposed to continue working for him.
Second, Laban was greedy. In his words, Jacob explained to Laban that since his arrival, the LORD had blessed Laban and his livestock had increased to a great amount (Gen 30:30). Though Laban had become a very rich man, he insisted on withholding Jacob to continue working for him. Laban knew that the increased wealth was due to God’s blessing for Jacob’s sake. Thus, by having Jacob with him, the increased wealth which Laban had would be greatly multiplied even more.
How do the Scriptures tell us regarding an employee-employer relationship in today’s context? See Eph 6:5-9.Hide Answer
Regarding an employer-employee relationship, the apostle Paul once wrote that masters ought to give up threatening their bondservants and doing good to them instead. Paul reminded them, they too had the same master in heaven and that He shows no favoritism (Eph 6:8-9). Thus, instead of applying a threatening method to the employees to boost work performance, the employer ought to apply an open-communication between the two. Furthermore, employers should pay attention the balance between the given workload and the well-being of the employees. In other words, the employees must be treated with fairness and not being taken advantage of due to their lack of power, social status or education.
And regarding an employee-employer relationship, the apostle Paul also reminded the bondservants to “be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh” (Eph 6:5). Furthermore, the apostle explained that the bondservants’ obedience to the masters should not just be an “eyeservice as men-pleasers,” but rather it should be an obedience as “to Christ” with act of “sincerity of heart” to do the “will of God” (Eph 6:5-6). Therefore, instead of being men-pleasers and being insincere, an employee should perform every work given in sincerity of the heart, knowing that he is not just being obedient to his worldly master but also to his Lord (Eph 6:7).
What was commendable about Jacob’s reply to Laban’s persistence in withholding him? About Jacob’s request for nothing;Hide Answer
Though Laban did not allow Jacob to go back to his own country and kept insisting that Jacob continue working for him, Jacob did not take advantage of Laban. Jacob said, “You shall not give me anything” (Gen 30:31). When Laban insisted that Jacob name his wages, Jacob did not demand for material wealth.
About Jacob’s righteousness;Hide Answer
Not wanting to take an advantage of Laban, Jacob requested a small number of the flocks for himself in exchange for his continued service to feed and keep Laban’s flocks (Gen 30:31-32). In order to avoid confusion and suspicion from Laban’s side, Jacob maintained his righteousness about his wages by taking only the speckled, spotted and brown flocks and leaving behind the white ones for Laban. Thus, Laban could easily inspect whether Jacob was being honest at his wages (Gen 30:33).
Describe the prosperity of Jacob.Hide Answer
Although Laban schemed to cheat Jacob by removing the speckled, spotted animals from the flock and giving them to his sons with the three days’ journey between Jacob and the flock (Gen 30:35-36), Jacob became exceedingly prosperous while continuing to work for Laban. At the end, Jacob had large flocks, female and male servants and camels and donkeys (Gen 30:43).
The book of Genesis 30:37-42 described how Jacob set the peeled white-strip rods in front of the mating flocks. Thus, the flocks brought forth streaked, speckled and spotted (Gen 30:39). But the next passage in Gen 31:7-12 explained that it was the LORD who took away Laban’s flocks and gave them to Jacob. God made the flocks to conceive the streaked, speckled and gray-spotted (Gen 31:10).
The events pertaining to Jacob’s prosperity teach us that faith must be accompanied by the deeds which reflect the faith. Once the writer of the epistle of James writes, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (Jas 2:26). In other words, faith works together with deeds so that the works of faith can be made perfect (Jas 2:22). When Jacob received a dream from the LORD regarding the streaked, speckled and spotted flocks; he believed in it. And he reflected his belief through his efforts in setting the peeled white-strip rods, separating the flocks to face toward the streaked and all the brown ones (Gen 30:38, 40).
What were the two accusations of Laban’s sons toward Jacob?
Compare the emphasis of the words of Laban’s sons in Gen 31:1 with the emphasis of the words of Laban in Gen 30:27. What were their different point-of-view in regards to the cause of the acquired wealth? The emphasized words of Laban’s sons;Hide Answer
In their words, Laban’s sons made an emphasis that the wealth belonged to their father. Even the ones which Jacob had taken away and had acquired, all of them belonged to their father (Gen 31:1). Their view concerning their father’s wealth showed how they disregarded the hard work and loyal service of Jacob to Laban. Furthermore, the words of Laban’s sons reflected their ignorance and unthankfulness toward God’s guidance and blessing for their material wealth.
The emphasized words of Laban;
Why did Laban’s countenance is no longer favorable toward Jacob as before?Hide Answer
Laban’s countenance was no longer favorable toward Jacob because of several reasons. The words of Laban’s sons had influenced Laban into thinking that all the wealth which he had were taken away by Jacob (Gen 31:1). In addition, Laban was jealous seeing that Jacob—who was serving and working for him—now had become more prosperous than he.
In Gen 12:1-3, the Lord called Abraham to leave his country, his family and his father’s house, to go to a land that God would show him. The Lord’s calling meant Abraham must leave his comfort zone and habits at home and face the struggles of unknown journeys and difficulties ahead. On the other hand, in Gen 31:3, the Lord called Jacob to return to his home country—the country where his forefathers had stayed in accordance with God’s guidance. The Lord’s calling meant Jacob could leave behind his struggles and sorrows of life with Laban in the land that God had called Abraham to leave and return with his new family to the land that God had promised to Abraham.
The similarity;Hide Answer
Both Abraham and Jacob were called by God to go to the land which was promised by the Lord for their generations. Furthermore, the calling of both, Abraham and Jacob, was assured by the Lord’s presence and guidance in their journeys.
What were the struggles and dilemma of Jacob in his service to Laban?Hide Answer
Though Jacob was loyal and with all his might he served Laban, he faced several dilemmas in his work. First, Laban—his employer and his father-in-law—was no longer favorable toward him (Gen 31:2). In other words, Laban showed his dislike for Jacob through his deeds. Second, Laban had deceived and changed Jacob’s wages ten times (Gen 31:7). Though Jacob continued to work and serve with all his might to keep and feed the flocks of Laban as agreed, Laban was the one who breached the agreement. Unknowing to Laban, his unfair treatment of Jacob had physically and mentally hurt him (Gen 31:7). Physically, Jacob had given all his might and energy into his work but he was not rewarded properly. And mentally, Laban was both the employer and the father-in-law of Jacob but he treated Jacob as if he was a servant instead of his son-in-law and his loyal employee.
How did God’s statement “I have seen all that Laban is doing to you” in Gen 31:12 become a great comfort for Jacob?Hide Answer
God’s statement “I have seen all that Laban is doing to you” became a great comfort for Jacob. As Laban continued to deceive and change Jacob’s wages, Jacob felt the helplessness of his situation. Yet, in his desperation, the Lord saw all the unfairness which had been done to Jacob. Although Laban changed Jacob’s wages ten times, the Lord miraculously gave back Jacob’s wages by miraculously causing the flock to give birth according to the changes which Laban had made (Gen 31:8-9).
Share an experience on how the Lord gives you comfort in dealing with difficulties of life.
What was the significance of the phrases “I am the God of Bethel” and “you made a vow to me” for Jacob? “I am the God of Bethel”;Hide Answer
God’s words “I am the God of Bethel” served as a comfort for Jacob’s sufferings from Laban’s maltreatment and served as a reminder to strengthen him. Bethel was named by Jacob himself and it was the place where Jacob had dreamt of the Lord (Gen 28:10-19). There, the Lord reminded Jacob that He was the Lord God of Abraham and the God of Isaac, his grandfather and father. Furthermore, in Bethel God had promised Jacob that not only would the land which Jacob was lying on be given to his descendants, the Lord also assured him that He would not leave him wherever he went (Gen 28:13-15). Thus, through the phrase “I am the God of Bethel,” the Lord reaffirmed Jacob of His presence, guidance and protection in Jacob’s life.
“You made a vow to me”;Hide Answer
The Lord also reminded Jacob that he had made a vow to God previously at Bethel (Gen 28:20). God mentioned the vow to remind Jacob about the intimate relationship between the two of them. At the beginning, the Lord mentioned how He was the God of his grandfather and his father. Now, He reminded Jacob that He was also his God. The vow of Jacob serves as a reminder of Jacob’s own commitment to the relationship, making the Lord to be the God of Jacob (Gen 28:21).
What are the promises or “vows” which you have made to God in your life? Have you fulfilled those promises?
From Leah’s and Rachel’s responses, how did Laban treat his daughters?Hide Answer
From Leah’s and Rachel’s responses in Gen 31:14-16, there were several maltreatments that Laban did to his daughters. First, Laban had taken away every portion or inheritance of Leah and of Rachel (Gen 31:14). Second, Laban considered both of his daughters as strangers for they had been sold away (Gen 31:15). Third, although “God [had] taken” all the riches from Laban to the daughters and their children, Laban had “completely consumed [their] money” (Gen 31:15-16).
Previously, in Gen 29:31-30:24, both Leah and Rachel expressed their rivalries against each other concerning their love for Jacob and the numbers of sons to whom they gave birth. But after they heard about Jacob’s struggles with Laban and heard what the Lord had commanded Jacob, they set aside their rivalries and united for a common purpose. First, they began to realize that they too had been ill-treated by their own father, Laban (Gen 31:14-15). Second, they began to support their husband to obey whatever God had said to him—to return to the land of Jacob’s family (Gen 31:16, 13).
The book of Acts gave us an example of how earlier in his ministry, the apostle Paul had a sharp contention with the apostle Barnabas concerning Mark who had left the ministry. The contention was so great that it caused both apostles to part from one another (Acts 15:39). However, toward the end of his life, Paul requested for Mark’s presence. He wrote, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry” (2 Tim 4:11). The example above teaches us that different opinions in regards to the ministry can happen among the brothers and sisters. But we should not hold any grudges between brothers and sisters because of the different opinions. Rather, we ought to find every opportunity to find common ground among the brothers and sisters so that together we can work for a common purpose in Christ Jesus.
Why did Rachel steal Laban’s household idols?Hide Answer
Gen 31:19 told us that Rachel had stolen the household idols that belonged to her father, Laban. Rachel stole something which was considered a great value for Laban. Thus, Laban went to great lengths to search for his household idols (Gen 31:33-35). Since Laban had taken away all her inheritance and money, Rachel stole the household idols for her own benefit—either as a symbol for the heir of the family inheritance, according to the Mesopotamian culture, or its capability as a medium for divinations (Ezek 21:21; Zech 10:2).
Why did Jacob leave without telling Laban?Hide Answer
After Jacob had shared with Leah and Rachel about God’s command to return to the land of his family (Gen 31:13), he rose and set his sons and his wives on camels. Then Jacob carried away all his livestock and all his possessions to go to the land of Canaan (Gen 31:17-18). But Jacob did not tell Laban that he intended to flee (Gen 31:20) because Jacob was afraid that Laban would take away Leah and Rachel by force (Gen 31:31).
List several ways which Jacob used to plan his escape from Laban.Hide Answer
To arrange his plans to flee, Jacob used several ways to make his escape unknown to Laban. At first, he set his sons and his wives on camels and carried away all his livestock and all his possessions headed toward the mountains of Gilead (Gen 31:17-18, 21). Next, Jacob picked the time of fleeing when Laban had gone to shear his sheep (Gen 31:19). Finally, Jacob never mentioned to Laban about his intention to flee, so that Laban did not expect his escape (Gen 31:20).
List the similarities between Jacob’s deceit on Laban and Jacob’s deceit on Isaac.Hide Answer
First, Jacob made use of the chance to prepare his deceit. In Gen 27:13-17, Jacob and Rebekah prepared savory foods and covered the skin of Jacob with the skins of goats to impersonate Esau. Similarly, in Gen 31:17-21 Jacob planned beforehand to ready his wives, children and belongings to flee toward the mountains of Gilead.
Second, Jacob utilized the time to act on his deceit. The book of Genesis 27:5-30 described how Jacob was a willing participant of his mother to pick the time of his deceit when Esau was away, hunting the game for his father, Isaac. Likewise, in Gen 31:19, Jacob chose the time of his escape when Laban went to shear his sheep.
Third, Jacob gained the trust of his victim to ensure his deceit. In Gen 27:18-24, Jacob even used God’s name to convince Isaac, his father, that he was indeed Esau. Also, in Gen 31:20, Jacob literally had stole away Laban’s heart into believing that Jacob never had the intention to flee from him.
What can we learn from Jacob’s decision to deceive Laban in spite of God’s previous promise of guidance in his life?Hide Answer
Although the Lord had promised Jacob in his dream that He would be with him (Gen 31:3), the fear and difficulties of the current situation made Jacob use his own way to achieve his goal—by deceiving Laban. Once the writer of the book of Proverbs explains how a man’s heart plans his way, but it is the Lord who directs his steps (Prov 16:9). The example of Jacob and the exhortation from Proverbs teach us that in difficulties and out of fear, we may use our ways to solve the problem. But in the end, it is the Lord who will guide and protect us toward the intended goal. It if wasn’t for the Lord’s protection, Laban would have done harm to Jacob due to his escape.
If you were Jacob, what would be the alternative way of departing and what would be the worst consequences that you might have faced? How would these consequences challenge your faith in God’s guidance?Hide Answer
If we were Jacob, the alternative way of departing would be honestly telling Laban that we would like to return to the land of our father along with Leah, Rachel and the children. But the worst consequences we could have faced would be Laban preventing Leah, Rachel and the children to come along. Laban might also take away by force the acquired livestock of your wages and send us away empty handed.
These worst consequences could present a great challenge to our faith because we expect blessings and smooth journeys through God’s guidance and not the sufferings nor persecutions. The book of Job teaches us that not only should we accept the good from God but we also must accept the adversity from God (Job 2:10). In other words, trust in God does not mean that we only expect the blessings and smoothness of our journeys. There will be times when we will face hardships and difficulties in our journeys and yet, we have to patiently go through them and rely on God’s mercy to give us the strength to prevail.
Share an experience of how God guided you in repairing your relationship with family members.