Saturday, July 21, 2012

XVIII - Jacob's Last Years With Laban

As we've seen in the last post, eleven out of the sons have  born to Jacob, which will represent eleven of the twelve tribes of Israel.  Six sons were born of Leah, two of Bihah, two of Zilpah, and one of Rebekah.  All of this took place between the eighth and the fourteenth year of Jacob's residence in Haran, working for this uncle Laban.

Jacob had now completed the fourteen years committed to Laban and vss 25,26 he asks Laban to let him go back home.  Vs 27 Laban acknowledges that he has been blessed and prospered mostly due to Jacob.  Laban urges Jacob to stay and tells him to name his price.  The conversation between these two men never made much sense to me.  It is as though Laban had an emotional hold on Jacob.  Jacob should have been free to go at this time, as well as other times in the past, but he still begs for Laban's permission.  Jacob continues to try to talk Laban into letting him go.  As Jacob makes his case to Laban, suggesting that he had been taken advantage of, also expounding on how much Jacob has "given".  So Laban asks in vs 31, "Then what shall I give you to make this right?".  Vs 32 Jacob says "don't give me anything".  (I would have said "just let me go".)  So Jacob goes on to make
another deal with Laban.

Jacob agreed to stay on and work for Laban.  His wages would be all the speckled and spotted sheep and goats plus all the dark or black sheep.  And Jacob told Laban that he could check any time he
wanted to, and if there were any plain livestock in Jacob's flock, he could consider them stolen.  Laban must have thought Jacob was really foolish for making this deal.  Laban must have said to himself, "Who in his right mind would settle for a few scrub animals for wages?"  We must realize that in the eastern territory back then goats were usually black or dark brown, seldom white or spotted.  Sheep were usually white, rarely black or speckled.  Same is true for sheep today. 
(however, looking slightly forward into chapter 31 God showed Jacob in a dream that there would be many offspring of Laban's flock that would be spotted and dark.)  Then (vss 24-36) Laban wants every advantage, so he has his sons separate all speckled and dark from the herd and take them about 60 miles away from the rest of Laban herds and flocks.  It doesn't say, but I'm certain that this was to keep any crossbreeding from happening.  We must be careful with whom we do business.  Laban was not only dishonest, but he always "stacked the deck".

But Jacob could outsmart Laban.  As told in vss 37-42, Jacob used visual influences placed at the watering troughs to affect the markings of the offspring of all the solid-colored goats and sheep.  I cannot explain how this works, except that God intervened and actually made this happen.  I don't think God was willing to allow Laban to kick Jacob around any more. The last verse in chapter 30 says Jacob became exceedingly prosperous.  Like the saying goes "if God be for me, who can stand
against me?".  When the cards are stacked against you, this is a good phrase to keep telling yourself.  It seems like serious Christians always have cards stacked against them.

Chapter 31 begins with Laban's sons complaining because the were envious of Jacob due to his prosperity.  Throughout our study thus far, people were always envious of the prosperity of the
patriarchs.  Jacob also notices Laban's attitude has changed toward him.  Then in vs 3 God tells Jacob to go back home to Beersheba.  God tells Jacob that He will not allow Laban to stand in his way.  Vss 4-9, Jacob begins to gather his family and estate and prepare for the journey.  Vs 10-13 tells of the dream Jacob had that I mentions a few paragraphs back.  This is a good time to mention that after Jacob had completed the fourteen years of serving Laban, Jacob had worked another SIX years under the agreement concerning the livestock.

I find vs 14-16 interesting.  When Jacob mentioned this hasty departure to Leah and Rachel, their attitude was one that indicated they didn't trust their own father, who would cheat them out of any inheritance they might have coming to them anyway.  Vs 16 they say surely anything God took away from our father belongs to us anyway, so therefore we're not stealing anything.  Basicly they were saying that by cheating Jacob, Laban was cheating them and their children also, which is very true.  Then they told Jacob "Do as God tells you".   Then Jacob gathered his vast estate and headed back to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan.

Now it's interesting to note that they were leaving in a hurry while Laban was busy sheering sheep.  They were trying to leave without Laban noticing.  (Like I said earlier, Laban seems to have an emotions hold on Jacob.)  But while they were packing up, Rachel stole her father's household
gods.  My research tells me that these were probably family relics placed in the residence of the clan leadership, and were considered very valuable.

As soon as Laban heard about Jacob leaving, he gathered his servants and took off after them.  He also had discovered that the valuable relics were missing.  Now he should have stopped chasing
Jacob after the first week because God told Laban in a dream to leave Jacob alone (vs 24).  (Laban never reminded me of a person that would listen to God or anybody else).   Laban knew he could catch him.  Moving an entire family with children, servants, livestock and 20 years of accumulated wealth was a very slow process.  Laban and his men were probably travelling very light and totaly on camelback, which was relatively fast.

Laban finally cought up with Jacob in the mountains of Gilead.  He accuses Jacob of dragging his daughers off like common prisoners vs 26.  He went on to tell Jacob that it was a public insult to sneak off while Laban was away.  Laban said he was denied the customary privilege of giving them a proper send-off with a banquet for his daughters and grandchildren.  Laban mentioned that he was even denied the chance to kiss his family good-bye.  Laban goes on to remind Jacob that he
has the power to do him harm, but he feared God would punish him if he did.

Then Laban mentions the stolen relics, which Jacob knew nothing about.  In vs 31 Jacob makes a frightening vow:  You can search all of our belongings.  If you find your stolen relics, the theif will be put to death.   (Jacob was not aware that Rachel was the one who stole them.)  Laban made a thorough search for the stolen relics.  When Rachel realized she could be put to death if her father found the relics, she hid them in a camel bag and sat on it.  When Laban came to her tent to search,
she told him that she could not get up because she was on he period.  So Laban was unable to find them and he had to drop the subject.

But Laban continued scold and inquire as to Jacob's behavior.  In vss 43 and 44 he remided
Jacob that Rachel and Leah were still his daughters.  Their children were still his grandchildren.  He even laid claim to Jacob's flocks.  Laban was getting desperate.  He could feel the best that he had was slipping through his fingers and he was running out of ideas.

Vss 51-54 tell of Laban and Jacob agreeing to a peace treaty to be sealed upon the stacking of stones and witnessed.  This chapter ends with Laban rising the next morning, kissing his family good-bye, and departing in peace.

This concludes our study of Jacob's dealings in Paddan-Aram with his uncle Laban.  Jacob has had it very hard for these twenty years.  He's not the same untrustworthy trickster he was 20 years ago.  But God is not finished refining Jacob just yet.  The next post will deal with Jacob's journey back to his homeland.

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