Genesis: Jacob Flees From Laban & Laban Pursues Jacob

Genesis 31:1-55

Jacob’s cleverness finally catches up with him. Laban no longer admires Jacob as he once did, because Jacob has outsmarted him. Every time Laban changed the agreement on wages, which sheep, goat, and lamb Jacob kept, Jacob found a way to profit. Jacob could sense the growing hostility between he and Laban, and believed his god told him to return to the land of his father. (Though, it is clear that he did not need a deity to inform him of his father-in-law’s disapproval.) Jacob gathers his wives, sex slaves, children, and flocks, and departs toward his homeland. Before they depart, Rachel steals Laban’s house gods—figurines of ancestral deities. Also, Jacob tells his wives of a dream where the God of Bethel came to him. The annotation in the Oxford Annotated Bible tells us that this reference to the God of Bethel indicates an older paradigm in Jewish faith. The god discussed here dwells in Bethel instead of the later believed god that dwells in Zion.

When Laban discovers that Jacob has fled and his house gods have been stolen, he pursues Jacob. Laban finds Jacob in the hill country of Gilead and confronts him. Jacob had no knowledge of Rachel stealing her father’s house gods and tells Laban to search his camp, and if he should find anything stolen, then kill whoever stole it.  Rachel hinds the household gods under a camel’s saddle and sits on it. When her father asks to search the saddle, she lies and tells him she is menstruating and does not wish to stand. Laban thus finds nothing. Laban and Jacob made a covenant that set the border of their two lands in Gilead, and agreed never to cross it in hostility. The two made sacrifices on the pillar they constructed to fulfill the covenant. Laban said goodbye to his daughters and grandchildren and returned to his land.

This story is more of a parable about the boundary covenant agreed upon by the Arameans (Laban’s people) and the Israelites (Jacob’s people). The two groups claimed Gilead in northern Transjordan. This story provides another example of questionable morals. What right does Jacob have to allow Laban to kill whoever stole his figurines? Of course, what right does anyone have to kill? The argument can be made that one has the right to kill to preserve their own life, and I would accept that as just. But here we have a crime committed that put no one’s life in jeopardy.

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Genesis: Jacob’s Flocks Increase

Genesis 30:25-43

Jacob asks Laban if he could return to the home his father now that he has finished the work agreed upon to marry Laban’s daughters. Laban does not wish to let Jacob leave because Jacob’s hard work has made him wealthy. Laban attempts to persuade Jacob to stay by asking him to name his price. Jacob states that he will agree to tend Laban’s flocks but he will keep all the speckled and spotted sheep and goats along with all the black lambs. Laban agrees because these coats were uncommon, but to ensure none were present in his flock he gave all that he found to his sons before Jacob could breed them. Jacob has a few tricks up his sleeve though. He takes rods of poplar and almond and plane, and peels them so they are spotted. Then, he has the strongest of the flock mate in front of these rods so they have offspring with spots and streaks. His flock grew, and he became wealthy. With his wealth, Jacob bought slaves, camels, and donkeys.

Jacob’s actions are warranted; Laban has been unfair to him by continuously changing their agreement. The only criticism is the explanation for how he bred spotted and speckled sheep and goats. It was not the fulfilled promise of superstition that bore him his desired flock, instead it can be understood through genetics. The population would have already carried recessive genes that gave the chance for spotted offspring. Through artificial selection, which is what Jacob did unknowingly, he was able to produce a strong heard of spotted and speckled sheep and goats.

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Genesis: Jacob Marries Leah and Rachel

Genesis 29:14-30

Jacob stays with his uncle Laban for a whole month. Laban then says to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”

Laban has two daughters: the eldest Leah, and the youngest Rachel. Jacob tells his uncle that he will work for him for seven years, if in return he can marry Rachel. Laban agrees, and Jacob works for Laban for seven years. After completing his time of servitude, Jacob went to his uncle demanding to lay with Rachel. Laban throws a feast to celebrate the occasion, but when night fell it was not Rachel who was in the sack consummating with Jacob. Laban deceives Jacob, and instead of sending Rachel, he tells his daughter Leah to lay with Jacob. Of course, Jacob was surprised when in the morning he awakes to see Leah, and not Rachel. Treachery seems to be a trait inherent in all relatives of Abraham.

Jacob goes to his uncle to ask why he has deceived him. His answer:

“It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”

Jacob finishes the bridal week with Leah. After the week was over, his uncle gave him Rachel to marry, and Jacob lays with her–again, polygamy in the Bible. Jacob loves Rachel more than Leah, which is not surprising. Laban gave each women a maidservant: Leah had Zipah, and Rachel had Bilhah. Jacob then works for his uncle for another seven years as agreed.

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Genesis: Jacob Arrives in Paddan Aram

Genesis 29:1-14

After Jacob’s dream he continues on his journey. When he reaches the land of the eastern peoples he finds shepherds out tending the flocks. He asks these shepherds where they are from. They tell him they are from Haran. Jacob asks if they know of Laban, and they say they do. Jacob asks if Laban is well, to which they reply that he is, and point off into the distance to show that Laban’s daughter Rachel is coming toward them with some sheep. When Rachel arrives with the sheep, Jacob helps move the stone to the well and watered his uncle’s sheep, then he kissed his cousin Rachel and started to weep. Jacob informs Rachel that he is a relative of her’s and she runs to tell her father. Once Laban heard the news of Jacob’s arrival, he rushed out to greet and kiss him, and then take him back to his home.

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Genesis: Jacob Flees to Laban

Genesis 27:41-46 & 28:1-9

Esau, enraged by his brothers treachery, promises that the day his father dies he will murder his brother Jacob. Rebekah hears this and warns Jacob that Esau is plotting to murder him. She tells Jacob to leave and head to the land of her brother Laban in Haran to wait for his bother to cool off. Rebekah’s prejudice towards the women of Canaan influenced her to ask Isaac to give his blessing to Jacob to find a wife while in Haran. Rebekah says of Hittite women:

“I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living.”

Here the Bible’s promotion of intolerance is on full display. This woman, these people, are aliens living in the land of Canaan, and are only allowed to stay because of the Canaanite’s hospitality, which the descendants of Abraham undermine continuously.

Isaac blesses Jacob–as Rebekah wished–and tells him not to marry a woman from the land of Canaan, but to head to Northwestern Mesopotamia where Rebekah’s family lives to find a wife. Esau learns of his father’s blessing and his parents prejudice towards Canaanite women, so he goes shopping for a new bride, one within the family. He settles for his cousin Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael.

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