a. Part 1 – The pillar. Jacob agrees to enter into a covenant with Laban and begins the proceedings. Jacob goes out and finds a stone and sets it up as a pillar. Throughout the Bible, you find different visible signs of a covenant. You have things like sacrificing animals or giving of a sandal. God gave Abraham the sign of circumcision. All of these are visible signs and are meant to establish the seriousness and security of the covenant. Remember that Jacob set up a pillar when God spoke to him at Bethel and he made his vow. That was a visible sign, confirming what God and Jacob said. It was meant to be a reminder and if someone violated the agreement you could go back and say, “See, here is the witness against you.” Not only does Jacob set up his stone but he tells his kinsmen to gather stones and make a heap of the stones. Each person added their stone to the heap like we would sign our name to a contract. b. Part 2 – The name. Along with setting up the stones, the place was also given a ceremonial name. Again, we see this when Jacob named the pillar he set up with God, Bethel. They both name the place “the heap of witness” but Laban uses the Aramaic and Jacob the Hebrew. Laban also named the place Mizpah or watch post saying, “The Lord watch between you and me, when we are out of one another’s sight.” This is very telling of Laban’s view of Jacob and shows that he fears retaliation from Jacob. Laban invokes the name of God, calling God to keep an eye on both of them in case they try to deceive each other again. Of course, Laban really wants God to keep an eye on Jacob. c. Part 3 – The conditions. Next, Laban states what he wants out of the covenant. First, he says you cannot oppress my daughters. This is a very interesting statement coming from a man who treated his daughters like goods to be sold. Nevertheless, that’s what he desires for his daughters. The second condition is that Jacob could not take any other wives besides his daughters. This would protect the inheritance of his grandchildren from being given to a child that was not related to him. The final condition is that they never pass by the pillar with the intent to do each other harm. Laban, being the weaker house, is trying to provide security for himself from Jacob who is the stronger. No doubt he is thinking that Jacob may come back someday to take vengeance or to take away what Laban has left. d. Part 4 – The sacrifice. In 53-54, Jacob offers a sacrifice and they both swear to the covenant. Laban swears by the God of Abraham, whom Jacob had descended and the God of Nahor, whom Laban had descended, and the God of their father, who is Terah, whom both Jacob and Laban have as a common ancestor. Jacob does not take the same oath. He swears by the Fear of Isaac instead. Why does he do this? Most assume that Jacob thought it better to swear by the God whom his father Isaac feared because he had never served other gods, unlike his other ancestors. Joshua will remind the nation of Israel. “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods.” Joshua 24:2. It would seem that Joshua followed Jacob’s example when he says, “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.” e. Part 5 – The meal. The last component of the covenant is the ceremonial meal. The sitting down and feasting together indicate the end of any strife between them. This is a meal of friendship. We have seen an example of this kind of meal before. If you got back to Genesis 26, Isaac sat down and feasted with Abimelech after they had agreed to not have any hostility between them. Enemies don’t sit and feast together.
a. Laban has no answer. After the stern rebuke of Jacob, Laban speaks up. Notice that he does not offer a rebuttal. He does not argue against Jacob’s accusations of his cheating. He does not argue against Jacob’s work ethic. He speaks nothing about it because he can say nothing. Remember that God has already told Laban that he is not allowed to speak good or evil. This did not leave Laban speechless though. He has spoken more in this chapter than Jacob. But his words have no power. Proverbs 16:5 says, “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished. So, what is his tactic? b. Laban claims Jacob’s family. Laban turns and says, “The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine.” Remember what Leah and Rachel were complaining about? They said that they were treated as foreigners in the household. Laban comes out and says these are my daughters and their children are my children. Now, there are several ways to read his statement and since we don’t know his motivation we can’t be sure of the tone of this. Is he saying this because he’s been busted and now he is owning up to his error? He should have been treating them as his own all along which is a little too late now that they have already left. People will often fake affection when it is to their advantage. Or is Laban saying that everything that Jacob is taking is his? These are his daughters, Jacob’s children are his children and the flocks belong to him. These are his possessions which is a very worldly view. In reality, none of what Laban was seeing was his. Jacob had worked hard to earn Leah’s and Rachel’s hands in marriage. He had worked hard for the flocks which were his payment for keeping Laban’s sheep. Worldly people like Laban will often claim for themselves things that they have no right to. c. Laban wants a covenant. Next, Laban proposes that Jacob and he enter into a covenant. Notice that Jacob follows Proverbs 26:4, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.” Jacob does not enter into a war of words nor does he correct him. Jacob has said his piece and allows Laban to continue to speak, though Jacob had a good case to protest. Jacob does not insist that Laban submit to him and doesn’t force him to apologize for rifling through all of his stuff. Jacob shows some serious patience with his uncle.
This is our third week looking at this lengthy passage about Jacob leaving Laban’s house. We have heard Jacob’s argument that he gave to his wives as to why they should leave. We also heard Rachel’s and Leah’s description of how they had been mistreated by their father and their agreement with Jacob that he should do what God has said. While Laban was away sheering his sheep, Jacob left with his family and headed for Gilead. But Laban found out what happened and chased Jacob down. Laban confronted Jacob and accused him of trickery and of theft. Laban searched through all the tents of Jacob but did not find his stolen idols which Rachel had hidden. After watching Laban go through all of his stuff, Jacob became angry and unloaded his anger in a short tirade against Laban. Jacob complained of the years of mistreatment at the hands of Laban and cited examples. In verses 43-55, we get to see what happens next. Will these two men settle their disagreements? Will there be peace between these two? We’ll see the answers today. In verses 43-44, we find a proposal for a covenant agreement between Laban and Jacob. In verses, 45-54 we read of the different elements of the covenant. And finally, in verse 55 is the departure of Laban.
Jacob has been changing in the 20 years since he lied to his father and stole the birthright. Jacob has spent twenty years being cheated and mistreated by his father-in-law. But after those twenty years in the school of Christ, he finally confesses his dependence on God. God saw his affliction and the labor of his hands. God rebuked Laban. Apart from God, Jacob would have been homeless with no family and no wealth. God’s kind providence was upon Jacob and he was beginning to open his eyes to this fact. When uncertainty and hardship come into your life, what is your response? Do you doubt God’s goodness? Do you wonder if he sees your affliction? Do you think maybe he hasn’t seen how hard you’ve been working? Maybe you spent 20 years in the school of affliction and perhaps you’re there right now. Learn like Jacob did that God has been on your side. God sees what you are going through. God will act on your behalf. He is at work transforming you into the likeness of his Son. You are a jewel in the hand of the Master Jeweler. It is only through grinding and filing and polishing that you, who were nothing more than a dull rock will finally shine for all eternity. May God enable us to trust his wisdom and to grow in our trust. May we make use of every tool that he has given us to grow in that trust.
These last few verses are a tirade of Jacob where he unleashes his anger and berates his father-in-law. a. I’m not a thief. In 36-37, he argues that he has not stolen anything and demands the proof. If Laban has proof he should bring it forward and let the people judge. b. I’ve served you well. In 38-40, states that for the twenty years that he has been with Laban he has always done right by him. And if there were any losses, Jacob took the loss himself and did not pass it on to Laban. He worked tirelessly in the heat and the cold. c. You’re a lousy father-in-law. In verse 41, he turns the tables back on Laban. He says that he has been with him for twenty years. He served 14 years for his two daughters and six years for the flock. He has put his time in and what did he get? His wages changed ten times. In reality, he only wanted to serve the seven years for Rachel and leave but Jacob has been longsuffering with Laban. d. God Is On My Side. Jacob says that if it weren’t for God and it was up to Laban, he would be leaving Haran empty-handed. Jacob calls God the God of his father, the God of Abraham, and the Fear of Isaac. The Fear of Isaac is an interesting phrase and has been debated over the centuries. The ancient Rabbis speculated that Jacob did not call God the God of Isaac because Isaac was still alive and that would be dishonoring. It seems to me that it harkens back to chapter 27 when Isaac was confronted with his sin of trying to confirm the blessing to Esau instead of Jacob. Isaac trembled exceedingly abundantly when he realized that his plans were thwarted by God.
a. The lack of trust. Laban shows that he has zero trust in his son-in-law and begins a tent by tent search for his idols. He goes to Jacob’s tent then Leah’s, Zilpah’s, and Bilhah’s, and found nothing. Then he goes into Rachel’s tent. Rachel is in the tent but he still proceeds to feel all about the tent. He leaves no rug or pillow unturned. The only thing he did not search was Rachel’s camel saddle. b. The deceiver deceived. Rachel knows what Laban is looking for and has heard what Jacob has said. She promptly takes the household gods, puts them in the camel’s saddle, and then sits on them. Just like Jacob and Laban, Rachel also is able to lie straight-faced to a person. She doesn’t get up when her father enters the tent because she says, “the way of women is upon me.” Laban doesn’t want anything to do with that so he does not ask her to get off the saddle. Instead, he finishes searching everywhere else and then returns to Jacob. There are many speculations as to why Rachel has the household gods. Many reasons could fit but I’m not sold on the idea that Rachel believed and loved the teraphim and that’s why she stole and lied to her father. If she loved them so much why would you disgrace them by sitting on them? That’s just a thought but it doesn’t seem like an act of someone who venerated these gods. One last thought here, we should pity a person whose gods can be stolen. We see it in our world today. Some people make their health a god and when it fails they are destroyed. Some people it’s money or sex or getting high or relationships. The list is as long and as varied as there are people. We should rejoice that we follow a God who cannot be stolen away from us. “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39.
Jacob responds in short order to Laban’s complaints. a. I was afraid you would hurt me. Jacob’s reason for sneaking away is the reason why Laban showed up. Laban proved this reason to be valid. He would have taken his daughters by force unless God stopped him. Jacob’s no fool after all. b. I don’t have what’s yours. Remember what Jacob did when he agreed to stay with Laban? He set it up so that it would be obvious if he stole from Laban. All you had to do was to look at the coats of the animals. Why would Jacob only take what was his but steal the teraphim? Does that make sense? It doesn’t to Jacob and so he says that if they found anything that didn’t belong to him to go ahead and take it. And Jacob’s conscience is so clear in regards to the household gods that he says that if anyone is found with them they will die. That’s a bit extreme but it does show how sincere Jacob is. He has no idea that his favorite wife Rachel has stolen them. No doubt he would not have promised the death penalty if he had any inkling that she stole them. This demonstrates the importance of having a clear conscience before both God and man. But it also shows the caution that needs to be taken when vouching for someone else. In his attempt to prove his innocence he pronounced death over his wife.
Laban and his kinsmen make their way to Jacob’s tent and Laban is not going to leave without first scolding Jacob. Laban has a four-part lecture prepared for his son-in-law. a. You tricked me. This is his first complaint. You tricked me and didn’t tell me you were leaving. The root word for tricked here is to steal as we might say in English, “you have stolen away from me.” You snuck away and you treated my daughters like captives of the sword. Clearly, Laban did not know how his daughters really felt about him. They were not there against their will. They felt as if they were goods to be traded. They were chattel to him. They were ready to leave him behind. b. You’re a fool. Laban suggests that Jacob didn’t need to run away like he did because they would have thrown a party for him on his departure. He would have known he was leaving there would have been feasting. Jacob missed out. And then Laban complains that he didn’t even get a chance to kiss his family goodbye. Jacob robbed him of Laban’s chance to say goodbye and bless his family. All of a sudden Laban has become the father of the year. What is Laban doing here? This is clearly a guilt trip. He is laying on thick but Jacob does not respond and so he tries a different tactic. c. I could hurt you. Laban says, “I have the power to do you harm.” This is obvious since he showed up with a bunch of guys who were probably armed. If he just wanted to say goodbye, why show up with the kinsmen? It seems as if Laban is saying that he would have hurt him except God said that he couldn’t. Laban says, “the God of your father,” which is a telling statement. Not our God, but your father’s God stop me from attacking you. d. You’re a thief. Here we go. Finally, we get to the main reason Laban is out in Gilead. He is missing his gods. They’ve been stolen and since they disappeared the same time Jacob left, he assumes Jacob has stolen his teraphim. Of course, we already know that Rachel has them, but Jacob doesn’t know this. Laban is an idol worshipper and not a follower of God. Many years later, Joshua will remind the nation of Israel that they came from idol worshippers in Mesopotamia and warn them not to follow them. This is the kind of contradictory reasoning that comes from one that does not follow God. This is the debased mind and futile and fruitless thinking of one that does not acknowledge God and give Him thanks.
a. The Chase. We pick up the story three days after Jacob leaves Paddan-aram with his family. Remember that Laban had left to go help his sons to shear his sheep. Also remember that Laban, six years prior had set up his sons a three days journey away with the separate flock that he had taken and given to his sons in violation of the wage agreement. And so, Laban is there sheering the sheep when the news of Jacob’s departure makes the three days journey to him. Laban does not leave immediately after them though. We can assume that Laban knows that Jacob has a bunch of little ones and he is driving all of his animals and that would slow him down. And so, Laban gathers together some of his kinsmen and they make the preparations to leave. We can tell from the rest of the story that Laban is in a rage and this seems to be why he drives hard after Jacob. It only takes him seven days to make the over 300-mile journey from Paddan-aram to the hill country of Gilead. This is doable and shows us that when Laban finally is able to chase Jacob down he does not, as they say, spare the whip. When he arrives in the hill country, Laban and his kinsmen make camp and prepare their incursion into Jacob’s camp. But something happens during the trip that will affect what is about to happen. b. The Dream. Somewhere along the journey, Laban has a dream. This is not a normal dream but is a special encounter with God. There is no mistaking or guessing whether it was God or not. When God spoke to a person in a dream they knew exactly what was going on and in detail. Remember that God has done this before and will do this again with others that were pagans. The only thing that we have recorded of the dream is that God speaks to Laban and says, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.” A while back I mentioned this would come up again. In Genesis 24:50 when Abraham’s servant had asked to take Rebekah with him to be Isaac’s wife, Laban and Bethuel said, “The thing has come from the Lord; we cannot speak to you bad or good.” Moses will also record this same idea coming from Balaam who said that even if Balak gave him a house of money he could not speak good or bad of his own will because the Lord had spoken. This phrase clearly refers to a tying of the hands of these people. They desire to do something, in our story Laban wants to hurt Jacob, but God says that that is not his will. And so, Laban’s will is overridden by God’s will. God is with Jacob and he is protecting him. God does not change Laban’s heart but he does bind his hands. We must remember that if we are followers of God then he protects us from the evil that people intend against us. The wicked are only able to act against God’s people if it furthers God’s purposes and will bring about good in the life of the Christian.
Last time we looked at Jacob’s preparation and flight from Haran back to Canaan. He had been 20 years as a sojourner in the land from which his grandfather Abraham had come. But Jacob’s homeland was Canaan. That was where he belonged. For twenty years he has lived with his uncle/father-in-law. These were years filled with hard work, pain, suffering, and trials. Though Jacob was a man of many years he had to go to school. Hanah More said, “Affliction is the school in which great virtues are acquired, in which holy characters are formed.” Charles Spurgeon said, “I bear my willing testimony to the blessing that affliction and trial have been to me. I owe more to God’s furnace and the file, than I can ever describe!” William Ward commented, “We are only scholars. It rests with the Great Teacher to decide which lesson shall come next — a hard one or an easy one.” Hebrews 12:10, “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness!” These trials are hard but Jacob will learn what the Holy Spirit will reiterate many years later through the writing of Paul. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” We’ll see today, that this what Jacob has come to learn about God, and what we must learn as well.