Friday, July 28, 2006

Genesis 31

Genesis 31: Jacob runs, Laban follows


We saw in the last chapter that Jacob’s share of the flock was starting to grow, and Laban’s was starting to dwindle. As a result of this, Laban is getting pretty tired of having Jacob around, and Jacob notices it.

Jacob heard that Laban’s sons were saying, “Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.” And Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him was not what it had been.

So Jacob sent word to Rachel and Leah to come out to the fields where his flocks were. He said to them, “I see that your father’s attitude toward me is not what it was before, but the God of my father has been with me. You know that I’ve worked for your father with all my strength, yet your father has cheated me by changing my wages ten times. However, God has not allowed him to harm me. If he said, ‘The speckled ones will be your wages,’ then all the flocks gave birth to speckled young; and if he said, ‘The streaked ones will be your wages,’ then all the flocks bore streaked young. So God has taken away your father’s livestock and has given them to me.

Then Rachel and Leah replied, “Do we still have any share in the inheritance of our father’s estate? Does he not regard us as foreigners? Not only has he sold us, but he has used up what was paid for us. Surely all the wealth that God took away from our father belongs to us and our children. So do whatever God has told you.”

(verses 1–16)

As you can see, not only does Jacob want to leave, but Rachel and Leah do too, because their father sold them to Jacob. But it’s not just Laban’s dealings with Jacob that make him want to leave; one of the verses I elided from that quote was verse 3:
Then the LORD said to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”
So, Laban is being a jerk, Jacob doesn’t want to stay, Rachel and Leah don’t want to stay, and God is telling Jacob to leave. It’s not too surprising, then, that they leave. Jacob loads up the wives and kids and possessions, and they head off.

Unfortunately, when they leave, Rachel also steals her father’s household gods. And Jacob decided that he would leave without telling Laban—they just snuck off. When Laban realizes what has happened, he takes off in hot pursuit. But he is visited in a dream, by God, who tells him “not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad” (verse 24). Which leaves him flustered; when he finally catches up to Jacob, all he can say is “Why did you sneak off like that? If you’d told me you were leaving, we could have had a celebration. But, in any event… why did you steal my gods?!?” (That’s obviously paraphrased; read the real speech in verses 25–30.)

Unfortunately, Jacob didn’t know that Rachel had stolen the gods from Laban. So he tells Laban that he can search Jacob’s possessions; if Laban finds the gods, the person who has them won’t live. Luckily, Rachel is a quick thinker. When Laban gets to her tent, she sits on the gods, and tells her father she can’t get up, because she’s on her period.

So now Jacob is angry, because Laban has accused him of stealing the gods. Laban is frustrated, because he knows the gods have been stolen—they’re gone, after all—but he can’t find them, and therefore can’t prove it was Jacob or someone in his household. Wars have started this way, but instead, Jacob and Laban decided to set up a monument. They pile up some stones, and let it serve as a witness between them; neither will cross that heap of stones to harm the other. Laban called the heap “Jegar Sahadutha” and Jacob called it “Galeed”. (Both “Jegar Sahadutha” (Aramaic) and “Galeed” (Hebrew) mean “witness heap”.)


You will notice in the Bible—as in real life—people don’t always get what they deserve in this life. Sometimes good people live hard, cruel lives, and sometimes downright evil people live like kings. (Or are kings.) But sometimes people do get what they deserve in this life. In this chapter, God pays Laban back for all of his double-dealing with Jacob.

Not much was said about it at the time, but apparently Rachel and Leah didn’t like being treated like property. (Being “sold” to Jacob.) Novel idea.

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