Jacob’s Separation From Laban


VERSES 1-13  “And he heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, Jacob hath taken away all that was our father’s; and of that which was our father’s hath he gotten all this glory.
“And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, behold, it was not toward him as before.
“And the Lord said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee.
“And Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field unto his flock,
“And said unto them, I see your father’s countenance, that it is not toward me as before; but the God of my father hath been with me.
“And ye know that with all my power I have served your father.
“And your father hath deceived me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me.
“If he said thus, The speckled shall be thy wages; then all the cattle bare speckled: and if he said thus, The ringstraked shall be thy hire; then bare all the cattle ringstraked.
“Thus God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me.
“And it came to pass at the time that the cattle conceived, that I lifted up mine eyes, and saw in a dream, and, behold, the rams which leaped upon the cattle were ringstraked, speckled, and grisled.
“And the angel of God spake unto me in a dream, saying, Jacob: And I said, Here am I.
“And he said, Lift up now thine eyes, and see, all the rams which leap upon the cattle are ringstraked, speckled, and grisled: for I have seen all that Laban doeth unto thee.
“I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred.”

God’s providences continued to overshadow Jacob. Just as the Lord led him to Padan-aram and to the home of Laban, the son of Nahor, twenty years before, now that the Divine purpose in this sojourn had been accomplished it was made clear to Jacob that he was to return to his own country. Happy are those servants of God who can recognize his leadings in all their affairs and who are ready and willing to make great changes in their lives whenever the Lord indicates it to be his will. During this age every consecrated follower of Jesus should bear in mind that he is but a sojourner in the land, and that here he has no continuing city.

When God reveals his will to his people he shapes the circumstances of their lives to coincide therewith. As a result of the Divine blessing in connection with the tremendous increase of his flocks and herds, Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him began to change—that he was no longer as friendly as he previously had been. From the natural standpoint this was quite understandable. We could hardly expect Laban to rejoice over the providence of God which, as he viewed it, had robbed him of much of his wealth. Nevertheless, his attitude must have given Jacob cause for concern.

Jacob doubtless saw a problem developing which easily could become serious, yet the Lord’s hand was in it, for it helped to prepare the patriarch to receive the Lord’s instructions to return to the land of his fathers. Laban’s changed attitude toward his son-in-law prepared him to receive and act upon the instructions of the Lord, and in obeying them Jacob found a way of escape from a trial which might have been too difficult to bear.

After the Lord asked him to return to his own country, Jacob called Rachel and Leah, and explained the matter to them, linking their father’s growing unfriendliness with the proposed return to Canaan. This was quite a proper thing to do because they would of necessity be vitally concerned with the move. And, besides, their favorable reaction to the move served Jacob as a further confirmation of the Lord’s will in the matter.

VERSES 14-16  “And Rachel and Leah answered and said unto him, Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house?
“Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath quite devoured also our money.
“For all the riches which God hath taken from our father, that is ours, and our children’s: now then, whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do.”

The decision of Rachel and Leah was quickly reached. Their association with Jacob over a period of twenty years and their observations of the Lord’s providences in connection with his affairs—and theirs also as his wives—made them realize that they had nothing to lose by leaving their father’s house, but much to gain. Their reply to Jacob indicates clearly that they had become somewhat acquainted with his God, and had learned to trust him. They said, ‘Whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do’.

In this respect, Rachel and Leah were more reconciled to the Lord’s will for one whom they loved than some others of his people have been. When, in doing his Heavenly Father’s bidding, Jesus announced that he was going to Jerusalem where he would suffer and die, Peter said, “Be it far from thee, Lord.” (Matt. 16:22) When Paul likewise was going to Jerusalem, the brethren advised against it. Let us be watchful lest we set ourselves against the providences of the Lord in the lives of others as well as our own.

VERSES 17-24  “Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon camels;
“And he carried away all his cattle, and all his goods which he had gotten, the cattle of his getting, which he had gotten in Padan-aram, for to go to Isaac his father in the land of Canaan.
“And Laban went to shear his sheep: and Rachel had stolen the images that were her father’s.
“And Jacob stole away unawares to Laban the Syrian, in that he told him not that he fled.
“So he fled with all that he had; and he rose up, and passed over the river, and set his face toward the mount Gilead.
“And it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob was fled.
“And he took his brethren with him, and pursued after him seven days’ journey; and they overtook him in the mount Gilead.
“And God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said unto him, Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.”

When it was definitely decided to start back to Canaan, Jacob lost no time. He began at once to prepare for the journey, timing his movements so as to get away while Laban was busily engaged shearing his sheep. Jacob was a man of God, but many circumstances of his life indicate that he was more timid than a fighter. He loved the God of his fathers, and had great faith in his promises. He was quick to purchase the birthright from Esau when he had an opportunity: and was glad to get the blessing of the birthright from Isaac, but he fled from home, fearing the wrath of his brother.

So now, although God’s providences had overshadowed him during all the time he was in Padan-aram, and the Lord had made it clear to him that the time had come to leave, yet through fear he slipped away quietly without telling Laban of his plans. However, in God’s dealings with Jacob we have wonderful examples of how he can overrule the weaknesses and mistakes of his people, and care for them despite their fears. In this case, after Laban learned of Jacob’s flight—which he was sure to do sooner or later—God spoke to him in a dream and warned him not to harm his son-in-law. The margin of verse 24 states that Laban was not to speak to Jacob ‘from good to bad’.

It was probably fortunate for Jacob that God did intervene on his behalf in this way. It would have been difficult enough for Laban to be reconciled to the move had Jacob reasoned it out with him before leaving, but to have run away unannounced doubtless made Laban very angry. Thus by attempting to flee from trouble, Jacob actually made matters worse for himself, and only by Divine intervention was a tragedy prevented.

VERSES 25-35  “Then Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the mount: and Laban with his brethren pitched in the mount of Gilead.
“And Laban said to Jacob, What hast thou done, that thou hast stolen away unawares to me, and carried away my daughters, as captives taken with the sword?
“Wherefore didst thou flee away secretly, and steal away from me; and didst not tell me, that I might have sent thee away with mirth, and with songs, with tabret, and with harp?
“And hast not suffered me to kiss my sons and my daughters? thou hast now done foolishly in so doing.
“It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt: but the God of your father spake unto me yesternight, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.
“And now, though thou wouldest needs be gone, because thou sore longedst after thy father’s house, yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods?
“And Jacob answered and said to Laban, Because I was afraid: for I said, Peradventure thou wouldest take by force thy daughters from me.
“With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live: before our brethren discern thou what is thine with me, and take it to thee. For Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them.
“And Laban went into Jacob’s tent, and into Leah’s tent, and into the two maidservants’ tents; but he found them not. Then went he out of Leah’s tent, and entered into Rachel’s tent.
“Now Rachel had taken the images, and put them in the camel’s furniture, and sat upon them. And Laban searched all the tent, but found them not.
“And she said to her father, Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise up before thee; for the custom of women is upon me. And he searched, but found not the images.”

Leaving Padan-aram, Jacob crossed the river Euphrates, and pitched his tents in Mount Gilead. Laban pursued him there, and after a great deal of discussion they separated on outwardly peaceful terms. The precarious position in which Jacob had placed himself by fleeing as he did is revealed in verse 39, where Laban tells him that it is in his power to hurt him, but that the God of Jacob spoke to him saying that he should take heed to speak neither ‘good or bad’ to Jacob.

Laban realized, of course, that according to the various agreements he had made with Jacob, all that he was taking with him was justly his, including Rachel and Leah for whom he had served fourteen years. But Laban knew he had not bargained away his idols, yet they had been taken, and he was insistent that Jacob was responsible for the theft. Rachel had stolen these without Jacob’s knowledge of what she had done. Jacob was, therefore, very sure that Laban would not find the images among his goods.

It is not clear just why Rachel stole the images. It would seem that although she had learned much about Jacob’s God, and had a great deal of confidence in him, she was not entirely weaned from the worship of the gods of her father. She probably thought that these images would be something tangible to which she could cling in the event that the God of Jacob was unable to care for them in this new venture. Her reverence for the images was not unlike that of millions today who imagine that images of ‘saints’ can help them in time of need.

VERSES 36-42  “And Jacob was wroth, and chode with Laban: and Jacob answered and said to Laban, What is my trespass? what is my sin, that thou hast so hotly pursued after me?
“Whereas thou hast searched all my stuff, what hast thou found of all thy household stuff? set it here before my brethren and thy brethren, that they may judge betwixt us both.
“This twenty years have I been with thee; thy ewes and thy she goats have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flock have I not eaten.
“That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee; I bare the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it, whether stolen by day, or stolen by night.
“Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes.
“Thus have I been twenty years in thy house; I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle: and thou hast changed my wages ten times.
“Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely thou hadst sent me away now empty. God hath seen mine affliction and the labour of my hands, and rebuked thee yesternight.”

Although Jacob gave Laban permission to search his goods in an effort to find the stolen images, the thoroughness with which it was done, and Laban’s continued insistence, began to irritate him. Laban had revealed that God warned him not to harm his son-in-law, and perhaps this gave Jacob courage. In any event he took occasion to remind his father-in-law that he had not brought anything with him that was not properly his; that he had worked hard for it all, and frequently under very trying circumstances.

Properly, however, even in this outburst of righteous anger, Jacob gave credit to God for caring for him, and in an eloquent testimony to Laban, told him that if it had not been for the Lord he would have been leaving Padan-aram empty handed. From this, Laban would know that it would be futile for him to oppose Jacob. Thus the way was prepared for a reconciliation between the two.

It is well always to realize that our victories and our successes are due to the Lord’s care and overruling providences. God’s chief blessings upon his people in this age are spiritual, and as New Creatures we have many enemies. Let us ever realize that we cannot cope with these in our own strength, and that our victories over them are by the Lord’s grace. Let us remember that greater is he who is for us than all who are against us.

VERSES 43-55  “And Laban answered and said unto Jacob, These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and these cattle are my cattle, and all that thou seest is mine: and what can I do this day unto these my daughters, or unto their children which they have born?
“Now therefore come thou, let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee.
“And Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar.
“And Jacob said unto his brethren, Gather stones; and they took stones, and made an heap: and they did eat there upon the heap.
“And Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha: but Jacob called it Galeed.
“And Laban said, This heap is a witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed;
“And Mizpah; for he said, The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.
“If thou shalt afflict my daughters, or if thou shalt take other wives beside my daughters, no man is with us; see, God is witness betwixt me and thee.
“And Laban said to Jacob, Behold this heap, and behold this pillar, which I have cast betwixt me and thee;
“This heap be witness, and this pillar be witness, that I will not pass over this heap to thee, and that thou shalt not pass over this heap and this pillar unto me, for harm.
“The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge betwixt us. And Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac.
“Then Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat bread: and they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the mount.
“And early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his daughters, and blessed them: and Laban departed, and returned unto his place.”

There was no real answer to Jacob’s reasoning concerning his rightful ownership of his wives and of the flocks which he had acquired by bargain from Laban. And no one could deny that the Lord had blessed him in acquiring them. But Laban insisted that they were his. Like the proverb, ‘He was convinced against his will; hence of the same opinion still’.

Laban realized, however, that there was nothing he could do about it, so he suggested entering into a covenant with Jacob, to which the latter agreed. A pillar of stones was erected as a token of this covenant and as a marker for the boundary line between them. Three names are given to this pillar: Jegar-sahadutha, Galeed, and Mizpah.

Mizpah means ‘watchtower’, hence Laban’s statement in connection with it, ‘The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another’. (vs. 49) While this is frequently thought of as a symbol of unity, it is actually that of separation. The pillar was to mark the separation between Jacob and Laban. They were to go different ways; and the suggestion that the Lord watch between them evidently was intended not only to act as a safeguard over Laban’s children, but also would stand between them to keep them separated, that they would not come near to each other, especially to do injury. See verses 51-53.

Jacob expressed his appreciation to the Lord for this happy conclusion to a situation which could have been disastrous, by offering a sacrifice—a thank offering. The next morning Laban bade farewell to all concerned and returned to his home, leaving Jacob free to go on his way toward Canaan.

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