Here, we continue our study in Genesis.
22On the third day Laban was told that Jacob had fled. 23Taking his relatives with him, he pursued Jacob for seven days and caught up with him in the hill country of Gilead. 24Then God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream at night and said to him, "Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad."
25Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country of Gilead when Laban overtook him, and Laban and his relatives camped there too. 26Then Laban said to Jacob, "What have you done? You've deceived me, and you've carried off my daughters like captives in war. 27Why did you run off secretly and deceive me? Why didn't you tell me, so that I could send you away with joy and singing to the music of tambourines and harps? 28You didn't even let me kiss my grandchildren and my daughters good-bye. You have done a foolish thing. 29I have the power to harm you; but last night the God of your father said to me, `Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.' 30Now you have gone off because you longed to return to your father's house. But why did you steal my gods?"
31Jacob answered Laban, "I was afraid, because I thought you would take your daughters away from me by force. 32But if you find anyone who has your gods, he shall not live. In the presence of our relatives, see for yourself whether there is anything of yours here with me; and if so, take it." Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the gods.
33So Laban went into Jacob's tent and into Leah's tent and into the tent of the two maidservants, but he found nothing. After he came out of Leah's tent, he entered Rachel's tent. 34Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them inside her camel's saddle and was sitting on them. Laban searched through everything in the tent but found nothing.
35Rachel said to her father, "Don't be angry, my lord, that I cannot stand up in your presence; I'm having my period." So he searched but could not find the household gods. 36Jacob was angry and took Laban to task. "What is my crime?" he asked Laban. "What sin have I committed that you hunt me down? 37Now that you have searched through all my goods, what have you found that belongs to your household? Put it here in front of your relatives and mine, and let them judge between the two of us.
38"I have been with you for twenty years now. Your sheep and goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten rams from your flocks. 39I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself. And you demanded payment from me for whatever was stolen by day or night. 40This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes. 41It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household. I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times. 42If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you."
43Laban answered Jacob, "The women are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks. All you see is mine. Yet what can I do today about these daughters of mine, or about the children they have borne? 44Come now, let's make a covenant, you and I, and let it serve as a witness between us."
45So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46He said to his relatives, "Gather some stones." So they took stones and piled them in a heap, and they ate there by the heap. 47Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha, and Jacob called it Galeed.
48Laban said, "This heap is a witness between you and me today." That is why it was called Galeed. 49It was also called Mizpah, because he said, "May the LORD keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other. 50If you ill-treat my daughters or if you take any wives besides my daughters, even though no-one is with us, remember that God is a witness between you and me."
51Laban also said to Jacob, "Here is this heap, and here is this pillar I have set up between you and me. 52This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not go past this heap to your side to harm you and that you will not go past this heap and pillar to my side to harm me. 53May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us."
So Jacob took an oath in the name of the Fear of his father Isaac. 54He offered a sacrifice there in the hill country and invited his relatives to a meal. After they had eaten, they spent the night there. 55Early the next morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then he left and returned home.
In the previous section, Jacob fled from Laban, on the sly, to return to the promised land. Jacob's return to the promised land was commanded by God (see Gen. 31:3). Jacob's fleeing was not dishonorable. He took with him only the livestock that he had worked for, fair and square. Jacob left secretly to avoid any further schemings by Laban to get him to stay longer. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to Jacob, Rachel (his beloved) stole the household idols of Laban (see Gen. 31:19).
Here, Laban learns that Jacob and his family left: "On the third day Laban was told that Jacob had fled. Taking his relatives with him, he pursued Jacob for seven days and caught up with him in the hill country of Gilead" (vs. 22, 23). Laban took his relatives, presumably to form a makeshift army to come against Jacob. "Then God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream at night and said to him, `Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.'" (vss. 24). This was an idiomatic way of saying, "Keep your hands off Jacob!" Jacob was within the will of God, and so God protected him. God would not allow any interference to Jacob, as he was following God's purpose. It is so important to strive to be within God's perfect will. If you are not within His will, God often allows affliction to come upon you to drive you back to Him. However, if you are within God's perfect will, why would He allow anything to harm you?
When Laban caught up with Jacob, he gave him a tongue lashing: "Then Laban said to Jacob: `What have you done? You've deceived me, and you've carried off my daughters like captives in war. Why did you run off secretly and deceive me? Why didn't you tell me, so that I could send you away with joy and singing to the music of tambourines and harps? You didn't even let me kiss my grandchildren and my daughters good-bye'" (vss. 26-28). Laban makes like the reason that he is mad about Jacob's departure is that he will miss his daughters and grandchildren; however, is there any evidence that Laban ever showed true love for his daughters? Laban's empty words were not backed up by the actions of love toward his daughters. All we have seen Laban do has been driven by selfishness. Love is the antithesis of selfishness, as Paul says: "[Love] is not self-seeking" (I Cor. 13:5).
Next, Laban all but threatens Jacob: "You have done a foolish thing. I have the power to harm you; but last night the God of your father said to me, `Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.'" (vss. 28-29). So we see that the dream that God sent Laban was necessary and effective. Laban apparently did have in his mind to harm Jacob and his family. Laban has an exaggerated perception of his own power. He says: "You have done a foolish thing. I have the power to harm you." With these words, he is evocative of Pilate questioning Jesus. Pilate self-confidently stated to Jesus: "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?" (John 19:10). But Jesus answered: "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above" (John 19:11). Likewise, Laban had no power to harm Jacob, because God would not allow it. We often have an exaggerated sense of our own power and ability to do whatever we want. We forget that God is in control, and works everything to His will.
Next, we discover the real reason that Laban is so upset at Jacob's departure. It is not because Jacob took his daughters and grandchildren, as he tried to make it out to be. There was something more valuable to Laban that was missing. He asks Jacob: "But why did you steal my gods?" (vs. 30). As we pointed out in the last issue, it is a very sad thing to have gods that can be stolen. It is also very sad that Laban, who had been spoken to directly by the True and Living God (see vs. 24), did not acknowledge the True God as his own God, but instead, continued to worship man-made idols. Many people who do not worship God say, "Well, if God would just show Himself to me personally, then I would believe in Him." They lie to themselves. Paul tells us that, indeed, God has revealed Himself to all men, "since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--His eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse" (Romans 1:19-20). Like Laban, all those who do not worship God choose not to worship Him, not because they have insufficient revelation of God, but because they desire to worship gods of their own making.
Jacob, unaware that it was Rachel who stole Laban's gods, pronounces a death sentence upon her: "[I]f you find anyone who has your gods, he shall not live" (vs. 32). Rachel, though, being Laban's daughter and Jacob's wife, had learned herself to be sly: "Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them inside her camel's saddle and was sitting on them. Laban searched through everything in the tent but found nothing. Rachel said to her father, `Don't be angry, my lord, that I cannot stand up in your presence; I'm having my period.' So he searched but could not find the household gods" (vss. 34-35).
Since Laban could not find the gods, Jacob (thinking he and his family had been falsely accused) adopted an attitude of self-righteousness, and proceeded to launch on a diatribe to Laban concerning the mistreatment he received all the years he was in Paddan-Aram (see vss. 38-42). For the most part, Jacob's diatribe is ridiculous to us, given that we know his family was indeed guilty of stealing Laban's gods. Moreover, the diatribe has a touch of hypocrisy because Jacob chastises Laban for his trickery, while throughout his life, Jacob had been guilty of a great amount of trickery himself. Jacob's diatribe should show us how ridiculous we ourselves look when we adopt a self-righteous attitude.
Though most of Jacob's diatribe is ridiculous, he does deserve credit for acknowledging God's work in his life throughout his stay in Paddan-Aram: "If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night He rebuked you" (vs. 42).
In the end, Jacob and Laban make peace. Laban proposes a treaty, bounding Jacob to treat Laban's daughters well (vs. 50). Laban's treaty also requires both Laban and Jacob to stay on their respective sides of a pillar that he erects (vss. 51-52). This clause in the treaty is significant in that it effectively seals Jacob's return to the promised land: there was no going back for him. And so, after twenty years of deceiving each other, scheming against each other, and practicing under-handedness with respect to each other, Jacob and Laban are finished with each other. What a relief!