Jacob Leaves Laban

After 20 years of service, Jacob prepares for his departure from Laban by offering him a potentially lucrative proposal.
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Our last chapter covered the period in Jacob's life where he fathered the twelve sons who would become the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel (actually one son is born later). This he did with his two wives Rachel and Leah and their two maids Zilpah and Billah. In this section we will follow Jacob as he begins to separate himself from his father-in-law, Laban, and begin to journey home.

Jacob and Laban's Arrangement – 30:24-43

We need to understand that Jacob was in Laban's home because he had run away. In addition to this, Laban had taken advantage of him because of his weak position. Jacob has now worked for Laban for twenty years (Genesis 31:38) and Jacob himself says that in this time he has prospered Laban by his hard work. It is time to leave, his obligation is over, his family is established and the time to return to his land and people are at hand.

25Now it came about when Rachel had borne Joseph, that Jacob said to Laban, "Send me away, that I may go to my own place and to my own country. 26Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, and let me depart; for you yourself know my service which I have rendered you." 27But Laban said to him, "If now it pleases you, stay with me; I have divined that the Lord has blessed me on your account." 28He continued, "Name me your wages, and I will give it."
- Genesis 30:25-28

Laban acknowledges that Jacob was a profitable worker and that the Lord was with him. For this reason he does not want to lose him so he tries to make a deal, "name your price." Of course Jacob had done this before with Rachel and he had been cheated.

29But he said to him, "You yourself know how I have served you and how your cattle have fared with me. 30For you had little before I came and it has increased to a multitude, and the Lord has blessed you wherever I turned. But now, when shall I provide for my own household also?" 31So he said, "What shall I give you?" And Jacob said, "You shall not give me anything. If you will do this one thing for me, I will again pasture and keep your flock: 32let me pass through your entire flock today, removing from there every speckled and spotted sheep and every black one among the lambs and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and such shall be my wages. 33So my honesty will answer for me later, when you come concerning my wages. Every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats and black among the lambs, if found with me, will be considered stolen." 34Laban said, "Good, let it be according to your word."

Jacob explains to Laban that the reason his meager flocks had prospered was because the Lord had blessed his work. Jacob was about to prove this in the way he proposed an arrangement to Laban:

1. Laban's herds were predominately a single color

  • White for the sheep
  • Black for the goats
  • Brown for the cattle

2. Jacob proposed that as his pay he would not take any of the animals.

What he would take would be the spotted or speckled animals that would be born to the solid colored animals in the future.

3. He even proposed to section off the existing spotted and speckled animals so they would not breed with the solid colored animals.

This was the perfect deal for Laban: no existing animals to give away and only a minority of future animals since he had little to do with the increase, up till this moment anyways.

35So he removed on that day the striped and spotted male goats and all the speckled and spotted female goats, every one with white in it, and all the black ones among the sheep, and gave them into the care of his sons. 36And he put a distance of three days' journey between himself and Jacob, and Jacob fed the rest of Laban's flocks.

Laban did not trust Jacob (because he himself was untrustworthy) and so he separated the flocks and put three days between the spotted and solid colored animals, just to make sure.

37Then Jacob took fresh rods of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white stripes in them, exposing the white which was in the rods. 38He set the rods which he had peeled in front of the flocks in the gutters, even in the watering troughs, where the flocks came to drink; and they mated when they came to drink. 39So the flocks mated by the rods, and the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted. 40Jacob separated the lambs, and made the flocks face toward the striped and all the black in the flock of Laban; and he put his own herds apart, and did not put them with Laban's flock. 41Moreover, whenever the stronger of the flock were mating, Jacob would place the rods in the sight of the flock in the gutters, so that they might mate by the rods; 42but when the flock was feeble, he did not put them in; so the feebler were Laban's and the stronger Jacob's. 43So the man became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks and female and male servants and camels and donkeys.

This describes the methods used by Jacob to increase his own flocks despite the handicap of working with solid colored animals.

Scholars do not agree with each other on the significance of this material and the ancient methods described here for animal husbandry, but basically Jacob did two things:

  1. He increased the rate at which the animals mated. The Bible said he put something in their water and had them look at stripped wood when they drank. We do not know why, we only know the effect: it produced animals in heat. The idea is that statistically, the odds of producing spotted animals from solid was small so Jacob increased the number of animals produced in total in order to increase the number of spotted produced (out of 100 only 2, out of 1000 – 20).
  2. When the animals were born he encouraged only the stronger ones to mate thereby increasing the odds of greater herds and greater numbers of spotted animals.

Some have said that this was unethical, but all Jacob was doing was increasing the rate at which the entire herd and flock was producing so that his own portion would grow faster as well. What was out of his control was the actual number of spotted animals produced from this accelerated breeding program.

In the end, the stronger animals were made to breed (using his methods) and the weaker ones were not. The result was that the stronger animals produced spotted (whether they were solid or not) and Jacob's herds and flocks prospered.

In the end his herds allowed him to purchase other animals, goods and slaves, and as a result, he became independently wealthy.

Jacob had worked hard and put his knowledge about raising animals into practice, but God provided an increase that was against the odds that Jacob was working with.

It is like this with us as well. When we work hard and do our best with what we have, and do it in faith – God can increase us against the odds.

Jacob's Departure – Chapter 31

1Now Jacob heard the words of Laban's sons, saying, "Jacob has taken away all that was our father's, and from what belonged to our father he has made all this wealth." 2Jacob saw the attitude of Laban, and behold, it was not friendly toward him as formerly. 3Then the Lord said to Jacob, "Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you."
- Genesis 31:1-3

By this time Laban's sons, who were seeing their inheritance begin to shrink, began to speak to their father against Jacob. Jacob is told in a dream by God to return home and promises him that He will protect him.

In verses 4-16, Jacob appeals to his wives to leave with him. He tells them how Laban has cheated him and gone back on his word. He describes how God revealed to him the fact that he would multiply his holdings at the expense of Laban's because of His original promises and because of Laban's dishonesty.

Both Rachel and Leah loved Jacob and they realized how badly Laban had treated him and themselves. Instead of using the money produced by Jacob's free service to build up their dowries for their children's future, Laban had used it to build up his own wealth.

They see his dishonesty and readily agree to go with Jacob to his own home.

17Then Jacob arose and put his children and his wives upon camels; 18and he drove away all his livestock and all his property which he had gathered, his acquired livestock which he had gathered in Paddan-aram, to go to the land of Canaan to his father Isaac. 19When Laban had gone to shear his flock, then Rachel stole the household idols that were her father's. 20And Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him that he was fleeing. 21So he fled with all that he had; and he arose and crossed the Euphrates River, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead.

They depart in haste and in secret because Jacob realized that Laban would not let him go. It seems that Jacob left the way he arrived, on the run.

Rachel takes the family idols with her (in secret). Recent archaeological discoveries suggest that these "TERAPHIMS" or images used in divination were also associated with the inheritance and property rights of the owners. It could be that Rachel wanted some legitimate confirmation that the property they were taking was legally theirs by right of inheritance.

Vs. 22-24, Laban finds out and pursues Jacob and just before overtaking him has a dream where God tells him not to harm Jacob or speak to him in a threatening way. God was fulfilling His promise to care for Jacob, even in ways that Jacob could not think of.

Vs. 25-30, the next day Laban reaches Jacob and rebukes him for not giving him a chance to make a proper farewell for his daughters and grandchildren. He also reveals that the reason he does not harm them is because of God's warning (which is the truth). He finally asks for the whereabouts of his idols.

31Then Jacob replied to Laban, "Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force. 32The one with whom you find your gods shall not live; in the presence of our kinsmen point out what is yours among my belongings and take it for yourself." For Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them.

33So Laban went into Jacob's tent and into Leah's tent and into the tent of the two maids, but he did not find them. Then he went out of Leah's tent and entered Rachel's tent. 34Now Rachel had taken the household idols and put them in the camel's saddle, and she sat on them. And Laban felt through all the tent but did not find them. 35She said to her father, "Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women is upon me." So he searched but did not find the household idols.

Jacob explains why he left secretly (he did not trust Laban). He also offers to hand over anyone or anything that did not belong to him.

Rachel hides the statue by sitting on the box that it is in and claiming she is unable to rise because she is on her "period". It is unusual that this deception is allowed to stand, and because of it Jacob is spared. Again, it may be the question of the lesser of two evils.

  • Rachel is guilty of the lie and will be judged by God.
  • The lie is revealed and Jacob is killed or stripped of his property and sons, and Rachel is still judged by God.

The final section (vs. 36-42) describes the heated exchange between Jacob and Laban. Jacob rebukes Laban for his treatment of them which included:

  • His unwarranted pursuit as if Jacob was some kind of thief.
  • His unfairness in dealing with him in the past.
  • Jacob served him honestly, never taking any animals, always replacing lost or destroyed animals from his own flocks, losing sleep and going hungry and thirsty in the open in order to do a good job. If it was not for the fact that God protected and blessed Jacob, Laban would have cheated him out of everything.
43Then Laban replied to Jacob, "The daughters are my daughters, and the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day to these my daughters or to their children whom they have borne? 44So now come, let us make a covenant, you and I, and let it be a witness between you and me." 45Then Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46Jacob said to his kinsmen, "Gather stones." So they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there by the heap. 47Now Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed. 48Laban said, "This heap is a witness between you and me this day." Therefore it was named Galeed, 49and Mizpah, for he said, "May the Lord watch between you and me when we are absent one from the other. 50If you mistreat my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no man is with us, see, God is witness between you and me." 51Laban said to Jacob, "Behold this heap and behold the pillar which I have set between you and me. 52This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass by this heap to you for harm, and you will not pass by this heap and this pillar to me, for harm. 53The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us." So Jacob swore by the fear of his father Isaac. 54Then Jacob offered a sacrifice on the mountain, and called his kinsmen to the meal; and they ate the meal and spent the night on the mountain. 55Early in the morning Laban arose, and kissed his sons and his daughters and blessed them. Then Laban departed and returned to his place.

Laban makes a weak defense (that the daughters and cattle were all originally his) and so he can legitimately lay claim to all that they have produced. He also makes a hypocritical covenant: a pillar that will be a witness that Jacob will not cross over to harm him; a witness that God will watch that Jacob will not take other wives or hurt his daughters.

This was hypocritical because he was the one intent on harming Jacob; he was the one who forced Jacob to have two wives (he only wanted Rachel); he was the one who would have been forced to execute Rachel had he found the idol.

But Jacob agrees to the covenant rather than continue exposing his hypocrisy any further. In the end Laban leaves after kissing his children goodbye and the Bible never mentions him again.


1. Put your whole life in God's hands

One of the things that Jacob learned in his 20 years with Laban was to trust God with his whole life. He had no resources. He was on the run and could not go home. His host had power over him and was dishonest and manipulative. In the face of this, Jacob was forced to entrust his entire life, money, marriage and return home to God. In the end, he even trusted God to provide for the increase of his herd, and God rewarded his wholehearted faith with great abundance. We need to trust God with our careers, with our vacations, with our health, with our hopes, with our spiritual lives: with every part of our existence.

2. Do not let sin sneak into the camp

Rachel snuck the idol into the tent and nearly destroyed the entire camp. We need to be careful that we not allow ourselves or partners or children or whoever to bring sin into our camps (homes/lives) through books, ideas, movies, pictures, relationships, etc. that are against God, that glorify evil or are sexually impure. Many times a sinful idol in our homes will threaten our stability and prevent us from receiving a blessing – we need to clean out sinful things on a regular basis.

3. Some people just don't get it

Laban observed Jacob for twenty years. He saw his goodness and faith. He learned of his God. He observed his good work and honest behavior. He benefitted from the blessings that God gave because of Jacob. In the end, however, Laban chose to maintain his pride, hypocrisy, greed and superstition rather than believe the clear witness of God's presence through Jacob in his life. Jacob finally left and did not try to correct his theology. He simply allowed Laban to remain in his ignorance. Some people do not "get it" and once we have preached and given them a faithful witness, we have to move on with our lives.

Discussion Questions

  1. Summarize Genesis 30:24-43 and answer the following questions:
    • Why was Jacob a part of Laban's household?
    • How was Jacob blessed while a part of Laban's household?
    • What practical lesson can we learn about Jacob's work in service to Laban as it applies to our service for the Lord?
  2. Summarize the events of Genesis 31 and answer the following questions:
    • Why does Jacob want to leave Laban if he's been successful as a part of his household?
    • What was Laban's reaction to Jacob's departure and how was he thwarted in his attempt?
    • If you wish to share, how has God used events in your life to bring about your faithful service to Him?
  3. How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?
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