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Let’s Talk About the Laban in Your Life.
I know. You’d rather not. You’d rather talk about something — someone — more pleasant. Your Laban is anything but pleasant.
Your Laban is demanding. He has the sensitivity of a rabid pit bull.
Your Laban is conniving. She breaks promises like a short-order cook cracks eggs.
Your Laban is deceptive. There’s always a card up his sleeve or fingers crossed behind her back.
Your Laban is manipulative. He’ll flatter you until he gets what he wants then move on to someone else.
Your Laban loves to be adored. “Enough of me talking about me. What about you? You talk about me.”
Your Laban is streptococcus on the tonsils of your life. You’d like a day without him, but you’re stuck. Your Laban is your in-law. Your Laban is your boss. Your Laban sits in the next cubicle or plays on the same team.
- A future with no Laban, for the time, is not an option. Maybe you wonder why in the world God has a Laban in yours.
Jacob asked himself the question at least once a day for 5,110 days — the number of days he’d worked for the man. Fourteen years! He could not escape him. He’d married Laban’s daughters, for goodness sake.
The original agreement was for seven years, but Laban pulled a wedding night shell trick, swapping Rachel with her older sister, Leah, and leaving Jacob with no option but to work seven more years.
In the Bible the number seven often signifies “complete.” Appropriate symbolism because Jacob surely felt like a complete fool working for less than minimum wage for a man who traded his daughters like a cattleman trades livestock at the stock show.
During the second set of seven years, Jacob saw his family and his troubles multiply. He gained eleven sons and one daughter: seven children by Leah, one by Rachel, two by Rachel’s maid, Bilhah, and two by Leah’s maid, Zilpah. Jacob had arrived in Laban’s camp with nothing, and after fourteen stress-filled years, his headaches had increased, but his bank account had not.
Ten times in six years Laban altered his method of computing Jacob’s wages, leaving Jacob empty-handed (Genesis 31:41–42). Is this how God rewards His children? Is this how God keeps His promises? What happened to the ladder that led into Heaven?
Where are the ascending and descending angels? Why can’t one of them pluck Laban and plop him into someone else’s life?
Where is God in the midst of this chaos?
The answer came in the form of a dream — an odd one, but dreams often are. Jacob told Leah and Rachel about it.
In breeding season I once had a dream in which I looked up and saw that the male goats mating with the flock were streaked, speckled or spotted. The angel of God said to me in the dream, “Jacob.” I answered, “Here I am.” And He said, “Look up and see that all the male goats mating with the flock are streaked, speckled or spotted, for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to Me. Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land.” — Genesis 31:10–13 NIV
Set aside the curious comments about streaked, speckled, and spotted sheep. They matter, and we will return to them in a few paragraphs. But they matter less than the big news that God shared with Jacob:
“I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you.”
I have not turned away. I have not forgotten your plight. I have not dismissed your need. I... have... seen!
Jacob was left with two options: trust God or grow anxious. He could either believe in the presence of Heaven or heed the presence of problems. If you assume he focused on his problems, no one would fault you. Jacob has done little thus far to show his faith.
Yet we are about to see a change in the man. A change for the better (albeit momentary). We’ve waited a decade and a half to say those words! We’ve seen the swindler swindle his brother and cheat his father. We’ve seen the fugitive stumble into Laban’s camp. We’ve seen the lover so drunk on love and liquor he wakes up with the wrong bride in a story as scrambled as a spilled Scrabble box. We’ve seen the passive husband sit in silence as his wives squabble and their hearts break. We’ve seen him reap what he sowed. But finally something within Jacob begins to stir. He turns in his resignation to his father-in-law.
After Rachel had had Joseph, Jacob spoke to Laban, “Let me go back home. Give me my wives and children for whom I’ve served you. You know how hard I’ve worked for you.” Laban said, “If you please, I have learned through divine inquiry that God has blessed me because of you.” He went on, “So name your wages. I’ll pay you.” — Genesis 30:25–28 The Message
Laban was not a man of faith. He was not a seeker of God. Yet Laban was getting richer each year. He couldn’t figure out why. He sought an explanation through “divine inquiry.” He checked his tarot cards and consulted palm readers. He rolled dice and read tea leaves. Finally, he realized the house of Laban prospered because of the presence of Jacob.
God has blessed me because of you. — Genesis 30:27 The Message
Life with a Laban can leave us wondering if we are making a difference. The truth is, we aren’t, but God is! Wherever we go, we carry God’s blessings with us, blessings that overflow into the lives of others.1 How good of God! He wants to bless even the Labans of the world. He uses the Jacobs to do so.
Jacob told his father-in-law,
You know well what my work has meant to you and how your livestock has flourished under my care. The little you had when I arrived has increased greatly; everything I did resulted in blessings for you. Isn’t it about time that I do something for my own family? — Genesis 30:29–30 The Message
In other words, “Laban, I took your business from a corner store to a multimillion-dollar operation. Whatever I touched, the Lord blessed. Under my direction your income has multiplied. But now it is time for me to care for my family.”
Laban, tight as the strings of a tennis racket, asked, “So, what should I pay you?”
You don’t have to pay me a thing. But how about this? I will go back to pasture and care for your flocks. Go through your entire flock today and take out every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb, every spotted or speckled goat. They will be my wages. That way you can check on my honesty when you assess my wages. If you find any goat that’s not speckled or spotted or a sheep that’s not black, you will know that I stole it. — Genesis 30:31–33 The Message
Remember the dream? In it God told Jacob to build a flock with streaked, speckled, or spotted animals. So Jacob obeyed. He offered to take as his wages a handful of dotted sheep and goats. Laban couldn’t believe his ears. No wonder Jacob was broke. A shepherd can’t get rich by taking just a few marked sheep and goats.
- Laban thought Jacob was a fool. Jacob, however, was acting in faith.
“Fair enough,” said Laban. “It’s a deal.” But that very day Laban removed all the mottled and spotted billy goats and all the speckled and spotted nanny goats, every animal that had even a touch of white on it plus all the black sheep and placed them under the care of his sons. Then he put a three-day journey between himself and Jacob. Meanwhile Jacob went on tending what was left of Laban’s flock. — Genesis 30:34–36 The Message
Before Jacob had a chance to cull the flocks, Laban purged them of the speckled and spotted sheep. Together with his sons and workers, he scampered up and down the hills snatching the dark and spotted ones. Laban then sent the sheep off on a three-day journey to a distant pasture. Jacob was left with a fraction of his promised wages. Ever the shark, Laban cheated Jacob again.
Can’t we envision Laban, smug and pigeon-chested with pride, talking to himself as he swayed side to side on his camel. “Maybe your God forgot you this time, Jacob?”
Can’t we envision Jacob coming ever so close to lashing out against Laban? It wasn’t enough for the man to cheat him at the wedding. It wasn’t enough for Laban to force Jacob to work for nothing. It wasn’t enough for Laban to take advantage of his own son-in-law. Laban had to leave Jacob with next to nothing!
But Jacob didn’t react in anger. Instead, he set about the task of building his flock. He took
fresh branches from poplar, almond, and plane trees and peeled the bark, leaving white stripes on them. He stuck the peeled branches in front of the watering troughs where the flocks came to drink. When the flocks were in heat, they came to drink and mated in front of the streaked branches. Then they gave birth to young that were streaked or spotted or speckled. — Genesis 30:37–39 The Message
What is going on here? Was this superstition? Folklore? Or was Jacob ahead of his time? Some scholars think so. “It has been recently proposed that... Jacob’s stripping the bark from the branches may have exposed some nutrient that was then in the drinking water... thereby changing the colour of the coats of the young that they bore.”2
Over the next six years Jacob put this unique breeding plan to work.
[Jacob] got richer and richer, acquiring huge flocks, lots and lots of servants, not to mention camels and donkeys. — Genesis 30:43 The Message
God rewarded Jacob’s faith! God used Laban to teach Jacob to trust God. Jacob didn’t like Laban. He wanted to leave Laban. Yet he was better because of Laban.
And you? Might God be saying the same words to you he said to Jacob? “I see what is happening. I know about the manipulation. The unfairness. The disregard for your feelings or future. I see it. I see you. And I am using this experience to train you.”
God is prone to do this. Scripture explains,
This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children... God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. — Hebrews 12:8, Hebrews 12:10 The Message, emphasis in the original
Are you being trained?
You, like Jacob, are part of God’s delivery system of hope. You are a courier of His covenant. Yet, you, like Jacob, have your share of foibles and flaws.
God is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. — Philippians 2:13 RSV, emphasis mine
- This is a biblical principle. God prospered Pharaoh and blessed Egypt because of the presence of Joseph (Gen. 39–41). King Nebuchadnezzar became a believer because of the presence of Daniel (Dan. 4:34–37).
- Andrew E. Steinmann, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 1, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 2019), 289.
Excerpted with permission from God Never Gives Up on You by Max Lucado, copyright Max Lucado.
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Respond to your Laban with faith in God. Even when someone makes your blood boil with injustice and mistreatment, leave that to God and be obedient to Him! You’ll be glad you did! Join us for the God Never Gives up on You OBS starting 10/23! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full