Genesis 31: Jacob's Flight From Laban
Though fearful, Jacob obeys God's command to return and experiences God's protection despite Laban's anger.
Have you learned that God uses affliction to better you?
After 20 years of servitude, it is time for Jacob to return to Canaan. Genesis 31 records his departure, the pursuit of Laban, their confrontation, covenant, and separation.
vv. 1-21 - With God’s blessing upon Jacob, Laban’s sons are envious of him (glory refers to wealth), and Laban changes towards Jacob. Do you remember when God asked Cain, “Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?” A similar thing can be seen in Laban. It indicates a departure of favor or approval. From the previous chapter, we already know that Jacob has a desire to return to Canaan. That desire is now being paired with a) the providence of hostility from the family vv. 1-2, b) a word from God v. 3, c) the willingness of his wives to leave their home (v. 16), and d) the opportunity that opens up during Laban’s departure to sheer sheep. When Jacob presents the case to his wives, note how he contrasts Laban’s treatment of him with God’s treatment of him (v. 5, v. 7, v. 9). It is actually amazing to see Rachel and Leah agree on this matter, given the strife that has existed between them. Their response in v. 16 sounds like Mary regarding Jesus in John 2. So Jacob places his family on camels, and rounds up all his cattle and takes off without saying anything to anyone. Little does he know that Rachel has stolen Laban’s idols. Why did she steal them? Not because she worshipped them, but either because they were valuable, or simply because she knew it would annoy him. Some suggest they represented title deeds to property. If so, that would definitely annoy him.
vv. 22–24 - After three days, Laban is told of Jacob’s departure. Perhaps he was not able to leave immediately, but we know he takes seven days to catch up with them. And like Pilate’s wife, God comes to Laban in a dream just before he catches up with Jacob and warns him to withhold judgment.
vv. 25–42 - gives the confrontation between Jacob and Laban. For the first time, Jacob stands his ground before his exploitive father-in-law. And Laban is exposed as a hypocrite. He suggests Jacob has taken his daughters as captives, when that is how he was treating them. He suggests he would have thrown a party for their departure, when he would have tried to negotiate a new deal for his own benefit. But one thing is really bugging Laban, and that is because before he left he realized his statues representing his gods had been stolen. Jacob, recognizing the seriousness of theft, and perhaps more so, the blasphemy of worshipping false gods, is willing for any thief to be killed if they had stolen Laban’s idols. Rachel, having learned deceit from her father, hides them in the camel's saddle, sits on it, and claims she is menstruating. Having failed to find the idols after making strong accusations of theft, Jacob is emboldened. He argues that for 20 years he worked for him and proved his loyalty and integrity in a host of different ways, whereas, in contrast, Laban had changed his wages ten times and would have sent him away with nothing if God had not intervened.
vv. 43–55 - With nothing to say to defend himself, and with a sense of Jacob’s strength, Laban suggests a peace treaty between them. So after a sacrifice and a meal, the next morning the companies of Laban and Jacob separate.
Prosperity does not enable men to escape trials. When Jacob left his family 20 years earlier, he left with nothing to avoid the threat of Esau. When he set off to return home, he had great wealth, but was still fleeing for fear of Laban. When we believe wealth will alleviate trials, we suffer from a form of myopia that cannot see the unlimited numbers of ways trials may meet us and follow us. Christian, resist the temptation to believe all your problems are because of a lack of money. Your lack of money in this season of life could be God’s way of limiting your trials.
Leaders should involve key people in major decisions. Jacob does not demand his wives to relocate with him. Instead, he sits down to discuss it. This shows their value to him and helps make sure they will be less critical when tough times come in the future. Just because you have the ultimate authority, does not men you leave everyone else out of the picture. Husbands, be wise in your decision making. Involve your wife, and even try to shepherd your children through any decision that will affect them. Don’t just tell them ‘this is how it is going to be’ guide them through it.
Tyrants with little power become worse as they gain more power. Laban’s treatment of Jacob when he ended up with Leah rather than Rachel was a window into the fact that Laban would be prepared to do almost anything to improve himself materially. He had no sense of shame or experience of guilt. He was of his father the devil. Any time you see someone willing to abuse their current power, always seek to avoid helping them obtain more. An abusive fiancé will become a worse spouse. An angry manager will become a wretched CEO.
Avoid toxic people where you lawfully can. There are various reasons why Jacob takes his family away from Laban, not least of which is the command of God to return home. However, if his children grew up around Laban, it would likely be unhelpful. Where possible, toxic people will take rather than give, exhaust rather than energize, criticize rather than encourage. They will destroy your health, squander your time, crush your hope, and make it hard for you to love. God sometimes appoints them in our lives so that we might learn under such an affliction. Jacob spent 20 years under such a person. The assessment whether to stay or remove yourself is tricky. For Jacob it was a word from God, the providence of God, and the support of those around him.
Make sure that which you serve cannot be put in a box. Children, notice how Laban’s idols can be stolen, stored, and hidden. They need rescued by Laban. What a far cry this is from the true and living God. Make sure that which you serve is not something cheap, material, and passing. Make sure what you worship can save you. Like Thomas, we can fall down before Jesus and say, My Lord, and my God.
As much as is possible, live peaceably with all men. Despite all the hurt Laban had caused Jacob, he was still willing to enter a treaty of peace with him. Christ is the Prince of Peace, and if His character rules our hearts, we must fight for peace and leave men to receive their dues at the final judgment. However, Jacob will not compromise by covenanting in the name of idolators. He swears by the fear of Isaac, i.e. the one my father fears and serves, is the one I fear and serve.
God uses the hardships of His people to strengthen future generations. The first generation to read this would have been those in Egypt. The suffering of their father Jacob, and God’s faithfulness to bring him back into the land, reassured Moses’ generation who also suffered under a tyrant. In like manner, the sufferings of Christ model suffering for us, so that it can be said, “let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.”
“The best wind to take a man to heaven is not the wind that blows due heavenward all the time, as he fondly wishes, but a cross wind that gives you a little chop of sea now and then, and makes you feel the stress of anxiety and adversity. The thing a man wishes for his own welfare is not always the most desirable. Full often the damage we dreaded has brought us a blessing we had not expected.” — Charles Spurgeon