When Jacob appeared at the home of his uncle Laban, he was received in what appeared to be a warm welcome. From a natural point of view this would be natural, that is, the expected thing. Here was a relative whom they had never seen before, and who came from a far country. And indeed, with the means of transportation of that day, it was a far country. And whereas we find pleasure in a letter from friends and relatives who live so far from us that we seldom if ever see them, certainly in that day, when there was no mail service or long distance telephone calls to make, it was quite a treat to have a close relative, who lived anything but close by, to drop in and pay a visit.
From a spiritual point of view this is even more delightful. Children of God say with the psalmist in Psalm 119:63. “I am a companion of all them that fear Thee, and of them that keep Thy precepts.” They have something in common. They may not have blood ties, but they have spiritual ties that are precious and cause them to seek one another in the truth. How true that must have been in the days of Jacob and Laban. Just try to imagine the situation with Jacob, he with his father and mother being an isolated little remnant of believers in the land of Canaan and surrounded by the ungodly—even having a profane person in the family in the person of the son and brother, Esau. And so it was also with Laban and his family, forming another little group of believers up in Haran with no connection at all with the believers down in Canaan, of whom they know, but have not heard since the days that Abraham’s servant came for a wife for Isaac. It was a sincerely warm welcome we may be sure. It was a happy day when Jacob dropped in among them. And Laban’s kiss was sincere.
All this does not mean, however, that there were not even then some thoughts in Laban’s mind other than sincere joy of seeing a relative who belonged to his sister Rebekah’s family. One does not get a good impression of him when Abraham’s servant came for a wife for Isaac. We read in Genesis 24:29-31, “And Rebekah had a brother, and his name was Laban: and Laban ran out unto the man unto the well, And it came to pass, when he saw the earring and bracelets upon his sister’s hands, and when he heard the words of Rebekah his sister, saying, Thus spake the man to me; that he came unto the man; and, behold, he stood by the camels at the well. And he said, Come in, thou blessed of the Lord; wherefore standest thou without? for I have prepared the house, and room for the camels.” That earring and those bracelets had power over him, and the passage clearly indicates that Laban could be very friendly to those who displayed the wealth of this world. God Himself links up Laban’s enthusiasm and speed to get to Abraham’s servant with his observance of that gold and silver, that wealth of Abraham. And one cannot forget this when Laban bubbles over with eagerness to have Jacob stay there at his home.
What is missing is that Laban asks Jacob nothing about why he came, and that Jacob says not a word about his reason for leaving home. It is difficult to determine what it means when we read that, “And he told Laban all these things,” Genesis 29:13, the last part. But when we do read in the next verse that, “Laban said unto him, Surely thou art bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh,” it means that Jacob confirmed, by giving details of the family back home, that he was indeed a relative and a son of Laban’s sister. That he had to flee from the face of his own brother for his life, that he had deceived his blind father, and that he intended to stay a long time until his brother’s wrath was gone, of these things Jacob breathed not one word. And Laban did not press him or even try to get out of Jacob the truth. He undoubtedly had his own opinion and a measure of curiosity as well. But he never asked Jacob, even after he had made an extended stay of a whole month. The closest he came to it was to suggest to Jacob that he work for his room and board. In the polite language of that day he says, “Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought? Tell me, what shall thy wages be?” No doubt Jacob had helped a bit with the work. We may not assume that he was a lazy man, even though he lived such a sheltered life with his mother and was not a hunter such as his brother Esau. But Laban wants something definite. How long will this nephew stay? We had better get some kind of understanding before more time passes by. And it cannot be assumed that Laban knew nothing of Jacob’s great love for his daughter Rachel. Jacob could not hide such an intense, deep love. He had deceptive ways about him and was a crafty man according to his old nature; but this love was deep and powerful, as is evident from the fact that he will work seven years for Rachel. Let it be noted also that Jacob made that proposition. Crafty and greedy Laban did not take advantage of Jacob in that respect that he made a deal with Jacob to give Rachel for seven years of work. Jacob set the span of seven years. It may well be that Laban would have been satisfied with less, since he intended to give Leah to Jacob. This was no last minute switch, thought up by Laban as the wedding day approached. No, remember how his eyes opened up when he saw the earring and bracelets that Abraham’s servant had given to Rebekah? He was looking out for his own good and striving to take advantage of Jacob.
But how amazing the ways of God! Jacob is now himself given to taste his own medicine. God is not mocked. One can get away with sin and deception before men, but never before God. And Jacob is given to experience what he in sin caused others to experience. God has sent Jacob to a man his own equal in cunning, striving to get the material possessions of another.
And how faithful God is to His promises. Jacob meets his equal, but in His grace, and not because of any merit in Jacob, God is on his side; and that spells all the difference. God, Who had appeared to Jacob on the way to Laban’s home, had promised to be with him and not to leave him. Genesis 28:15. As a result Jacob triumphed over Laban. “For by Thee have I run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall.”Psalm 18:29. Laban will try more tricks, and the most despicable is that of substituting Leah for Rachel after the seven years were up. But God was with Jacob; and he increased in cattle and possessions to the hurt of Laban. Not by his cleverness, not by his tricks which did not work, namely the placing of rods from which he had peeled off some of the bark to make a variegated appearance before the flocks, with the idea that then they would conceive sheep that were speckled and spotted. It was an old wives’ fable. It, was a work of superstition because of Jacob’s old man of sin, Most of the goats and sheep brought forth spotted and streaked or speckled offspring because God was with Jacob and did not forsake him, though he deserved it and more, that is, to be forsaken and cast off from being the one in whom the covenant line would be continued.
But as we said, that deed of letting Jacob think all these seven years that he would get Rachel, and then palming off Leah on him instead, was a most despicable thing to do; and in it Jacob met his equal, one equal in deceptiveness and tricky ways. Suppose it was the custom of the day to marry off the older daughter first, the question is not what is custom, but what is the Word of God? What is honest! Was it the custom of the land to promise one thing and to let a man work for seven years for what is promised and then not tell him till after the seven years are passed that this promise cannot be carried out? Away with the customs of the country, and let us bring forth the law of God, the law of honesty and love.
Why, even that arrangement to work for a daughter’s hand was base and displeasing in God’s sight. He does not give us daughters to sell! He gives us daughters to raise up covenant seed, and so we may have that blessing of which the Psalmist speaks, “Thou shalt see thy children’s children” in the new Jerusalem!
It is true, very true that Jacob said that he would work for Rachel. It is also true that a father had invested a great deal in the bringing up of his daughter. Today the cost of having a child born in the hospital is staggeringly high; and Christian education is not for pennies. Clothing, food, and all that it takes to care for the physical and spiritual needs of a child is skyrocketing. And our only hope in it all is that “By Thee have I run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall.” But was there not something in this for Laban as well? Was it a bargain that was one-sided so that Laban gets paid for feeding and clothing Rachel; and now Jacob must pay him back so that he can have her as his wife? Would Laban not be gaining a son? Would he not have the joy of twelve grandchildren whom he could call grandsons, and one whom he would receive as a granddaughter? And since it is true that Jacob is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, should he take this kind of advantage of him? Is there not what the world calls the “Golden Rule” and Jesus presents as the law of God: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men do unto you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets”? Never mind the custom of your country, Laban; What saith the law of God?
And what must we say about Rachel at this point in the incident? Was she so silent and submissive to her conniving father—because she did not love Jacob? Was she quite content to let her older sister take this man who adored her so deeply and openly? Did Laban have to tie her down somewhere lest she rush into the tent and call to Jacob and warn him that it was Leah? We can only wonder—Scripture says nothing about it—but did Jacob have the same experience here that he caused his father to have? Did he at any moment say, in the darkness of the night in that tent, “The voice indeed is Leah’s, but your father promised me Rachel; and I worked for her.”
Was God using Rachel also to chastise Jacob for his deceit before his father? He has indeed met his equal in Laban, and by the grace of God could see himself as the sinner he was in God’s eyes. And why not? Jacob and Laban came from the same corrupt root of Adam. And so did we. Is there any other kind of work that, in the light of Scripture’s testimony, we could expect in Jacob? In Laban? In ourselves and in our children?
The truth strikes us here again with force, (and for that reason God included all this in the Scriptures) that there is no material in the human race out of which He can make and gather a church. He is not waiting to see whether we will let Him use us as bricks in that church. There is nothing in us that He can use as we are found in this world. No, we must and do becomenew creatures in Christ. We must be and are by God’s grace born again. We must be and are clothed with Christ’s righteousness. The cross must come, and on its basis Christ must return in the Spirit to put something spiritual in us that can be a part of God’s church and that He will use to create a beautiful and perfect Bride for Christ. “Not of works, lest any man boast. (Ephesians 2:9, 10) For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Salvation is by grace. Every bit of it, including our faith in God, comes from Him as a free gift.