And it came to pass, when Rachel had born Joseph, that Jacob said unto Laban, Send me away, that I may go unto mine own place, and to my country.
One wonders how long this had been. Its probably more than seven years, given the number of kids produced, but it might not have been much more; barring miscarriage, children come pretty frequently in communities birth control! Still, I wonder what the connection is between Rachel’s motherhood and Jacob’s desire to leave. Does finally having a son from his favorite wife make him realize how much he misses his family? Was he unwilling to move while she was trying to get pregnant? Or was she too insecure to move until she had her own children? Or was it merely that the seven years had elapsed recently, and the conditions were right for return?
I don’t know, but we do know he’s ready to go:
Give [me] my wives and my children, for whom I have served thee, and let me go: for thou knowest my service which I have done thee.
Laban is not, however, ready to lose him:
And Laban said unto him, I pray thee, if I have found favour in thine eyes, [tarry: for] I have learned by experience that the LORD hath blessed me for thy sake.
Smooth-talker Laban, always looking for an angle. He recognizes (nachash) that Jacob was the source (galal) of Yahweh’s blessing (barak) on him. Alas, he draws the wrong conclusion: he wants to keep around the goose that lays the golden egg, rather than establishing his own relationship with Yahweh.
And he said, What shall I give thee? And Jacob said, Thou shalt not give me any thing: if thou wilt do this thing for me, I will again feed [and] keep thy flock:
Jacob has learned not to trust what Laban offers (nathan). He comes up with a clever plan to gain an objective measure for gathering his own wages:
I will pass through all thy flock to day, removing from thence all the speckled and spotted cattle, and all the brown cattle among the sheep, and the spotted and speckled among the goats: and [of such] shall be my hire.
And Laban said, Behold, I would it might be according to thy word.
he appears to immediately violate the terms of the agreement:
And he removed that day the he goats that were ringstraked and spotted, and all the she goats that were speckled and spotted, [and] every one that had [some] white in it, and all the brown among the sheep, and gave [them] into the hand of his sons.
I suppose I might’ve misread (or Laban might’ve misunderstood) the terms Jacob set for the deal, but given Laban’s history I suspect deliberate duplicity is the more plausible explanation. Jacob is probably not surprised at this point; in fact, he has a plan:
And Jacob took him rods of green poplar, and of the hazel and chesnut tree; and pilled white strakes in them, and made the white appear which [was] in the rods. And he set the rods which he had pilled before the flocks in the gutters in the watering troughs when the flocks came to drink, that they should conceive when they came to drink.
This passage has always bothered me. One, it looks like he’s resorting to pagan magic. Two, it appears to work:
And the flocks conceived before the rods, and brought forth cattle ringstraked, speckled, and spotted.
The end result is that Jacob gets the prosperity he wanted (and arguably deserved):
And the man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses.
But, sharpness cuts both ways. Jacob’s trickiness might’ve outdone (or undone) his uncle’s, but it still leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth:
And he heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, Jacob hath taken away all that [was] our father’s; and of [that] which [was] our father’s hath he gotten all this glory. And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, behold, it [was] not toward him as before.
One wonders what exactly changed, and why. My personal suspicion is that Laban is the sort of man that will be kind when you are an inferior and he can use you. Once you get ‘uppity’ and start to treat with him like an equal, he will get intensely jealous and suspicious. This is perhaps a fortuitous time for divine intervention:
And the LORD said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee.
Despite everything, Jacob was apparently still reluctant to return to his family; perhaps that is why he was susceptible to Laban’s blandishments to remain, and needed God’s encouragement. Even with that, though, he continues to operate stealthily:
And Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field unto his flock,
He is understandably worried about justifying his departure to his wives:
And ye know that with all my power I have served your father. And your father hath deceived me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me.
The implication of this passage, even allowing for a little rhetorical exaggeration, is that Laban was even more deceptive (hathal) than recorded above; interestingly, though, the emphasis seems more on God’s providence:
If he said thus, The speckled shall be thy wages; then all the cattle bare speckled: and if he said thus, The ringstraked shall be thy hire; then bare all the cattle ringstraked.
Jacob reiterates that it was God’s doing, perhaps as a defense against the charges of his brothers-in-law:
Thus God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given [them] to me.
Perhaps more importantly, he appears to acknowledge that it was God’s active intervention, rather than his own attempts at magic, which led to the increase:
And it came to pass at the time that the cattle conceived, that I lifted up mine eyes, and saw in a dream, and, behold, the rams which leaped upon the cattle [were] ringstraked, speckled, and grisled.
An intriguing, if bizzare, foreshadowing of Jesus’ divine conception. We are then given what appears to be an elaboration of God’s word to Jacob:
I [am] the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, [and] where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred.
The tie-back to Bethel is interesting; I wonder how well, and how often, Jacob remembers that event from 15+ years ago.
If Jacob had worries about convincing his wives to leave, they were clearly misplaced:
And Rachel and Leah answered and said unto him, [Is there] yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house?
Ouch! One can almost feel all the resentment from Laban’s narcissistic neglect bubbling over:
Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath quite devoured also our money.
An interesting perspective on the bride-price; however Jacob saw it, his wives (at least by now) saw it as just a mercenary sale (makar) from their father’s perspective. Even more telling is the statement that Laban’s used it all up (‘akal). One wonders whether the nominal purpose of a bride-price was to provide for the father-in-law, who’s losing the labor of his daughters. Regardless, Laban sounds like the kind of man who’s great at getting money, but lousy at keeping it — thus perpetuating a cycle of connivance. Leading to a general sense that life is cheating him, which he passed down to his sons.
No wonder the girls feel well out of it:
For all the riches which God hath taken from our father, that [is] ours, and our children’s: now then, whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do.
Which he does:
And he carried away all his cattle, and all his goods which he had gotten, the cattle of his getting, which he had gotten in Padanaram, for to go to Isaac his father in the land of Canaan.
What a tangled web we weave. Laban and Isaac both sowed favoritism and deception into their children; Jacob compounded it, and this is the mess that results. And the story is far from over.
God, what a senseless, pointless tragedy. O, that Laban might’ve come to know you as his Provider, and so forsake his grasping ways. That he might have blessed his children with security and abundance, rather than cultivating strife and jealously. In his quest for wealth, and perhaps support for his dissolute lifestyle, he has lost his daughters. Lord, save me from such a fate. Keep my priorities always fixed on You. May I always have the humility to realize when I am compensating for my own sin by blaming others. Speak to me, and guide me in the paths of righteousness for Your name’s sake. That I, my wife, and any children You bless us with may prosper in the land You give us, that we may dwell in peace to the fourth generation and beyond. Amen.