Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 1, No. 4 Page 14 April 1999

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles


By Steven P. Smithbauer

Laban was the brother of Rebekah, Isaac's wife, and also the nephew of Abraham. He came from that branch of Terah's family that stayed in the land of Haran after Abraham and Lot left for Canaan. He is the son of Nahor, Abraham's brother. Most of what we know about Laban is during his twenty year encounter with Jacob, Isaac and Rebekah's son (Genesis 29-31).

Jacob, having tricked Isaac his father into giving him Esau's rightful blessing (Genesis 27:22), had to flee for his life. So, Isaac and Rebekah decided to send him to Laban in Haran until Esau's anger cooled. While he was there, Jacob took two wives, both Laban's daughters, Rachel and Leah. He worked seven years for each of them, and six additional years for his own livestock--a total of twenty years.

During this time, both Jacob and Laban seem intent on besting the other in their dealings with each other. But no matter what else happens, God is with Jacob and continues to bless him, a fact to which even Laban concedes (Genesis 30:30). But after the deal with the "spotted, speckled, and ringstraked" cattle (Genesis 30:31-34), Laban and his sons feel that Jacob is cheating them, and stealing what is rightfully theirs. Jacob takes his wives and children and all the livestock rightfully his as per the agreement and slips away quietly and is gone three days before Laban notices his absence and begins to pursue him.

Laban is considered an undesirable character in the Bible. Why is that? The Bible reveals that Jacob's faults are very similar to Laban's although Laban's faults seem to be more exaggerated than Jacob's.

A Man Easily Impressed With Wealth

The first mention of Laban is in Genesis 24. Here, the servant of Abraham has come to Haran at the behest of his master to find a wife for Isaac among his own kindred. Laban is quick to invite the man to his father's house simply because of his appraisal of the man's expensively equipped party (Genesis 24:30-31). God is never impressed with a man's possessions, although, men often are. Jacob, while concerned about profit, does not seem to be so enamored with it as to allow it to cloud his spiritual judgement.

James 2:1-9 tells Christians that we must not give special treatment to the rich. In fact partiality in this regard is sinful, according to verse 4. The young preacher was admonished to warn the church not to "trust in uncertain riches" (1 Timothy 6:17). Riches are also called a snare in 1 Timothy 6:9-12:

But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.
It should be pointed out that it is not a sin for one to possess wealth. In fact it is God who blesses us with wealth. (See Deuteronomy 8:18.) However one can be rich in worldly possessions and fail miserably in spirituality. Such is the case of the rich man in Luke 12:21, whom God called a fool. "So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."

A Man Operating Under The Rule Of Deceit

One of the characteristics of a materialistic person is the fact that he will usually go to extreme lengths to receive gain. Laban was this way to the point of dishonesty. He deceived Jacob by giving him Leah as a wife, instead of Rachel, whom he loved, and for whom he had worked for seven years. Laban had realized that it was Jacob that God was blessing, and he was benefiting from that. So he devised a scheme to keep Jacob a little longer. He had to work another seven years for Rachel and so had two wives.

Jacob also worked an additional six years for a portion of Laban's livestock. The deal that was struck was one that Laban felt he could not lose. Jacob offered to take only the spotted and speckled from the herds for his wages, an infrequent if not rare variation. Laban no doubt felt that he would emerge on top of this deal, but there was a God in heaven on the side of Jacob that he failed to consider. (For the full account see Genesis 30:31-43.)

There was no power in the "pilled rods" to cause the cattle and sheep to produce speckled offspring, but the God of heaven caused it to turn out this way. It is entirely possible that God commanded Jacob to do such as a test of faith. This would be similar to the command to Naaman to dip seven times in the Jordan River (2 Kings 5:10) or to our command to be baptized today (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38 etc.).

Yet, even though Jacob's acquisition of Laban's livestock was perfectly legal with regard to the agreement the two men made, Laban and his sons were angered, and felt as though Jacob had stolen their possessions from them (Genesis 31:1-2). After slipping away from Laban, and then later being overtaken by him, Jacob accuses his father-in-law of changing his wages "ten times" (Genesis 31:41). Such deception and dishonesty is to be expected of a man caught up in materialism.

Christians are told to lay aside "all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings" (1 Peter 2:1-3). Such dishonesty is not compatible with the religion of Jesus Christ. In fact, lying, is listed among other sins such as murder, idolatry and fornication as that which is responsible for relegating one's soul to the "lake of fire" (Revelation 21:8).

A Man Involved In Idolatry

Idolatry is the ultimate expression of materialism. When Jacob "stole away" from Laban, Rachel took her father's images (gods). It is not mentioned why she took them, either for their monetary value or for worship. Perhaps because Laban's mind worked in such a materialistic fashion, the concept that God is a spirit may have eluded him.

Christians are to be aware of idolatry. We do not have as much trouble with the classical form of worshipping graven images, as we do with allowing material possessions to become the controlling forces of our lives. Paul told the Colossians in 3:5, "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry." (Emphasis mine, SPS) While we certainly recognize that we need to have material possessions to survive, to make them the top priority of our lives is a terrible mistake. Jesus said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things, (Material needs, SPS), shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33).


It is interesting to notice that Jacob, too, possesses some of the same characteristics of his father-in-law, albeit to perhaps somewhat less of a degree. Jacob grasped the opportunity to take away Esau's birthright, when his brother returned home from hunting and was hungry. (See Genesis 25:29ff.) And Jacob was deceptive in stealing away Isaac's blessing which he intended for Esau.

It is possible that God used Laban to reveal Jacob's own treacherous faults. By seeing Laban's materialistic tendencies and the results of them, Jacob may have been persuaded to be a better person, one more suited to following Jehovah God.

And to be fair, Laban did show generosity at Mizpah when he finally parts ways with his son-in-law and his daughters. He also showed reverence to God by obeying the voice of the angel who warned him not to harm Jacob. This may be, perhaps, due to Jacob's influence during the past twenty years he was with Laban's household.

At any rate, what distinguished Jacob from Laban was his dedication to God. He had made up his mind at Bethel before even meeting Laban that God would be revered.

And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee (Genesis 28:20-22).
We too, would do well to emulate this kind of dedication, and be willing to serve our God as fully, and without reservation as Jacob did.

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