Thursday, November 12, 2009

Laban Demands Answers -- Genesis 31:25-30

Laban caught up with Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsmen camped in the hill country of Gilead. Then Laban said to Jacob, "What have you done by deceiving me and carrying away my daughters like captives of the sword? Why did you flee secretly and deceive me, and did not tell me so that I might have sent you away with joy and with songs, with timbrel and with lyre; and did not allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters? Now you have done foolishly. It is in my power to do you harm, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, 'Be careful not to speak either good or bad to Jacob.' Now you have indeed gone away because you longed greatly for your father's house; but why did you steal my gods?”

Can you imagine all the things running through old Laban’s mind as he and his relatives pursued Jacob? What were his original plans of action? What did his relatives expect? What, given God’s warning, will he do now? What would he say to Jacob and to his daughters? What feelings would he have towards his grandchildren? This reminds me a little of the times I’ve been very angry with someone and I was on my way to deal with the matter. I rehearsed in my mind exactly what I would say or do. I could never get it just right. And when I finally would get to where I really had to take action, my so-called plan had to contend with the other person’s words or actions as well. If only somehow we can discern what God would have us do in each case, how much easier that would be.

In this passage, Laban catches up with Jacob’s caravan. They had pitched their tents in the hill country and Laban does likewise close by. Then he goes to Jacob.

It should be easy for us to understand Laban’s approach. He can’t be hard on Jacob, but he can ask “why?” and he did. “Why have you deceived me by stealing away my daughters? Why did you go secretly without giving me a chance to send you off with a feast? Why wasn’t I allowed to kiss my grandchildren? Jacob, you acted very foolishly.”

There are two interesting points of view brought out here. First, when we do what God tells us to do and it affects others, we can expect to be asked ‘why?’. Parents or relatives, or employers, may even have a natural right to ask that question. Certainly, if our actions have impacted them in what they consider to be a hurtful or negative manner, they have that right. And we need to be ready to respond.

Secondly, we need to be prepared for the eventuality that, in their estimation, what we are doing is deemed foolish. After all, as Christians we are acting from and on a totally foreign worldview from their own. Our value systems are non-comprehensible to them. Finally, we’re acting out of obedience to God and motivated by our desire to please Him. They’re expecting us to act out of self-gain motivation and a desire to take the kind of steps that they would. There is no doubt they will have difficulty understanding.

Not only does Laban ask why, and tells Jacob he was foolish, but he goes on to make sure that Jacob knows what Laban could have done to him. He could have done him harm (which was likely his original intention). Men who use other men for their own purposes and even trick them into marital relationships with their own daughters will not stop at harming them if that would get them what they want. Unless of course, God stops them as He did in Laban’s case. And Laban accepts that. He even offers a plausible excuse as to why Jacob did leave, saying it was because he “longed greatly” for the house of his father. That may have been true, but it is not why Jacob fled. Sometimes people cannot accept our reasons for taking certain actions. Then they provide their own rationale just so they can accept what has taken place. Laban was doing just that. But there are things he still does not understand. One of those was why someone (he thought Jacob) stole his gods.

Before we move to the next section to get an answer from Jacob, we must point out that while we surmised what role these statues played in Laban’s house when we addressed Rachel’s taking them, we now have the additional information that to Laban, they were indeed perceived as being his ‘gods’. This further clarifies our thinking with respect to the whole situation between Jacob and Laban. It is important for us to know at all times where people stand before God before we consider what may and may not be right in any given action we could take in such a situation. We would do best to consider this before we even try to determine why they themselves acted or did not act in a given way.

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