Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Laban Pursues and Catches Up to Jacob -- Genesis 31:22-24

When it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob had fled, then he took his kinsmen with him and pursued him a distance of seven days' journey, and he overtook him in the hill country of Gilead. God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream of the night and said to him, "Be careful that you do not speak to Jacob either good or bad."

The first thing we notice in this passage is that Laban did not hear Jacob was gone for three days. That timeframe causes us to wonder about several things: how far away did they live from each other? how soon did anyone notice Jacob’s entire family was gone? if they did notice early on, why did it take them so long to tell Laban? and finally, if Laban’s idols stolen by Rachel when she fled were used in Laban’s worship, how often did he consider them as he had not missed them for three days? Interesting questions left for us to ponder on our own.

What we do know is that as soon as Laban found out Jacob and his family had fled, he gathered a number of his relatives to join him and they took off in pursuit of Jacob. In fact, the text indicates they chased him a distance of “seven days’ journey”. By my calculation, that means Laban used four days to travel the distance Jacob did in seven. Of course, that’s doable considering there were no women and children in Laban’s group to slow him down and he was a man on a mission.

This episode reminds me of Abimelech and his officers pursuing Isaac as recorded in Genesis 26 because he wanted peace with Isaac. Abimelech had seen that God was with Isaac and feared that he could overpower Abimelech if he chose to. Now Jacob is being pursued but for a slightly different reason.

The scripture says “God came to Laban…in a dream of the night….” Clearly, even Laban’s group had to rest for a while each night as they pursued Jacob’s caravan.

There are at least two things to notice and learn from this event. First, God does not only speak to His followers but he communicates also with those who yet do not know Him personally. Recently we were driving in South Carolina and listening to the radio. Someone who gave no evidence or credit to God in his account of his experience, was saying he had a dream about a murder that had indeed occurred two days later. I turned the radio off and asked my wife this question: “Suppose one does not believe in God at all, where would such premonitions, dreams, feelings, come from?” I continued, “If they stopped to think long enough, they would realize that there’s a God who actually does this.” She wisely responded, “They would tell you it is ESP, energy forces in the mind, the body, etc. But I know what you’re saying. You’re saying, there has to be a Supreme Being behind all of that – connecting it and making it happen.” Yes, that’s exactly it. Both believers and unbelievers can have a spiritual communication with God, but the latter just do not realize who is on the other end of line.

Secondly, God can give direction to both believers and unbelievers. In this case He warns Laban not to say anything good or bad to Jacob. It is possible that Laban had different plans as suggested by the fact that he took a posse with him and pursued Jacob at great speed. Perhaps he wanted to take back everything by force. But God instructs him otherwise. He was not even to say anything negative or positive to Jacob, let alone do anything. I believe that God protects His own by directly communicating to our enemies. His awesome power works wonders on changing their plans.

The likelihood of Laban having intented to harm Jacob physically is very small. You will remember that Laban had clearly admitted earlier that he knew it was because of Jacob that God had blessed Laban. So that would still be in his mind and he would be careful not to anger God by acting violently towards Jacob. Nevertheless, it is safe to assume he intended some very strong words. Except now, God says “Be careful not to....”

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