Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Angry, Jacob Seeks Closure -- Genesis 31:36-42

Then Jacob became angry and contended with Laban; and Jacob said to Laban, "What is my transgression? What is my sin that you have hotly pursued me? Though you have felt through all my goods, what have you found of all your household goods? Set it here before my kinsmen and your kinsmen, that they may decide between us two. These twenty years I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten the rams of your flocks. That which was torn of beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it myself. You required it of my hand whether stolen by day or stolen by night. Thus I was: by day the heat consumed me and the frost by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes. These twenty years I have been in your house; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flock, and you changed my wages ten times. If the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had not been for me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the toil of my hands, so He rendered judgment last night."

Now you would think that after Laban could not find the idols he was looking for, he would be the angry one. But instead, we read that it is Jacob that becomes angry and starts to ‘contend’, that is, argue, debate or dispute the issue with Laban. To get things rolling he asks Laban to tell him exactly what crime he is being accused of or what law, command, or moral code he may have violated that gave Laban cause to pursue him in such an intense and committed way. With reference once again to the so-called stolen idols, he tells Laban that he had searched and found nothing of his that Jacob’s household had taken.

Jacob wants to have the matter settled once and for all right there and then. He asks Laban to state his case before his own kinsmen and those of Jacob so that they could decide who is in the right. Jacob had faith in the approach. He believed that the kinsmen would indeed side with what is honorable and true. This is a far cry from the partisan politics that are exhibited these days when two sides are in dispute and often a third party that has no personal interest or stake in one side or the other is required to resolve an issue. It is important for us, whenever we are given the opportunity, to side in favor of what is right and honorable, even if it means that we might be going against the wishes of those that mean a lot to us. I find that often many would rather shirk their responsibility to do so by either not getting involved or going against their better judgment.

Now both sides of the family were all gathered around and Jacob just commences to relate his side of the story. He tells how he had been with Laban for twenty years. Unfortunately at this point we have no way to connect this date precisely in our chronological chart.

Jacob is aware that Laban has nothing on him. After all, Laban came after his ‘idols’ not his flocks. He knew better. He knew that Jacob would have taken only those animals and herds that were rightfully his when he left. In fact, Jacob shares how Laban’s sheep and goats have not miscarried during his tenure as head-shepherd and how certainly none of Jacob’s family ever took any of Laban’s animals to slaughter for their own food. “In fact”, Jacob says, “I even had to make up for any of your animals that were destroyed by wild beasts and I did that from my own herd. I had to repay you for anything that was stolen by others during my watch.”

We learn from these verses that Laban was not as gentle a master as we may have believed him to be from earlier chapters. Jacob continues, “I had to work for you in the heat during the day and sleep in the cold outside at night to take care of your flocks. In fact, with all the perils of the outdoors endangering your flocks, I could hardly sleep at all.”

All in all Jacob had been in Laban’s house for twenty years. He was now at least sixty years of age and likely more. All we know is that it had been at least twenty years since Esau had married Judith and Basemath (Genesis 26:34). Assuming for now, only twenty years between then and now, we can now present the following chronological chart:

• 3371 Esau at age 40 marries Judith and Basemath (Genesis 26:34)
• circa 3391 Jacob and his family leave Laban’s home (Genesis 31:41)
• 3394 The death of Ishmael (based on his birth in 3257 and Genesis 25:17)

Not only did Jacob work for Laban for twenty years, but he reminds him and everyone listening that he was a part of Laban’s house for those twenty years. He served him fourteen years in exchange for Laban giving him his two daughters to marry. Yet Laban still made him work another six years for his share of the flock. And during that time as he became either jealous or suspicious of Jacob’s success with his flourishing flock, he changed Jacob’s wages ten times – either by reducing them or by making him do more for what he got paid. The harshness of Laban as a master continued to be exposed by Jacob.

Things were so bad Jacob said, that if it weren’t for the fact that Laban realized that the God of Isaac and Abraham was with Jacob, and if it weren’t for Laban’s fear of Isaac, Laban would have sent him away with nothing, perhaps even taking what was now Jacob’s back. But instead, God saw the misfortune that had fallen on Jacob and the hardship he had to endure, and allowed him to escape with his family. God is always aware of what we are going through. At some point, when He deems it appropriate, when we have been molded to His will and experienced and become what He has planned for us, then He comes to our rescue and renders judgment on our oppressors. We cannot forget that as we live our lives in these difficult times. The story of Jacob’s family leaving his twenty-year bondage is an excellent reminder.

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  1. Anonymous9/12/09 11:35

    ...when Jacob became unspooled with his "blow Laban's hair straight back" tirade, was the "undercurrent" actually that Jacob never forgot Laban giving him Leah first, and then Laban telling Jacob he had to work another seven years to have Rachel? As the completion of the seven years neared, Jacob would have been "counting down the time" when he and Rachel would be together...then Laban presented Jacob his surprise...the look on Jacob's face and how he must have felt...would there be any words in the English language to describe Jacob's reaction?

  2. I think I would give Jacob the benefit of the doubt and assume he had accepted what had been done to him. I think his anger at this point was because Laban was still going after him now and chasing him down. Just my thoughts.