Thursday, December 10, 2009

Laban’s Compromising Response -- Genesis 31:36-43-44


Then Laban replied to Jacob, "The daughters are my daughters, and the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day to these my daughters or to their children whom they have borne? So now come, let us make a covenant, you and I, and let it be a witness between you and me."

How embarrassing all this must have been for Laban in front of all his kinsmen? It is possible that many may not have been aware of the ‘whole’ story as Jacob told it. I could see them all now turning to Laban with a look that basically said, “and what do you say to that, Laban?” Well, we have Laban’s response, but the meaning behind what he said is not totally clear.

He starts off by saying “the daughters you refer to are indeed my daughters”. Laban wants it to be clearly understood by Jacob and everyone present that he has a right to his daughters. He does the same with respect to the children claiming they are his inasmuch as they are his grandchildren. Then he throws in his flocks and everything else that is around – according to him, everything that Jacob possesses is his. A person’s self-worth in those days, perhaps not unlike today, was measured in terms of property owned and their ability to boast about it. One supposes today somebody in the crowd would say about Laban, “the man just doesn’t get it, does he?” In fact, everything was indeed all Jacob’s, because God Himself had seen to it that it become rightfully his.

Either under this grand illusion or outright ownership or as the master compromiser that he is, Laban indicates that he cannot do anything that would hurt or upset his daughters and their children. He has nothing else to say to Jacob. He cannot condemn Jacob. He cannot deny what Jacob has said. He cannot justify himself. Some believe he was convicted by his own conscience for what he had done. I’m not so sure. All indications are that he realized the public predicament he was in and wanted to prevent Jacob from saying anything else. He admits no fault and does not ask for any forgiveness from Jacob or his daughters.

Instead, Laban wants to look like the magnanimous grantor of good things once again so he offers this great gesture of kindness in that he “won’t take any more action against Jacob”. In fact, he wants to go one step further as evidence of his newly expressed ‘kindness’. He invites Jacob to make a covenant with him as a witness between their agreement to be at peace. Have you ever experienced anyone with that kind of gull? Someone who has hurt you deeply and almost ruined you and then when finally exposed, wants to make peace with you and appear as the righteous one? I have and it is very difficult to contend with. You have all these witnesses just waiting for you to agree to the offer. Yet, deep down you know there’s more to look out for.

In Jacob’s case, Laban wants an agreement or covenant between them. In the verses that follow, we find out more about this and Jacob’s reaction.

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