Sunday, December 29, 2013

Compassionate Brother (part 6)

At this point, for better or for worse, Jacob is attached to Laban.  He has a large number of children (at least eleven sons and one daughter) and essentially four wives to support.  His fortunes are clearly intertwined with those of Laban.  However, he is restless.  He longs to return to his home.  “After Rachel had given birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, ‘Send me on my way so that I can go home to my own country.  Let me take my wives and my children whom I have acquired by working for you.  Then I’ll depart, because you know how hard I’ve worked for you.’” (Genesis 30:25-26) 

Though Laban’s response is one in which he seems to be imploring Jacob to stay, saying “If I have found favor in your sight, please stay her, for I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me on account of you… Just name your wages---I’ll pay you whatever you want” (30:27-28), this hardly seems necessary.  The fact that Jacob has requested that Laban allow him to leave and that Laban allow him to take his wives and children with him, is indicative of the nature of the relationship.  This probably has to do with his need to continue paying for his wives. 

Though Scripture provides the record of his seven years of service by which he acquired Leah, and then the seven years of service that he promised after also acquiring Rachel, there is no record of his service rendered for the acquisition of Bilhah and Zilpah.  These two women would be just as much the property of Laban as were his daughters before Jacob met the required bride-price.  Until Jacob had paid for them as well, he would be under obligation to Laban.  Until payment was completed, both these wives and the children birthed through them, would be the property of Laban.  So even though Laban seems to plead with Jacob, it does not appear that Laban has to engage in such behavior. 

It is clear that Jacob wants to return home.  However, as part of the previously mentioned plan, he has not been summoned by his mother, nor is there yet any indication in the text that his brother’s rage against him has subsided.  Though he wants to leave Laban, the circumstances conspire against him.  So rather than leaving with his wife and children so as to return to his father’s house, he takes Laban up on his offer, naming his wages. 

An arrangement is made wherein Jacob suggests that, while he continues to care for all of Laban’s flocks, that he have the opportunity to “walk among all your flocks today and remove from them every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb, and the spotted or speckled goats,” saying “These animals will be my wages” (30:32).  Laban indicates that this arrangement is satisfactory to him, but on “that day Laban removed the male goats that were streaked or spotted, all the female goats that were speckled or spotted, and all the dark colored lambs… Then he separated them from Jacob by a three-day journey, while Jacob was taking care of the rest of Laban’s flocks” (32:35a,36). 

This could be understood to be quite underhanded and hardly in tune with the spirit of the agreement.  It certainly does not seem like the actions of one who has “learned by divination that the Lord has blessed” him because of Jacob’s presence and service.  Laban knows that if Jacob is able to gain his own flocks, that he will be able to complete the transaction for acquisition of his wives and children and depart.  So by these actions, at least on the surface, it would seem to become clear that Laban does not want Jacob to leave.  What is obvious is that this is an oppressive course of action that has been undertaken by Laban, and it is quite in line with what would have come to be expected from him, especially as one keeps in mind his substitution of one daughter for another after Jacob’s first seven years of service. 

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