WISDOM FROM THE BEGINNING – PART VI – SECTION IV
OF THE JOURNEY HOME
I. The second half of chapter 30 describes Jacob's initial intention to return home and the delay that led to further tension.
A. Once the beloved Rachel has born a son, Jacob wants to return to the land of his father, which was his initial intention.
1. After fourteen
years of labor, he has fulfilled his obligations to Laban and received
what he wanted, both a beloved wife and a son by her.
1. Strangely enough,
Laban refers to divination as the means by which he learned that Jacob
is so valuable. It would seem that mere observation would be enough.
He may have been trying to add a spiritual reason for Jacob to stay.
1. Jacob proposes
that animals of a certain color, namely, dark sheep and spotted or speckled
goats, would be his. Jacob would presumably shepherd the animals
and take the ones with these rare colors, for in the Middle East almost
all sheep are white and goats black or brown.
1. He shows the
goats a certain type of shoot, which was thought to cause them to bear
spotted or speckled offspring. It is not clear exactly how he
caused the sheep to bear black offspring, but it seemed ironically to
involve the very flocks of Laban's sons that were used to cheat Jacob.
II. After six years of this arrangement, Jacob realizes that there is danger building and tries to flee with his wives, children and flock.
A. The tension is building as Laban's sons begin figuring out that Jacob is getting more and more wealth, although they perhaps do not know why.
1. It is noteworthy
that now Laban's sons, not Laban, are the ones who are grumbling.
It has been about eighty years since Abraham's servant spoke to Laban
about bringing Rebekah to be Isaac's wife. Thus, assuming that
this is the same Laban here, he is presumably over 100 years old.
As a result, he may not have been as alert to the situation as he could
B. Even with that
opposition building, it seems that Jacob was still uncertain, for things
were going well. And he was not the sort of person who liked to
travel, or the conflict that leaving could bring.
C. God resolves that matter by appearing to Jacob, telling him to go to the home of his fathers.
- God reminds Jacob of the covenant made with his fathers and promises him His presence. There is perhaps an implicit warning that He will not be with Jacob if he remains where he is.
he meets them together. It seems that Leah, who has borne six
children, has a higher status in his eyes than she had before.
2. His first
argument is, accurately, that he has worked hard for their father and
has done well. However, even here, while he accurately describes
Laban's deception, he leaves out his own.
1. The two women
respond together, which may indicate that the rivalry has lessened,
possibly because they each have children and at least some of Jacob's
2. They are apparently
(and understandably) resentful that their father used their wedding
as a means of gaining wealth, without any apparent concern for them.
It does not appear that any of the other characters has realized this
III. Jacob's flight turns out very differently than expected as Laban pursues them and a side plot develops over the theft of Laban's idols by Rachel.
1. Jacob, perhaps
correctly, believes that Laban will try to stop him if he leaves, or
at least try to keep the flocks and the women and children.
2. However, Jacob
completely overestimates the difficulty that Laban will have in finding
him, and so sets off with an inadequate lead time. His continual
efforts at evading conflict finally fail. But that failure will
lead to a good result, as he apparently begins to speak with people
more directly, first Laban and then Esau.
B. The text subtly indicates a colossal problem developing by noting, almost in passing, that Rachel stole Laban's household gods.
1. It appears likely that she had an attachment to those gods; she has not left her pagan ways behind.
- She also
may have been trying to prevent Laban from using them for divination
to find out where the group had fled.
2. Some commentators
have proposed that she wanted to get rid of the idolatry in her family
by taking the gods. However, she does not show much other concern
for her family. And, if getting rid of the idols was the main
concern, it would seem that she would have cast them aside at some point.
3. The entire
event indicates two problems. First, idols are now being smuggled
into the family. Idolatry would ever be a problem for the Chosen
People. Second, the fact that Jacob does not realize or even imagine
that Rachel has stolen the idols indicates that, even after 20 years,
he does not know her that well. It seems that his love has been
4. Leah, the second-tier wife, comes off again as a better match that the loved one.
C. After three days, Laban begins pursuing Jacob, and catches him three days later, but things still turn out well.
Laban is angry at the trickery of Jacob, and his wives, leaving without
2. Laban, without
the burden of great flocks or a large family, can travel much faster.
He also knows the land and the people well enough that he can find out
where Jacob is going.
3. However, God
intervenes to warn Laban against harm. The actual words are that
Laban "should not speak to Jacob of good or evil." That apparently
means that Laban should not try to get Jacob to return either by threats
4. It is not clear what Laban intended to do, or even if Laban himself had a settled plan. But here, despite all of Jacob's follies, God is still looking out for him.
- It is also
not clear what Laban thought when the true God spoke to him, for Laban
was plainly a pagan, with many gods.
D. Laban then scolds Jacob for leaving so abruptly and for the theft of the idols, combining righteous anger and perhaps some exaggeration.
1. Laban rightfully
condemns the deceit and the lack of an opportunity for a farewell.
He also says (perhaps with some disingenuity) that he would have generously
let his daughters go.
E. Seizing on the last point, and believing (entirely erroneously) that the accusation of theft is false, Jacob takes the offensive.
1. Jacob says
(probably accurately) that he was afraid of Laban's response if he
told Laban of his departure. He may be hinting at Laban's insincerity.
- The speech is still a little insincere because it does not refer to the fact that Jacob used deceit as well as Laban. But Jacob is at last dealing with Laban directly and emphasizing his relationship with God, an important advancement for one who is becoming a patriarch.