Hidden idols

After giving a three-day head start, a servant broke the news to Laban that Jacob and his caravan had gone. Laban enlisted some of his close family members to help him give chase. After seven days, they caught up with them in the hills of Gilead.

The night before he was to confront Jacob, God visited Laban in a dream.

“Don’t speak good or evil to Jacob,” God said.

In the morning, Laban caught up with Jacob and his camp and said, “Why’d you steal my daughters as if they were spoils of war? Why’d you sneak away behind my back? I would have thrown you a ‘going away’ party with music and dancing. You didn’t even let me say goodbye to my daughters and sons. I came to take back what is mine and teach you a lesson you’d not soon forget, but the God of Isaac told me not to speak good or evil to you. Why’d you leave like that?”

“I was afraid,” Jacob answered. “I thought you’d keep your daughters from me, using violence if necessary.”

“That’s understandable,” Laban said. “But regardless of how badly you’re ready to go home, why’d you steal my gods?”

Jacob scratched his head. “You’re mistaken. If anyone stole anything of yours, I’ll have them put to death.”

Jacob took a couple of steps back and raised his voice so that the entire camp could hear. “In view of all these witnesses, show me what I have that belongs to you.”

Laban began a search through Jacob’s camp. He went first into Leah’s tent, turning over pillows and blankets, rummaging through baskets and satchels. Finding nothing, he searched the tents of the maids and other servants.

“Excuse me,” Laban said, as he entered Rachel’s tent.

Rachel was sitting on the saddle where the stolen gods were hidden. Laban searched the tent from top to bottom but to no avail.

Rachel said, “Forgive me for not getting up, Dad. It’s that time of the month.”

Laban left her tent and was confronted by Jacob.

“Tell me what I’ve done wrong,” Jacob scolded. “Give me some justification for coming out here to give me more trouble. You’ve searched my camp and have come up empty.”

Laban stood speechless before a livid Jacob, who continued his tirade.

“For twenty years I have served you. Your flocks and herds never miscarried. I’ve never eaten your rams. Whenever one of yours was torn to shreds by a wild animal, I took the loss from my stock. I slaved through heat and cold and sleepless nights for twenty long years, fourteen years for your daughters and six years for your livestock, and at every turn you changed the condition of payment. If God hadn’t been with me, I’d have lost everything by now. I’d take last night’s rebuke from God to heart if I were you.”

Inspiration: Genesis 31

Deceptive departure

Laban’s sons moaned incessantly about Jacob gradually taking all their dad’s property and becoming unreasonably wealthy. Jacob overheard them talking and realized why the sudden change in Laban’s usual behavior toward him.

Jacob spent time meditating on what he should do, when God showed up. “Enough of this now,” God said. “Go back to your kin, and I’ll be with you as always.”

Jacob called his wives out to the field where he was watching the flocks and said, “You both know I’ve given your dad the best years of my life. He’s tried to embezzle wages from me ten times, but the God of my dad has kept that from happening. If your dad said he’d give me the spotted sheep in the fold, every flock would bear spotted sheep. If he promised me the striped, then suddenly striped sheep would come from the offspring. Little by little, this is how God has taken your dad’s livestock away, and now it’s become clear that I’ve overstayed my welcome.”

Rachel and Leah looked at each other. “Do we have any reason to stay?” Rachel asked.

“We’re considered strangers here, since we were sold.” Leah said.

“And what inheritance comes from a man who’s lost everything,” Rachel added.

Then they turned to Jacob and spoke in unison. “Do what God says.”

Rachel returned to the main house, and while her dad was shearing sheep in the outbuilding, she went through each room and stole Laban’s household gods and wrapped them in cloth.

Without telling Laban of his plans to return to his dad’s house, Jacob packed his bags and all his belongings. In the morning, he and his family rode out on camels for the land of Canaan. Unbeknownst to Jacob, Laban’s stolen property lined the underside of Rachel’s saddle, wrapped in cheesecloth.

Inspiration: Genesis 31

Growing family

Rachel seethed with envy over Leah and her children, but she lashed out at Jacob. “I’ll die if you don’t give me children,” she complained violently.

Jacob said, “What do you want me to do, play God?”

As a matter of fact, that might not be such a bad idea, she thought.

Rachel left Jacob’s tent and returned a few minutes later with her maid, Bilhah. “Sleep with Bilhah,” she said, nudging her maid closer to Jacob, “and let her carry my babies.” Jacob took Bilhah into his bed, and they had a son named Dan.

Rachel was overjoyed. “God has weighed everything and has answered in my favor.”

Then Bilhah had another son, and Rachel named him Naphtali.

Jacob’s nocturnal visits with Leah were few, but because her rivalry with Rachel was strong, Leah took a strategy from Rachel’s playbook and gave her maid Zilpah to Jacob as a surrogate. Zilpah had two sons for her, and Leah named them Gad and Asher.

During the wheat harvest, little Reuben was playing out in the field and came across a sweet-smelling bouquet of mandragora flowers. He plucked them carefully by the root and brought them to his mother.

When Rachel saw her sister’s flowers and caught their pleasant scent, and believing them to aid in fertility, she wanted some for her own house.

“Please give me some of your mandrakes,” she said.

But Leah, remembering her bitterness toward her rival sister, said, “You stole my husband and you have the gall to ask me for flowers my child presented to me as a gift?”

“Give me some,” Rachel bargained, “and I’ll give you Jacob for the night.”

“Deal,” Leah said, collecting a handful from the bowl by the door.

Jacob was returning from the herds late in the day, and Leah met him halfway. “You’ll be sleeping with me tonight,” she said. “I bought an evening with you in exchange for exquisite mandrakes.”

Jacob slept with Leah, and she bore two more sons, Issachar and Zebulun, and a daughter named Dinah.

God also answered Rachel’s prayers, and from her own womb she bore a son named Joseph. “Thanks to God, I’m no longer a disappointment.” Then, as if Joseph weren’t enough, she added, “May God give me another son!”

So all of the bickering among Jacob’s wives brought to fruition the entry point of God’s promise of countless descendants for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Inspiration: Genesis 30, Song of Solomon 7:13

Fourteen years

“Just because we’re family,” Laban told Jacob, “doesn’t mean you work for free. How shall I pay you?”

“Funny you should ask,” Jacob answered. Laban had two daughters, Leah and Rachel, and although Jacob was embarrassingly aware that he had come without a dowry, his heart belonged to Rachel.

Customarily, the eldest daughter would have been married off first. But in this case, the eldest’s eyes were somewhat zombie-like and unattractive, while Rachel’s sparkled. Rachel was a picture of beauty, grace, and radiance.

“I’ll work for you for seven years for Rachel’s hand in marriage,” Jacob said.

Laban agreed. That would surely give some other suitor ample time to come and take Leah. “It’s better for Rachel to be with you than any other man,” he said.

Jacob stayed with Laban’s household for seven years, watching over his flocks, herds, and lands. Because Jacob loved Rachel, it seemed only a few days had passed.

After completing his part of the promise, Jacob came to Laban to fetch his prize. “My time here is finished, as you know. I’m ready to make Rachel my wife.”

“Very well.” Laban invited everyone within the vicinity to celebrate at the wedding feast. After much dining, singing, and dancing on the first evening, the sun retired. Laban brought his daughter Leah to Jacob, and Jacob, being full of wine, went to bed with her.

In the morning, Jacob realized what had happened. He asked Laban, “Why did you do this to me? I became a seven-year servant for Rachel.”

“You know our custom,” Laban answered. “We give our firstborn to be married first.”

Laban had also become rich while Jacob managed his affairs, so he wasn’t in a hurry to be rid of him. “Finish this week of celebration, and I’ll give you Rachel as a wife also. The only condition is that you serve me for another seven years.”

So Jacob and Leah finished their week of celebration, and Rachel was presented to Jacob as well.

As Jacob began his second stretch of indenture, God saw that Leah was unloved. He therefore gave Leah the ability to become pregnant, while Rachel suffered barrenness. Leah had four sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah.

After Judah, Jacob’s visits became infrequent.

Inspiration: Genesis 29

Jacob’s love

Jacob continued traveling east until he came to a field where three flocks of sheep were resting by a well. Jacob asked the shepherds, “Where are you from, brothers?”

“We’re from Haran,” one of the shepherds offered.

“Do you know Laban?” Jacob asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“Look,” another shepherd pointed further east. “Here comes his daughter with Laban’s sheep.”

Jacob saw a girl approaching in the distance with a flock. He looked around at all the sheep lying around. “Why aren’t these sheep out grazing? It’s not even near nightfall. Water them quickly and get them to pasture.”

“Can’t be done,” the first shepherd said. “The stone covering the mouth of the well is too heavy. We need all the shepherds together to move it. Only then can we water the sheep.”

When Laban’s daughter Rachel was close enough for Jacob to see her beauty, he took hold of the huge boulder with both arms and rolled it away from the mouth of the well. He watered Laban’s sheep, gave Rachel a kiss, and cried in front of everyone.

“I’m your Aunt Rebekah’s son,” he said.

Rachel ran home to tell her father, and Laban ran back to meet him. They embraced, and Laban welcomed Jacob into his home.

Jacob told Laban all that had transpired over the last several days, and Laban answered, “We’re related by blood.” He thought back to a time when a servant of Jacob’s father came with riches for the hand of his sister Rebekah.

Jacob stayed with Laban for a month.

Inspiration: Genesis 29