Jacob Flees Laban, Part 1 (Genesis 31:1-21)


Jacob’s breeding program has made him very wealthy.  After 20 years he decides to go home.  So he has a family huddle with his two wives and then they all sneak away.  His uncle Laban finds out and chases them down.  Laban accuses Jacob of stealing his idols but after searching for them can’t find them.  Then Jacob turns on Laban and really gives it to him.  Jacob lays out all the ways that he has been a faithful worker for Laban and all the ways that Laban has cheated him over those 20 years.  The chapter ends with Laban and Jacob making a covenant together.  They pile up some stones and vow that they will not go past those stones to hurt each other.  

The chapter is FULL of theology and application.  Lets divide the chapter into 4 big sections:  1) Jacob Flees Laban, 2) Laban Catches Jacob, 3) Jacob Rebukes Laban, 4) The Covenant between Laban & Jacob.  We’ll use those headings to chop up these 55 verses.  


Follow along with me in the first 21 verses.  READ.

Why did Jacob sneak away from Laban?  Lots of reasons:  the relationship between him and Laban was deteriorating so before it got real bad he should probably go (1-2); God told him to leave – to pack up and head back to his father’s house (3); Jacob was probably sick of being cheated by Laban (7).  Fear was another reason – later in verse 31 Jacob said he was afraid that Laban would take his daughters away from him.  How many times have we seen “fear” is the cause of “deception” throughout Genesis?  Many times.  

Jacob’s plans to leave are confirmed by his wives Leah and Rachel.  It is clear they aren’t going to miss their father Laban.  Rachel brings up their alienation with Laban and how he treats them like foreigners.  She also points out Laban has spent all the money he was paid for his daughters and so they aren’t expecting any inheritance.  Bottom line:  Jacob’s wives are more than ready to leave.  

But then, on her way out, Rachel does something that sets in motion the events for the rest of the chapter:  she steals her father’s household gods (19).  Why she did is beyond me.  It doesn’t say in the text.  I really don’t think it was because she wanted to worship with them.  Maybe having possession of them meant, as some say, that she would have the rights of inheritance.  But she already pointed out that there was no inheritance.  My thought is more personal:  I think she may have wanted to spite her dad for squandering the money he got for selling her and Leah.  Maybe she felt like if she can’t have her inheritance she can have a little revenge, “Since you selfishly blew all my inheritance I’ll take your idols.  You took from me I’ll take from you.  You loved your gods more than you loved me and Leah, so I’ll take what you love.”  Who knows!  She may have even planned to sell them and get something from her dad if she didn’t plan on any inheritance.  Of course like father like daughter!  Laban was a trickster so what should he expect from his daughter?  It was both nature and nurture that led her to do unto her father what he had done to them.  

These were figurines that represented various gods that Laban relied on for blessings and finding out information.  Remember in the previous chapter, in 30:27, Laban told Jacob, “I have learned by DIVINATION that the LORD has blessed me because of you.”  By consulting his household gods Laban probably learned that the true and living God was the cause of all his prosperity BECAUSE Jacob was there.  That’s why Laban didn’t want to let Jacob go – as long as Jacob was there God would bless Laban’s household.  

APPLICATION:  Do you realize that if you are a faithful believer in Jesus Christ that people around you will be blessed by God too?  You see it here with Jacob, you see in his son Joseph’s life later on when Potiphar’s household is blessed because Joseph is there.  Is your workplace, your neighbors, your family blessed because in their midst is a faithful servant of the Lord Jesus Christ?

Back to Laban:  this guy is a scoundrel.  His deception of Jacob and swapping Leah in place of Rachel on his wedding night could be forgiven.  But he didn’t stop there.  As we’re seeing he’s not just a deceiver but an idolater with his household gods.  Furthermore, he is unethical, cheating Jacob out of fair wages 10 times (v7).  What is more he squandered the money that was supposed to be left to his daughters (14-16).  Despite his claims in the coming verses Laban didn’t really love his daughters.  Like Rachel said, “Does he not treat us like foreigners?”  Yes, because Laban loves Laban.  Laban is very foolish, selfish, deceptive and unprincipled.  

Let me bring us around to God in all this.  First is God’s eyes – he sees everything.  Notice verse 12, “…for I have SEEN all that Laban has been doing to you.”  God sees.  God saw Leah “When the Lord SAW that Leah was unloved….” (29:31).  Or Genesis 1:31, “God SAW all that he had made and it was very good.”  Its what Proverbs 15:3 says, “The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.”  That’s why I love what Jesus said to the church at Thyatira in Revelation 2, “These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like burning fire…” (18).   

God has eyes to see.  It means He is all-knowing, or omniscient.  There is nothing in all creation that is hidden from God.  He knows everything.  He knows the past, the present and the future.  He knows what is “hidden” in the dark just as though it were out in the light.  He knows what is in each of our hearts and each of our thoughts.  There is nothing God does not know.  He knows it all because He sees it all.  He sees suffering, which as we’ve seen with Hagar and Leah and now Jacob, “enables” him to show compassion.  You have to know in your suffering that God sees you.  Like Hagar you have to name God “Beer Lahai Roi” which means “The God Who Sees Me” (16:13)   

Second, God is just.  Because God sees it also means that He is just.   That means he pays back everyone according to what they have done.  God paid Laban back for what he had done.  

Laban knew God blessed him because of Jacob (30:27), yet the gall of Laban to cheat that same man of God.  How stupid do you have to be?  Think about it:  If you know the LORD is the one blessing you don’t you also know that the LORD can reverse that and curse you too?  Laban is not being blessed because God likes Laban.  It’s Jacob God likes.  So WHY would Laban cheat that man God likes so much?  Laban didn’t deserve gaining anything.  But he deserved losing everything.  What was the promise again?  “Those who bless you I will bless and those who curse you I will curse.” (12:3; 27:29)

And here’s the justice of God:  God gave everything he blessed Laban with to Jacob.    Just like Laban got rich at Jacob’s expense, now Jacob would get rich at Laban’s expense.  Jacob’s breeding program was enormously successful (30:43; 31:1, 16-18).  Which raises two interesting parallels between Jacob and his descendents the Israelites in Egypt.  First, is that Jacob grew a flock within a flock for himself.  Within Laban’s flock Jacob grew a large flock for himself.  Similarly, the Israelites would grow to be a nation within a nation while in Egypt.  

The other parallele is this:  After being cheated of his wages he ended up fleeing with great wealth.  Later, Jacob’s descendents would flee Egypt with great wealth after they were cheated as laborers too (Ex. 12:36).  

Third, there is the faithfulness of God.  He made Jacob a promise and he was keeping that promise.  Turn to 28:15….He promised Jacob at Bethel in a dream:  “I am with you and I will watch over you wherever you go.”  Jacob was assured by God that he would be protected.  It gave Jacob the same feeling of safety Abraham felt in 15 when God said, “Do not be afraid Abram I am your shield…”  

Now here’s what you have to think of:  God allowed Laban to cheat Jacob 10 times.  God allowed Laban to prosper greatly while Jacob was slugging it out in the fields – freezing at night, hot in the day, dirty, sweaty in the sun, wet in the rain, not building any savings, living hand to mouth, paying out of his own pocket for any losses in the flocks, all while getting cheated by his boss.  But God allowed Jacob to go through that injustice.  God permitted Jacob to suffer that mistreatment.  During that time do you think Jacob was like us and asked, “God, you said you would be with me and watch over me so WHY are you letting this happen to me?  Don’t you see what Laban is doing to me?  I don’t see how you are with me in this at all God.”  Do you think Jacob had moments like that?  It gets worse:  Jacob was the reason God blessed Laban.  God favored Jacob and was blessing Laban because of Jacob.  But Jacob certainly wasn’t being “blessed” the way Laban was.  If Jacob was the one “favored” by God there may have been moments when he really didn’t feel like it.  How much more did his situation sting knowing that Laban was blessed by God because of him but God wasn’t doing the same thing with Jacob?! 

APPLICATION #1:  Trust God’s justice in God’s time.  Jacob had to TRUST that God would bless him, that he was watching over him through it all, and that in GOD’S TIME God would repay him for everything he suffered.  Remember Laban mistreated him for years.  Jacob suffered for a long time. But God did indeed repay him.  Look at 30:43, “…..”  and look at 31:1, “…..” and 31:16, “……”  God is just.

APPLICATION #2:  God will not insulate us from injustice and suffering.  God did not prevent Jacob being mistreated and treated so unjustly.  And referring to Application #1 we too have to TRUST that God indeed brings justice to ALL wrongdoing and He does it in HIS TIME.  

APPLICATION #3:  Remain just when you are unjustly treated.  Let integrity be your rule when others act dishonestly toward you.  Notice how Jacob describes his own behavior while he was cheated by Laban all those years.  Look at verse 6…..and go back to 30:29-30….then go to 31:38-42….Even while Laban repeatedly cheated him Jacob did not mistreat Laban.  It reminds me of David refusing to harm King Saul even while King Saul was unjustly hunting David to kill him.  Jacob didn’t steal from Laban or hide losses from Laban or be lazy on the job for Laban and justify it because Laban was cheating him.  He maintained his integrity, worked hard, worked honestly and trusted God through it all.  That means Jacob trusted that God was FAITHFUL and indeed would see all the wrong he was suffering and pay him back for it.  And God did:  he paid Laban back for the wrong he did and he paid Jacob back for the good he did.  God is just and God is faithful.

APPLICATION #4:  Give God credit for everything.  Notice that Jacob credits God for his prosperity and the success of his breeding program with the goats and sheep.  Look at verse 5, “…but the God of my fathers has been with me.”  Jacob is speaking from a place of great prosperity, now able to look over the last 20 years of his life and see how God was with him and has now made him wealthy by Laban.  Look at verses 7-9, “….”  Whatever strategy for breeding the flocks Jacob concocted he knew that it only succeeded because God blessed it.  

We all have to get this rule down for ourselves:  God gets the credit for everything.  Proverbs 16:3 says, “Commit to the LORD whatever you do and he will establish your plans.”  Jacob didn’t succeed and then take all the credit like Nebuchadnezzar did (Dan 4:30).  Jacob knew way back then what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you have not received?”  Or what James said.  Turn to James 4:13-15 with me, “….”  The point is that everything we set out to do we must do with the recognition that it will only succeed if God blesses it.  And if it does succeed then we better make sure that God is credited for it!  

We have to move into Communion now…


A couple months ago the world’s dirtiest man died at 94 years old.  Uncle Haji had not bathed in over 60 years.  He believed it was not good for one’s health.  At 94 who could argue with him right?  I imagine a number of preteen and teenage boys are adding Uncle Haji to their hero list right now.  But before you do, young boys, keep in mind that he also smoked animal excrement, slept in a hole in the ground and ate roadkill.  He may have been 94 but he looked like he was 194 years old.  Anyway, for some reason he broke his 60 year streak and submitted to a bath a couple months ago.  Not long after he got sick and died, seemingly confirming his belief that baths were not good for one’s health.  

To look at Uncle Haji you would declare too:  “This is the dirtiest man in the world!”  While many would certainly bring him food or clothes or blankets or medicine, none of us would want to sit down for coffee with him, invite him over for the holidays or sit too close at church.  But Uncle Haji’s filth really gives us a picture of our spiritual condition, doesn’t it?  Before God, aren’t we all Uncle Haji’s?  The dirtiest people in the world – dirty with the world’s filth?  We’re all unclean with sin.

But unlike Uncle Haji, there is a bath that is good for our spiritual health.  It’s Jesus Christ.  He brings cleansing from all our sin and removes all the filth of our sin.  His bath doesn’t make you sick, it gives you life.  

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