Jacob stayed with his mother’s brother, Laban, for twenty years. During this time, he worked out an agreement with his father-in-law to keep for himself all the spotted, speckled and striped animals from Laban’s flocks. Jacob was an experienced shepherd, and he soon had large flocks of his own. And Laban’s sons were not pleased.
“So the man became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks and female and male servants and camels and donkeys. Now Jacob heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, ‘Jacob has taken away all that was our father’s, and from what belonged to our father he has made all this wealth.’ And Jacob saw the attitude of Laban, and behold, it was not friendly toward him as formerly. Then the LORD said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.’ … And Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean, by not telling him that he was fleeing. So he fled with all that he had;” ~Genesis 30:43-31:3, 20-21a
In-law relationships are tricky under the best of circumstances. And here we see brothers-in-law who were jealous and resentful, a father-in-law who had not dealt honestly with his son-in-law (“your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times”, 31:7) and a son-in-law who did not want to talk directly to his father-in-law so instead ran away.
It sounds like a lot of families today. Jealousy, resentment, deceit, fear, backhandedness. I don’t want to have to hear what you think of me or how I have messed up and wronged you, but I would rather have that conversation than hear the rumors and ugly comments swirling around about me, and feel the knife in my back. Ouch.
Laban came in hot pursuit of Jacob and caught up to him. You cannot travel very quickly with multiple wives, eleven sons, and large flocks of animals!
“Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘What have you done by deceiving me and carrying away my daughters like captives of the sword? Why did you flee secretly and deceive me, and did not tell me, so that I might have sent you away with joy and with songs, with timbrel and with lyre; and did not allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters? Now you have done foolishly. It is in my power to do you harm, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful not to speak either good or bad to Jacob.”” ~Genesis 31:26-29
There are several things that stood out to me in Laban’s words. First of all, he asked Jacob direct questions, no hemming or hawing or name-calling or poor me. He pointed out where Jacob had wronged him and asked him why. He expressed his anger and disappointment and hurt, then waited for Jacob to explain himself.
He then let Jacob know that he was very upset and could cause him much harm. And there was much, indeed, Laban could have done to him.
And lastly, God spoke to Laban. He came to him and warned him to be careful. God was watching out for Jacob, but also for Laban. If Laban had not wisely heeded the words of God, great harm could have come to him, for Jacob was God’s blessed one who would become the great nation of Israel.
A few bits of wisdom that I need to take away from all of this:
If I am wronged or hurt by someone, I need to either let it go, or go directly to the person, talk to them about it, and hear their side of things. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
I have the power to do much harm to others. My tongue is a wicked weapon.
I need to listen to God and heed His words and warnings. The consequences of disregarding His words are too costly and painful.
Final thoughts as a parent of adult children… Trust God with your children, love the ones they love, be there to offer guidance WHEN ASKED, let them go- they are their own people, and be there for them when they need you… especially when they need you to help them pick up the pieces and point the way to Jesus and His help.