Thoughts from the Sukkah 2016 Edition — Day 5

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4


Jacob had stolen the blessing from his father and then fled to escape his twin brother Esau’s plan to kill him. He was sent by his mother to her brother Laban’s home to find a bride. Upon arrival he met Rachel and he agreed to work 7 years for his uncle in order to get permission to marry her. When the wedding week arrived, Laban tricked Jacob by getting him drunk and sending in to him his older daughter Leah. Jacob demanded to know why he had done that and Laban insisted the older daughter must marry first, but offered to let him marry Rachel the following week in exchange for 7 more years of labor. While he labored in the field his wives Leah, her handmaiden Zilpah, and Rachel’s handmaiden Bilhah were laboring in their tents producing 10 sons and 1 daughter for Jacob. Rachel, the wife he loved most, did not have any children until she finally gave birth to a son, Joseph.

After all of these children were born and the commitment to Laban for the total of 14 years labor was completed Jacob went to him to announce his intention to leave and return to his family.

Keep in mind

Jacob and Laban were living in an honor culture. This is a very strange thing to those who were raised their entire lives in a Western culture. I don’t yet understand all of the nuances in a way that I can explain them but I will do my best to point out some of the things that I see in the dialogues. Please also keep in mind that when Jacob left for Uncle Laban’s he made a deal with God that if God would keep all of his promises to bless him on behalf of his father and grandfather, then he would be his God too. What comes next involves strange practices that are more pagan than Hebrew and I believe it’s important to keep in mind where, when and who the people in this story are.

Please don’t go

Jacob went to Laban and sought his blessing to leave. He had the right to simply go but he was honoring Laban’s role as an elder, his father in law, his uncle, and his employer. He pointed out how rich he had made Laban and all he had done for him, and the fact that his contract for service was completed.

Laban responded by acknowledging how much he had been blessed financially because of Jacob’s hard work — he even admitted that through divination he understood that Jacob’s presence was the reason for his being blessed.

Laban asked Jacob to tell him what he would need to be paid to make staying worth it for him.

Jacob knew this man. Jacob hdd been tricked in the ultimate deception by this man. Jacob was not going to be caught off guard again.

Jacob reminded him of what his flocks were before he arrived and began working, and how much he had grown them. He reminded Laban that he did all of this for him and asked when it would be his turn to build something for himself and his household.

Laban asked what Jacob wanted him to give him and Jacob responded that he wanted nothing given to him. He only asked for one thing. Jacob would continue pasturing and guarding Laban’s flocks but first he would pass through the flocks and take for himself every speckled or spotted lamb, every brownish lamb, and every spotted or speckled goat. These sheep and goats would become Jacob’s wage. He even put his reputation and integrity on the line by saying that if he was found with any unspeckled or unspotted sheep or goats in his possession they would be acknowledged as stolen.

Laban agreed but added the statement, “If only it will be as you say.” He was no doubt looking for the catch, the trap.

Then Laban went about his own trickery. He went through the field before Jacob could and removed every ringed and spotted male goat and sheep and every speckled and spotted goat or sheep, and every goat or sheep that contained white or was brownish, and entrusted them to his own sons. After removing these animals from the genetic pool he put three days journey between them and Jacob. He left Jacob in charge of the rest of his flock.

Jacob gathered together fresh rods of poplar, hazel and chestnut. He peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the rods, and set them up in the watering receptacles where the flocks drank, facing them so they would become stimulated when they were drinking. When that happened they gave birth to sheep and goats that were ringed, spotted, and speckled and Jacob took those out from the flock and kept them for his own. He did not let his own sheep and goats mingle with Laban’s flocks.

Every early mating season Jacob would place the rods in the drinking troughs and the sheep and goats would produce kids that were ringed, spotted and speckled and he would take them for his own flocks. During the late mating season he would not do this and those kids would go to Laban.

Through this Jacob became “exceedingly prosperous” and he attained large flocks, maidservants and servants, camels and donkeys.

It’s time

Laban’s sons were watching their brother in law grow wealthy beyond belief and began to cry that he had taken all that belonged to Laban. Jacob heard about this and also noticed that Laban was no longer acting as a friend and was not positive toward him as he had once been.

At this point Adonai made it clear to Jacob that it was time to return to the land of his fathers and ensured Jacob that he would be with him.

Jacob gathers his wives

This time Jacob sent for Rachel and Leah to come to the field where he was with his flock. He told them that he had noticed their father’s change in how he treated him. He told them that Laban was not on his side, but the God of his father was with him. (note he does not say ‘my God’ at this point).

Jacob reminded his wives how hard he has worked, holding nothing back, in the service of their father. He also reminded them that Laban had mocked him and changed his wage 100 times, always seeking to keep them reliant on him. And yet God did not permit Laban to harm Jacob. If Laban said, “speckled ones shall be your wage,” then the entire flock would have speckled ones. If Laban said, spotted ones shall be your wage,” then the entire flock would have spotted ones. God did not allow Laban to succeed and over time transferred Laban’s livestock over to Jacob.

Jacob told his wives of a vision he had during mating season one year. He raised his eyes and saw in a dream

Behold! The he-goats that mounted the flock were ringed, speckled, and checkered. And an angel of God said to me in a dream, ‘Jacob!’ And I said, ‘Here I am.’ And he said, ‘Raise your eyes, if you please, and see that all the he-goats mounting the flocks are ringed, speckled and checkered, for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. I am the God of Beth-el where you anointed a pillar and where you made Me a vow. Now–arise, leave this land and return to your native land.’



When God spoke to him he reminded him of the vow he had made while also reminding him that God had kept his part of the bargain. God had protected him, prospered him, and was now calling him to return to the Land of his fathers.

His wives reaction

Jacob’s wives have lived through and seen all that their father has done to them over the years. They also see what God has done. They respond to him

Have we then still a share and an inheritance in our father’s house? are we not considered by him as strangers? for he has sold us and even totally consumed our money! But, all the wealth that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children; so now, whatever God has said to you, do.

so Jacob rose, put his children and wives on camels, and left with them, his flocks, his wealth and everything he had earned or purchased while in Paddan-aram. He set out to return to his father Isaac, to the land of Canaan.

A note

Before we move into the rest of the story I want to point out that this adventure began when Isaac wanted to bless Esau before he died. When Jacob tricked his father and took the blessing Esau declared that he would wait until he was finished mourning his father’s death before he killed Jacob in revenge for what he had done. Jewish Tradition teaches that Jacob was away from his parents for 36 years, and according to this story he was gone at least 20, and yet Isaac is still alive.

Laban learns they have left

Before they left, Laban had gone out to shear sheep and Rachel stole the idols that belonged to her father. These may have been the idols who informed him through divination that Jacob’s presence was why God was blessing him. Various commentary try to argue that Rachel stole the idols because she wanted to prevent Laban from worshipping them. I am not convinced.

We know that at this point Jacob did not have a personal relationship with God. He has been blessed because of God’s covenant with his father and grandfather. We also know that Rachel represented the earthly passions and love of Jacob, and gave birth to the earthly savior of their people, Joseph. I would suggest it is very likely that Rachel was still incorporating worship of the idols into her life. At the very least, she may have considered them powerful enough to not want her father using them to find out where they were or being enabled by them to trick them into returning. I suggest this because the details of the theft are partnered with the declaration that Jacob deceived Laban by not telling him they were leaving. Jacob did not just leave, he fled.

Three days into their journey Laban learned they had left. He took family with him and pursued Jacob for seven days before he caught up with them on Mount Gilead. God visited Laban in a dream and told him to be careful when he spoke with Jacob and not to go at him with good or bad. Laban caught up to them on the mountain where Jacob had pitched his tent, and Laban set up guards nearby.

Laban confronted Jacob

What have you done that you have deceived me and led my daughters away like captives of the sword? Why have you fled so stealthily, and cheated me? Nor did you tell me — for I would have sent you off with with gladness, with songs, with timbrel, and with lyre! And you did not even allow me to kiss my sons and daughters; now you have acted foolishly. It is in my power to do you all harm; but the God of your father addressed me last night, saying, ‘Beware of speaking with Jacob either good or bad.’ Now–you have left because you longed greatly for your father’s house; but why did you steal my gods?

Jacob and Laban resolve their differences

Jacob answered Laban very honestly and confessed that he fled because he was afraid that Laban would steal his daughters from him. But Jacob has not stolen anything from him. Trickery, sure. Deception, for the sake of his family, absolutely. Thievery, there is no history of stealing and he isn’t going to be accused now.

Jacob tells Laban to look for his gods and if he finds them with someone that person will die. The text is quick to tell us that Jacob did not realize they were with Rachel.

Laban began his search. He looked in Jacob’s tent, Leah’s, that of the two maidservants, and eventually Rachel’s. Rachel had put the gods into the camel’s packsaddle and sat on them. Her father searched her tent and when he had found nothing she spoke up and apologized for not getting up to show him honor. She told him that she was menstruating and he didn’t question her. He also didn’t look underneath her. He didn’t find his idols.

At this point Jacob’s angered flared. He called out Laban for all of his treachery. He reminded him of the 20 years he was with him. Fourteen of them he was with Laban in order to have his wives, and 6 that he worked for his sheep, and during all of that time the goats never miscarried and he never ate any of Laban’s flock. He did not give Laban mangled animals, he would bear the loss personally. As for the quality of life he endured, he was in the scorching heat all day long and the frost at night. He didn’t get a decent night’s sleep while he was there! (On this I will point out that the shepherds only stayed with the flocks at night if it was lambing season and they were giving birth, otherwise the reasons for his not getting a decent night’s sleep are likely more familial but even that was because of Laban’s deceptions).

Jacob reminded Laban that he had changed Jacob’s wages 100 times and if it wasn’t for God defending him Jacob knows that Laban would have sent him away empty handed a long time ago. Jacob pointed out that in the case between Laban and Jacob it was Laban God had warned in a vision the night before.

Laban’s arrogance was still great. He told Jacob

The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children and the flock is my flock, and all that you see is mine.

Laban then pretends that it is for the sake of his daughters and children that he won’t continue fighting for his rights. Instead of fighting Jacob, who Laban knew had God’s favor, Laban suggested a covenant between them.

Jacob took a stone and created a monument. He had his sons gather stones as well and they created a mound. Laban called the monument Jegar-sahadutha, and Jacob called it Galeed. They both mean the same, but Jacob used Hebrew while Laban used Aramaic. Both names mean, “The mound is a witness.”

The terms of the covenant

The agreement that they made at the mound is this

May Adonai keep watch between me and you when we are out of each other’s sight. If you will ill-treat my daughters or if you will marry wives in addition to my daughters — though no man may be among us–but see! God is a witness between me and you. Here is this mound, and here is the monument which I have cast between me and you. This mound shall be witness and the monument shall be witness that I may not cross over to you past this mound, nor may you cross over to me past this mound and this monument for evil. May the God of Abraham and the god of Nachor judge between us — the god of their father.

They prepared and ate on the mound and sharing a meal with Laban and his men signified the mutual acceptance of the terms of the covenant.

In the morning Laban awoke early, kissed his sons and his daughters and blessed them. Then Laban returned home.

Jacob continued toward home and angels of God encountered him. When he saw them Jacob declared the place a Godly camp and called the place Mahanaim.

Tomorrow we will continue with Jacob on his journey home and explore Jacob’s experience wrestling.

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