Genesis 31: Jacob and Laban
Primary and Junior
Seven years for Leah and seven for Rachel. Jacob was with Laban twenty years in all. His work was to take care of Laban's great herds and flocks which fed in the broad pastures about Haran, being led at times a journey of some days away from home. What was Jacob's pay during the other six years? He was to keep all the speckled and spotted among the goats and all the black sheep as his own. He did so, and his own flocks grew very large. (See Gen. 32:13-15.) And Jacob now had many children. We often read about the twelve sons of Jacob; eleven of the twelve sons were born in the country of Haran. You may remember the names of some of them, which were afterward given to the twelve tribes. Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah were the oldest; Dan, Naphthali, Gad, and Asher were the next; and then Issachar and Zebulon. Joseph was the last son born in the Eastern country; he was the son of Rachel who was so dear to Jacob. Benjamin was born near Bethlehem after Jacob with his family came back to the land of Canaan.
After twenty years of service, Jacob left Laban to go back to the Holy Land. It was not a friendly parting. Laban was unwilling that Jacob should go. (Gen. 300: 2 5-28) Jacob went secretly. He called Leah and Rachel to him in the field and told them what he planned to do. They agreed to go. They rode on camels and crossed the river Euphrates and came down toward the land of Gilead, which is east of Jordan just across from the land of Canaan. They took with them the flocks and herds and all the goods that belonged to Jacob, and, besides, Rachel stole from her father's house, while he was away shearing his sheep, the teraphim or little idols that belonged to him. You remember that Abraham worshiped idols before the Lord called him to the land of Canaan (Josh. 24:2, and on), and those of the family who lived at Haran still had their idols.
Jacob had been gone three days before Laban knew it. He followed with others of his family and overtook them east of Jordan in the land of Gilead; but the Lord warned Laban in a dream that he should do no harm to Jacob. Jacob and Laban talked together, and they made a covenant of peace. They marked the place by a stone set up as a pillar, as Jacob had marked the place of his dream at Bethel, and by a heap of stones. They called the heap by names which mean "heap of witness"; and Jacob called it also Mizpah, "watch tower," saying, "The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another." They promised that they would never pass this place to do each other harm.
1. How long did Jacob live in Haran? What was his work there? What wealth did he gain in that country?
2. How many sons were born to Jacob in Haran? Which was the oldest son? Which was the youngest born in that land? Which was born in the land of Canaan?
3. Was Laban glad to have Jacob go? What did he do when he learned that he had gone?
4. Where did Laban overtake Jacob? What happened between them in that place? What promise did they make to each other? How did they mark the spot?
We have learned that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob represent the three planes of heavenly life, celestial, spiritual, and natural; or more simply, Abraham represents heavenly affection, Isaac heavenly intelligence, and Jacob life in which the spirit of heaven is brought down into practical deed. (A. 1025, 1409) This bringing down of heaven into the practical life of the world is especially represented by Jacob's journey to Haran, and by his long sojourn in that land. The riches and the family he gained there represent the development of character as one lives patiently in the world, meeting its trials and doing its work. (A. 3665)
A part of the gain in heavenly character through patient life in the world is represented by the speckled and spotted goats and the black sheep which Jacob kept for his own. Sheep and goats represent innocent affections, and if it had simply said that Jacob grew rich in these, the meaning would seem easy. But why did he take the speckled and spotted and black? The pure white among the flocks would seem to represent the best, and the mixed color suggests a mixture of what is false and evil. In fact there is always a mixture of what is false and evil in the goodness which we may acquire from life in the world. To acknowledge that the truth we gain is mixed with falsity, is to take the speckled and spotted goats; to confess that we have no real innocence of our own, but except for the Lord's mercy are wholly unworthy, is to choose the black sheep. To take the white would mean to claim that we are pure and innocent in our own strength. (A. 3993, 3994)
We have learned that Jacob represents the plane of natural life in which the spirit of heaven is worked out in practical deeds. His twelve sons represent successive developments of that life. Ought we to expect the best and most perfect developments to come first, or the more external and least perfect first and the more spiritual and heavenly afterwards? The less perfect come first, represented by Jacob's first-born sons, the children of Leah and the handmaids. The more perfect developments come later, represented by Joseph and Benjamin, the last-born sons, the children of Rachel whom Jacob dearly loved. The story connects the birth of Joseph with the return to the land of Canaan. (Gen. 30:25) This suggests that the birth of Joseph marks a point in development, when it is time to gather up all that has been gained from the world and to enter upon a life distinctly higher and more spiritual. (A. 3860-3862, 3973)
The story closes with the covenant of peace between Laban and Jacob. Jacob's return to the land of Canaan represents the entrance upon a higher and more spiritual stage of life. What then shall be the relation of this life to the external things of life in the world? The two should not be hostile but friendly; each has its right place, and each should be helpful to the other. The covenant between Jacob and Laban teaches also beautiful things about the Lord's relation to the simple external goodness of gentile people. (A. 4189, 4190)