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On Genesis, Part 42: A World Without Trust
Once Jacob had married both Leah and Rachel, and had twelve children born to him in Haran, he had wanted to leave there, but his father-in-law Laban had begged him to stay. So as the account goes in the later half of Genesis chapter 30, after Laban had admitted to Jacob that he himself had profitted greatly on account of his presence he had then asked him to remain. Upon answering him Jacob only agreed to remain under the condition that he could keep to himself certain of the cattle as payment in exchange for his labor. So Laban agreed, and perhaps he was only eager to accept the offer because Jacob’s demand for payment in the speckled, spotted, grisled and striped cattle of the flock must have seemed as if it would be even more profitable to him than to Jacob. However unbeknownst to Laban, Jacob had a dream, where the God of Bethel, the God of his fathers, had appeared to him, and while it is not stated explicitly, in that dream he must have been shown how to increase the ratio of such cattle exponentially among the kids of the flock, a claim which is established by Jacob’s subsequent actions.
Presenting that account, we had long digressions in order to present information from studies in a field called epigenetics. There, we sought to demonstrate how certain substances in the wood which Jacob had placed into the watering-troughs of the cattle could indeed cause certain genes which are otherwise latent to express themselves in the kids of the flock, and that is how Jacob’s dream was fulfilled. Not only would the cattle drink the water in which the wood had been soaked, but they would very likely eat of the bark and of the wood itself, as sheep and goats frequently do eat trees. This may seem like magic, and in earlier ages, before the advent of genetic science, it must have seemed that way, but now there is a simple and natural explanation which stands as a proof that the provenance of our Scriptures certainly is found in Yahweh our God. While it is certain that Jacob did not understand epigenetics, he did know to strip some of the bark from young saplings and place them in the watering troughs, and the knowledge of the operations of nature which is found in God had caused the desired effect.
This evokes the words of Solomon in Wisdom chapter 7, after our own translation: “16 For in His hand are both we and our words, also all understanding and skill in workmanship. 17 Indeed He has given to me a truthful knowledge of existing things, to know the composition of the order and the operation of the elements, 18 the beginning and end and mean of times, the alterations of revolutions and changes of seasons, 19 the circuits of years and settings of stars, 20 the natures of living creatures and the wrath of wild beasts, the strength of spirits and reasonings of men, the differences of plants and the powers of roots. 21 As many things as are both hidden and visible have I known, for Wisdom the artificer of all things has taught me.”
So Jacob profitted greatly on account of this knowledge, and Laban was diminished, and now, here in Genesis chapter 31, that had forced a divide between them. If Jacob had left Haran immediately, at the time when he first desired to leave, he would have left much poorer than he did. But Jacob stayed, until a point when, on account of the jealousy of the sons of Laban, who observed Jacob growing wealthier as their father’s profits were being diminished, Laban had evidently become disenchanted. So it seems that the same streak of greed which motivated Laban to persuade Jacob to stay, had later caused Laban to become discontented with Jacob and caused him to leave. In that it is evident that Laban had sought only to exploit Jacob, but when he realized that Jacob had exploited him in turn, the relationship had to come to an end. Such exploitation can only foster a world without trust. Ostensibly, one underlying result of the actions of Laban and his sons is that they had caused both them and their descendants to miss out on a tremendous opportunity, even if Jacob was destined to return to Canaan. In the end, families and nations cannot be founded upon mutual exploitation, but only upon mutual love and self-sacrifice.
Where we had left off in Genesis chapter 31, Jacob had explained his experience to his wives, Leah and Rachel, who had acknowledged the disagreeable motivations of their father, and who expressed their willingness to leave with him for Canaan, along with the sentiment that there was nothing for them in their father’s will. From the words which are attributed to them in that account earlier in Genesis chapter 31, it is apparent that they themselves had also come to distrust their father on account of his actions. So now Jacob moves to depart secretly, evidently so that he could ensure his wives, his cattle and his other property to himself without risking any attempt on Laban’s part to deprive him of anything that is rightfully his own. We can find no other motive for which Jacob had stolen away secretly, other than a lack of trust in Laban, as we are about to find where we commence from where we had left off in Genesis chapter 31.
There, after Jacob spoke to his wives, we read: “17 Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon camels; 18 And he carried away all his cattle, and all his goods which he had gotten, the cattle of his getting, which he had gotten in Padanaram, for to go to Isaac his father in the land of Canaan.” So we may assume that the next verse describes something which had transpired while Jacob was packing for the journey:
19 And Laban went to shear his sheep: and Rachel had stolen the images that were her father’s.
The Hebrew word translated as images here is תרפים or teraphim (8655), which is a plural form. This word appears three times in this chapter, and on twelve other occasions in Scripture, where it is often not even translated. There are the teraphim of the account of the false priest Micah, who set up his own cult among the sons of Dan at Laish, which is described in Judges chapters 17 and 18. Oddly, the word was translated as idolatry in 1 Samuel chapter 15. But in a context which is not describing anything idolatrous, this word was used to describe the so-called image which Michal the wife of David had set in his bed, in order to deceive her father Saul that David was present in the house. So from that event we may deduce that teraphim are images of people. In 2 Kings chapter 23, Ezekiel chapter 21 and Zechariah chapter 10, the word was used to describe the idols or images of false gods consulted by men, and finally, in Hosea chapter 3, it is one of the things of which the children of Israel in their time of punishment in captivity would be bereaved. So the word was generally used of idols, or of images depicting people and while they were often worshipped as gods, sometimes the word was used in a more innocent context of an image created for some other reason.
But of course, Laban will later admit that these images were his gods, where further on in this account it is revealed that Rachel had actually stolen her father’s household gods, which were much more to him than mere images, where in verse 30 Laban is recorded as having exclaimed to Jacob “yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods?” We have already frequently discussed the fact, as it is professed several times in Joshua chapter 24, that Abraham and his ancestors and kinsmen were all pagans, raised with all of the pagan superstitions of the greater society in which they had lived. So in spite of the fact that Laban and his father Bethuel may have acknowledged the God of Abraham and Jacob when they were in the presence of Jacob, or earlier, in the presence of Abraham’s servant, they still retained their own pagan beliefs, which is evident here. In the ancient world, it did not disturb the polytheistic pagans to do such a thing. In earlier presentations of this commentary on Genesis, we had cited treaties which belonged to the kings of the Hittites, Egyptians and others wherein they also had commonly invoked the gods of all of the surrounding nations.
So Rachel had surreptitiously absconded her father’s gods as Jacob packed to leave for Canaan, and now Jacob surreptitiously evacuates his family from Haran:
20 And Jacob stole away unawares to Laban the Syrian, in that he told him not that he fled. 21 So he fled with all that he had; and he rose up, and passed over the river, and set his face toward the mount Gilead.
Mount Gilead is in the area east of the river Jordan about eighteen miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee in the ancient land of Bashan, which fell by lot to the tribe of Manasseh, as it is recorded in Joshua chapter 17. It is about 110 miles north-northeast of Beersheba, and about 345 miles south-southwest of Haran. Of course, the journeys by land would be somewhat longer, but the actual distances are difficult to determine since we cannot always determine the route travelled, which may have been chosen for political rather than merely for geographical reasons. Perhaps the most significant geological obstacle on the journey would be the Euphrates River, which Jacob would have to cross with wives, children, servants, cattle, and all of the accompanying baggage. So it is noted in verse 21 that Jacob “passed over the river”, although we cannot be certain whether his caravan forded the river, or if there was actually a bridge to cross. There are archaeological claims for the remains of one bridge in southern Mesopotamia which date it to the 3rd millennium BC, which is at least several centuries before the time of Jacob. 
22 And it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob was fled. 23 And he took his brethren with him, and pursued after him seven days’ journey; and they overtook him in the mount Gilead.
So it is seven days’ journey for Laban and his brethren, who were all men and traveling much faster than Jacob could have traveled with cattle and a large family of women and children. Since Laban left after having been informed of Jacob’s departure on the third day, and most likely not until the morning after, then it had most likely taken ten days for Jacob to have travelled that same distance. This is close to what we had imagined earlier, discussing Jacob’s journey from Beersheba to Haran in Part 39 of this commentary, where traveling from Beersheba to Haran we stated that “even on camel it would take him as long as two weeks to reach his destination.” Here he would have several days left if he went on to Beersheba without any further interruption, since that last part of the journey is well over a hundred miles, so it would take him nearly two weeks to make the journey complete. But perhaps because he was alone when he went to Haran, he could have made the journey to Haran less time.
While it is not mentioned here, Laban must have already known that his household gods were missing, and for that reason he had pursued Jacob immediately, or otherwise perhaps he would not have even made the effort to pursue him at all. This is illustrated in the next verse, where it seems that Laban may have been a threat to Jacob for that very reason:
24 And God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said unto him, Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.
Just as Yahweh had intervened in a dream with Abimelech the king of Gerar on behalf of Abraham, and some decades later with another king Abimelech of Gerar on behalf of Isaac, here he intervened with Laban on behalf of Jacob. But this shows that both of the kings called Abimelech as well as Laban were all men who feared the judgment of a god, even if they did not know that Yahweh is God. Men can only know what God Himself chooses to reveal to them, so submission even to a god who is not completely known is still a sign of humility. However it is an awkward sort of humility, because evidently Laban, and perhaps either of the kings also, would have acted according to their own impulses if they had not perceived through dreams that there was a god to fear. In subsequent verses Laban himself would admit that assertion to be true. Men without a fear of God, or who are without a god to fear, cannot be trusted by others because they will act according to their own impulses. Godless men are led to believe that their own might makes right.
25 Then Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the mount: and Laban with his brethren pitched in the mount of Gilead. 26 And Laban said to Jacob, What hast thou done, that thou hast stolen away unawares to me, and carried away my daughters, as captives taken with the sword? 27 Wherefore didst thou flee away secretly, and steal away from me; and didst not tell me, that I might have sent thee away with mirth, and with songs, with tabret, and with harp? 28 And hast not suffered me to kiss my sons and my daughters? thou hast now done foolishly in so doing.
We must remember that Jacob was the son of Laban’s sister Rebekah, as well as having become his son-in-law, but Laban seems to have always been gaslighting Jacob, as he pretends to be hurt here. He had already given his daughters to Jacob in exchange for years of his labor, so Jacob could not have stolen them, as they were now his wives. Then, at the same time, Laban had taken advantage of Jacob for twenty years, and he never seems to have shown Jacob or his own daughters any of the affection which he claims to have missed here. When Jacob spoke to his wives about leaving Laban, as it is described earlier in this chapter, it is they who must have felt deprived of their father’s affection, where they are portrayed as having exclaimed “15 Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath quite devoured also our money.”
So whether or not the daughters of Laban had actually loved Jacob, their father did indeed sell them to Jacob at the price of his labor. So once again, this is an example of the circumstances created when a house is built on exploitation rather than love and self-sacrifice. It is Laban, on account of his own greed and willingness to exploit his own family, who had sown the seeds of distrust not only in Jacob, but also in his own daughters.
Where Laban continues to address Jacob, he mentions the warning which he received:
29 It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt: but the God of your father spake unto me yesternight, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.
Evidently Laban was confident that he and the brethren whom he had brought with him were strong enough to overcome Jacob and his servants, in spite of his own advanced age. But here he testifies against himself for a second time, because he professes to restrain himself for no other reason than fear of the God of Jacob. As we noted concerning polytheistic pagans, it is not extraordinary for them to imagine that one man could have a different god than another, so here Laban referred to the god of his dream as the god of Isaac, and here he expressed having acquiesced to the will of that god, but evidently he does not acknowledge him as his own god.
So now it is evident that on at least two significant occasions, Laban has attested to the efficacy of the God of Jacob and his fathers. First, when Jacob had initially sought to leave Haran, as it is recorded in Genesis chapter 30, we read his response: “ 27 And Laban said unto him, I pray thee, if I have found favour in thine eyes, tarry: for I have learned by experience that the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake.” Now here Laban has attested that he would not hurt Jacob on account of that same God, and earlier he had attested that he himself had been blessed by that God on account of Jacob. In his young life, along with his father Bethuel he had agreed with the servant of Abraham that he may take Rebekah as a wife for Isaac, on account of what the servant had told him concerning the God of Abraham, who was also that same God as that of Isaac and Jacob. But Laban had evidently never gave any thought to the fact that perhaps he should also recognize and seek to worship that same God.
So perhaps Laban, a name which means white, may be used as a type for the modern White Nationalist, who may speak of a god but who refuses to recognize Yahweh as God, even when he can clearly see the resulting blessings for himself. Therefore he also follows his own impulses, his own sense of right and wrong, only making exceptions when his superstitions lead him to believe that he may be punished for his actions. According to his own words, Laban did not harm Jacob for that reason alone, that he was afraid that if he did, he may be punished in turn. If he did not fear punishment, which his own superstitions led him to fear, he may have left Jacob for dead and taken everything he had back to Haran. There is indeed a distinction between a piety based on fear, and a piety grounded in love. Without recognizing and loving God, men shall forever live in a world without trust.
Now Laban makes an accusation of which Jacob had honestly known nothing, in reference to at least certain of his own gods:
30 And now, though thou wouldest needs be gone, because thou sore longedst after thy father’s house, yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods?
Here Laban projected onto Jacob the sentiment that he had left him only because he longed for his father’s house, but that is not true. As we shall see when Jacob answers, he left because Laban had constantly cheated and exploited him. So Laban seems to even lie to himself, because he evidently could not imagine any fault on his own part. Therefore Laban cried about not being able to say goodbye to his daughters and grandchildren, but this is indeed the only authentic reason why he pursued Jacob to Gilead, that his gods had been stolen. We had discussed the nature of these gods in large part in our presentation on The Call of Abraham in Genesis chapter 12 earlier in this commentary, speaking of Abraham’s life as a pagan, or at least, as a cultural pagan if not a proactive one, however now we are compelled to discuss the subject again here.
The possession of these idols was so important to Laban that he raised a party from among his brethren and pursued Jacob through Syria and into Canaan for a week in an effort to recover them. So these were not mere statuettes or some other trinkets of nominal value which could be easily replaced. They were images of his gods, perhaps deified versions of his own ancestors, if the custom was similar to that of the later Romans, whom he imagined to have kept secure his house and his goods. Laban must have had great faith in these gods, so as to compel him to make such an effort to regain them.
Here, once it became evident that Laban would not be able to find them, before he was compelled to return without them, he had asked Jacob to make an oath never to come north in order to harm him, and Jacob agreed. Then once the two parted ways, the idols which Rachel had stolen, the gods of her father, are no longer mentioned in Scripture. However in the course of that event, as it is described in verse 32 of the chapter, when Jacob had spoken to Laban, Rachel’s father, he had made another oath, where he said “With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live…” A short time later, as it is recorded in Genesis chapter 35, Rachel died prematurely after giving birth to her second child, Benjamin. So Rachel’s having stolen her father’s gods actually precipitated her own death at the hands of a vow which was unwittingly made by her own husband, who loved her, and evidently Jacob may never have even realized the association of the several events. [When I first presented this information I made the mistake of attributing the curse to Laban, but it is Jacob who had uttered it, as we shall see in subsequent verses here.]
Some centuries later, the pagan Romans had household gods, unique to every household, which were called lares and penates, and which guarded over different aspects of each household, and also over wider communities and even cities. The lares were the spirits of dead ancestors, and the household had a shrine dedicated to the lares, called a lararium, in which the penates were also stationed. In this shrine, the lares were represented by images and even dressed in togas, where daily and special sacrifices were made and prayers were offered. But it is not evident from Roman literature whether possession of the lares or penates had any role in inheritance, which is a custom that is found elsewhere in Mesopotamia, and evidently also here in the case of Laban.
In an Akkadian legal document associated with the ancient city of Nuzi in northeastern Mesopotamia, we read the following, in part: “(2) Sale-Adoption: The tablet of adoption belonging to Nashwi, the son of Ar-shenni: he adopted Wullu, the son of Puhi-shenni. As long as Nashwi is alive, Wullu shall provide food and clothing; when Nashwi dies, Wullu shall become the heir. If Nashwi has a son of his own, he shall divide (the estate) equally with Wullu, but the son of Nashwi shall take the gods of Nashwi. However, if Nashwi does not have a son of his own, then Wullu shall take the gods of Nashwi. Furthermore, he gave his daughter Nuhuya in marriage to Wullu, and if Wullu takes another wife he shall forfeit the lands and buildings of Nashwi. Whoever defaults shall make compensation with 1 mina of silver and 1 mina of gold.”
In a footnote for that passage we read the following: “Possession of the household gods marked a person as the legitimate heir, which explains Laban's anxiety in Genesis 31:26 ff. to recover his household gods from Jacob. It is to be noted too that Laban binds Jacob in verse 50 to marry no other wives besides his daughters, just as Wullu is bound in our text.” 
With this we must agree, as it is evident that this is why Laban had such great concern and alarm in his endeavor to find his gods, and why he had asked Jacob to make the oath which is recorded later in this chapter. Of course, Rachel must have also known these things, and she evidently took her father’s gods because she felt shortchanged by him when he sold her into marriage with Jacob, and then exploited Jacob, which was expressed in the words attributed to Leah and Rachel in Genesis chapter 31 where they asked “Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father's house?” While Rachel would bear the responsibility for her own actions, which would ultimately amount to her having lost her own life rather prematurely, her father’s exploitation of his own kin had led to a complete lack of trust within his house. So she sought to steal the inheritance, of which she had justly expected to be deprived.
Now Jacob responds to the charges of Laban:
31 And Jacob answered and said to Laban, Because I was afraid: for I said, Peradventure thou wouldest take by force thy daughters from me.
The relationship of mutual exploitation which Jacob and Laban had, and which Laban had initiated over a period of many years, had evidently precluded any trusting relationship which the two men should have had with one another. So aside from Rachel and Leah, Jacob was also highly distrustful of Laban, and he expresses it here. But now Jacob makes a vow which, unwittingly, would cost him his own beloved wife:
32 With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live: before our brethren discern thou what is thine with me, and take it to thee. For Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them.
Here Jacob had unknowingly condemned his own wife. In spite of the fact that Laban did not find his gods, Jacob nevertheless expressed the opinion that whoever had stolen them was worthy of death, and his words would not fall to the ground even if he himself may not have ever realized their fulfillment. It is quite plausible that Rachel had never told Jacob what she had done.
33 And Laban went into Jacob’s tent, and into Leah’s tent, and into the two maidservants’ tents; but he found them not. Then went he out of Leah’s tent, and entered into Rachel’s tent. 34 Now Rachel had taken the images, and put them in the camel’s furniture, and sat upon them. And Laban searched all the tent, but found them not.
The Hebrew word which is oddly translated as furniture here is כר or kar (3733), a term which is literally a lamb or a ram but which evidently had a wider range of figurative meanings. Both Strong’s and Gesenius give different but tenuous explanations here as to why it refers to the saddle of a camel, and Brown, Driver and Briggs also define it in that manner although they refrain from offering any explanation. Disagreeing with both Strong and Gesenius, we may imagine that it is named so because it was made out of the skins of such animals, and therefore the term was used in the manner that we would use terms such as leather, hide or rawhide today.
Now Rachel speaks to her father:
35 And she said to her father, Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise up before thee; for the custom of women is upon me. And he searched, but found not the images.
Of course, the “custom of women” is a reference to that time of month in which a woman is considered to be unclean, and it is apparent that Rachel may not have been truthful in this instance, using it as an excuse so that she could hide what she had stolen from her father. Now Jacob expresses dissatisfaction with Laban’s having treated his family as criminals:
36 And Jacob was wroth, and chode with Laban: and Jacob answered and said to Laban, What is my trespass? what is my sin, that thou hast so hotly pursued after me?
Since Jacob was raised in a manner in which he was isolated from Mesopotamian society, as was also Isaac his father, perhaps he did not understand the custom and significance of the household gods of Laban, or why it was so important for Laban to have them back. So he protests Laban’s search of his belongings:
37 Whereas thou hast searched all my stuff, what hast thou found of all thy household stuff? set it here before my brethren and thy brethren, that they may judge betwixt us both.
It is interesting to see the word stuff used in Scripture, since it seems so informal as to nearly be vulgar. But the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the term primarily as “materials, supplies, or equipment used in various activities” . Likewise, the Hebrew word כלי or keliy (# 3627) is defined by Strong's as “something prepared, i.e. any apparatus (as an implement, utensil, dress, vessel or weapon)”. The word stuff actually appears in the King James Version in twelve other verses. Here in this verse, in the New American Standard Bible, the word is translated as goods.
Of course, Laban had found nothing, but now Jacob takes the opportunity to finally tell Laban of his injustices:
38 This twenty years have I been with thee; thy ewes and thy she goats have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flock have I not eaten. 39 That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee; I bare the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it, whether stolen by day, or stolen by night. 40 Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes.
The Hebrew word translated as “cast their young” is שכל or shakel (# 7921), which according to Strong’s original Concordance means “properly to miscarry”. So Jacob, having tended Laban’s flocks for two decades, never had one miscarry, and he never ate of any of the rams. Additionally, if any were torn by wild animals or stolen, Jacob seems to have recompensed Laban for that loss quietly, having taken responsibility for it, and he also evidently remained in the field throughout the course of many nights.
For that, he now explains how Laban had cheated him:
41 Thus have I been twenty years in thy house; I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle: and thou hast changed my wages ten times.
As we had suggested earlier in this commentary, where Laban had substituted Leah in place of Rachel, that was certainly a retroactive change in seven years of Jacob’s wages. But in chapter 30, where Jacob had recounted his grievances against Laban to his wives, he had said in part: “6 And ye know that with all my power I have served your father. 7 And your father hath deceived me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me. 8 If he said thus, The speckled shall be thy wages; then all the cattle bare speckled: and if he said thus, The ringstraked shall be thy hire; then bare all the cattle ringstraked.” Here Jacob need not have repeated this, since Laban certainly knew what he had done to him. Now, just as he had told his wives that “God suffered him not to hurt me”, Jacob testifies to Laban of his greed:
42 Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely thou hadst sent me away now empty. God hath seen mine affliction and the labour of my hands, and rebuked thee yesternight.
Where he said “and rebuked thee yesternight” Jacob is referring to Laban’s earlier admission, in verse 29, where he said that “It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt: but the God of your father spake unto me yesternight, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.” Now where he responds, Laban seems to be gaslighting Jacob once again:
43 And Laban answered and said unto Jacob, These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and these cattle are my cattle, and all that thou seest is mine: and what can I do this day unto these my daughters, or unto their children which they have born?
So now, after selling his daughters to Jacob for fourteen years of Jacob’s labor, he claims that the daughters are his, and after bargaining with Jacob for the cattle as his wages, since Jacob had worked for him for six additional years, he claims that the cattle are also his. Yet all of these things rightly belong to Jacob, in terms upon which Laban had agreed. Then, as it is recorded in Genesis chapter 30, Laban had not protested when Jacob had told him “30 For it was little which thou hadst before I came, and it is now increased unto a multitude; and the Lord hath blessed thee since my coming: and now when shall I provide for mine own house also?” The truth is that Laban was enriched by Jacob, and Jacob himself was enriched by Yahweh, the God of Jacob whom Laban has acknowledged but whom he will not worship, still holding his belief in his own gods even if his own gods have been stolen, and he cannot find them, and they cannot return of their own accord. Then, by saying these things, Laban has justified the words of Jacob, who had told him that he had left surreptitiously “Because I was afraid: for I said, Peradventure thou wouldest take by force thy daughters from me.”
It is quite evident that Laban is living in a different reality than Jacob, and this is often the case among men, especially among men with the motivation to serve only themselves, whose interests are therefore contrary to those of their own kith and kin. So his gaslighting is not intentional, as he truly seems to have an entirely different perspective than what he should have had as the patriarch of a noble family. While Laban should have been a patron or a benefactor to Jacob, wanting to keep his grandchildren secure, instead he sought only to exploit him. However fearing Jacob’s God, he must have realized that he had to let him go, and now he finds a way out of his quandary with the offer of an agreement:
44 Now therefore come thou, let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee. 45 And Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar. 46 And Jacob said unto his brethren, Gather stones; and they took stones, and made an heap: and they did eat there upon the heap.
Where Jacob slept in Bethel and had the dream of the ladder ascending to heaven, he had set up a pillar and anointed it with oil, as a witness of the vow which he had made to the God of his fathers. There we had cited this very passage in order to explain that the setting up of a pillar as a witness for some event or something else having significance which needed to be memorialized must have also been a culturally pagan practice. Later, in Joshua chapter 24, in the same place where the prophet had attested that Abraham and his ancestors had worshipped idols, before his death Joshua had urged the children of Israel to put away their own idols, and he made a covenant with them which was commemorated with the setting up of a stone pillar, where he warns them: “20 If ye forsake the Lord, and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he hath done you good. 21 And the people said unto Joshua, Nay; but we will serve the Lord. 22 And Joshua said unto the people, Ye are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you the Lord, to serve him. And they said, We are witnesses. 23 Now therefore put away, said he, the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the Lord God of Israel. 24 And the people said unto Joshua, The Lord our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey. 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. 26 And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak, that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. 27 And Joshua said unto all the people, Behold, this stone shall be a witness unto us; for it hath heard all the words of the Lord which he spake unto us: it shall be therefore a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God. 28 So Joshua let the people depart, every man unto his inheritance.”
Now this heap of stones which Jacob had made is given a similar significance:
47 And Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha: but Jacob called it Galeed.
The term Jegar-sahadutha is from the Hebrew phrase יגר שהדותא or yager shehedutha (# 3026), which Strong’s original Concordance defined as “heap of the testimony”. The root words are יגר or yager, which is said to be from a root which means to gather but which is similar to other words that describe labor or the weariness of toil (i.e. #’s 3018, 3021, 3023), and שהד or sahed (7717), which is to testify or a witness. Likewise, in that same source the name which Jacob had given the heap, גלעד or Galad (# 1567), is assigned the same meaning. Strong’s explains that the component words are גל or gal (# 1530) which describes “something rolled” and עד or ayd or eyd (# 5707) which is another term for a witness, so the explanation is plausible. Therefore Jacob and Laban each named the heap of stones similarly, to say the same thing but in different ways. Interestingly, while Jacob and his brethren had done the work to make the heap, Laban’s name for it is more closely associated with labor although he did not lift a finger to make it.
48 And Laban said, This heap is a witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed;
The Israelites after Moses would use the name declared by Jacob, rather than by Laban, which would be expected. The name of this mount where the two men had met was called Gilead, and is spelled the same in Hebrew as the name which Jacob had given this heap of stones. So where Strong’s defines Gilead (# 1568) it says only that the name is “probably from 1567”, this word Galeed, which is otherwise undefined. We would assert that the entire mountain was named Gilead, or more properly, Galad, by the children of Israel for precisely this reason, because that was the name which Jacob had given this heap. In that manner, we see that Moses had also used the name Gilead for this mountain anachronistically, since it could not have had that name until after Jacob had named this heap.
Now Laban continues speaking:
49 And Mizpah; for he said, The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.
The Hebrew word מצפה or mitspah (# 4709) is the feminine form of a word which means watchtower. Of the feminine form, Strong’s states that it was used as a name for two different places in Palestine, but of the masculine form (# 4708) Strong’s states that it was used as a name for five different places in Palestine.
Here Laban is basically suggesting that Jacob would hurt him, and is invoking Jacob’s God as a warning, that Jacob should not cross north of the heap of witness in order to do him harm. That would describe what Laban must have imagined: that Jacob had his gods and would use them to try to make himself the heir to his estate, thereby depriving his sons.
Now he further warns Jacob concerning his daughters, where we see that Laban, who himself has been completely untrustworthy, has no faith or trust in the trustworthy Jacob:
50 If thou shalt afflict my daughters, or if thou shalt take other wives beside my daughters, no man is with us; see, God is witness betwixt me and thee.
By saying that “no man is with us” Laban invokes the god of Jacob alone as the only witness to any potential damage he may suffer by Jacob’s hand. The hypothetical situation reflects the alternate perception of reality in which Laban lives.
51 And Laban said to Jacob, Behold this heap, and behold this pillar, which I have cast betwixt me and thee; 52 This heap be witness, and this pillar be witness, that I will not pass over this heap to thee, and that thou shalt not pass over this heap and this pillar unto me, for harm.
Of course, after this chapter ends there is no further mention of Haran or of the family of Laban in scripture, and we cannot tell if his family had ever again interacted with the children of Israel. It is my opinion, that Abraham was called out of Padanaram on account of the turmoil which was to come upon the families of the north, in the rise of the Hittite and Mitanni empires and the ensuing wars between them. According to our chronology, it is approximately 1705 BC when Jacob left Haran. The Hittites began consolidating kingdoms in north central Anatolia around 1750 BC, and by 1650 BC the empire began to form with Hattusa as its capital . The competing Mitanni Kingdom, comprised mainly of another branch of the Canaanites, the Hurrians or Biblical Horites, began to emerge as an empire in northern Syria and Mesopotamia around 1600 BC.  By the beginning of the 12th century, both empires were gone, and other nations had come to rule over their respective areas almost as if they had never existed, in the aftermath of wars with the Egyptians and more notably, with the Assyrians. So perhaps the Hebrews of northern Mesopotamia, and more specifically the people of Haran had suffered judgment in this period, since it is not evident in Scripture or in history that anything significant had ever come of them. As we have also asserted here, Laban and his family missed an incredible opportunity, since the records here make it apparent that they should have turned to worship the God of Jacob, but they did not.
Now, as we have already asserted several times, Laban explicitly invokes the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in order to bind Jacob to this oath, so he invokes a God whom he does not plan to worship.
53 The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge betwixt us. And Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac.
But where Laban also invoked the god of Nahor, and “the God of their father”, which is Terah, he is certainly not referring to Yahweh the God of Abraham. It is unfortunate that the King James and other translations even capitalized the word for god in reference to the gods of Nahor and Terah. Rather, Laban was referring to their pagan gods, which are also his own gods. So even with all of his experience with Jacob and Jacob’s God, the thought must never have crossed the mind of Laban that perhaps he should repent and seek the God of Jacob for himself.
On these terms, Laban and Jacob seem to have been able to once again have some sort of communion:
54 Then Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat bread: and they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the mount. 55 And early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his daughters, and blessed them: and Laban departed, and returned unto his place.
Once again, the only apparent reason that Laban had finally left Jacob in peace is that he was superstitious, and feared the God of Jacob. He did not necessarily have faith in the God of Jacob for himself, or as we said, he should have repented of his ways and converted to worship Him. With his own selfishness, Laban had sown a world without trust, and on that account he may have missed wonderful opportunities for himself and his family.
This event closes a chapter on the early history of Israel, as there is never any reason for which Jacob or his sons would ever send to Haran again. Now as Laban rides off into the Syrian desert, Jacob goes on to face even greater and more daunting challenges as he makes his journey home.
1 The world's oldest bridge is being preserved in Iraq, The British Museum, https://www.britishmuseum.org/blog/worlds-oldest-bridge-being-preserved-iraq, accessed January 5th, 2024.
2 Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament 3rd edition, James Pritchard, editor, 1969, Harvard University Press, p. 219-220.
3 stuff, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stuff, accessed January 5th, 2024.
4 Hittites, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hittites, accessed January 5th, 2024.
5 Mitanni, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitanni, accessed January 5th, 2024.