Working for Uncle Laban


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Working for Uncle Laban
Genesis 29:15-28
29:15 Then Laban said to Jacob, "Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?"

29:16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.

29:17 Leah's eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful.

29:18 Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, "I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel."

29:19 Laban said, "It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me."

29:20 So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.

29:21 Then Jacob said to Laban, "Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed."

29:22 So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast.

29:23 But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her.

29:24 (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.)

29:25 When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?"

29:26 Laban said, "This is not done in our country--giving the younger before the firstborn.

29:27 Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years."

29:28 Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.


As I begin today’s sermon, let me take a little time to recap in everyday language so that we are all on the same page. This is part of the Jacob Story in the Book of Genesis.

Jacob, as you may recall, is one of Isaac and Rebekah’s twin sons. Esau, his brother, was born first and Jacob’s hand was on his heal, trying to pull Esau back in so that he could get out first.

Being born first was important in those days because of the practice of primogeniture. The first son inherited the family wealth and was the head of the family. The trouble with Esau being born first was he was a big, hairy idiot and wasn’t really of the character to be able to care for his birth right, at least not in the opinion of Jacob.

So Jacob had implemented a two part plan. In part one, he’d gotten Esau to sell his birth right for a bowl of stew—it was really good stew. In part two, he had tricked his father into blessing him instead of Esau.

The upshot of all this was that Esau wanted to kill him. This was serious enough that Jacob’s mother Rebekah had to send Jacob off to visit his Uncle Laban. While Jacob was there, he fell in love with Laban’s daughter Rachel.

It is at this point that we come to today’s scripture, and we meet the character Laban. We don’t know much about him other than he is Rebekah’s brother. However, if you’ve been around a little in the world, and it doesn’t have to have been very much, you’ve met people like Laban. If you go into a deal with them, you can pretty well figure that they will come out ahead.

So when we hear Laban say, “Because you are my kinsman, you should work for nothing?” and ask Jacob what wages he would like, you can bet that Laban has a trap in mind already.

For Jacob’s part, he is ripe for the picking. He has come to where he is fresh from having cheated his own brother, so he thinks he is pretty smart, and he never imagines that his own uncle would ever cheat him. Besides list, he is in love.

So he agrees to work for Laban for seven years in exchange for Rachel.

He does, and at the end of those seven years he wakes up with the wrong bride. He himself has been tricked by his sister’s brother, just as he has tricked his own brother.

Upon discovery of the fraud, Jacob confronts his knew father-in-law and Laban says, “In our country WE don’t give the younger before the first born.” Laban has the gall to say he hasn’t done anything wrong.

Jacob met his match.

Laban then gives Jacob Rachel in exchange for another seven years.

What do we make from this story?

One lesson would be to be careful in doing business even when you are dealing with kinfolks. However, I think we should go beyond there. This is part of a much larger story.

When we read this in Sunday School, we see it as having a happy ending because Jacob gets Rachel, whom he loves. This is what’s supposed to happen at the end of a love story. It is easy for us to miss, however, that there is some more baggage along with this. Jacob doesn’t just wind up with Rachel. Jacob winds up with Leah as well. Jacob has two wives.

When God created a helpmate for Adam, he only created one, only Eve. In getting his heart’s desire, Jacob stepped out of God’s plan.

After this, the story between Laban and Jacob continues, and it continues to be one of deceit and crooked deals.

My feelings toward Jacob are complex. On one hand, I feel sorry for him because he has been betrayed in a matter of the heart, but on the other, having cheated his own brother, he kind of has it coming.

The way marriage is handled these days is different than it was back then. While I would hope that most husbands would be willing to work for seven years to gain their wives—because marriage will require so much more than that—none of us has had to face the old wedding-night switcheroo that Jacob did.

On the other hand, most people do face moral quandaries. We have to decide whether we will follow our heart’s desire or God’s law. Losing our heart’s desire is hard.

Now let me say something that will make me unpopular. Jacob shouldn’t have married Rachel. This will be unpopular because we are romantics. But I will ask you a question that—for the sake of peace in your houses—you should only answer to yourself.

Did you marry the first person you thought you loved?

Failed romance is a staple of the entertainment industry, and while most of it is fictitious, it didn’t rise out of a vacuum. People fall in an out of love all the time. I wonder if it is possible that Jacob would have gotten over Rachel. I wonder if Jacob and Leah could have made a go of it as a duet. Their story as it actually unfolds is sad. Leah was always trying to make Jacob love her. Had there not been the other woman, it may have been better. Rachel, having to complete with Leah, is hardly happier. And Jacob is torn between the two and a family that is at war with itself.

I say all this to offer a possibility. It could be your heart’s desire is actually only a momentary hunger. It could be that you would hurt for a while but get over the loss. It could be you only think you have to break God’s law in order to be happy.