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Looking through the eyes of Laban

Laban has a reputation for being craftier than the crafty Jacob, son of Laban’s sister, Rebekah.  His treatment of Jacob is viewed by most Christians as shamefully exploitative.  Or was it?

When Abraham sent his chief servant to find a wife for Abraham’s son, Isaac, he went to the town where Laban lived (Genesis 24 10).  Laban, “As soon as he had seen the nose ring and the bracelets (given by Abraham’s servant) on his sister’s arms, and had heard Rebekah tell what the man said to her, he went out to the man….. ‘Come, you who are blessed by the Lord,’ he said. ‘Why are you standing out here?  I have prepared the house and a place for the camels. [Gen 24:30, 31]’”  In doing this, was Laban crafty?  Or was Laban a man easily impressed by gold, to such an extent that he gave his beautiful virgin sister into the hands of a complete stranger to be brought to a distant land and married off to another stranger, supposedly a relative?

Now, years later, Jacob the son of Rebekah turns up, alone, and empty-handed contrary to custom. Let’s jump into Laban’s shoes.  Would Laban not have remembered that Abraham’s servant had come with ten camels bearing gold, jewellery and other gifts [Gen 24:10]?  Furthermore, Laban knew that his sister had married a wealthy man.  So when her son arrives alone, without camels loaded with all manner of good things, what would Laban think?  Something like: “Hey, something is not right here, bro!” ? 

In the month that Jacob stayed with Laban, he worked for him [Gen 29:14], probably as a means to keep near Rachel the shepherdess.  Jacob looked like he was going to stay indefinitely and Laban’s hospitality was wearing thin.  So Laban nudged Jacob: “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing?  Tell me what your wages should be.” [Gen 29:15]. Now Jacob was in a tight spot.  If he asked for wages, his position would immediately be reduced to that of a hired hand.  A hired hand could be ordered to tend sheep far from Rachel.

So the love-struck Jacob [Gen 29:18] said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”  Jacob knew he had no dowry to offer, but seven years’ wages might make an acceptable dowry.  In the Singapore context, the daily wage for a manual worker is around $30, which amounts to $10,800 a year, or $75,600 for seven years.  That’s quite a lot of money.  So was it exploitative of Laban to accept Jacob’s offer?  Let’s look at the matter through Laban’s eyes and see what he might logically have thought.

“Hmm, I, Laban, see a cocky young man, strong enough to move a large stone covering a well, which normally takes several shepherds to move.  Is he who he says he is?  I have probed and tested him for one whole month.  He really knows my sister Rebekah and is probably her son.  But Rebekah married a very rich man, so why did her son not come with rich gifts?  For he has been making goo-goo eyes at my daughter Rachel, and if marriage is on his mind he should have come with such gifts.  What are his real intentions?  Now he is making this grand offer: seven years of his life for Rachel’s hand.  Is he a rash fellow?  Will he keep his promise?  Is the offer merely to impress Rachel, so that he can seduce her later?  Here is my chance to test what he is really made of.  I will accept the offer.  If he keeps his word and works for seven years, then he really loves Rachel, and Rachel would have a good husband worthy of her.”

Laban took a risk in accepting the offer.  For if Jacob reneged and left after, say, five years, then Rachel would become “rejected goods” past the normal marriageable age of women of her time.  She would probably remain a spinster all her life. 

But Jacob fulfilled his offer.  He worked seven years for Laban.  He proved he was a man of his word, a patient man who could wait long periods to get what he wanted.  He was a rare treasure.  How could Laban retain such a good worker, such a good man?  For now he wants to marry Rachel and take her away!  Where to?  He has no money, so how is he going to maintain her in the manner she is accustomed to?  And if he marries Rachel, Laban’s younger daughter, then the elder daughter Leah would be left on the shelf! The tradition is for the elder to marry first.  Being older than Rachel, Leah was already past the use-by date.  In the past seven years, no one had married her.  She was not beautiful and had “weak eyes” [Gen 29:17].

Poor Laban, so many factors pushing him towards retaining Jacob.  Can we blame Laban for the trick he played on Jacob, in bringing to him Leah and not Rachel on the wedding night? Was it craftiness, or a father’s desperation?

Laban is also blamed for imposing another seven years of labour on Jacob for Rachel, the one he really wanted.  But Jacob’s earlier seven years of labour were credited to Leah, so if Laban now imposed any lesser period for Rachel, would that not devalue Rachel?  How could he do that?

Have we perhaps been too harsh on Laban, because we failed to understand the situations he was in?

CHAPEL NOTES

We welcomed Dr Christopher Peppler, Principal of the South African Theological Seminary, to Chapel on  March 9th. Dr. Peppler briefly described the work of the Seminary, which offers theological qualifications up to Masters level. He then spoke on the topic of Spiritual Leadership in the Church, describing the different aspects of church growth and the healthy functioning of the church under the acronym ROADS: Relationships; Outward orientation; Anointing; Doctrine; Structure. Attention needs to be paid to all these aspects of church life, and it is the particular burden of church leadership to see that none of them is neglected (otherwise the church will become unbalanced and start to ‘leak’ members).

 Chapel speaker on March 23rd was Mr Loo King Keong and on March 30th will be Mr Song Cheng Hock.

NEWS BITS

  1. The Parables of Jesus (NT216, 1.5 credits) by Dr Aquila Lee due to begin on April 1 (Friday), has been pushed back to April 8, 7.15-10.15pm, to allow for further registrations.  Call us at tel. 6227 6815 if you intent to attend the lectures.

  2. Learning the Craft of Teaching (CE255, 1.5 credits) by Dr Ng Peh Cheng will be conducted on April 5, 12, 19 & 26 (Tuesdays), 7.15-10.15pm at 31 Tanjong Pagar Rd.

A Blessed Birthday to ...

building fund 10 - 2005

Dr Lee Soo Ann  21/3

Dr Patrick Chan  21/3

Mr Freddie Ong  22/3

Mr Brian Tan  25/3

Mr Simon Liew  26/3

Mrs Tan Lee Lee  26/3

Mr Lim Swee Aun  28/3

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This page is updated on 29 Mar 2005. 
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