Blogging Genesis chapters 29-31.
13 Then it came to pass, when Laban heard the report about Jacob his sister’s son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. So Jacob told Laban all these things.
14 And Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh.” And he stayed with him for a month.
15 Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what should your wages be
. . . 18 Now Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter.”
19 And Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to another man. Stay with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her.
21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in to her.” 22 And Laban gathered together all the men of the place and made a feast.
. . . 25 So it came to pass in the morning, that behold, it was Leah. And he said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served you? Why then have you deceived me?”
26 And Laban said, “It must not be done so in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. 27 Fulfill her week, and we will give you this one also for the service which you will serve with me still another seven years.”
28 Then Jacob did so and fulfilled her week. So he gave him his daughter Rachel as wife also. . . And he served with Laban still another seven years. --- Genesis 29:13-29
For the last couple of weeks I’ve been reading and re-reading Jacob’s time with Laban in Genesis chapter 29-31. I felt something missing in the typical summaries of the passage, but I couldn’t find the right framework to explain it. The usual synopsis is about how Jacob the trickster is paid back for his life of deception and so he realizes the error of his ways and runs back into the redemptive arms of God.
But that’s not what actually happens in the Bible.
Jacob is called usurper and trickster so we think of him as a usurper and a con man, but those were the names that other people gave Jacob. Yes, he moved into the place of the firstborn, but God had promised that to him before he was born. Jacob didn’t decide unilaterally to launch a family coup. Jacob was known as a trickster, but lying to his dad was his mom’s idea. Rachel came up with the plan and pressured Jacob into acting out his part. Who was the real trickster?
Think about it. Rachel was Laban’s sister.
When Isaac and Rebekah met she was already a highly socialized young adult raised in the same ethical system as her brother Laban (Genesis 24). Isaac (Laban’s cousin) lied about Rebekah being his wife (Genesis 26). Rebekah devised the scheme to defraud her blind old husband. Jacob’s wives were raised by Laban. Jacob’s favorite, his beloved Rachel robbed her dad and pretended to be on her period to hide the idol statues she’d stolen from him (Genesis 31:19, 34-35).
When Laban and Jacob first met, Jacob told Laban all these things (Genesis 29:13) about buying his brother’s birthright for a bowl of stew; his mom plotting to deceive his old, blind father; the lies; the death threat from his brother; and the vision we call Jacob’s ladder.
Laban heard all these things and replied, “Yep. That sounds just like stuff my relatives would do.”
And Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh. . . --- Genesis 29:14
Laban’s household was a lying family of liars who lied.
Jacob, was raised by a Laban-ite, but he wasn’t fully immersed into that world. In fact, Jacob was actually a geek, a nerd, a bookish mama’s boy who stayed home, cooked porridge, and didn’t have the survival skills to pack properly for a journey to Syria. (Read the previous Genesis blogs for those references.)
Now, who remembers Tupac?
Tupac Shakur parents were politically woke before “woke” was a thing. They named him after an 18th-century Peruvian revolutionary . Tupac was an intellectually gifted child who studied acting, poetry, jazz, and ballet at the Baltimore School for the Arts. When his family first moved to California, the settled in the suburbs. His extended family’s many Black Panther Party connections turned into connections to convicted felons. Poverty and crack caught up to his mother, and his young adult associations were bonafide street hustlers. But Tupac was just like Jacob, the real bookish, intellectual, Dear Mama singing Jacob.
Where there’s a Jacob, there’s almost always also ----- a Laban. In Genesis 31:22-32, Laban would have killed Jacob if the Lord hadn’t intervened. Laban was a hustler for real, an O.G.
Jacob was the confirmed heir to the fortunes of Isaac and Abraham, the ancient Canaanite equivalent of a Rockefeller. He was the chosen one, confirmed by God at the pillar of Beth-el to be the father of a nation as numerous as the stars of heaven.
When Jacob first met Rachel he could have gone home to his rich daddy and sent for his betrothed. Instead he spent a month working for Laban for free.
And he stayed with him for a month. Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing (Genesis 29:14,15)?
O.K., a month. After that though, Jacob could have sent word and received a fortune sufficient to cover any bride-price Laban could’ve named.
But he didn’t. He contracted himself out for 7 years of indentured servitude as a dowry (Genesis 29:18).
At the end of the 7 years, Laban got Jacob drunk and married him to the wrong daughter under the lame pretense of some obscure Syrian marriage tradition that he’d neglected to mention FOR SEVEN YEARS (Genesis 29:21-26).
THEN, instead of demanding reparations for Laban’s fraud and breach of contract, somehow Jacob gets tied into a 7 year extension of his contract to his lying uncle-father-in-law. Because family.
Laban recognized God’s anointing on Jacob’s life made himself rich off the younger man’s talents while repeatedly muscling him out of the rights and compensation he’d earned.
So Jacob said to him, “You know how I have served you and how your livestock has been with me. For what you had before I came was little, and it has increased to a great amount; the Lord has blessed you since my coming. And now, when shall I also provide for my own house?” (Genesis 30:29,30)
But why did Jacob let Laban run his life and run over his life for 20 year? How was Laban able to dominate the more talented and anointed Jacob?
Laban was wrong, but Laban was REAL.
Jacob, on the other hand, let his mother talk him into lying to his blind father when he really didn’t want to. He received God’s promise at Beth-el, but he really didn’t fully believe it.
The Lord said, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.”
. . . Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God.” (Genesis 28:15, 20-21).
Jacob wanted Rachel and only Rachel, but he accepted Leah, even though the marriage was fraudulent, and he despised Leah, but he got her pregnant 7 times. Jacob was the anointed one, but he was inconsistent. He was more right but less REAL.
The guy who kept it real dominated the guy who didn’t know who he really was.
John had a vision of Jesus writing to the church, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” (Revelations 3:15, 16)
I can use you.
Real cold even?
I can use you.
Kinda, sorta, not sure, maybe?
You make me sick.
When God has called you to Himself, the old sinful ways aren’t REALly yours anymore. Dipping back in a little doesn’t “scratch an itch” or “take the edge off.” Backsliding just makes you inconsistent and susceptible to the attacks of the devil and his fully committed servants.
What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death (Romans 6:21).
Tupac was an intellectual social justice warrior who vacillated between thug and activist. He wasn’t (I know Tupac fans are gonna lose their minds here). Pac wasn’t real.
Not to the calling her really knew in himself.
Dr. King died young. But he was real. Not perfect. But consistently committed to a path. He died but he wasn’t dominated by a Laban.
Malcolm X, one could argue, was dominated by Elijah (Laban) Muhammad, but he got real in the closing years of his life.
When Jacob got real, he took his wives and left Laban because that was his calling all along.
So Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him (Genesis 32:1).
If you’re being bullied into someone else’s image of you but you know deep down that God has called you to be someone different, you need to get real. Don’t wait for your oppressor to change; they probably won’t. You have to change. Or, more accurately, you have to stop changing. Stop modifying the truth of who you are to appease the Laban, the Shug Knight, or the Elijah Muhammad who is living off your anointing.
---Anderson T. Graves II is a writer, community organizer and consultant for education, ministry, and rural leadership development.
Rev. Anderson T. Graves II is pastor of Miles Chapel CME Church in Fairfield, Alabama; executive director of the Substance Abuse Youth Networking Organization (SAYNO); and director of rural leadership development for the National Institute for Human Development (NIHD).
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