Study Guide

Laban in Book of Genesis

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Remember Jacob? He's kind of questionable. And we're not the only ones who think so.

Laban's main function in Genesis is to give Jacob a run for his money. This guy is the only character who manages to best Jacob at his own game—at least briefly.

What Goes Around Comes Around

Here's how it goes down:

Laban is Rebekah's brother, which makes him Jacob and Esau's uncle. He has a beautiful daughter, Rachel, who gives Jake the googly eyes. Jacob gets sneaky and spends a month working for Laban, gratis (29:14). His motives? Not Laban's personality, that's for sure. More likely, he's hiding from Esau and hoping for a chance with Rachel.

Uncle L. offers to pay Jacob, and so they strike a deal of seven years of work for Rachel's hand in marriage. (Yeah, these women weren't making their own marriage contracts.) But when the time comes, Laban has no scruples about swapping tags on the merchandise, using a maneuver similar to his sister Rebekah's earlier dress-up scam. Instead of sending Rachel down the aisle, he puts a veil on Leah—a less appealing daughter for whatever reason—and manages to trick his now son-in-law until first light (29:21-25).

We guess Jacob didn't have a lamp in his tent.

Laban wrangles the wrangler out of seven more years, offering Rachel's hand again, as long as Jacob will agree to be tasteful and wait until after the honeymoon with Leah before marrying her, too (29:27).

But in the end, Laban gets duped by Jacob for most of his herds (30:37-43), and even falls to Rachel's feminine wiles, losing his household gods (31:35). Maybe Jacob is top trickster after all.

A careful reader like you might ask what the real difference is between Laban and Jacob. Both use costumes to deceive others and get what they want. Both attempt to swindle the other out of sheep and goats. But Laban's hedge fund bets aren't successful, while Jacob becomes the poster child of the nation of Israel. At least in Genesis, you don't always reap what you sow.

God's choice, as inexplicable as it may seem, is a heavy finger tipping the scales.

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