Thoughtfulness is not one of the first character traits that I would initially attribute to Laban, but lets take a look at the story from the Book of GENESIS a little deeper.
Recently, I was teaching 3-4 year olds the story of Jacob where he marries Leah (by mistake) and Rachel (on purpose), who were both daughters from his seemingly crafty and selfish uncle, Laban. I’m used to reading through material for a familiar story like this and coming in with a standard narrative that I’m going to push. However, upon reading through the text this time a couple of new things popped out to me.
1. I had never considered that Jacob was a uniquely strong individual.
As the story opens, Jacob is coming up to a group of shepherds that have gathered around a well preparing to water their flocks of sheep. Jacob asks why they haven’t watered their sheep already, and the shepherds inform us that it is because of the great weight of the stone that is covering the well – they were waiting on others to come and help push the heavy stone away.
Upon seeing Rachel approaching the well with her sheep, Jacob is so eager to impress that he walks right up to this massive stone, and rolls it away – all by himself.
Typically, when I think of Jacob, I think of a frail momma’s boy that likes to stay in the kitchen and cook, while his manly brother Esau is out doing man things, like hunting deer and catching game. I’ve never considered that he could be just as physically strong as his brother, but with different giftings. Which brings me to the second thing that I noticed…
2. I have regularly missed the authors introduction of Leah.
After Jacob follows Rachel back to Laban’s house (and by this point has already fallen head over heals for Rachel), we are properly introduced to Laban’s only two daughters. “The name of the older was Leah, and the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance.”
I’ll say that last part again, because I miss it a lot – Leah’s eyes were weak. So weak in fact, that the author of Genesis felt the need to inform us of their weakness. Why? Good question – this is where Laban’s steps in.
3. I had never considered Laban’s thoughtfulness before.
Yes, Laban did promise Jacob that if he worked for him for 7 years, he would get to marry Rachel. And, yes, Laban did pull a fast one on Jacob by giving Leah in marriage instead of Rachel. But lets stop for a moment and think why would Laban do this?
Laban was a father of two daughters, Rachel, and Leah. We are told that Rachel was “beautiful in form and appearance” and was also earlier described as a shepherdess of her father’s sheep.
This was no small task to be a young female shepherdess in times past, left out on her own to tend to her father’s sheep; routinely herd them to a well surrounded by men, depend on their strength to roll the heavy stone away, water her sheep, and then return to her father’s land – hopefully without getting harassed or assaulted by other male shepherds, or having to fight off wolves or bears from eating her flock.
Then we have Leah, who was older and had extremely poor eyesight. It was likely so bad, that she wasn’t able to even be useful to Rachel for the long treks to water the sheep. Not being able to see was extremely dangerous in ancient times, and meant that you weren’t as useful in a highly agricultural and manual labor society.
4. I never noticed that Laban could see something that Leah could not.
Laban knew that the only way his oldest daughter was going to survive in a harsh world, was with the protection of a strong man, preferably her husband. He also knew that her odds of getting married were not as high as Rachel’s, because her eyesight was so bad. And finally, he knew that he wasn’t going to live long enough to always be there to be her protector and caretaker.
Simply put, Laban saw the chance to provide a secure and safe life for his daughter with an extraordinarily strong young man – and he took it.
Was it right? Of course it wasn’t… or was it?
What would you have done in Laban’s shoes? Let your youngest daughter get married to the strongest man you’ve ever seen, and watch them ride off into the sunset? Now you’re out your best (and only) shepherdess daughter, and have to spend more time caring for your oldest, knowing full well that she likely won’t get married, and will likely die shortly after you without the care and protection you provide.
Clearly, there were much more practical and thoughtful ways that Laban could have gone about seeking after his daughters good will, but he, like us, is a flawed individual in need of a Savior. This was the best he was able to do in his own strength – earthly thoughtfulness at its finest.
Fortunately, someone stronger was at work long before Laban ever met Jacob. Someone who could provide and care for Laban’s family thousands of years after he passed.
5. I had never considered the eternal impact of Laban’s thoughtfulness.
Not that Laban could have known this, but its also interesting to consider that this act of earthly thoughtfulness for his oldest daughter would also lead to an eternal impact.
Children for his daughter – including one you might have heard of before…
Judah. Like, the Judah. The line from which our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ comes from and draws the title “The Lion of the Tribe of Judah.” Yeah, that Judah.
Obviously, I don’t condone deception, lying, or anything of this sort. But maybe next time I read this story, I’ll be a little more considerate of a father trying to do what’s best for his physically handicapped daughter, albeit in an imperfect and flawed way.
Fortunately for us, we have a faithful and loving God who is able to work evil for good, and shows mercy and steadfast love from generation to generation. Praise be to our great God and King!