Some people’s behaviour is very difficult to fathom. Because, whilst many people are easy to get along with, there are others who are very difficult indeed.
Indeed, some prey on others and are willing go to any lengths to achieve their goals. Some are very physical and consider violence to be an everyday part of life. And some have such a low opinion of life, that they think nothing of hurting others for their cause.
Now the majority may not be noted for such extremes, but we all have our moments. And even among those we might consider normal everyday people, there are some who lose their temper at the drop of a hat. There are some who are manipulative—who manoeuvre situations to their advantage. And there some who make life difficult for others—particularly if they don’t get their own way.
Yes, some people’s behaviour is very difficult to comprehend. And so the question I’d like to ask today is, “Just how does our behaviour fit into the scheme of things?” That is, not someone else’s behaviour, but our own behaviour. And, as a corollary to that, “How does our behaviour reflect what we say we believe?”
And I want to begin to answer those questions by looking back at the story of Jacob and Laban. Because I want to look at those two men and their very contrasting behaviours.
B. CONTRASTING BEHAVIOURS
1. Jacob’s Welcome
Now the background to the story is that Jacob had left home, and following the instructions of his father, Isaac, and mother, Rebekah, he had travelled to the town where his mother’s family lived. There, at a well outside the town, he met Rachel, the daughter of Laban, who had come to water her flocks. There was a short greeting, And that was followed by Jacob finding himself in charge of her sheep, while she runs off to tell her father of his arrival.
And it is at this point that the story starts in earnest. Because Laban is naturally excited. After all, he hasn’t heard from his sister, Rebekah, for some time. Jacob is his nephew. He’d never met him before. So he invites Jacob into his home, and eagerly awaits any news that he might have of Isaac and Rebekah. As far as Laban is concerned, he needs to give hospitality to his nephew. But he wants to catch up with his sister’s welfare too.
Now, up to this point in the story, nothing untoward has happened. Jacob gets a tick for caring for the flock, whilst Rachel runs off to give her father the news. And Laban gets a tick for his hospitality to Jacob.
But the story continues. Because after embracing Jacob, Laban brings Jacob into his home. And no doubt they talk far into the night, as Jacob tells Laban all about Isaac and Rebekah.
2. Jacob’s Offer of Service
But then with the greeting and news out of the way, Jacob makes himself useful to Laban. And over the next few days and weeks, he begins to help in the family business—he helps with the flocks. However, he also begins to feel an attachment to Laban’s youngest daughter—Rachel.
A month later, Laban, has seen how good a workman he is, so he offers him a job. He wants to employ him as a regular employee. To which Jacob immediately responds that the only payment he is interested in is the hand of Rachel in marriage. He doesn’t want Laban’s money, he wants Rachel. And he is prepared to work seven years for Rachel, for no wage at all.
Now again, there is no problem in the story. Jacob wasn’t prepared to live on Laban’s hospitality, he was prepared to pay his way. He didn’t need to work for seven years for Rachel’s hand, but he was prepared to go above and beyond what was necessary for Rachel. Laban on the other hand had recognised Jacob’s contribution to the family business. But he wasn’t going to presume on Jacob’s loyalty. He was prepared to treat him like any other worker. All well and good.
Except, in Jacob offering to work for seven years, there’s a trap in the story for Laban. Jacob’s offer is well above what he needed to pay for Rachel’s hand, and Laban should have turned down the offer. But unfortunately, Laban has already found Jacob to be a willing and able worker. He had probably realised that Jacob, as the one who has received Isaac’s blessing, would one day come into a substantial inheritance. He had also evidently seen Jacob’s affection for Rachel. So it didn’t take much for Laban to realise that there would be a financial advantage in having him as a son-in-law. And seven years of free service by a man who is an exceptional worker was a windfall that he just couldn’t resist. So Laban agrees to Jacob’s offer.
And so begins the problem between Jacob and Laban. A problem that is compounded by Rachel’s older sister Leah.
3. The Complication of Leah
Because Laban’s daughters are apparently beyond the age at which women usually married. But then in Laban’s part of the world (not in Jacob’s), it was customary for the older sister to marry first. And as Leah had remained unmarried, Rachel had remained unmarried too.
At the point that Jacob offered to work for seven years, then, Laban should have explained this situation to Jacob. However, maybe he had hoped that by the time the seven years were up, Leah would somehow have got married.
Nevertheless, Jacob serves his seven years—and Jacob must have been ticking off the days. Because as soon as the seven years were up, he is seen going to Laban and asking him to honour his part of the bargain.
Now Laban has a problem—two in fact. Because, in all likelihood, once married to Rachel, Jacob would get up and leave. He was a good worker, and Laban is very reluctant to lose his services. On the other hand, Leah is still not married. So how can he marry Rachel off first?
And here is where Laban should have confessed everything to Jacob, having failed to do it before. But rather than sit down with him and explain the problem, he compounds his previous mistakes, by coming up with a plot to deceive.
Jacob, for his part, had done his bit. All he had done had been right and above board. But Laban’s behaviour simply went from bad to worse.
4. Wedding Deceit
Now it was customary with a wedding to have a great festive week, beginning with a banquet on the nuptial night, at which only male guests were invited. Then, at the proper time during the banquet, the bride would be presented to the groom. And accordingly, Laban follows the customs of the day and then presents Jacob with a bride. The problem is it was the wrong bride.
Now undoubtedly Laban had provided a fair bit of wine at the banquet, and the two sisters were sufficiently alike in stature and bearing, probably even in tone of voice. The bride may even have been veiled for the occasion. As a consequence, the deception was easy to accomplish.
So when Jacob takes his bride into his chambers and into his bed, it is dark. And any conversation is in whispers and in brief words of love. So, it is not until the morning that Jacob is in any real position to see that he has been deceived.
So, again, nothing wrong with Jacob’s behaviour. But in regard to Laban … His deception had worked, well in part at least. He had completed the first part of his plan. He had got Leah, the elder sister, married. Yes, there was a risk involved in what he had done, but he was part way to solving his dilemma. And he still had Rachel to bargain with.
5. Jacob’s Response
So when morning comes, Jacob wakes up, sees what has happened, and is naturally angry and bitter with both Leah and Laban. However, his anger quickly subsides. And perhaps because he is reminded of his own deception in tricking his father, Isaac, into giving him his blessing, Jacob does not berate Leah for her part in the affair at all.
However, he still wants to marry Rachel. So at the very first opportunity he confronts Laban. And Laban responds with the well-rehearsed answer about the need for the older sister to marry first. A fact that Laban should have told Jacob in the beginning.
The story then concludes with Laban proposing a new bargain. If Jacob will fulfil Leah’s wedding week (in other words not discard her, but accept her as a proper wife), then he will give him Rachel as well—but providing he serves him another seven years. And perhaps surprisingly, Jacob agrees.
Now Jacob throughout this whole sordid affair seems to come out pretty well. His behaviour, even at the height of the deceit was good. Yes, he was naturally angry when he realised that he had been tricked. But that quickly went. He quickly saw that Leah was just as much a victim of Laban’s schemes as he was. So not only did he not berate her, but in the end, actually took her to be a proper bride, by completing her wedding week.
Furthermore, when Laban suggested he work another seven years for Rachel, Jacob would have been well aware that just as seven years weren’t necessary for his first bride, a further seven years weren’t necessary for his second bride either. And yet, Jacob acceded to Laban’s offer. Because despite what had happened, he still loved Rachel. And he would still have felt a moral obligation to pay in full (and even exceed the going rate) for what he received in return.
Laban on the other hand is the villain of the piece. Because at each step in the process his behaviour deteriorated further. In order to cover up one mistake, he was prepared to make another. He probably knew Jacob well enough to know that he would survive with his skin intact. Nevertheless, he still had the nerve to compound his greed (in taking Jacob’s first offer of seven years’ service) by asking for a further seven years.
6. Unanswered Questions
Now, of course, there is little unsaid in this story. Laban’s deceit is on display for all. However, there are two questions that remain:
Where was Rachel whilst the wedding deceit was taking place? Had she been persuaded, or commanded by her father to go along with this particular stratagem, or had she been forcibly detained in the women’s quarters from the evening until the morning?
And why did Leah go along with it too? She may have earnestly wanted a husband, and she may have even harboured a secret love for Jacob, but she knew that Jacob loved Rachel. So had she been persuaded, or commanded by her father to go along with this stratagem too?
Whatever the answer to these questions, neither Rachel’s situation on the wedding night or Leah’s reflects well on the manipulating schemes of Laban.
C. CONTRASTING BELIEFS
In this story, then, we have a story of two contrasting kinds of behaviour. Jacob who is upright, and willingly goes beyond what is decent and right. And Laban, who is a master of dishonesty and deceit, and who willingly manipulates the situation to suit himself.
But why the difference? Why does Jacob go above and beyond what is expected? And why is Laban’s world so centred around himself?
1. Difference in Beliefs
Well, I guess, there could be many factors. But the one fundamental difference that we know is the issue of what they believed.
After all, we know that Jacob had been brought up in a household of faith. And we know that he had been pretty manipulative himself in his younger years. But we also know that just before meeting Laban, he had an encounter with God. And it was an encounter which changed his life.
On the other hand, Laban, we are told, was a man who acknowledged God’s activity, but who we’re told (later on) had a number of household gods that he worshipped. And they were all gods designed to bring him good fortune and to meet his own personal desires.
And because of the difference in beliefs, Jacob’s faith is reflected in his behaviour to Laban, in not only doing what he had to do, but going beyond what was required. And Laban’s faith is reflected in his duplicity and in his self-interest.
2. The Slippery Slope
But the story doesn’t start that way. Indeed, at the beginning, Laban is quite clearly seen to offer Jacob hospitality, and to offer employment in the normal way.
So what went wrong? Why did Laban’s behaviour deteriorate so badly? Well obviously, his own self-interest was an issue. But then so too was greed, and the willingness to cover one mistake with another.
And that’s a trap of which we need to be aware. Because one lie does tend to lead to another. And one act of dishonesty can so easily lead to a habit.
Jacob’s behaviour reflected his faith in his God, and Laban’s behaviour reflected his faith in his gods. But then Laban’s gods were chosen to reflect his own self-interest. But what about us? And what does our behaviour say about the God that we believe in?
Well, in a sense, that is for us, and for the people around us to assess. However, the message of the story is that without a solid grounding in one true God, it doesn’t take much to change from someone who behaves well, to someone who is manipulative and demanding. One mistake which is then compounded by another is all that it takes. As a consequence, it is very important to know by whose rules that we live by—by God’s rules or our own.
Some people’s behaviour is difficult for us to comprehend. But there is a strong correlation between faith and behaviour. What people believe is expressed in their behaviour. And how people behave is a reflection of their faith.
So how do we behave? Do we behave well? And is our faith on solid ground? Because, it’s all very well pointing the finger at others. But if behaviour reflects belief, and belief is reflected in our behaviour, then how do we fit in to the scheme of things? Does our behaviour reflect what we say we believe? Or does it reflect our true beliefs, even ones we may not wish to acknowledge?
Throughout life we encounter many people, many of whose motives may be highly questionable. However, we cannot assume that everyone is working from the same base. Yes, there are people who lie, who cheat and who deceive, and in order to cover up past mistakes, their behaviour deteriorates further.
But whoever we are, our behaviour reflects our deep-seated beliefs. So what we need to make sure of, then, is that our deep-seated beliefs are on a very sound footing.
Jacob’s behaviour was based on a belief in the one true God. Laban’s behaviour stemmed from his own self-interest. And our behaviour … Well, good or bad, it is a reflection of what we truly believe.
Posted: 8th February 2018
© 2018, Brian A Curtis