After Jacob received the blessing from Isaac by deceiving him, Jacob had to flee for his life, as Esau wanted to kill him. This began a twenty-year sojourn by Jacob in the land of his mother, Rebekah, living with his uncle Laban. This twenty-year period can be divided almost evenly into three periods. Jacob described these this way: “This was my lot for twenty years in your house: I worked like a slave for you – fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, but you changed my wages ten times!” (Genesis 31:41 NET).
Jacob worked his first seven years for his bride – he thought he was working for Rachel, the love of his life. When he woke up the morning after his first night with his wife, he discovered that he had slept with Leah. Although he was given Rachel as a second wife a week later (Genesis 29:28) he still had to work another seven years to pay for his second wife. He then worked six years accumulating further flocks for himself.
Although we often get the impression that Jacob was a young man throughout all this, when we examine the chronology of his life, we discover that he was in his 70s when he arrived at Labon’s home. [He was 130 when he arrived in Egypt (47:9); Joseph was 30 when he became first minister of Egypt (41:46) and there had been the seven good years and two of the bad years by the time the family arrived (45:6), making him 39; this would mean that Jacob was 91 when Joseph was born; Jacob was the youngest of the children born in Paddan Aram, probably around fourteen or so years after Jacob’s arrival, meaning that Jacob was in his mid-70s when he arrived.]
Because of the mistreatment he received from his father-in-law, and because God directly told him to “Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives” (Genesis 31:3), Jacob began to prepare to leave the area with his family and possessions. His wives agreed that it was time to go (31:14-16). So while Laban was away shearing sheep, Jacob took his family and movable property and began the trek back to Canaan.
Laban learned of Jacob’s leaving and took off after him and caught up with him ten days later. After some heated discussions, he decided to make peace with Jacob, and they set up a stone pillar and pile of stones to remind them of this agreement. The place was called Mizpah, “because he said, ‘May the Lord watch between us when we are out of sight of one another’” (Genesis 31:49).
We often sentimentalise this thought without reading the rest of the incident. This was not the nice loving sentiment we often use it as. Notice the next few verses: “if you mistreat my daughters or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no one else is with us, realise that God is witness to your actions. Here is this pile of stones and this pillar I have set up between me and you,’ Laban said to Jacob. ‘This pile of stones and the pillar are reminders that I will not pass beyond this pile to come to harm you and that you will not pass beyond this pile and this pillar to come to harm me’” (Genesis 31:50-52).
The pile of stones was to remind them not to harm each other! The pile of stones was to remind them to treat their families correctly, that even if no one else knew what happened, God would know. Throughout these years, God remained true to the promise he made Jacob, “I am with you! I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you!” (Genesis 28:15). We can always rely on God.
Readings for next week:
17 August – Genesis 32
18 August – Genesis 33
19 August – Genesis 34
20 August – Genesis 35
21 August – Genesis 36