Who was Laban in the Bible?

Laban was Rebekah's brother, grandson of Abraham's brother Nahor, and father to Leah and Rachel. He lived in Haran and owned flocks of goats and sheep.

When Abraham's servant arrived in Haran to find a wife for Isaac, Laban and his father Bethuel welcomed him. Abraham's servant had given Rebekah a ring and bracelets. When he found out whose daughter she was, he blessed the Lord and told Rebekah that God had led him there. When Laban heard of this, saw the jewelry on his sister's arms, and heard from Rebekah what the servant had said, Laban "said, 'Come in, O blessed of the LORD. Why do you stand outside? For I have prepared the house and a place for the camels.' So the man came to the house and unharnessed the camels, and gave straw and fodder to the camels, and there was water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him" (Genesis 24:31–32). Laban and Bethuel agreed to allow Rebekah to marry Abraham's son and sent her off with a blessing. Years later, when Rebekah's son Jacob was running from Esau, Laban welcomed his nephew in much the same way (Genesis 27—29). So we see that Laban was fairly wealthy, kind to his sister, and hospitable to strangers.

We also see that Laban recognized God's hand at work. When Abraham's servant arrived to find a wife, Laban and his father said, "The thing has come from the LORD… let her be the wife of your master's son, as the LORD has spoken" (Genesis 24:50–51). Later Laban recognized God's blessing in the material success he experienced by having Jacob live and work with him. Laban explained, "the LORD has blessed me because of you" (Genesis 30:27). Despite Laban's recognition of God and seeming deference to His will, Laban also worshiped other gods. When Rachel left his house, she "stole her father's household gods" (Genesis 31:19). Laban also admitted that he used divination to learn that God blessed him because of Jacob (Genesis 30:27). The complexity of Laban's attitude toward God is seen when he pursued Jacob. He explained, "The God of your father spoke to me last night saying, 'Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad'" (Genesis 31:29). This command Laban obeyed, but he continued, "but why did you steal my gods?" (Genesis 31:30). So despite hearing from and obeying God, Laban still chased after false idols.

Perhaps this lack of fully committing to God explains Laban's sometimes deceitful behavior. Jacob was also known for being a deceiver, and it seems Laban and Jacob tricked one another a few times. When Jacob asked to marry Laban's daughter Rachel, Laban agreed that she could be his wife in exchange for seven years of work tending his flocks. However, on the wedding night, Laban gave Jacob his older daughter Leah instead. Laban agreed to also give him Rachel after Jacob completed the wedding week with Leah, but would only do so in exchange for another seven years of work (Genesis 29:18–29). When Jacob was ready to move away and Laban tried to persuade him to stay, asking him to name wages, the men agreed that Jacob could take any spotted, speckled, or black lamb or goat under his care. He would separate those animals from the others, keeping them as his flock and also tending to Laban's flock. "But that day Laban removed the male goats that were striped and spotted, and all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had white on it, and every lamb that was black, and put them in the charge of his sons" (Genesis 30:35). So Jacob was left with only solid colored flock to tend. However, God blessed the flock under Jacob's experienced care and his flock grew spotted, speckled, and black lambs and goats that were bigger and stronger than the flocks remaining with Laban's sons. Then "Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, 'Jacob has taken all that was our father's, and from what was our father's he has gained all this wealth.' And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before. Then the LORD said to Jacob, 'Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you'" (Genesis 31:1–3). Jacob gathered his family to leave without saying goodbye (Genesis 31:1–21). Thus, Laban while originally welcoming Jacob as a beloved family member, ended up deceiving him on at least two occasions.

When Laban discovered Jacob had left, he pursued him (Genesis 31:22–55). Ultimately, Laban covenanted with Jacob not to further pursue or harm one another (Genesis 31:43–45). Laban said, "The LORD watch between you and me, when we are out of one another's sight. If you oppress my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no one is with us, see, God is witness between you and me" (Genesis 31:49–50). The next morning "Laban arose and kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then Laban departed and returned home" (Genesis 31:55). Laban is never again mentioned in the Bible.

Laban was a man of wealth in the land of Haran who loved his sister, daughters, and grandchildren, who welcomed strangers, and sometimes listened to God, but also a man who was deceptive, motivated by material gain, and who seemingly rejected committing his life to the LORD and instead trusted idols. He was the biological grandfather of eight of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the legal grandfather to all.

Related Truth:

Who was Rebekah in the Bible?

What is the biblical account of Jacob?

Who was Leah in the Bible?

Who was Rachel in the Bible?

What are the twelve tribes of Israel?

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