FOUNDATION (Genesis 31:36-42)

GENESIS 31:36-42



In obedience to his parent’s wishes, Jacob traveled to Haran. He was instructed to go to his uncle Laban’s house for the express purpose of marrying one of his daughters. Laban, however, tricked him into marrying both daughters. Jacob quickly learned that survival required staying one step ahead of his uncle’s manipulative and conniving schemes.

When God told Jacob to take his household and return to Canaan, some 20 years later, tensions were already mounting between Jacob and his father-in-law’s family:


Genesis 31:36-42 (emphasis added)
Jacob answered and said to Laban: “What is my trespass? What is my sin, that you have so hotly pursued me? Although you have searched all my things, what part of your household things have you found? Set it here before my brethren and your brethren, that they may judge between us both!

These twenty years I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried their young, and I have not eaten the rams of your flock. That which was torn by beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it. You required it from my hand, whether stolen by day or stolen by night.

There I was! In the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night, and my sleep departed from my eyes. Thus I have been in your house twenty years; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times.

Unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked you last night.


Jacob called his wives, Rachel and Leah, and confided that God had called him to return to Canaan. Because they were also targets of their father’s unscrupulous character, both wives acknowledged they had nothing to gain by staying in Haran and fully agreed to return with Jacob to Canaan (Gen. 31:14-16).

Concerned that Laban might forcibly retain his daughters and their children, Jacob took his family and flocks and hurriedly left Haran.

Three days later Laban realized Jacob’s family had gone and went after them in hot pursuit. Seven days later, Laban caught up with them along the northern border of Canaan; but, before he reached Jacob, God appeared to him in a dream with a warning not to harm Jacob (v. 24).


Detail: The Alliance of Jacob and Laban (circa. 1630-1635).

None-the-less, Laban arrived in the camp accusing Jacob of theft. He also feigned displeasure at not being able to throw his daughters a going-away party. Incensed by Laban’s actions, Jacob responded by setting the record straight. 

Jacob knew Laban’s character! He worked for him 20 years. Laban had coerced him into marrying both his daughters, Leah and then, Rachel, requiring seven years of service for each. After the 14-year obligatory service, Jacob worked for wages that Laban repeatedly renegotiated to serve his own greedy purposes.

Jacob had not only put up with Laban’s antics, he had worked day and night to increase his father-in-law’s flocks. Jacob asserted it was God alone who blessed him with success in his endeavors and that had God not intervened on his behalf, Laban would have cheated him out of everything he had (v. 42).

Interestingly, when God urged Jacob to return to Canaan, He assured Jacob, “I have seen all that Laban is doing to you” (v. 12).

God did not accuse Jacob of taking advantage of Laban; the exact opposite was true.

The truth of Jacob’s words brought Laban to his senses

Instead of punishing Jacob as planned, Laban came to the realization that a covenant between the two of them would be in his best interest. They became allies and set up a memorial commemorating the event (v. 44). They named the memorial Mizpah, which means “watch place”. It signified God’s awareness of their activities while separated from one another. Laban charged Jacob to not only care for his daughters, but also required that Jacob promise not to abuse them or to take any additional wives. Jacob wholeheartedly agreed to Laban’s terms.

God was fully aware of what must have seemed like a burdensome relationship with Laban.

Yet, during his 20 years serving Laban, God sharpened Jacob’s mind, reinforced his faith and greatly prospered him. Jacob returned to the Land of Promise with a large family, unparalleled experience and great wealth!

God does not turn a blind eye to injustice.

Because He is truly God, He can use seeming injustice for our benefit, as in the case of Jacob, to strengthen and enrich those who put their trust in Him. 

1) Bible opened to Isaiah. By Ken Horn, [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
2) Detail: The Alliance of Jacob and Laban (circa. 1630-1635). By Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669), [PD-US, PD-Art], via Wikimedia Commons- Enhancement

© Charles E. McCracken 2016, devotional comments only.  Repost/Reprint with permission from the author. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.