We all need a little Laban in our lives. Laban was the character from Genesis who took his nephew Jacob under his wing and helped form him into a new, more godly man. But to read the book of Genesis, you might doubt what I just said.
Laban hired Jacob to work for him because Laban saw an opportunity to make a buck or two. Jacob was madly in love with Laban’s daughter Rachel and offered to work for seven years for the right to marry her.
That might seem like a rash proposal on the part of Jacob, but remember that he was a bit of a slick operator himself. He’s the guy who through maneuver and deception stole his brother’s birthright and blessing. He was no stranger to the grand deal. “Jacob”, after all, means “Supplanter”.
But in Laban, Jacob had met his match. No matter how slick you think you are, there is always someone slicker, and that was the case here. After seven years of toil, Jacob was to receive his bride. But there was one problem, a secret protocol as it were. In the land where Laban resided, they had a countervailing law: a younger sister could not be married ahead of her older sister, and Laban said something like this: “I’m sure sorry you didn’t know, Jacob, but in order to marry Rachel, you have to take her older sister too. It’s just the way we do things around here, don’t you see. But you should have known. You should have had your lawyer read the contract. Oh, and by the way, the price for the second bride is another seven years of work in my fields.”
Yes, Jacob had met his match. But at the same time that little grain of sand named Laban became a slowly growing a pearl in Jacob’s oyster of life.
Remember that Jacob usually managed to get his way, often by deception. This time was different, and if we look at Jacob before and after Laban, we see a different guy.
As Jacob was fleeing from his brother Esau after stealing the right of inheritance, God revealed himself, perhaps for the first time, to Jacob. Moved, Jacob made this prayer: "If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father's house, then the Lord will be my God." (Genesis 28:20-21 NIV).
Read it and see that Jacob was trying to swing a deal, a quid pro quo, with God. "If God will be with me ... then the Lord will be my God ... and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth." (v. 22)
Now look at the prayer he prayed after a couple of decades of irritation from that grain of sand called Laban. "I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau." (Genesis 32:9-11 NIV)
Notice the change from an "If God, then I" kind of deal to a humble "I am not worthy". And notice in the passage that follows the length to which Jacob goes to reconcile with the brother he had wronged, including a restitution of wealth.
I have experienced my Labans, men who were irritating sands in my oyster of life. Some of them I despised, most of them I distrusted. But I am so glad God gave them to me. Those grains of sand in the oyster of life are a blessing indeed.