5 Lessons We Can Learn From Jacob and Laban

5 Lessons We Can Learn From Jacob and Laban

The story of Jacob and his time spent with Laban is one of those key stories in the old testament that have a great influence on the rest of The Bible. The story is found in Genesis 29 through 31 and it has five lessons we can learn and start applying today.

These are five lessons we can learn from Jacob and Laban:

  • Family Can Take Advantage of You
  • Listen To The Warning Signs
  • A Bad Decision Can Lead To A Series of Problems
  • God Handles Unfair Treatment
  • Set Yourself Up For Success

Before I go into each of these lessons in detail, here is a quick summary of Jacob and Laban if you are unfamiliar with their story.

Summary of Jacob and Laban

While fleeing from his brother Esau, Jacob ended up in the land where his uncle Laban lived. He falls in love with Laban’s daughter Rachel and agrees to work seven years for her. At the end of the seven years, Laban deceives Jacob by giving him Leah instead and he treated Jacob unfairly in other agreements that followed. 

Jacob ends up marrying both of Laban’s daughters and eventually came to the point where he was ready to leave to build his own household. Laban persuades him to stay and they come to an agreement that made Jacob wealthy at Laban’s expense. In the end, Jacob leaves secretly but is pursued by Laban. Laban catches him up but didn’t do him any harm since God warned him in a dream.

Family Can Take Advantage of You

The first lesson we can learn from Jacob and Laban is that family can take advantage of you. Laban and Jacob were related. Laban was Jacob’s uncle. Despite them being related, Laban took advantage of Jacob multiple times. 

First, he took advantage of Jacob by giving him Leah as a wife for seven years of work when initially both of them agreed on him working for Rachel. Then he made him work another seven years for Rachel.

At another point, Jacob and Laban made an agreement about Jacob’s wages being “every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb and every spotted or speckled goat” (Genesis 30:32 NIV).

But then, The Bible states that, that the same day Laban removed all the sheep and goats that Jacob and he agreed would be his payment and placed them in the care of his sons (Genesis 30:35). Jacob also told his wives that Laban “has cheated me by changing my wages ten times” (Genesis 31:7 NIV). 

Laban Took Advantage of His Daughters

Laban not only took advantage of Jacob but also his own daughters. He took advantage of Leah by having her pretend to be Rachel to get Jacob to work another seven years. And about Laban, both of his daughters said “does he not regard us as foreigners?

Not only has he sold us, but he has used up what was paid for us” (Genesis 31:15 NIV). These examples remind us that just because a person is considered a family member, it doesn’t mean they wouldn’t take advantage of you.

Protect Yourself From Being Taken Advantage Of

Learning from Jacob’s experience with Laban, we should be careful when we make agreements with family members. Because it is with a family member, we may not take the agreement seriously.

We may neglect to work out the details which can lead to problems if things go bad. So remember Jacob and Laban when you are making agreements with family and do what’s necessary to protect yourself from being taken advantage of, especially if it’s business-related.

Listen To The Warning Signs

The next lesson we can learn from Jacob and Laban is to listen to the warning signs. This is what Jacob did when he realized that Laban’s and Laban’s son’s attitudes were changing towards him and when God told him to return to the land of his ancestors (Genesis 31:1-3). If Jacob ignored the warning signs, he may have had an unfortunate end.

Based on how Jacob saw Laban’s attitude towards him changing and God telling him to go, Jacob decided to leave without telling him. Jacob knew the type of person Laban was. How Laban treated him in the past were warning signs of what he was capable of. Not surprisingly, Jacob’s decision to go quietly was a smart move.

Laban Would Have Harmed Jacob

When Laban heard Jacob had left, Laban, “taking his relatives with him, he pursued Jacob for seven days and caught up with him” (Genesis 31:23 NIV). Laban didn’t have good intentions while he was pursuing Jacob because God had to tell him “be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad” (Genesis 31:24).

Then Laban said it himself when he told Jacob “I have the power to harm you” but God warned him to be careful (Genesis 31:29 NIV).

Who knows how the story may have gone if Jacob ignored Laban’s changing attitude towards him and God’s instructions to leave? Jacob, thinking that Laban would have taken his daughters from him by force if he told him he was leaving was a wise assessment (Genesis 31:31). 

Take Action When You See The Warning Signs

Like Jacob, we should listen to the warning signs and take the necessary actions to protect ourselves. It’s easy to explain away the warning signs when we are comfortable or don’t want to face the reality of what the signs may mean. Since we have been analyzing Jacob and Laban’s work-related issues, think of a job for example. 

You may notice that you along with your coworkers’ benefits are slowly being taken away and the responsibilities of some of the people who left the company are being divided among existing workers without extra pay.

These are signs that a company isn’t doing well and that you should probably consider looking for another job. But thinking the company is too big to fail or that you are guaranteed some benefit if it does, could turn out disastrous for you.

Proverbs 27:12 states “A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences” (NLT). Like Jacob who foresaw the danger in Laban and acted accordingly, we should listen to the warning signs and take precautions to avoid suffering.

A Bad Decision Can Lead To A Series Of Problems

The third lesson we can learn from Jacob and Laban is that a bad decision can lead to a series of problems. Laban’s decision to deceive Jacob by giving him Leah in marriage instead of Rachel led to a series of problems that Laban could never have imagined.

Generational Problems

Because Rachel was the one Jacob loved, in addition to Leah he married Rachel as well. Had Laban not trick him, he would have only had one wife. Then, because Jacob didn’t love Leah, The Bible says God “enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless” (Genesis 29:31 NIV).

That then led to a competition between Rachel and Leah leading Jacob to have children with not only them but their servant girls also! This eventually led to Joseph being mistreated and eventually sold as a slave by his older brothers probably because he didn’t share the same mother with any of them.

If you’re interested in learning more about Joseph, I wrote 3 Life Lessons From The Story of Joseph

In the same way, Laban’s bad decisions led to a series of problems, the bad decisions we make can lead to a series of problems. Some of them are generational. With this understanding, we should be more careful of the decision we make, thinking of the impact it has now and in the future.

In many cases, like Laban, we may think a small selfish decision won’t make a big difference. The reality is it can. We who make the decision may not experience the pain of it, but those down the line, like Jacob and his family, may.

All Things Workout For The Good

As a side note, according to scripture, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NIV). God has a way of working things out even when we mess it up.

His working it out doesn’t mean we’ll escape the consequences of our decisions, but it does mean in the end, for those that love him and are called according to his purpose, he’ll make it all work out for the good. Just like he did with Jacob and the generations that followed.

God Handles Unfair Treatment

Another lesson we can learn from Jacob and Laban is that God handles unfair treatment. From what I shared so far, it is clear that Laban was unfair to Jacob. In the beginning, it appears as though Laban was getting away with it all. But in the end, Jacob prospered at Laban’s expense through God’s doing.

We see this when Jacob spoke to Rachel and Leah in Genesis 31:5-9.

5 He said to them, “I see that your father’s attitude toward me is not what it was before, but the God of my father has been with me. 

6 You know that I’ve worked for your father with all my strength, 

7 yet your father has cheated me by changing my wages ten times. However, God has not allowed him to harm me. 

8 If he said, ‘The speckled ones will be your wages,’ then all the flocks gave birth to speckled young; and if he said, ‘The streaked ones will be your wages,’ then all the flocks bore streaked young. 

9 So God has taken away your father’s livestock and has given them to me.

Genesis 31:5-9 (NIV)

According to Joseph, God was with him as Laban mistreated him and it was God who took away Laban’s livestock and gave them to him.

We also see God handling the unfair treatment of Jacob towards Leah. As shared earlier, “When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless” (Genesis 29:31 NIV). 

Learning from this, whenever we are treated unfairly we should trust that God will make it right. It may not appear that God is doing anything about it, but in the end, as seen with Jacob and Laban, he does.

Although difficult, Our job is to forgive and love our enemies. Like Jacob, we shouldn’t try to get revenge for ourselves. This is what Romans 12:19 indicates.

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD. – Romans 12:19

Set Yourself Up For Success

The last lesson we can learn from Jacob and Laban that we’ll look at in this article is to set yourself up for success. After Jacob’s experience with Laban and his deceptive ways, he made a wise proposal when Laban wanted to pay him more rather than let him leave. 

In Genesis 30:32, Jacob told Laban “Let me go through all your flocks today and remove from them every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb and every spotted or speckled goat. They will be my wages”( NIV).

Jacob went on to say “my honesty will testify for me in the future, whenever you check on the wages you have paid me. Any goat in my possession that is not speckled or spotted, or any lamb that is not dark-colored, will be considered stolen” (Genesis 30:33 NIV).

Knowing that Laban often changed what he said, Jacob decided on an objective way to be compensated that he could later use to argue his case. Not only that, by Jacob making his wages dependent on livestock rather than a fixed amount that Laban wanted him to give (Genesis 30:28), it allowed him to become prosperous and the owner of a large flock (Genesis 30:43).

Examples of Setting Yourself Up For Success

Similar to Jacob, we can set ourselves up for success by making decisions today that seem unprofitable but makes us better off later. For example, like Laban offered Jacob to name his wage when he wanted to leave, we may get an offer to do the same if we decided to leave our place of work.

Rather than give a fixed rate, we could potentially negotiate a bonus that is a percentage of the income we generate for the company.

As another example, to avoid conflicting stories between you and someone else in the future, you may require people to communicate in writing so that you have proof of what you discussed if you ever needed to refer to it.

While writing this, I thought about Oprah Winfrey and how she got rich. According to Wikipedia, she became a millionaire by negotiating the ownership rights to her television show that became popular. I also recall many times where I had to refer to emails not only to remember what others said but to make sure I remember what I agreed to.

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So remember Jacob and Laban and agree to terms today that will set you up for success tomorrow!

Conclusion

The story of Jacob and Laban is hard to forget and the lessons we can learn from it should not be ignored. You learned that Family Can Take Advantage of You, to Listen To The Warning Signs, A Bad Decision Can Lead To A Series of Problems, that God Handles Unfair Treatment, and Set Yourself Up For Success.

I hope that at least one of these lessons in this article stood out to you and that you’re better off because you’ve taken the time to read it.

AuthorMoses Pierre-Paul

Moses is a teacher by calling and an IT Professional by profession. He is dedicated to helping others grow personally and spiritually and lives by the motto "In This Life and The Next". He is the author of Input/Output: Change Your Environment, Change Your Life and routinely teaches at his church Chapel On The Hill where he is serving as an Elder and Youth Director.