Biblical People

Biblical People: Laban

After Rebekah learns of Esau’s intent to kill Jacob—her favorite of the twins—she tells him to flee to his uncle Laban—her brother—to wait there until Esau’s anger subsides. 

Telling Isaac she doesn’t want Jacob to marry a local girl, she gets her husband to agree to send Jacob away, thereby distancing him from Esau and his deadly threats. 

Isaac and Rebekah send Jacob to Laban to marry one of his uncle’s daughters, his first cousin. Though this makes us uncomfortable today, remember, it isn’t until God gives his laws to Moses that he prohibits marrying a close relative.

Jacob heads east and finds his uncle. Laban has two daughters, Leah and Rachel. Jacob falls in love with the younger sister, Rachel, and agrees to work for his uncle for seven years in exchange for her.

The seven years fly by for Jacob, and soon Laban prepares the wedding. But the morning after, Jacob discovers he’s married to Leah instead of Rachel.

Laban has tricked him, but he defends himself by claiming their tradition holds that the older daughter must marry before the younger one can.

Laban then gives Rachel to Jacob as a second wife, but only if Jacob will agree to work for his father-in-law for another seven years. 

We can sympathize with Jacob because Laban tricked him into marrying a woman he doesn’t love and forced him to work an additional seven years to marry the woman he does. Laban doesn’t treat Jacob with integrity.

Even if Laban intended Leah to marry first, he should’ve told Jacob this right away and not seven years later when it was too late.

Yet we also realize that Jacob lacked integrity in dealing with his brother and his father. Might Jacob have treated Uncle Laban the same way? This might explain (but not justify) why Laban dealt shrewdly with Jacob.

Jacob then works six more years for Laban. This time his wages are a flock of his own. After twenty years of toiling for his father-in-law, God tells Jacob it’s time to return home.

Jacob heads out with his wives, many children, and flocks to return to the land God promised to give to Abraham. But he doesn’t tell Laban of his plans. He just leaves.

When Laban finds out, he pursues Jacob. He confronts his son-in-law, who justifies his actions by accusing Laban of treating him unfairly and changing his wages ten times. We don’t know if Jacob exaggerates this to make his point or not. 

Eventually the pair work through their differences, and they part peacefully.

Though it’s understandable to be upset when people lie to us, do we behave with integrity in how we deal with them? How do we react when others treat us poorly?

[Read Laban’s story in Genesis 24:29–51; 27:41–28:5; 29:1–29; and 30:25–31:55.]

Learn about more biblical characters in Old Testament Sinners and Saints, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover. Get your copy today.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 1,000-page website to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.

By Peter DeHaan

Peter writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and make a faith that matters. Learn more at