Who is Laban?


Laban’s prophecy (which is unexpected)

Rebekah’s brother, Laban, is often evaluated as “one who deceives and is deceived.” But if we see him from a different vantage point, an entirely different person emerges. (Korean version here)

The Absurdity of Rebekah’s Marriage with Isaac

After the event, in which Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac, Abraham heard the news about his brother Nahor; that is, Nahor and his wife Milcah, who is Abraham’s brother Haran’s daughter, have eight sons (Gen 22:10-24)(my post about this passage, click here).

The last one introduced among Milcah’s sons is Bethuel, and he is the father of Laban and Rebekah. Rebekah is introduced in Nahor’s genealogy at the end of Gen 22, and we are told that she marries Isaac in Gen 24.

The whole story of Rebekah’s marriage is quite absurd. Abraham sends his servant to his homeland(Paddan-aram, Gen 25:20) to get Isaac’s wife among the kinsfolk. All the processes that the servant took were so seamless that he clearly sees this marriage arrangement is God-given. So on the right next day, the servant tells Laban that he will leave with Rebekah right away, but Laban asked him to stay at least about ten more days. But the servant tells him not to delay what God decided. Nonetheless, Laban does not comply with him easily and suggests to ask Rebekah’s opinion. Since Rebekah had to wave a farewell to his family and everyone there all of a sudden, Laban might have thought that she would not want to go so soon. Surprisingly, however, Rebekah decides to leave with the servant right away. She had never seen Isaac, and does not know who that person is. But to become a complete stranger’s wife at her early age I assume, she absurdly, at least from a modern person’s perspective, decides to leave her home immediately.

Laban’s unexpected aspects at the scene of his farewell to Rebekah

Under such surprising circumstances, the last words that Laban had spoken to his sister is Gen 24:60

And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,
“May you, our sister, become
thousands of myriads;
may your offspring gain possession
of the gates of their foes.”

Laban blessed his beloved sister with all his heart and wished her the best. What is intriguing in this blessing is that Laban’s blessing is directly related to the blessings that YHWH gave to Abraham and Sarah. For example, in Gen 17:16, Sarah is blessed, “she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” This blessing is similar to Laban’s words “May our sister become thousands of myriads.” In Gen 22:17, Abaraham is blessed, “your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies.” Of course, this blessing is almost exactly the same as Laban’s last words for Rebekah.

Now, it seems Laban plays a prophetic role here. Laban repeats YHWH’s words almost the same. I do not mean that we have to take this event historically. But what is important is that Laban’s role in the narrative is quite prophetic. As mentioned, Laban is often evaluated very negatively or as “one who deceives and is deceived.” But Gen 24:60 tell us a different story.
Another unexpected aspect of Laban in this scene is his humane attitude to his sister. In this story, his father, Bethuel, does not appear. So Laban plays the role of the patriarch of Bethuel’s house. His mother, Milcah’s role as a matriarch is not foregrounded in this family event, in which Rebekah leaves to marry Isaac. Though the text says “they” indicating the subjects are both Laban and Milcah, “they” call Rebekah “our sister” instead of “our daughter.” Since we have to assume that “they” did not say those words all at the same time like one person, Gen 24:60 is Laban’s speech, represeting his household.

As an “acting” patriarch of the house of Bethuel, he might have raised Rebekah, who lost her father at her very early age like his own daughter. So it should have been incredibly sad to let her go all of a sudden. He asked the servant to stay a littel longer. It was very cold of her to leave him that way. Nonetheless, without a further complaint, Laban blessed her with all his heart like a prophet.

*note1: Blessings that are interconnected through the pentateuchal narrative are important factors to divide documents or sources in the documentary hypothesis. For further study, see Joel Baden, The Composition of the Pentateuch.

*note2: It is also possible to think that it was Laban’s deceiving strategy to ask the servant to stay ten more days to delay his stay even longer.

1 thought on “Who is Laban?”

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