Jacob’s Covenant with Laban
Open Your Bible
Genesis 31:1-55, Genesis 32:1-32
BY Missy Fuller
Text: Genesis 31:1-55, Genesis 32:1-32
I have two names. Okay, one is technically a nickname, but still—two names. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, in my life once called me Missy. But then I graduated from college and decided that, in order to be taken seriously as a professional, I needed to be called Melissa. Thus began my constant identity battle.
Missy is the fun, energetic version of myself that my friends and family know and love. Melissa is the serious, won’t take slack from anyone, gets the work done professional. I can’t tell you how many times my friends have been shocked to learn my full name is Melissa. Or all the coworkers who’ve asked if they can call me Missy after finding me on Facebook.
Suffice it to say, I envy those of you with only one name.
I’d venture a guess that Jacob had struggles with his name too. Jacob’s name meant “he grasps the heel,” which is an idiom in Hebrew for “he deceives.” Can you imagine? “Hi, I’m ‘he deceives.’ Would you be interested in trading some camels for a few sheep?” Yeah, right.
Jacob’s name, however, was fitting. He was a deceiver. He manipulated his older brother Esau in order to gain Esau’s birthright (Genesis 26). He deceived his father Isaac and stole Esau’s blessing (Genesis 27).
But Jacob met his match in Laban, a deceiver in his own right. Laban schemed to marry off both his daughters to Jacob, and even managed to manipulate 20 years of hard labor out of his new son-in-law in the process (Genesis 31:38-41). Jacob got a taste of his own medicine, and he and Laban remained at odds from that point forward.
Their struggle for power continued throughout Jacob’s years in Paddan Aram, the two men taking turns cheating one another out of goats and lambs. When Jacob and his family fled, Laban came after him, and the two were left in a stalemate. They agreed on nothing, not even a name for their meeting place (Genesis 31:47). The men desired to make peace but they simply did not trust each other, so they built a mound to keep them apart (Genesis 31:48-53).
The covenant between Jacob and Laban further solidified Jacob’s identity: he was indeed a deceiver. His time in Paddan Aram was marked by the heap and pillar he and Laban set up—a constant reminder that they could never get past their own selfishness. Jacob traveled back home with the same identity he’d always known.
But then God stepped in.
That night as he wrestled with God, Jacob faced his identity once again when asked, “What is your name?” And once again he answered, “He Deceives.”
But there, in that moment, God gave Jacob a new identity.
“Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
– Genesis 32:28
Jacob had deep roots in his old identity, but not too deep for the Lord. Though Jacob was entrenched in sin and selfishness, God reached in and called him to something greater—a new identity in Him.
This is God’s heart for us too. We are not unreachable in our sin, no matter how far gone we think we are. Jesus came to pursue our hearts through His life, death, and resurrection. He sacrificed everything while we were still dead in our sin and He did it all to call us sons and daughters, to birth in us a new identity inextricably rooted in Him (Ephesians 2:2-5).
Jacob received a new name and, in Christ, so have we. This is who we really are, Beloved: we are His. May we rest in our new identity that cost our Savior everything.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.
– 2 Corinthians 5:17