We first meet Laban in Genesis 24, as the servant of Abraham sought a wife for his master’s son, Isaac. The LORD led this servant to Rebekah, Laban’s sister, and the servant honored her with several valuable pieces of jewelry. Laban received the man with lavish displays of hospitality (Genesis 24:31-33). However, from the very start, we are led to wonder whether Laban’s actions might be motivated by something more worldly than respect for God’s will, for the text shares a detail regarding Laban’s first attention: “As soon as he saw the ring and the bracelets on his sister’s arms…” (Genesis 24:30) Our suspicions are all but confirmed as we come to see Laban’s character unfold in coming years. His life will let us reflect on the means and the end of the covetous man, and so be warned against this quality in our own selves.
The Covetous Man Is Willing to Deceive
Years later, Jacob sought refuge in Laban’s land and fell in love with Laban’s daughter, Rachel. Jacob, in his romantic fervor, made an extravagant offer for Rachel’s hand: “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel” (Genesis 29:18). Laban accepted, surely taking note of Jacob’s enthusiasm. However, on the wedding night, Laban secretly delivered his older daughter, Leah, to Jacob. This was obviously a cruel deception, but Laban coolly responded to Jacob’s just complaint with a weak excuse and a demand for seven more years of labor before he would grant Rachel to him also in marriage (Genesis 29:21-27).
After the 14 years of working for Laban’s daughters, Jacob continued as Laban’s employee for six more years. Jacob later recounted to his wives the experience he had with this covetous employer: “You know that I have served your father with all my strength, yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times. But God did not permit him to harm me. If he said, ‘The spotted [sheep] shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore spotted; and if he said, ‘The striped shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore striped” (Genesis 31:6-8). Laban was a covetous man, and it is never a surprise when covetous men deceive, cheat, withhold, and steal to gain a material advantage (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
The Covetous Man Will End with Nothing
Jacob’s solution was to flee from Laban, for he knew that Laban would somehow try to justify taking back the livestock that were rightly Jacob’s as his wages (Genesis 31:42). We might expect Leah and Rachel, out of filial love, to resist this tactic. Their response, then, is especially telling: “Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house? Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and he has indeed devoured our money” (Genesis 31:14-15). Laban had long before lost the respect of his son-in-law, and now he had lost the affection of his flesh and blood. He loved money more than his closest relationships.
Ironically, Laban lost his wealth as well. As we have noted, whatever kind of animal Laban designated as Jacob’s wages, whether speckled or striped, God made sure would breed in abundance. Jacob was correct when he observed, “Thus God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me” (Genesis 31:9). Even Laban’s sons noted the situation, though with malicious designs (Genesis 31:1). Laban was a trickster and a thief, and appropriately enough, he was tricked and stolen from (Genesis 31:19-20). The greedy man will ultimately end up with nothing — not the love of others, nor even the possessions for which he sacrificed that love. What a warning against the love of money!