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Laban's Failure to Forgive (Genesis 31:22-35)

July 20, 2021 | by: Gregg Hunter | 0 comments

Posted in: Genesis 31

When Jacob secretly flees from Laban, God warns Laban in a dream not to speak to Jacob. Let’s see if Laban obeys God.


Please read Genesis 31:22-35.

Ignoring God’s command, Laban brings four accusations against Jacob as soon as they meet:

  1. You tricked me by driving away my daughters like captives of the sword (26)
  2. You tricked me by robbing me of the privilege of throwing you a going away celebration (27)
  3. You didn’t permit me to kiss my sons and daughters farewell (28)

For all of these accusations, Laban could demand justice. But he is willing to forgive Jacob of all of these crimes on account of the dream that God gave him. Still, there is one final accusation:

  1. You stole my household gods (30)

For this, Laban is unwilling to forgive. This is the crime that has gone too far. He knows that God has called him to forgive Jacob, and he can forgive him for many of his crimes. But not this one. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Maybe this is what Peter had in mind when he asked our Lord, “how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matt. 18:21). Seven was a perfect number for the Jewish people, and forgiving someone seven times seemed like an extravagant amount of grace. After all, Laban could only forgive Jacob three times before reaching his final straw.

Unfortunately for Laban, this crime that was the last straw wasn’t even committed by Jacob! Unbeknownst to Jacob, it was committed by his wife, who covered up the evidence of her crime. So Laban is left with nothing with which he can accuse Jacob--that is, he's left with nothing but anger and bitterness.

When we fail to forgive, we ruin our relationships. It is not the initial sin that ruins a relationship; it is the failure to forgive, and the failure to seek forgiveness that ultimately ruins relationships. Even after Jacob has sinned against Laban so many times, they still had the opportunity to reconcile. After Laban forgave Jacob three times, they could have reconciled. But Laban couldn’t find it in his heart to forgive Jacob the fourth time.

Peter thought it would be impossible to forgive someone eight times. But you’ll remember Jesus’ response to Peter’s question: “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matt. 18:22). This isn’t a literal number of course. We know that love keeps no record of wrongs, so it’s not like Jesus expects us to keep a list of all the times someone has wrongs us, and once we get to 78, that’s it—no more forgiveness! In fact, the words that Jesus literally says are “seventy times seven,” so it’s more like 490 times. That’s a pretty hard number to get to if you aren’t keeping a record of wrongs!

Jesus’ point of course is that there should be no limit to our forgiveness of one another. If our brother sins against us, we forgive him. If he sins against us again, we forgive him again. If he sins against us again and again and again, we forgive him over and over and over.

This sounds foreign to us. This doesn’t sound fair. This doesn’t sound just.

But our concept of justice is skewed. God’s concept of justice is perfect. He who forgave us of so much commands us to also forgive our brothers. Only through forgiveness of each others’ faults can we maintain the kind of relationship with our brothers that will glorify God. If only Laban understood this, maybe he wouldn't have lost his son-in-law, his daughters, and his grandchildren.