("white".) Bethuel's son; grandson of Nahor, Abraham's brother (Genesis 28:5; Genesis 29:5). Rebekah's brother (Genesis 24:29-31; Genesis 24:50-51; Genesis 24:55). It was "when he saw the earring and bracelets" given by Eliezer to Rebekah he was lavish in his professions of hospitality, "come in thou blessed of the Lord; wherefore standest thou without?" etc. Bethuel either had just died (Josephus, Ant. 1:16, and Hebrew tradition) or was of weak character, so that Laban is prominent in arranging for Rebekah's marriage to Isaac; but Niebuhr observes Eastern custom, then as now, gave brothers the main share in defending sisters' honour and settling as to their marriage (Genesis 34:13; Judges 21:22; 2 Samuel 13:20-29). (See BETHUEL.) Active and stirring, but selfish and grasping. By his daughters Leah and Rachel he was progenitor of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah (of which tribe Christ came), Issachar, and Zebulun, one half of the whole Israelite nation, besides Dinah.
When Abraham emigrated to Canaan the part of the family to which Laban belonged remained in Haran (Genesis 27:43; Genesis 29:1 ff). Ungenerously, he took 14 years of Jacob his nephew's service, when Jacob had covenanted with him for seven only; he tried to retain his labour without paying his labour's worth (Genesis 31). Ten times (i.e. very frequently, Numbers 14:22) he changed his wages when constrained to remunerate him; and as a covetous master made Jacob accountable for all of the flock that were stolen or torn. Jacob, during the absence of Laban, sheep-shearing, stole away with his family and flocks, crossing the Euphrates for the W.; on the third day Laban heard of it, and after seven days overtook him E. of Jordan.
His daughters felt they had no longer inheritance or interest in their father's house, as Laban had sold them, as if strangers, to Jacob for his service, and took all the profit of that service to himself, virtually, said they, "devouring our money" (Genesis 31:14-16), i.e. consuming the property brought to him by Jacob's service for us. Rachel stole the teraphim perhaps to ensure a prosperous journey ... would have still sent him empty away but for God's interposition. Laban then, suppressing in silence what had been his design really, pretended that his displeasure was only at Jacob's secret departure and the theft of his gods (Genesis 31:5; Genesis 31:7; Genesis 31:9; Genesis 31:13; Genesis 31:16; Genesis 31:24; Genesis 31:26-27; Genesis 31:29; Genesis 31:42), and that otherwise he would have "sent him away with songs, tabret, and harp." Laban could cloak his covetousness with hypocrisy too.
When about to make merchandise of his own kinsman, he said to Jacob at their first meeting "surely thou art my bone and my flesh." (On the length of Jacob's service, 40 years probably, Jacob Laban imposed at the first seven years' close the unattractive Leah on him instead of the younger Rachel whom he loved and for whom he had served. (See JACOB.) Yet he was shrewd enough to appreciate the temporal prosperity which Jacob's presence by his piety brought with it, but he had no desire to imitate his piety (Genesis 30:27), and finally, when foiled by God in his attempts to overreach and rob Jacob, Laban made a covenant with him, of which the cairn was a memorial, called by Laban, JEGAR SAHADUTHA, and by Jacob Galeed and Mizpah; it was also to be the bound beyond which neither must pass to assail the other. (See GALEED; MIZPAH.)
Unscrupulous duplicity and acquisitiveness and hypocritical craft in Laban were overruled to discipline Jacob whose natural character had much of the same elements, but without the hypocrisy, and restrained by genuine grace. Laban was overmatched by Jacob's shrewdness, and restrained from doing him real hurt by God's interposition. Henceforth Israel's connection with the family of Haran ceased; providentially so, for the incipient idolatry and cunning worldliness of the latter could only influence for evil the former.
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