Jacob and Laban
43Laban said to Jacob, “Leah and Rachel are my daughters, and their children belong to me. All these sheep you are taking are really mine too. In fact, everything you have belongs to me. But there is nothing I can do to keep my daughters and their children. 44So I am ready to make an agreement with you, and we will pile up some large rocks here to remind us of the agreement.”
45After Jacob had set up a large rock, 46he told his men to get some more rocks and pile them up next to it. Then Jacob and Laban ate a meal together beside the rocks. 47Laban named the pile of rocks Jegar Sahadutha. But Jacob named it Galeed. 48Laban said to Jacob, “This pile of rocks will remind us of our agreement.” That's why the place was named Galeed. 49Laban also said, “This pile of rocks means that the Lord will watch us both while we are apart from each other.” So the place was also named Mizpah.
50Then Laban said:
If you mistreat my daughters or marry other women, I may not know about it, but remember, God is watching us! 51-52Both this pile of rocks and this large rock have been set up between us as a reminder. I must never go past them to attack you, and you must never come past them to attack me. 53My father Nahor, your grandfather Abraham, and their ancestors all worshiped the same God, and he will make sure that we each keep the agreement.
Then Jacob made a promise in the name of the fearsome God his father Isaac had worshiped. 54Jacob killed an animal and offered it as a sacrifice there on the mountain, and he invited his men to eat with him. After the meal they spent the night on the mountain. 55Early the next morning, Laban kissed his daughters and his grandchildren goodbye, then he left to go back home.
This encounter in the hills of Gilead must come to a clear conclusion. They can all turn back towards Laban’s to live as they were and fight to the finish, or agree to let Jacob and his entourage pursue the direction the Lord has given him. Laban realizes, albeit begrudgingly, that he must let them go. It would seem some of his willingness is created by his daughter’s and grandchildren’s allegiance to Jacob as Laban exclaims “there is nothing I can do to keep my daughters and their children.” A covenant between them is therefore in order (vv 43-44).
A place of covenant calls for a memorial so a pile of stones is gathered and given a name which meant “witness heap.” They also call it “Mizpah,” a name which has been associated ever since with the pledge made there: “the Lord will watch us both while we are apart from each other..” After a few words of father-in-law intimidation he sums it up with, “remember that God is a witness between you and me” (v 49, KJV). The witness heap is then established as a boundary line between them that neither can cross to do harm to the other. The God of Abraham is recognized as the one who will judge between them (v.45-53a).
Jacob in turn makes an oath of agreement “in the name of the fearsome God his father Isaac had worshiped” (v 53). This unique reference to his and his father’s God illustrates the reverential awe Jacob holds for the God who has intervened on his behalf and who has blessed and prospered him. As he instructs for a sacrifice to be made and a feast to be thrown there seems to be a very real sense that the challenging “Laban season” of his life is coming to an end. The two groups part the next morning after a familial blessing from Laban. It is the last time Laban and Jacob will be together (vv 53b-55).
Jacob moves on to where the divinely orchestrated journey is leading him, one that will in the course of time provide humanity its Saviour, a descendant of his through the line of Judah. God is witness of his perseverance and through him will fulfill his covenant.
O God of Jacob, who witnesses all we say and do and all that we are, let us consciously honour you in the integrity of our words and deeds, so that we do nothing to misrepresent you to others, in the name of Jesus the pure one, Amen.