Genesis 31:20—How could God bless Jacob after he deceived Laban?
Problem: In Genesis 31:20, Jacob is said to have deceived Laban by not telling him that he was fleeing. However, God blessed Jacob by appearing to Laban and warning him not to speak either good or evil to Jacob (Gen. 31:24). How could God bless Jacob after he had deceived Laban?
Solution: First, it is not necessary to translate the Hebrew word in Genesis 31:20 as “deceived.” The passage literally states, “And Jacob stole Laban’s heart.” This is a Hebrew idiom which can be used in a given context to mean “to deceive” or “to outwit.” Jacob did not tell Laban that he was going to leave, nor did he tell Laban that he was going to stay. He may have left in secret because he feared Laban (cf. Gen. 31:2). Neither was Jacob obligated to remain with Laban, since he had fulfilled all the requirements of the contracts between them. In spite of the accusations by Laban, Jacob was justified in his fear and his action to leave without telling Laban.
Second, even on the assumption that Jacob was involved in deception, God would not bless him because of it, but in spite of his shortcomings. This kind of situation is an example of the principle that “Not everything recorded by the Bible is approved by the Bible” (see Introduction). God had chosen Jacob to become the father of the 12 tribes of Israel, not because of any righteousness in Jacob, but on the basis of God’s grace. God could bless Jacob according to His grace even though he was a sinner. Through Jacob’s experiences with Laban, and later his confrontation with Esau, and his wrestling with the angel of the Lord in the night, Jacob’s character was changed so that he became a fit vessel for God to use.
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.