As we dive deeper into the story of Laban, which begins not in Genesis 28 with Rachel and Leah, but in Genesis 24 with Rebekah, we have to avoid jumping to conclusions right away. It's true that Laban appears to be up to the same scheme in Genesis 24 that he was in Genesis 28-31, where he attempts to concoct shady deals and to postpone the leaving of his loved one, but that in no way means that he had the same intent in asking for Rebekah to stay a bit longer as he did in asking his daughters to stay.
See, the first thing we have to understand about this story - and about our stories and really everyone's stories - is that life changes persons.
It's not so far-fetched, as we follow the story of Isaac and Rebekah, to think that once Rebekah left home, Laban never saw her again. After all, when Jacob arrives in the land of his ancestors, he has to introduce himself. No one comes running to meet him from the house, thrilled that it's Jacob, the nephew. No one seems to know off-hand who he is. He has to tell them. Hey, I'm the son of the sister that left here, say, several decades ago.
That's a long time not to talk to your sister, not to see her face-to-face, not to hear from her. Not to even know about her kids, for crying out loud. And this is especially true when you are a kinsman-redeemer, when you have a certain responsibility to her as a surviving familial male, which we can assume from the fact that the Genesis 24 story talks about Rebekah's mother and brother, but no father, which leaves Laban in the guardianship role.
It's entirely possible, then, that in the Genesis 24 narrative, Laban's protectiveness of his sister as kinsman-redeemer guides his request that she stay just a few more days. After all, he doesn't know this servant who just showed up out of nowhere. He hasn't heard from this Abraham guy in awhile, maybe even ever at all. Maybe he just wants to make sure that his sister is going to a real place, a good place, into a good family. Maybe he wants to make sure all the details are worked out, the dowry and all that and the agreements about family in general. Maybe he wants time to think about this deal and make sure it's honoring to his sister and to his own family and, of course, that it's legit.
Really, you can't just let your sister go off with any guy who shows up with a bunch of camels and a good story. Can you?
But then, Rebekah agrees to go and she goes and for decades, Laban never sees her again. Then all of a sudden, another guy shows up from a land far away and meets another woman at a well, this time Laban's daughter. And he really puts the ropes on Jacob. He makes the man stay with him seven years, then swaps daughters on him. Then he makes him stay another seven years before giving him his promised daughter. Then he makes him stay another seven years for his possessions and herds and goods and stuff. Then he tries to make him stay....
At this point, his concern is not Jacob. He's not worried about what kind of family his daughters are going into; he knows it well. Jacob has been a good and faithful servant. He's not concerned about the price and the details and all the business end of marriage; that's already been taken care of. More than.
Maybe what Laban's concern is now is that his daughters are about to go off and maybe he will never see them again, either.
It would have been common in this ancient society for women to marry close. Their sisters and mother and aunts and grandmothers would still run into them at the well. They'd still see their brothers and fathers and uncles occasionally in public as they walked the streets. There were ways to keep contact, to keep in touch, to keep up to date on one another. Not so when the women are going to a foreign land, which is now happening to Laban not once (Genesis 24) but thrice (Genesis 28-31). He's losing all of the women he's responsible for, and in doing so, he's losing a little bit of himself.
This is vitally important when we consider persons' stories. It's so easy to attribute motive or even character based on what we know from today. It would be easy to look at the Genesis 28-31 narrative and then look back at Genesis 24 and say that Laban was always a shady man, always up to the same tricks, always scheming at something. But that might not be the case. In fact, it's probably not.
It's more like the case that in Genesis 24, Laban was a noble man, attempting to do what was best by his family, by his mother, and by the sister that he had become responsible for, working to be a man in a boy's world and figure out how to do it honorably. But by Genesis 28-31, Laban is a wounded man (and still, we must point out, not a "bad" man - just wounded). The words sound eerily the same, but the heart is very different.
The truth is that you never know what you might discover about someone if you don't jump to conclusions too quick, if you take the time to look at the depths of their story and understand the heart with which they are really acting, which changes over time. Life happens, and it changes persons.
And we do life together best when we recognize that.