Do you ever read the Scriptures and wonder what would have happened if some of the stories had gone another way? Do you recognize some of the crucial points where they might have?
One such point occurs in Genesis 24, but in order to understand how this story might have turned out slightly different, we have to skip forward a few chapters to Genesis 28-31 (by which point, we almost always seem to have miraculously forgotten what happened - and what could have happened - in Genesis 24).
It's a fairly well-known story, as biblical stories go. Jacob has taken flight from his father, Isaac, after stealing his brother, Esau's, blessing and birthright. He has returned to the land of his mother, Rebekah, to find for himself a wife, and he has set his eyes on the beautiful young Rachel, who happens to be the daughter of his uncle, Laban. And Laban is a wicked and crafty man, always out to get more for himself.
Jacob and Laban agreed on a price for Rachel - seven years of service - and so began the count, but when the seven years were up, Laban switched brides and then convinced Jacob to work another seven years for Rachel, starting the process all over again. After that, several more years passed, several children were born into the Jacob-Leah-Rachel family, and Laban, we're told, had switched Jacob's wages a number of additional times, always making it something different than it used to be, always trying to make sure it was he, Laban, who got the best of things and Jacob who got the leftovers.
And then Jacob wants to leave; he wants to go home and see his father, Isaac, again (which is weird in and of itself because at the moment that Jacob stole the blessing of his brother, Isaac was said to have been near death and bedridden; here we are now twenty-something-ish years later). Laban agrees and says it's no problem, just let his daughters stay a few more days. ...and a few more days. ...and a few more days. ...and just one more night. ...and just another one more night. And before you know it, Laban has drawn this entire thing out to the point that Jacob has to ask his wives what they think, then pack everyone up in the middle of the night and essentially run away from home.
After which, of course, Laban pursues him and when the two men meet up in the desert, Laban wants to know what Jacob's problem is, and he talks to him like he's the bad guy who broke this whole relationship to bits by running away.
So that's Laban and the way that he handled his daughters leaving home with their husband, but now, let's turn back a few pages to Genesis 24, the first story in question. Because it's actually here that we first meet Laban. And, interestingly, he tried the same exact trick here.
Abraham had sent his servant to find a wife for his son, Isaac, from among his own people. The servant had come upon Rebekah at a well and found by God's divine provision that she was the one chosen for Isaac. Rebekah happens to be Laban's sister.
So the servant goes home with the girl and starts to talk with her family, which seems to be primarily her mother and her brother, who has likely assumed guardianship of her in some way with a father that's apparently out of the picture. That's how it works in male-dominated societies. But then the servant starts to talk about taking Rebekah home with him the next day, and Laban speaks up.
Really? So soon? Why don't you stay just one more day?
Aha. And now, we see how easily this story could have been a different story, for we know how Laban's "one more day" is calculated. Imagine what would have happened if the servant of Abraham had given into Laban's scheme, even once. Imagine how the story could have been different if Laban had done this same thing twice and gotten away with it. Imagine the possibilities of just one more day when the words come out of this man's mouth.
Thankfully, the servant of Abraham is not having it and decides to ask Rebekah what she thinks, a question that took Jacob a far longer time to ask, and Rebekah says she's ready to go, so they leave. Thank God for good servants.
But this story, and this what if, and the two very different ways that these stories ended up have much to teach us. We'll dig into some of it this week, so stay tuned.