Ethics of Jacob
The study of Jacob and Laban from the perspective of work place or employer-employee relationship is educative. Even after thousands of years, the context of work place has not changed. Because human beings are basically sinners and they will behave the same in all contexts.
Management of Laban
Laban entrusted the flocks to Jacob. He made Jacob accountable for the whole flock. After 20 years of service, there is a sharp conflict between them. In this statement Jacob explains the way he was exploited in all twenty years. Should Jacob allow Laban to exploit like this for that long years? The Laban principles of exploitation of employees still followed by corporate world as by the unorganized sector. How does Jacob retain his faith in such situation? Living by faith in a secular world is also a challenge. Jacob had assurance that God was witnessing his plight and do justice helped him to cope with the situation?.
God’s protection of Jacob
So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah into the field where his flock was 5 and said to them, “I see that your father does not regard me with favor as he did before. But the God of my father has been with me. 6 You know that I have served your father with all my strength, 7 yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times. But God did not permit him to harm me. 8 If he said, ‘The spotted shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore spotted; and if he said, ‘The striped shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore striped. 9 Thus God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me. (Genesis 31:4-9)
Jacob’s charges against Laban
“Then Jacob became angry and berated Laban. Jacob said to Laban, “What is my offense? What is my sin, that you have hotly pursued me? 37 For you have felt through all my goods; what have you found of all your household goods? Set it here before my kinsmen and your kinsmen, that they may decide between us two. 38 These twenty years I have been with you. Your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, and I have not eaten the rams of your flocks. 39 What was torn by wild beasts I did not bring to you. I bore the loss of it myself. From my hand you required it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. 40 There I was: by day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes. 41 These twenty years I have been in your house. I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times. 42 If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands and rebuked you last night.”” (Genesis 31: 36-42)
Jacob lists eight ways he was exploited by Laban.
- No room for failure: No miscarriage
Laban was violating the natural principle of blaming Jacob for the miscarriage of the sheep. Jacob was helpless, or powerless but had to bear the burden. Laban was just interested in making wealth for himself and did not care if the other partners and stake holders loss or gain. Wealth or profit making is the only priority and all other aspects are just subordinate to that.
- No perks (Not eaten the rams)
Jacob was denied even food in the work place. Though he had to work for prolonged hours, he was not given benefits that would help Jacob to survive and do better. The attitude of Laban was that of task master rather than facilitator or partner. There is a seven star hotel in Chennai with a parking area. This parking area does not have a shade for the drivers to take refuge in the hot son. Neither the hotel management nor the owners of cars care about this. This careless and casual attitude was evident in Laban towards Jacob.
- No accident cover
If there was external attack from wild animals, Jacob had to bear the loss. There was no accident insurance cover. The company loss was just added to Jacob’s personal account. There are organizations and companies that does not give tools. The workers have to bring their own tools. If their tools are damaged in the process, the management does not help. The Egyptian task masters refused to give raw material and tools but expected the Hebrew slaves to complete their quota of work.
- No insurance cover for theft (Stolen by night or day)
Laban did not care to appoint more personnel for helping Jacob in terms of security. Whether the sheep was stolen by night or day, Jacob salary was cut. Instead of providing better work environment, he was deprived of helping hands. (Laban’s own sons went partying while Jacob was toiling)
- Sleepless (day and night service)
Jacob was expected to be loyal that he had to serve both day and night. Sleepless service he had to do for the sake of the employers. Serving without sleep was considered as a mark of commitment.
- 20 years of service
Jacob served for twenty years. He states that the first 14 for his family that is to gain his two wives. The next seven years for the wealth multiplication of Laban. Jacob provides an interesting insight. He worked to build his family for 14 years. He was in the survival mode as somehow he had to provide for his family and bring up his children. Then he was forced to serve for multiplication of the wealth of the employer. Jacob could not pursue his own purpose in life. Jacob’s life lost meaning and purpose with dominating effect of his work with Laban.
- Wages/contract terms altered 10 times
Laban altered the conditions of contract ten times. Laban changed the wages of Jacob. One day Laban will say all striped sheep would be Jacob’s wages. The next day he will change and say all spotted sheep would be Jacob’s wages.
- Sent away empty?
At the last, Laban wanted to send him off without gratuity or bonus or golden handshake. One missionary organization demanded that the retired missionary even give back shoes given to him by some gracious donors. Other organizations took back the equipment’s like laptops that they had been using for ten years.
Jacob’s statement of faith
- God saw my affliction
Jacob was in a strange land, alone. He was like a migrant labourer exploited by strangers. In this new context, he did not have Laws, Agencies and people to help him and guide him. Jacob’s confidence was in the Lord. (Genesis 31:42) God is mindful of us and knows our path of affliction
- God saw my labour
God also saw the diligence, integrity, hard work, sincerity and commitment of Jacob. In all the twenty years, he did not try to work as less as possible to gain as much as possible. Today, most workers want to contribute a minimum and gain the maximum possible. Jacob was not afraid to work hard, even though his labour was exploited and not rewarded. As a Christian, faith is expressed and exhibited by the hard labour we do that outperforms and outlasts other people’s performances.
- God rebuked you
God intervened on behalf of Jacob. Even when Jacob did an unwise thing, God was with Jacob and warned Laban against harming Jacob. God interferes on behalf of victims, yet there are many Pharaohs who harden their hearts. Many hardened heart Pharaohs does not mean that God is not at work, his judgment may come suddenly but is imminent.
The whole world including our workplace is under the purview and scrutiny of God the Sovereign ruler of the earth. Even today, he can intervene and bring justice to individuals like Jacob or execute corporal judgment as he did to Egypt for keeping Children of Israel under ruthless slavery. Christian individuals, organizations and institutions are not exempted from this rigorous judgment.
In fact, Christian are liable to harsher judgment as they know the truth, so more accountable.