Transitional seasons are never easy, but how we navigate them--especially with the people involved--matters. As Jacob's time in Laban's house comes to a close we learn some valuable lessons about safe-guarding our relationships.
The latter half of Genesis 31 is, if nothing else, the story of a family in transition. Jacob, his two wives, and their respective children, along with an amassed hoard of livestock, have decided it’s time to relocate. In fact, they’re going home—at least, it’s home for Jacob. His two wives have probably never ventured outside of Paddan-Aram, but they’ve made their own family now; they travel as a pack.
I know the feeling of leaving one country to travel to another. It’s a mission, getting everything packed, the goodbyes said, the last memories made, the logistics of it all….
Jacob and his wives didn’t bother with too much of that, though. It intrigues me that they managed to keep the whole thing a secret, to the point where Laban goes off to shear his sheep and returns three days later to find they essentially up and left the minute he was out of sight (vv.19-21).
Something about their manner of leaving seems out-of-kilter. Jacob takes another man’s daughters away without so much as a farewell kiss? He leaves an employer after twenty years without even a handshake? He decides what’s his to take without even the courtesy of a discussion?
Laban has done plenty wrong by Jacob, but he is still his father-in-law, still the grandfather of his children, still the one who agreed to hire him in the first place. It is Laban’s home Jacob is leaving, Laban who will have to pick up the slack when he finds them gone. God is repositioning Jacob for blessing, but in so doing, Laban’s been left in the lurch.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in life’s transitions, it’s this: Finishing well matters. Most of all, relationships matter. It’s okay to move when God says move; it’s even okay to move quickly when He says move quickly. But in all the obedience, the hearing and heeding the word of the Lord, the life-altering steps of faith, it’s worth pausing a moment to remember that our decisions don’t only affect us. There are others in the mix—most notably, those we leave behind.
And so, I’ve learned to safeguard the leaving. Whether we’re starting a new job or moving into a new neighbourhood, I say a simple prayer: “Whenever it’s time to move on, I pray we will do so with every relationship intact.” It’s a prayer God cares deeply about because He cares deeply about people.
God wants Jacob and his family to enjoy the season ahead, but He knows Jacob will never fully settle if he’s constantly worried that Laban will turn up riled. There’s nothing like unfinished business or fractured relationships to dampen the joy of an otherwise glorious new season.
And so, true to character, God intervenes to bring things back on track.
As Laban sets out in pursuit of his son-in-law, the Lord personally advises him not to speak a word to Jacob, either good or evil, when they meet (v.24). Laban tries his best, but it’s inevitable—tensions are high on both sides. Both men are trying to hold back, to keep their calm, but there’s twenty years of pent-up angst between them, and it’s not easy to navigate in the moment.
Finally, they realise that finishing well is in everyone’s interest, that families matter, and traditions matter, and feasting matters. And so they build a memorial, offer a sacrifice, and gather one last time to share a meal.
In the morning, there are proper goodbyes, and we breathe a sigh of relief. They’ve managed to finish well! This is God at His finest—releasing people into their destinies with every relationship intact.
What a privilege it is to partner with God in this. Even so, the anticipation and practicalities as we step into a new season can be all-consuming. Let’s not be so intent on following God’s leading that we neglect to finish well with those who are often most impacted by our obedience—the ones we leave behind.
Is there anywhere in your life where you don’t feel you’ve ‘finished well’? Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how you can still show honour to the people and places of your past.