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Blog / Laban and True Love: Parenting Lessons From a Bad Dad

Laban and True Love: Parenting Lessons From a Bad Dad

Roland Warren, author of 'Bad Dads of the Bible.'

Roland Warren, author of ‘Bad Dads of the Bible.’

If you were to make a list of the best fathers in the Bible, who would make the cut? One name that almost certainly won’t make the list is Laban, uncle of the hero and trickster Jacob. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn something about fatherhood from Laban’s example, dysfunctional as it may be.

With Father’s Day approaching, we thought it would be appropriate to share the following excerpt from Roland C. Warren’s Bad Dads of the Bible: 8 Mistakes Every Good Dad Can Avoid (Zondervan, 2014), which looks at the strange but still instructive story of Laban, the man who managed to pull one over on the Bible’s most famous schemer.

Love, God’s Way

Most of the stories about families in the Bible focus on the relationship between fathers and sons. This is one of the reasons that I find the story of Laban to be a very special, important, and instructive one for fathers. In Genesis 29, we learn that Laban had two daughters, Leah and Rachel.

One day, Laban’s nephew Jacob arrived for a visit. The instant he saw Rachel he was smitten and wanted to marry her. So he and Laban worked out a deal. In order for Jacob to marry Rachel, he would have to work for Laban for seven years. So Jacob worked hard like any love-struck man would and kept his end of the bargain. But Laban did not. On the wedding night, he tricked Jacob and switched Leah for Rachel.

As you can imagine, when Jacob found out that he was now married to “weak eyes,” he was livid. But Laban told him that it was customary for the older sister to be married before the younger one. However, to assuage Jacob, Laban offered him a special deal. All he needed to do was work another seven years and Laban would give him Rachel as a wife as well. So Jacob agreed. He worked seven more years and married Rachel, and everyone lived happily ever after. Well, not quite . . . as the saying goes, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” And due to Laban’s trick, Jacob had just married two women who would bring a fury into his home for which he was not prepared.

Buy your copy of Bad Dads of the BibleAlas, Jacob soon found out that there was not going to be much “honey” in his honeymoon with Rachel, because Leah and Rachel quickly started to compete for Jacob’s love and attention. In fact, they launched a “womb war” that sowed seeds of family conflict and dysfunction for generations to come. Leah “struck” first and quickly gave Jacob four sons. It’s worth noting that Leah, not Jacob, named all of their sons. The names she chose clearly indicated that she knew she was number two in Jacob’s heart, but she deeply longed to earn his affections. In fact, after the birth of her third son Levi, whose name in Hebrew meant “joined,” Leah said, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons” (Gen. 29:34).

Well, when Rachel failed to conceive, she became very jealous of her sister. She even began to blame Jacob, and told him, “Give me children, or I’ll die” (Gen. 30:1). Desperate not to be outdone by her sister, Rachel eventually demanded that Jacob sleep with one of her maidservants so that she could have a family through Bilhah. When Jacob had the first son through the maidservant, Rachel took the victory with, “God has vindicated me,” naming him Dan (v. 6). Of course, Leah then came back with a counterpunch, giving her maidservant to Jacob to bear children on her behalf.

It’s pretty easy to see how Laban’s behavior and example played a substantial role in their conflict. After all, he selfishly set up the dynamic, which caused his daughters to compete for Jacob’s love and affection. Although the Bible doesn’t give much detail, I believe that Leah and Rachel learned from their father that love was not something that you get because of who you are; it was something that you earn because of what you do. After all, this is how Laban treated Jacob. Accordingly, could it not be how he had treated his daughters from the time they were small girls?

Laban’s “bad dad” example is a cautionary one for fathers today. Even if it is not a father’s plan to play favorites, the natural desire of children to please and be loved engenders competition. A home environment can become a battlefield where children feel that they must compete for love, affection, or esteem. But this is not God’s plan. Love by its very nature is not supposed to be a competitive sport. Rather, it is sacrificial, as Christ consistently demonstrated in his life and then, finally, on the cross. Therefore, fathers who strive to imitate this example must always remember that every child is a unique blessing from God, “fearfully and wonderfully” made in God’s image to be loved, affirmed, and valued, not for what they do or what they can do for you, but for who they are.

In 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, Paul wrote: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Laban clearly strayed far from this model of true love, and it’s sad that his daughters, as well as future generations, had to suffer the consequences of his “bad dad” behavior. However, the good news is that a tremendous and blessed legacy awaits fathers who model Paul’s “love language.” God will reward them with daughters and sons who will love like they do.


You can read more essays like this one in Bad Dads of the Bible: 8 Mistakes Every Good Dad Can Avoid.

Bio: Roland C. Warren is the former President of National Fatherhood Initiative and currently the President and CEO of Care Net, the nation’s largest network of pregnancy resource centers. He has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, CNN, C-SPAN, Focus on the Family, Dateline NBC, BET, Fox News, Janet Parshall’s America and others, speaking on the issues of fatherhood and marriage. He has written for or appeared in numerous publications such as The Washington Post, O Magazine, Essences Magazine, Christianity Today, The Washington Times, and The Wall Street Journal.

He graduated from Princeton University and has an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania-Wharton School of Business. He now lives in Maryland with his wife Yvette. Together they have two grown sons, Jamin and Justin.

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