Undifferentiated Wages in kind – Laban & Jacob!
Anyone familiar with the history of Jacob would know that Jacob left his father-in-law Laban without informing him, along with the cattle he had ‘earned’, the goods he had accumulated and the ‘CATTLE OF HIS GETTING’ besides his wife and children.
The triggering point is found in the first two verses of chapter thirty one in the Book of Genesis.
1 And he heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, Jacob hath taken away all that was our father’s; and of that which was our father’s hath he gotten all this glory.
2 And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, behold, it was not toward him as before.
If we read the last few verses of the thirtieth chapter of Genesis, Jacob’s possessions are mentioned thus:
43 And the man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses.
If one is perceptive one could sense that the conflict arose sequentially based on the increase of Jacob’s goods in his father-in-law’s house; that being noticed by Laban’s sons and filled with envy; and Laban’s sons complaining to Laban that Jacob had ‘increased exceedingly’ because of the cattle and goods of Laban!
What Laban’s sons failed to take into account was the LABOUR OF TWENTY YEARS – diligent labour of twenty years.
Like Longfellow put it with a lilt:
“The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained in sudden flight but, they while their companions slept, they were toiling upwards in the night.”
When Laban’s sons were sleeping, Jacob was toiling upwards in the night, in his own words Jacob says:
I bare the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it, whether stolen by day, or stolen by night.
40 Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes.
41 Thus have I been twenty years in thy house; I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle: and thou hast changed my wages ten times.
Labour, labour, labour! The mistake was that there was no money – at least there wasn’t a currency system like the ones controlled by the central banks and exploited by the other banks! So labour then had to be indexed against wages and wages was determined by the productivity; and in the case of Jacob, wages was determined in proportion to the growth of the existing flocks and cattle.
It is through labour that Jacob got his share of cattle. Even though Jacob says that he had separated his flock and cattle from that of Laban’s, since he came in with nothing except with a gritty heart, he probably was seen as a person who lived off his father in law.
But when Jacob gains an upper hand when Laban couldn’t find anything that belonged to Laban after the search, Jacob is emboldened to talk about the rigours of his labour. May be out of deference to his son-in-law, or after perceiving that his daughters were not on his side, Laban listens to the rigours of the labour of Jacob. Yet for the purpose of this blog, I cannot imagine that without Jacob’s diligent labour and watchfulness, the flocks of Laban would have grown the way it had reportedly grown. Therefore I’m inclined to believe that Jacob was narrating his travails truthfully.
The point is that Laban’s sons lived in a state of entitlement, knowing very little that diligence and hardwork fetched its own rewards. Jacob worked hard and the time had come for him to sever his property from that of Laban’s, otherwise Laban’s sons would malign Jacob’s reputation in a strange land!
It is in that severance that things come to the head!
Laban who was the primary beneficiary of the labour of Laban, knew fully well that it was the labour of Jacob which kept him unengaged from the troubles of raising a flock and tending to the cattle. Laban’s investments were growing and recoverable anytime from the hands of Jacob!
It was this which kept Laban happy, but when his sons poisoned his mind by dropping a thought that the capital was that of Laban’s and that Jacob’s growth was the outcome of that capital, which in turn had made Jacob affluent, turned Laban against Jacob, regarding which Jacob makes a mention by saying that Laban’s countenance was not as before towards him.
Labour gets lost and the gains of the labour is very difficult to store. When such labour is stored as a part of the capital, which belongs to the person who supplied the capital, labour is discounted. To sever the wages from the capital is the biggest difficulty.
For example, the labour of the Jews in Egypt was stored as gold and infrastructure in the land of Egypt. There was no option for severance. Hence Moses devised a method whereby, the Jews borrowed gold ornaments from the Egyptians and left for good in search of the land of Canaan!
Labour has to be received as wages and segregated and should be kept under the control of the labourer, to use it as he pleases. But when the labour is not indexed into wages in money terms and such labour gets integrated with the capital, the labourer becomes disgruntled and the only way is for the labourer to take it and leave. And when the gold or capital leaves, the owner of the capital feels his capital has diminished and he pursues the labourer who has left with the capital, like the Pharaoh or Laban.
As Christians, one should not only pay fair wages but should also provide ways to put the wages immediately into the hands of the labourer, and NOT COUNT the unpaid fair wages as capital. If not done this way, it surely would lead to stealing in future, by those who had laboured.
That’s proven, according to me, from the lives of the Jews in Egypt and Jacob in Syria with Laban.