BIBLE TIME-LINE

Jacobs time working for Laban is not easily pin-pointed, but it is possible to work out.

We know that Jacob worked for Laban for 20 years in total (Genesis 31:38). Genesis 29:18 indicates that Jacob spent 7 years working for Laban to receive Rachel as his wife. However, Laban deceives Jacob and at the end of the 7 years he gives Leah to Jacob as a wife  instead (Genesis 29:21-25). In verse 27 of chapter 29, Laban told Jacob to fulfill Leah’s week and then he would also give Rachel to him as a wife, providing Jacob was willing to serve him another 7 years. Jacob therefore marries Rachel a week after marrying Leah, and then worked another 7 years to repay his debt to Laban. After Joseph is born, Jacob asks Laban to send him back to his own country (Genesis 30:25,26), but Laban does not want Jacob to leave and therefore negotiates with Jacob so that Jacob would be paid wages for continuing to serve him (Genesis 30:27-34). Jacob finally flees from Laban, and we know this to be 6 years after the end of the 14 year period of Jacob serving Laban for his two daughters because Jacob served Laban 20 years in total (Genesis 31:38).

That is the easy part. The hard part is actually determining the period in Jacobs life this 20 year period happened. The clue comes when you look at Genesis 30:25, where it states “And it came to pass, WHEN Rachel had borne Joseph, that Jacob said unto Laban, Send me away, that I may go unto mine own place, and to my own country” (KJV). Some versions use the word “After” in place of the word “When”, and this does make a difference because the word “when” would imply that the request from Jacob to Laban happened at the same time as Joseph being born, where as the word “after” would mean that the request from Jacob to Laban happened at any point after Joseph being born. So we need to work out which is the best interpretation.

It makes sense that the request from Jacob to Laban to send him back to his family happened immediately after the 14 years of working for Leah and Rachel had finished. Jacob had completed his promised time, and why should he continue working for Laban for free? Because Jacob had completed his time and Laban wanted him to continue then Laban agrees to pay Jacob from his flock to continue working for him, so I believe it to be clear that Jacob’s request to Laban to return to his family happened at the end of the 14th year of the 20 year period. Therefore in 7 years we find that Jacob had to have had 12 children, 4 to Leah (Genesis 29:31-25),  2 to Bilhah, Rachel’s Maid (Geneis 30:1-8), 2 to Zilpah, Leah’s Maid (Genesis 30:9-13), another 3 to Leah (Genesis 30:17-21),  and then Joseph was born to Rachel (30:22-24). The story is clearly told in chronological order given the story does not tell us about Leah’s 7 children all at the same time, but there is a gap between Leah’s 4th child and her 5th child to fill in the births that happened in between. However obviously there has to be some overlap in the births (ie Rachel’s Maid was probably pregnant while Leah was pregnant with her 4th child etc) as 7 years is not enough time to bare 12 children unless there is some overlap. However, this all means that Leah had to have 7 children before Rachel gave birth to Joseph, and therefore assuming a 9 month pregnancy as is the case today, Leah could not have taken any less than 5 ¼ years to have her 7 children. There is also a clear gap between Leah’s 4th child and her 5th child because in Genesis 30:9 we find that the only reason Zilpah bare children through Jacob was that Leah had not been bearing any children, and therefore this probably accounts for another another 18 months which takes our 5 ¼ years up to 6 ¾ years and we haven’t even accounted for any time for the children of Rachel’s Maid, or the time it took for Rachel to bare Joseph, and therefore it seems impossible for Joseph to have been born any less than 7 years after Jacob married Rachel and Leah, which therefore proves that the birth of Joseph and the end of the 14 year period coincided with each other, and the word “When” is the correct word to use in Genesis 30:25.

Joseph would therefore have been 6 years old when Jacob fled Laban which is consistent with Genesis 33:7 where it is seen that Joseph is old enough to understand that he should go in front of Rachel to bow to Esau. Had he been much younger than 6 then he probably would have required instruction from Rachel or Jacob.

An additional thought is that it makes perfect sense to link Jacob’s request to Laban to be sent back to his family with the birth of Joseph as Genesis 30:25 does if the request happened at the end of 14 years and Joseph was born at the same time. If the birth of Joseph and the end of the 14 year period did not happen at the same time, then it does not make as much sense, and in such a case it would make more sense for Genesis to tell us about the birth of Joseph, and then say “When the 14 years had ended Jacob requested to be sent back to his family”. In any case that is just an additional thought, and not something we can be definite about. However the rest of this information shows pretty clearly that the end of the 14 year period and Joseph’s birth happened in the same year. Therefore all we need to do to determine the 20 year period that Jacob worked for Laban is to subtract 14 years from the birth of Joseph to find its start date, and add 6 years to the birth of Joseph to find its end date, and then of course we can subtract 7 years from the birth of Joseph to find the date of Jacob’s marriage to Leah and Rachel.

Jacob’s time Working for Laban