Genesis 31:38-41


The Haran controversy wrestles with the question of how long Abraham's grandson Jacob lived in Haran.  Recall that Jacob was born in the land of Canaan, the land God promised to Abraham, and where Jacob's father Isaac was born and lived his entire life.  For Jacob however, a time came when his parents urged him to leave Canaan and go to Haran, both to seek a wife and to escape the wrath of his brother Esau.  Below is a brief summary of the history of Jacob and his forefathers, as well as the circumstances surrounding his visit to Haran:
 
Jacob's grandfather Abraham
> Abraham's father Terah left Ur in the land of Chaldea and came to the land of Haran
> Upon Terah's death, Abraham left the land of Haran and came to the land of Canaan
> Abraham had 2 sons, Ishmael by Hagar (his wife's handmaid) and later Isaac by Sarah (Abraham's wife)
> Abraham sent his servant to the land of Haran to find a wife for Isaac, and brought back Rebekah, the sister of Laban
 
Jacob's father Isaac
> Isaac lived in Canaan and had twin sons: Esau the firstborn, and Jacob
> When Isaac was old, he intended to bless Esau his firstborn, but Jacob "tricked" Isaac into blessing him instead
> Esau became very angry and desired to kill Jacob for stealing his blessing
> Rebekah urged Jacob to flee Canaan to get away from Esau, and to go to her brother Laban in the land of Haran
> Rebekah implores Isaac not to allow Jacob to marry a Canaanite woman and suggests sending Jacob to Laban in Haran
> Isaac then tells Jacob to go to the land of Haran to find a wife from the family of Laban
> Jacob obeys his parents and leaves the land of Canaan, and goes to the land of Haran to find a wife
 
Jacob's stay in Haran
> Jacob arrives in Haran and meets Rachel, Laban's daughter, and desires to marry her
> Laban agrees to allow Jacob to marry his daughter if he works 7 years tending Laban's livestock
> At the end of 7 years Jacob asks to marry Rachel, but Laban "tricks" Jacob into marrying his older daughter Leah instead
> When Jacob learns he was duped, he confronts Laban, who then agrees to give him Rachel if he will work another 7 years
> Jacob agrees and marries Rachel at the start of the second 7 year contract
> In the ensuing years, Jacob has 10 sons and 1 daughter, which culminates with the birth of his 11th son, Joseph
> After Joseph's birth, Jacob tells Laban he wants to return to Canaan, but Laban convinces Jacob to stay
> Jacob works a final 6 years after Joseph's birth and then leaves Laban without telling him
 
In the above summary, we learn that Jacob comes to the land of Haran and makes two separate 7 year contracts with Laban, in order to marry his daughter Rachel.  Then, after the birth of Jacob's 11th son, Joseph, Jacob tells Laban he wants to return to the land of Canaan, but is talked out of it and offered the opportunity to work for Laban again, in order to get a portion of Laban's livestock for himself.  But after another 6 years of working for Laban, Jacob decides this time to leave quietly rather than ask Laban, and thus he gathers together all his family and livestock and leaves.  A few days later Laban discovers that Jacob has fled, and gathers a group together to chase down Jacob.  When Laban finally catches up with Jacob they have a discussion about why Jacob fled rather than asking to leave.  The following verses are part of Jacob's reply to Laban:
 
Genesis 31:38 Now I was with you twenty years. Your ewes and your she-goats have not failed to bear, and I have not eaten the rams of your flock.
Genesis 31:39 I did not bring to you the mangled; I replaced it. From my hand you exacted it, that stolen by day and that stolen by night.
Genesis 31:40 I was there; by day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night. And my sleep fled from my eyes.
Genesis 31:41 Now I have been twenty years 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.
 
In verse 38, Jacob cites how he was with Laban for 20 years, and how he cared for his livestock, and the difficult conditions under which he worked.  In verse 41, Jacob again mentions 20 years, and that this is how long he was in Laban's house, and how he served Laban for 14 years in order to marry his two daughters, and then another 6 years for his livestock.  It is these summary statements of Jacob that appear to show without question that Jacob was in Haran for 20 years.  However, in the next study on Genesis 28:9, it will be shown conclusively that Jacob was in Haran longer than 20 years.
 
 
Appendix:  Could Jacob have Twelve Children in Seven Years?
 
One of the well known problems with the idea Jacob's sojourn in Haran was 20 years is that it requires that he father twelve children, eleven sons and one daughter, in his second seven years in Haran.  The timeline below depicts this 20 year period:
 
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Timeline of Jacob's Visit to Haran
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Year   0 - Jacob came to Haran, met Laban and Rachel, and began the 1st 7 year contract tending Laban's livestock
Year   7 - At end of 1st 7 years, Jacob asked to marry Rachel, but was tricked into marrying Leah
Year   8 - At start of year Jacob made a 2nd 7 year contract (to marry Rachel), and began having children
   :        - During these seven years Jacob presumably had 10 sons and 1 daughter
Year 14 - At end of 2nd 7 years, Joseph was born, and Jacob asked Laban to leave so he could return to Canaan
Year 15 - At start of year Jacob began working for Laban's livestock
Year 20 - At end of 6 years working for livestock, Jacob quietly left Haran
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Now the important point to notice is that Jacob did not marry Leah or Rachel until after the end of his first 7 years in Haran.  Further, Joseph was born at the end of the Jacob's 14th year in Haran (i.e., 6 years before leaving).  This requires Jacob to have had 12 children in 7 years.  Now it must be remembered that Jacob had these 12 children with four different women, as follows:
 
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Jacob's Wives and Children
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Leah:                                 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun and Dinah (daughter)
Bilhah (Rachel's handmaid): Dan and Naphtali
Zilpah (Leah's handmaid):    Gad and Asher
Rachel:                              Joseph
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The accounts in Genesis 29-30 do not give a precise timetable for when each of these children were born, thus it is possible that some of Leah's children were born in parallel with some of Bilhah's children.  We also know that Zilpah's children were born between the births of Leah's children Judah and Issachar (it was because Leah had no more children following Judah that she gave Zilpah to Jacob to raise up more children).  And finally it is known that Joseph was the last child born, at the end of Jacob's 14th year in Haran, 6 years before Jacob finally left Haran.  Thus, the limiting case in regard to a timeline is that of Leah and Zilpah.  We can order the events surrounding Leah and Zilpah as follows:
 
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Events During Jacob's Second Seven Years in Haran
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> Leah marries Jacob at start of his 8th year in Haran
> Leah has son Reuben
> Leah has son Simeon
> Leah has son Levi
> Leah has son Judah
> Leah ceases to bear for a period of time
> Leah sees she has ceased bearing and gives Zilpah to Jacob
> Zilpah has son Dan
> Zilpah has son Naphtali
> Reuben finds mandrakes in the field, and gives them to Leah
> Rachel asks Leah for these mandrakes, Leah offers them in exchange for Jacob's attention, Rachel agrees
> Leah "hires" Jacob, and becomes pregnant with Issachar
> Leah has son Issachar
> Leah has son Zebulun
> Leah has daughter Dinah
> Rachel has son Joseph (end of 14th year)
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In order for Jacob to have been in Haran for exactly 20 years, all the events above would need to occur between the start of Jacob's 8th year in Haran and the end of his 14th year.  Now since the Bible doesn't provide any information on how much time separated any of these events, one can only estimate how much time passed.  For example, the shortest amount of time that could pass from the time Jacob married Leah until Reuben was born would be approximately 9 months, the typical time it takes from conception until birth.  Of course much more time could have passed, but in this analysis an attempt is being made to see if all the above events would "fit" into just 7 years time.  Of course the birth of Simeon, Levi and Judah could also have followed at 9 month intervals (this is obviously extremely unlikely but nonetheless theoretically possible).  It should be noted that none of these sons were twins, they were all individual births.  So we now have the passage of at least 3 years to account for the births of Leah's first four children (i.e., 3 years = 4 children at 9 months each). 
 
The question now is how long did Leah wait after the birth of Judah before she realized she was not pregnant again, and then decide to give her handmaid Zilpah to Jacob?  One could imagine Leah would have noticed after a couple of months (note 1) that she wasn't getting pregnant again, so let's assume 2 months pass by.  So now Jacob takes Zilpah and again it is assumed she gives birth to Dan just 9 months later, and that is followed 9 months later by Naphtali.  So we need to add 2 months and 18 months to the 3 years found above, giving a total time span of 4 years and 8 months.  It is at this time that Reuben goes and finds mandrakes in the field for his mother Leah.  In this efficient timeline, if we assume Reuben picked mandrakes as soon as Naphtali was born, then Reuben's age at that time would be just 3 years and 11 months old.  This is quite young, however it is "conceivable" Reuben could have navigated his way into the mandrake field and picked some for his mother.  It is these mandrakes that Leah subsequently gives to Rachel in a deal that allows Jacob to spend time with her, which results in the conception of Issachar.  Here again we'll assume 9 months later (after Naphtali's birth) Issachar is born, and that is followed in another 9 months by Zebulun, and in another 9 months by Dinah.  Now the total passage of time is the 4 years and 8 months plus another 2 years and 3 months, for a total of 6 years and 11 months.  Finally, it is assumed that Joseph was born one month later at the end of the 7 years.  Thus in theory we seem to find a timeline that does allow Jacob to father 12 children in just 7 years. 
 
It must be noted however that the above timeline requires extreme efficiency by all parties involved, particularly at every instance in which a child was born.  Not only are Leah and Zilpah required to produce children at exactly 9 month intervals, where we must assume these women never experienced any delay in becoming pregnant, but it also requires Jacob to be highly engaged in the task of producing children, and all that while he was diligently laboring over Laban's livestock.  The timeline also requires Leah, after having four children, to be of a mind that after just 2 months (long enough to see she is not getting pregnant with another child after the birth of Judah) to give her handmaid Zilpah to Jacob in order to get more children.  And all this at a time when her sister Rachel, who Leah was competing with for Jacob's affection, didn't have any children of her own (though in theory Rachel's handmaid Bilhah may have given her one or two sons by that time).  In any case, this scenario requires Leah to behave quite impatiently in regard to obtaining more children.  And as noted above, Leah could not have become pregnant with Issachar until after Reuben picked mandrakes from the field, and in order to satisfy this efficient timeline, Reuben must have done this when just under 4 years old, which, while possible, is rather unlikely.  But the most telling fault of the above timeline comes from a consideration of Genesis 37:3, 
 
Genesis 37:2 These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report.
Genesis 37:3 Now Israel [Jacob] loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours.
 
Verse 3 above describes Joseph as being loved by his father Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel) more than all his other children, and the reason given it is that Joseph was the son of Jacob's old age.  Now the important point to consider here is that in the 20 year timeline developed above, it was required that Zebulun be born just 10 months prior to Joseph.  So the question arises, how could Joseph be a son of Jacob's old age if Zebulun was born just 10 months earlier, when Jacob was also old?  In fact, none of Jacob's other sons could be any more than 7 years older than Joseph, making it very difficult to see how a distinction could be made in regard to Jacob's age at the birth of Joseph as compared to any of his other sons, though most notably Zebulun.  This can be illustrated below using the fact that Joseph was born when Jacob was approximately 91 years old (note 2).
 
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Estimate of Jacob's Age at Birth of Sons
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91 - Joseph born (Jacob's 91st birthday)
90 - Dinah and Zebulun born
89 - Issachar born
88 - Naphtali born
87 - Judah and Dan born
86 - Levi born
85 - Simeon born
84 - Reuben born
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One can see that the 20 year Haran sojourn timeline, which requires all of Jacob's sons be born in his second seven years in Haran, results in all these children being born when Jacob was between the ages of 84 and 91 years old, in effect making all his children sons of his old age.  It is this contradiction, along with the unlikeliness that Jacob had twelve children in seven years, that has led to great doubt that Jacob was in Haran for only 20 years.  In the next study of Genesis 28:9 it will be shown that this suspicion regarding the 20 year Haran sojourn is not only warranted but completely valid, and in fact, it is most likely that the Bible provides such great detail on Jacob's time in Haran and the birth of his children in order to encourage a closer examination of this time period.  The results of this study will show that Jacob was in Haran for much longer than 20 years, which not only results in a far simpler and less congested timeline for the births of his many children, but also permits a sizeable time gap between the births of Joseph and Jacob's other sons, thus providing good agreement with Genesis 37:3.
 
 
Note 1: above it was assumed that Leah waited 2 months before giving her handmaid Zilpah to Jacob to father more children for her.  This assumes that immediately following the birth of Judah that Jacob fulfills another week with Leah attempting to become pregnant again.  Leah wouldn't know if that week was successful or not for about a month.  It is then assumed that Leah would most likely want to try again, and have Jacob fulfill another week attempting to become pregnant.  Then at the end of that month, seeing she still was not pregnant, Leah had to make a choice.  Does she ask Jacob to fulfill another week or does she assume it's useless and give Zilpah to Jacob on her behalf?  In this case the assumption is that Leah acts impatiently and after trying just 2 months to have another child she gives Zilpah to Jacob.  Note that in the timeline presented above, where Dinah is born just one month prior to Joseph, this means the longest Leah could have waited before she gave Zilpah to Jacob would be 3 months total.  If Leah waited any longer than 3 months then Dinah would have been born after Joseph, which would not support the above timeline. Return
 
Note 2: Jacob's age when Joseph was born can be determined by comparing Genesis 41:29-30, 41:46, 45:6 and 47:9.  Joseph stood before Pharaoh and interpreted his dream when he was 30 years old.  This was also the beginning of the seven years of plenty, which was followed by seven years of famine.  It was at the end of the second year of famine that Joseph's father Jacob came to Haran, at which time Joseph would have been 9 years older, or 39 years old.  It was at this time that Jacob was 130 years old, therefore Joseph must have been born when Jacob was 91 years old. Return
 
  
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