In escaping from Esau, Jacob ended up at the family farm of Laban, his mother’s brother. Jacob worked for Laban for twenty-one frustrating years, during which Laban broke a string of promises to him. Despite this, Jacob succeeded in marrying two of Laban’s daughters and starting a family. Jacob wanted to return home, but Laban convinced him to stay on and work for him with the promise that he could “name [his own] wages” (Gen. 30:28). Clearly Jacob had been a good worker, and Laban had been blessed through his association with Jacob.
During this time Jacob had learned the trade of breeding animals, and he used this skill to get back at Laban. Through his breeding techniques, he was able to gain a great deal of wealth at Laban’s expense. It got to the point that Laban’s sons were complaining that “Jacob has taken all that was our father's; he has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father” (Gen. 31:1-2). Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him was not what it had been. Yet Jacob claimed the gain as a gift from God, saying, “If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed” (Gen. 31:42).
Jacob felt that he had been dealt with poorly by Laban. His response, through his schemes, was to make yet another enemy, similar to the way he had exploited Esau. This is a repeated pattern in Jacob’s life. It seems that anything was fair game, and although he ostensibly gave God the credit, it is clear that he did these things as a schemer. We don’t see much integration of his faith with his work at this point, and it is interesting that when Hebrews recognizes Jacob as a man of faith, it mentions only his actions at the end of his life (Heb. 11:21).