There’s nothing quite like working for a boss who just doesn’t care much for you. The sad truth is how often this happens across the corporate world. It’s everywhere and in every company. I hear this from more clients than perhaps any other career concern.
Don’t Survive – Thrive!
The cool truth is we have examples dating back to the earliest scripture, providing insight into how we can hold up, no – wait – THRIVE, in such an environment. One such story is found between in Genesis chapters 29 through 30, the story of Jacob’s employment under his harsh and manipulative uncle Laban. This is a collective for those of us who have ever wondered how uncaring leaders get stationed over us in the chain of command. The moral of the story is insightful. The actions we can take are exciting and scary. The results we achieve are nothing short of God-inspired.
The Story Unfolds
Jacob is the son of Rebecca and Isaac. Under not-so-righteous conditions, Jacob leaves his home, implored by his mother, and travels to his far off Uncle Laban’s home. By the time he reaches his uncle’s land, he finds a well where shepherds are watering their flocks. He is stunned by a beauty named Rachel. He asks Laban for her hand in marriage and will, in exchange, work for him for seven years. Under not-so-righteous conditions, he is deceived by his Uncle (the first of many deceptions) and ends up marrying her sister Leah.
Time for a Change
After many years’ work under Laban, and after many children with Leah and Rachel, Jacob decides it’s time to return home to continue raising his family. He was ready for a change.
Soon after Rachel had given birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Please release me so I can go home to my own country. Let me take my wives and children, for I have earned them by serving you, and let me be on my way. You certainly know how hard I have worked for you.”
Just like Jacob, we work hard. Just like Jacob, we assume our leaders (whether that’s our CEO, Board Chair, Field Manager, Regional VP etc.) will agree with our belief in our own hard work. Most times, it doesn’t work like that. In the case of Jacob, Laban had grown rich from Jacob’s talented management but seemed to overlook where the credit should go.
Laban Didn’t Acknowledge Jacob’s Efforts
Although it is debateable whether Laban outright refused to let him go or manipulated poor Jacob into staying, the story shows that Jacob was dissatisfied with how wealthy Laban had grown without allowing Jacob to provide for his own family. Jacob responds, stating what was obvious to the both of them. It’s especially encouraging to see jacob giving God the rightful credit:
Jacob replied, “You know how hard I’ve worked for you, and how your flocks and herds have grown under my care. You had little indeed before I came, but your wealth has increased enormously. The Lord has blessed you through everything I’ve done. But now, what about me? When can I start providing for my own family?”
Special Note: Even though it was clearly the result of God’s hand blessing Jacob, we see that Jacob worked incredibly hard. We can’t just sit back and wait for God to increase our wealth, even though we know for sure it is God who grants the increase. We must work hard for it.
Jacob Negotiates Shrewdly
Jacob’s response is a partial clue that Laban probably was strong-arming him to stay. Jacob doesn’t just say, “Hey man, I’m leaving,” or “Just pay me 100 sheep and I’ll leave in peace.” No! Jacob has to negotiate his way out of this one. And he does so in a way that will provide his family with abundance. He knows the rarity of spotted or black sheep. He also trusts that God will support his plan. So he says the following:
Jacob replied, “Don’t give me anything. Just do this one thing, and I’ll continue to tend and watch over your flocks. Let me inspect your flocks today and remove all the sheep and goats that are speckled or spotted, along with all the black sheep. Give these to me as my wages. In the future, when you check on the animals you have given me as my wages, you’ll see that I have been honest. If you find in my flock any goats without speckles or spots, or any sheep that are not black, you will know that I have stolen them from you.”
Laban agrees and the terms are set. Laban’s next actions truly show what a cheat and scoundrel he is. Although already wealthy because of Jacob, he preemptively removes all the spotted and black sheep right away, hiding a possible immediate gain from his nephew, by moving those sheep a three-day journey away. Nothing in the story indicates Jacob knew this was happening.
Jacob’s Shows His Great Skill
With the deal in place, Jacob goes to work. He uses his skill, something Laban clearly didn’t realize existed, and starts mating the sheep to create the outcomes he wanted. Within time, Jacob now has as many or more sheep than his uncle Laban. He held to his side of the bargain. He didn’t do anything wrong or underhanded. He operated not only within the terms of his own agreement but within the conviction of his own conscience.
This is such a great example for us. When knowingly working for a tyrant, we can be tempted to react with an unrighteous attitude and actions. We think it’s okay to take something from the company since the company took so much from us. The best way to respond is to be shrewd and leave the rest in God’s hands.
Laban’s Attitude Changes Toward Jacob
If Laban’s conniving was not bad enough, Laban’s sons begin to notice Jacob’s flocks growing and complained to their father about it. In the same style as their boss (their father in this case) they wrongly accuse Jacob of cheating the company. So Laban’s attitude changed toward Jacob. It must have been pretty bad.
And since Jacob placed his trust in God, he waited for God to guide him. And this is what happens: he receives word from God that it’s time to return home. Without hesitation, he leaves, and in a hurry. The Bible describes what Jacob does next as outright fleeing. What is most interesting to note is the greater detail we are now given in the story, detail about the full extent of Laban’s treachery toward Jacob.
4So Jacob called Rachel and Leah out to the field where he was watching his flock. He said to them, “I have noticed that your father’s attitude toward me has changed. But the God of my father has been with me. You know how hard I have worked for your father, but he has cheated me, changing my wages ten times. But God has not allowed him to do me any harm. For if he said, ‘The speckled animals will be your wages,’ the whole flock began to produce speckled young. And when he changed his mind and said, ‘The striped animals will be your wages,’ then the whole flock produced striped young. In this way, God has taken your father’s animals and given them to me.
Laban had changed his wages 10 times and even reneged on the original deal that was made. And Jacob, all the while, trusted in God. He didn’t lash out. And even if lawyers would have been present in that age, I doubt Jacob would have filed a lawsuit. (Please note: I’m not saying legal action is not necessary. It is and can be. I believe it should be a last resort however.)
God Knows How We are Being Treated
Perhaps one of the most inspiring parts of this story is what Jacob describes as a visit from an angel in a dream.
“The angel said, ‘Look up, and you will see that only the streaked, speckled, and spotted males are mating with the females of your flock. For I have seen how Laban has treated you. 13 I am the God who appeared to you at Bethel, the place where you anointed the pillar of stone and made your vow to me. Now get ready and leave this country and return to the land of your birth.’”
This powerful moment shows two important truths: 1) God knows what we are going through and He cares, even if our corporate leaders don’t and 2) God is the one who grants the increase to our wealth and earnings potential.
The rest of the story I’ll leave you to explore. In brief, Jacob leaves, Laban pursues, God intervenes.
This captures a glimpse of our own career dealings. Each of us have gone through something similar. And if you haven’t yet, chances are good you will in the future. Knowing how to respond, with righteousness and humility, shrewdness and integrity, diligence and trust, is our calling as Christian professionals.
It is within reach. And if you are having trouble, contact me and let’s talk. Helping Christian professionals thrive in similar situations is my life’s work. Send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org right now. I look forward to hearing from you.