1. The grandson of Abraham’s brother Nahor. He was the son of Bethuel and the brother of Rebekah (Ge 24:15, 29; 28:5), and he was the father of Leah and Rachel. (Ge 29:16) Laban resided at the city of Haran in Paddan-aram, an area of Mesopotamia.—Ge 24:10; 27:43; 28:6; 29:4, 5.
Laban is called “the son of Bethuel the Syrian [literally, “the Aramaean”].” He is also referred to as “Laban the Syrian.” (Ge 28:5; 25:20; 31:20, 24) This designation is fitting in view of the fact that he was a resident of Paddan-aram, which means “Plain (Flatland) of Aram (Syria).” Laban was a Semite dwelling in a region occupied by persons speaking Aramaic, a Semitic language.
To the vicinity just mentioned, aged Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac. (Ge 24:1-4, 10) When Laban heard Rebekah’s account of her encounter with Abraham’s servant and saw the gifts she had been given, he went running to the servant, addressed him as one blessed by Jehovah, and extended hospitality to him. (Ge 24:28-32) Laban subsequently took a leading part in the negotiations concerning the marriage of Rebekah, the approval for the marriage coming from both him and his father, Bethuel.—Ge 24:50-61.
Years later, to escape Esau’s vengeance and to obtain a wife, Jacob traveled to the home of his uncle Laban at Haran. (Ge 27:41–28:5) By this time Laban had two daughters, Leah and Rachel (Ge 29:16), and possibly also sons. (Ge 31:1) Laban made an agreement with Jacob that for seven years of service he would receive Laban’s younger daughter Rachel as wife. However, Laban tricked Jacob on his wedding night by substituting the older daughter Leah for Rachel, brushing Jacob’s protests aside by appealing to local custom and then offering Rachel to Jacob as a second wife, if Jacob would serve him for an additional seven years.—Ge 29:13-28.
When Jacob finally wished to depart, Laban urged him to remain and continue serving him for wages. (Ge 30:25-28) The agreement was that Jacob could keep for himself all the speckled and color-patched sheep, the dark-brown sheep among the young rams, and any color-patched and speckled she-goats. (Ge 30:31-34) But Jacob’s later words to Leah and Rachel and also to Laban (Ge 31:4-9, 41) indicate that during succeeding years Laban frequently altered this original agreement when it turned out that Jacob’s flocks were increasing greatly. Laban’s attitude toward Jacob was not the same as formerly, and at Jehovah’s direction Jacob decided to return to his homeland with his family and flocks.—Ge 31:1-5, 13, 17, 18.
On the third day after Jacob’s secret departure, Laban learned of it and pursued Jacob, catching up with him in the mountainous region of Gilead. However, a warning from God prevented Laban from harming Jacob. (Ge 31:19-24) When they met, Laban and Jacob quarreled. Jacob pointed to his 20 years of faithful service and hard work and showed how Laban had dealt with him unfairly, changing his wages ten times.—Ge 31:36-42.
Laban was very concerned about retrieving the teraphim, or household idols, which Rachel, unknown to Jacob, had stolen. These he was unable to find, for Rachel kept them concealed. Laban may have become influenced in his religious ideas by the moon-worshiping people among whom he dwelt, and this may be indicated by his use of omens and his possession of teraphim. However, it should be noted that it was likely more than merely religious reasons that made Laban so anxious to locate and retrieve the teraphim. Tablets unearthed at Nuzi near Kirkuk, Iraq, reveal that, according to the laws of patriarchal times in that particular area, possession of such household idols by a woman’s husband could give him the right to appear in court and claim the estate of his deceased father-in-law. Hence, Laban may have thought that Jacob himself stole the teraphim in order to dispossess Laban’s own sons later. This may explain why, on failing to locate the household gods, Laban was anxious to conclude an agreement with Jacob that would ensure that Jacob would not go back with the household gods after Laban’s death to deprive his sons of their inheritance.—Ge 31:30-35, 41-52.
Laban made a covenant of family peace with Jacob, and to memorialize it, a stone pillar and a heap of stones were set up. Using Hebrew, Jacob called the heap Galeed, meaning “Witness Heap.” Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, using an Aramaic, or Syrian, expression having the same meaning. It was also called “The Watchtower.” (Ge 31:43-53) After bidding his grandchildren and daughters farewell, Laban returned home, and the Bible record makes no further mention of him.—Ge 31:54, 55.
2. A place mentioned at Deuteronomy 1:1 in relation to “the desert plains in front of Suph.” The exact location of Laban is unknown.