Adam Clarke Commentary
Laban and his sons envy Jacob, Genesis 31:1, Genesis 31:2; on which he is commanded by the Lord to return to his own country, Genesis 31:3. Having called his wives together, he lays before them a detailed statement of his situation in reference to their father, Genesis 31:4-5; the services he had rendered him, Genesis 31:6; the various attempts made by Laban to defraud him of his hire, Genesis 31:7; how, by God‘s providence, his evil designs had been counteracted, Genesis 31:8-12; and then informs them that he is now called to return to his own country, Genesis 31:13. To the proposal of an immediate departure, Leah and Rachel agree; and strengthen the propriety of the measure by additional reasons, Genesis 31:14-16; on which Jacob collects all his family, his flocks and his goods, and prepares for his departure, Genesis 31:17, Genesis 31:18. Laban having gone to shear his sheep, Rachel secretes his images, Genesis 31:19. Jacob and his family, unknown to Laban, take their departure, Genesis 31:20, Genesis 31:21. On the third day Laban is informed of their flight, Genesis 31:22; and pursues them to Mount Gilead, Genesis 31:23. God appears to Laban in a dream, and warns him not to molest Jacob, Genesis 31:24. He comes up with Jacob at Mount Gilead, Genesis 31:25; reproaches him with his clandestine departure, Genesis 31:26-29; and charges him with having stolen his gods, Genesis 31:30. Jacob vindicates himself, and protests his innocence in the matter of the theft, Genesis 31:31, Genesis 31:32. Laban makes a general search for his images in Jacob‘s, Leah‘s, Bilhah‘s, and Zilpah‘s tents; and not finding them, proceeds to examine Rachel‘s, Genesis 31:33. Rachel, having hidden them among the camel‘s furniture, sat upon them, Genesis 31:34; and making a delicate excuse for not rising up, Laban desists from farther search, Genesis 31:35. Jacob, ignorant of Rachel‘s theft, reproaches Laban for his suspicions, Genesis 31:36, Genesis 31:37; enumerates his long and faithful services, his fatigues, and Laban‘s injustice, Genesis 31:38-41; and shows that it was owing to God‘s goodness alone that he had any property, Genesis 31:42. Laban is moderated, and proposes a covenant, Genesis 31:43, Genesis 31:44. Jacob sets up a stone, and the rest bring stones and make a heap, which Laban calleth Jegar-Sahadutha, and Jacob Galeed, Genesis 31:45-47. They make a covenant, and confirm it by an oath, Genesis 31:48-53. Jacob offers a sacrifice; they eat together; and Laban and his companions, having lodged in the mount all night, take a friendly leave of Jacob and his family next morning, and depart, Genesis 31:54, Genesis 31:55.
And he heard the words of Laban‘s sons - The multiplication of Jacob‘s cattle, and the decrease and degeneracy of those of Laban, were sufficient to arouse the jealousy of Laban‘s sons. This, with Laban‘s unfair treatment, and the direction he received from God, determined him to return to his own country.
Hath he gotten all this glory - All these riches, this wealth, or property. The original word כבד signifies both to be rich and to be heavy; and perhaps for this simple reason, that riches ever bring with them heavy weight and burden of cares and anxieties.
And the Lord said unto Jacob, Return - and I will be with thee - I will take the same care of thee in thy return, as I took of thee on thy way to this place. The Targum reads, My Word shall be for thy help, see Genesis 15:1. A promise of this kind was essentially necessary for the encouragement of Jacob, especially at this time; and no doubt it was a powerful means of support to him through the whole journey; and it was particularly so when he heard that his brother was coming to meet him, with four hundred men in his retinue, Genesis 32:6. At that time he went and pleaded the very words of this promise with God, Genesis 32:9.
Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah - He had probably been at some considerable distance with the flocks; and for the greater secrecy, he rather sends for them to the field, to consult them on this most momentous affair, than visit them in their tents, where probably some of the family of Laban might overhear their conversation, though Laban himself was at the time three days‘ journey off. It is possible that Jacob shore his sheep at the same time; and that he sent for his wives and household furniture to erect tents on the spot, that they might partake of the festivities usual on such occasions. Thus they might all depart without being suspected.
Changed my wages ten times - There is a strange diversity among the ancient versions, and ancient and modern interpreters, on the meaning of these words. The Hebrew is עשרת מנים (asereth monim), which Aquila translates δεκα αριθμους ten numbers; Symmachus, δεκακις αριτμῳ , ten times in number; the Septuagint δεκα αμνων , ten lambs, with which Origen appears to agree. St. Augustine thinks that by ten lambs five years‘ wages is meant: that Laban had withheld from him all the party-coloured lambs which had been brought forth for five years, and because the ewes brought forth lambs twice in the year, bis gravidae pecudes, therefore the number ten is used, Jacob having been defrauded of his part of the produce of ten births. It is supposed that the Septuagint use lambs for years, as Virgil does aristas.
Thus inadequately translated by Dryden:
Here aristas, which signifies ears of corn, is put for harvest, harvest for autumn, and autumn for years. After all, it is most natural to suppose that Jacob uses the word ten times for an indefinite number, which we might safely translate frequently; and that it means an indefinite number in other parts of the sacred writings, is evident from Leviticus 26:26: Ten women shall bake your bread in one oven. Ecclesiastes 7:19: Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than Ten mighty men the city. Numbers 14:22: Because all these men have tempted me now these Ten times. Job 19:3: These Ten times have ye reproached me. Zechariah 8:23: In those days - Ten men shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew. Revelation 2:10: Ye shall have tribulation Ten days.
The angel of God spake unto me in a dream - It is strange that we had not heard of this dream before; and yet it seems to have taken place before the cattle brought forth, immediately after the bargain between him and Laban. If we follow the Samaritan the difficulty is at once removed, for it gives us the whole of this dream after Genesis 30:36 of the preceding chapter,
Grisled - ברדים (beruddim); ברד (barad) signifies hail, and the meaning must be, they had white spots on them similar to hail. Our word grisled comes from the old French, gresl, hail, now written gràle; hence greslé, grisled, spotted with white upon a dark ground.
Are we not counted of him strangers? - Rachel and Leah, who well knew the disposition of their father, gave him here his true character. He has treated us as strangers - as slaves whom he had a right to dispose of as he pleased; in consequence, he hath sold us - disposed of us on the mere principle of gaining by the sale.
And hath quite devoured also our money - Has applied to his own use the profits of the sale, and has allowed us neither portion nor inheritance.
Laban went to shear his sheep - Laban had gone; and this was a favorable time not only to take his images, but to return to Canaan without being perceived.
Rachel had stolen the images - תרפים (teraphim). What the teraphim were is utterly unknown. In Genesis 31:30 they are termed אלהי (elohai), gods; and to some it appears very likely that they were a sort of images devoted to superstitious purposes, not considered as gods, but as representatives of certain Divine attributes, Dr. Shuckford supposes them to be a sort of tiles, on which the names or figures of their ancestors were engraven. Theodoret, in his 89th question, calls them idols; and says that Rachel, who was a type of the true Church, stole them from her father that he might be delivered from idolatry. R. S. Jarchi gives nearly the same reason.
Passed over the river - The Euphrates, as the Targum properly notices. But how could he pass such a river with his flocks, etc.? This difficulty does not seem to have struck critics in general. The rabbins felt it, and assert that God wrought a miracle for Jacob on this occasion, and that he passed over dry shod. As we know not in what other way he could pass, it is prudent to refer it to the power of God, which accompanied him through the whole of his journey. There might, however, have been fords well known to both Jacob and Laban, by which they might readily pass.
The mount Gilead - What the ancient name of this mountain was, we know not; but it is likely that it had not the name of Gilead till after the transaction mentioned Genesis 31:47. The mountains of Gilead were eastward of the country possessed by the tribes of Reuben and Gad; and extended from Mount Hermon to the mountains of Moab - Calmet. It is joined to Mount Libanus, and includes the mountainous region called in the New Testament Trachonitis - Dodd.
And God came to Laban - God‘s caution to Laban was of high importance to Jacob - Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad; or rather, as is the literal meaning of the Hebrew, מטוב עד רע (mittob ad ra), from good to evil; for had he neither spoken good nor evil to Jacob, they could have had no intercourse at all. The original is, therefore, peculiarly appropriate; for when people meet, the language at first is the language of friendship; the command therefore implies, “Do not begin with Peace be unto thee, and then proceed to injurious language and acts of violence.” If this Divine direction were attended to, how many of those affairs of honor, so termed, which commence with, “I hope you are well” - “I am infinitely glad to see you” - “I am happy to see you well,” etc., and end with small swords and pistol bullets, would be prevented! Where God and true religion act, all is fair, kind, honest, and upright; but where these are not consulted, all is hollow, deceitful, or malicious. Beware of unmeaning compliments, and particularly of saying what thy heart feels not. God hates a hypocrite and a deceiver.
I might have sent thee away with mirth - בשמחה, (besimchah), with rejoicing, making a feast or entertainment on the occasion; and with songs, בשרים (beshirim), odes either in the praise of God, or to commemorate the splendid acts of their ancestors; with tabret, בתף (bethoph), the tympanum used in the east to the present day, and there called (diff), a thin broad wooden hoop, with parchment extended over one end of it, to which are attached small pieces of brass, tin, etc., which make a jingling noise; it is held in the air with one hand, and beat on with the fingers of the other. It appears to have been precisely the same with that which is called the tambourine and which is frequently to be met with in our streets. And with harp, בכנור (bekinnor), a sort of stringed instrument, a lute or harp; probably the same as the Greek κινυρα (kinura), a harp; the name being evidently borrowed from the Hebrew. These four things seem to include all that was used in those primitive times, as expressive of gladness and satisfaction on the most joyous occasions.
It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt - Literally, My hand is unto God to do you evil, i.e., I have vowed to God that I will punish thee for thy flight, and the stealing of my teraphim; but the God of Your father has prevented me from doing it. It is a singular instance that the plural pronoun, when addressing an individual, should be twice used in this place - the God of your father, אביכם (abichem), for אביך (abicha), thy father.
Let him not live - It appears that anciently theft was punished by death; and we know that the patriarchs had the power of life and death in their hands. But previously to the law, the punishment of death was scarcely ever inflicted but for murder. The rabbins consider that this was an imprecation used by Jacob, as if he had said, Let God take away the life of the person who has stolen them! And that this was answered shortly after in the death of Rachel, Genesis 35:16-19.
The custom of women is upon me - This she knew must be a satisfactory reason to her father; for if the teraphim were used to any religious purpose, and they seem to have been used in this way, as Laban calls them his gods, he therefore could not suspect that a woman in such a situation, whose touch was considered as defiling, would have sat upon articles that were either the objects of his adoration, or used for any sacred purpose. The stratagem succeeded to her wish, and Laban departed without suspicion. It seems very natural to suppose that Rachel did believe that by the use of these teraphim Laban could find out their flight, and the direction they took, and therefore she stole them; and having stolen them she was afraid to acknowledge the theft, and probably might think that they might be of some use to herself. Therefore, for these reasons, she brought them away.
And Jacob was wroth, and chode with Laban - The expostulation of Jacob with Laban, and their consequent agreement, are told in this place with great spirit and dignity. Jacob was conscious that though he had made use of cunning to increase his flocks, yet Laban had been on the whole a great gainer by his services. He had served him at least twenty years, fourteen for Rachel and Leah, and six for the cattle; and some suppose he had served him twenty years besides the above, which is not unlikely: see the remarks at the conclusion of this chapter. (See Clarke at Genesis 31:55 (note)) Forty or even twenty years of a man‘s life, devoted to incessant labor and constantly exposed to all the inclemencies of the weather, (see Genesis 31:40), deserve more than an ordinary reward. Laban‘s constitutional sin was covetousness, and it was an easily besetting sin; for it appears to have governed all his conduct, and to have rendered him regardless of the interests of his children, so long as he could secure his own. That he had frequently falsified his agreement with Jacob, though the particulars are not specified, we have already had reason to conjecture from Genesis 31:7, and with this Jacob charges his father-in-law, in the most positive manner, Genesis 31:41. Perhaps some previous unfair transactions of this kind were the cause why Jacob was led to adopt the expedient of outwitting Laban in the case of the spotted, spangled, ring-streaked, and grisled cattle. This if it did take place, though it cannot justify the measure, is some palliation of it; and almost the whole of Jacob‘s conduct, as far as relates to Laban, can be better excused than his injuring Laban‘s breed, by leaving him none but the weak, unhealthy, and degenerated cattle.
That which was torn - of my hand didst thou require it - This more particularly marks the covetous and rigorous disposition of Laban; for the law of God required that what had been torn by beasts the shepherd should not be obliged to make good, Exodus 22:10, Exodus 22:13. And it is very likely that this law was in force from the earliest times.
In the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night - The being exposed to the heat by day, and frost by night, is made part of the heaviest punishment of Promethus by Aeschylus.
Opposed to the sun‘s most fervid beam, The hue of beauty changed; till parch‘d by heat The night with spangled stole shall hide its light From thee rejoicing, but again the sun Chases the hoar frost from thy harass‘d form - J. B. B. C.
Twenty years - See the remarks at the end, Genesis 31:55 (note).
The fear of Isaac - It is strange that Jacob should say, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, when both words are meant of the same Being. The reason perhaps was this; Abraham was long since dead, and God was his unalienable portion for ever. Isaac was yet alive in a state of probation, living in the fear of God, not exempt from the danger of falling; therefore God is said to be his fear, not only the object of his religious worship in a general way, but that holy and just God before whom he was still working out his salvation with fear and trembling, fear lest he should fall, and trembling lest he should offend.
Made a heap - גל (gal), translated heap, signifies properly a round heap; and this heap was probably made for the double purpose of an altar and a table, and Jacob‘s stone or pillar was set on it for the purpose of a memorial.
Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha - יגר שהדותא (yegar sahadutha), the heap or round heap of witness; but Jacob called it גלעד (galed), which signifies the same thing. The first is pure Chaldee, the second pure Hebrew. אגר (agar) signifies to collect, hence יגר (yegar) and אוגר (ogar), a collection or heap made up of gathered stones; and hence also אגורא (egora), an altar, used frequently by the Chaldee (paraphrast). See 1 Kings 12:33; Judges 6:31; 2 Kings 21:3; Jeremiah 17:1. See Castel‘s Lexicon. From this example we may infer that the Chaldee language was nearly coequal with the Hebrew. A gloss made by St. Jerome, and which was probably only entered by him in his margin as a note, has crept into the text of the Vulgate. It is found in every copy of this version, and is as follows: Uterque juxta proprietatem linguae suae, Each according to the idiom of his own tongue.
I think these two verses are badly divided, and should be read thus:
Genesis 31:48 - And Laban said, This heap is a witness between me and thee this day.
Mizpah - מעפה (mitspah) signifies a watch-tower; and Laban supposes that in consequence of the consecration of the place, and the covenant now solemnly made and ratified, that God would take possession of this heap, and stand on it as on a watch-tower, to prevent either of them from trenching on the conditions of their covenant.
No man is with us - Though all were present at the sacrifice offered, yet it appears that in making the contract Jacob and Laban withdrew, and transacted the business in private, calling on God to witness it.
And Laban said to Jacob - behold this pillar, which I have cast betwixt me and thee - But this pillar, not cast but set up, was certainly set up by Jacob; for in Genesis 31:45 we read, And Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar: it is therefore for the honor of one Hebrew and one Samaritan MS. that they have preserved the true reading in Genesis 31:51, ירית (yaritha), Thou hast set up - Kennicott. Instead of either of the above readings the Samaritan text has (yarata), The pillar which thou Seest betwixt me and thee.
The God of their father - As Laban certainly speaks of the true God here, with what propriety can he say that this God was the God of Terah, the father of Abraham and Nahor? It is certain that Terah was an idolater; of this we have the most positive proof, Joshua 24:2. Because the clause is not in the Septuagint, and is besides wanting in some MSS., Dr. Kennicott considers it an interpolation. But there is no need of having recourse to this expedient if we adopt the reading אביכם (abichem), Your father, for אביהם (abihem), Their father, which is supported by several of Kennicott‘s and De Rossi‘s MSS., and is precisely the same form made use of by Laban, Genesis 31:29, when addressing Jacob, and appears to me to be used here in the same way; for he there most manifestly uses the plural pronoun, when speaking only to Jacob himself.
Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac - See Clarke on Genesis 31:42 (note).
Offered sacrifice upon the mount - It is very likely that Laban joined in this solemn religious rite, and that, having offered the blood and fat to God, they feasted upon the sacrifice.
Kissed his sons and his daughters - That is, his grandchildren, Jacob‘s eleven sons with Dinah their sister, and their mothers Leah and Rachel. All these he calls his children, Genesis 31:43. And blessed them - prayed heartily for their prosperity, though we find from Genesis 31:29 that he came having bound himself by a vow to God to do them some injury. Thus God turned his intended curse into a blessing.
1.Though Isaac and Esau married at forty, Jacob goes at seventy-seven to look for a wife, and agrees to marry her seven years after.
2.Issachar is born after the affair of the mandrakes, which Reuben finds and brings home when he (Reuben) was about four years old; that is, if Issachar was born before Joseph, agreeably to Genesis 30:18, Genesis 30:25.
Lastly, if Jacob had no son till eighty-five, and he went to Egypt at one hundred and thirty, with sixty-six persons, only forty-five years are allowed for his family; whereas the larger sum of sixty-five years seems necessary for the births of so many children and grandchildren. On this subject Le Clerc has pronounced, Hisce in rebus occurrunt nodi, quos nemo hactenus solvit; neque porro, ut opinor, solvet. There are difficulties here which have never been explained, and in my opinion never can be explained. But upon the single principle of Mr. Skinner, that Jacob went to Laban at fifty-seven, (instead of seventy-seven), these difficulties are solved. And it only remains to wish that some authority may be found to support this conjecture, thus strongly founded on the exigentia loci. The common opinion is formed by reckoning back from the age of Joseph, when governor of Egypt, to the time of his birth, and from the twenty years which Jacob was with Laban. This number, Mr. Skinner thinks, was originally forty; and I think that the Hebrew text as it now stands confirms the conjecture, and furnishes the very authority which is so much wanted.
I shall leave this subject with chronologers and critics, and shall not attempt to decide on either opinion. That of Dr. Kennicott I think the most likely, and to it I have adapted the chronology in those cases to which it relates; but there are difficulties in both cases. See Clarke on Genesis 38:1 (note).
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