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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 31

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

Verse 1

1.And he heard the words. Although Jacob ardently desired his own country, and was continually thinking of his return to it; yet his admirable patience appears in this, that he suspends his purpose till a new occasion presents itself. I do not, however, deny, that some imperfection was mixed with this virtue, in that he did not make more haste to return; but that the promise of God was always retained its his mind will shortly appear. In this respect, however, he showed something of human nature, that for the sake of obtaining wealth he postponed his return for six years: for when Laban was perpetually changing his terms, he might justly have bidden him farewell. But that he was detained by force and fear together, we infer from his clandestine flight. Now, at least, he has a sufficient cause for asking his dismissal; because his riches had become grievous and hateful to the sons of Laban: nevertheless he does not dare openly to withdraw himself from their enmity, but is compelled to flee secretly. Yet though his tardiness is in some degree excusable, it was probably connected with indolence; even as the faithful, when they direct their course towards God, often do not pursue it with becoming fervor. Wherefore, whenever the indolence of the flesh retards us, let us learn to fan the ardor of our spirits into a flame. There is no doubt that the Lord corrected the infirmity of his servant, and gently spurred him on as he proceeded in his course. For if Laban had treated him kindly and pleasantly, his mind would have been lulled to sleep; but now he is driven away by adverse looks. So the Lord often better secures the salvation of his people, by subjecting them to the hatred, the envy, and the malevolence of the wicked, than by suffering them to be soothed with bland address. It was far more useful to holy Jacob to have his father-in-law and his sons opposed, than to have them courteously obsequious to his wishes; because their favor might have deprived him of the blessing of God. We also have more than sufficient experience of the power of earthly attractions, and of the ease with which, when they abound, the oblivion of celestial blessings steals over us. Wherefore let us not think it hard to be awakened by the Lord, when we fall into adversity, or receive but little favor from the world; for hatred, threats, disgrace, and slanders, are often more advantageous to us than the applause of all men on every side. Moreover, we must notice the inhumanity of Laban’s sons, who complain throughout as if they had been plundered by Jacob. But sordid and avaricious men labor under the disease of thinking that they are robbed of everything with which they do not gorge themselves. For since their avarice is insatiable, it follows of necessity that the prosperity of others torments them, as if they themselves would be thereby reduced to want. They do not consider whether Jacob acquired this great wealth justly or unjustly; but they are enraged and envious, because they conceive that so much has been abstracted from them. Laban had before confessed, that he had been enriched by the coming of Jacob, and even that he had been blessed by the Lord for Jacob’s sake; but now his sons murmur, and he himself is tortured with grief, to find that Jacob also is made a partaker of the same blessing. Hence we perceive the blindness of avarice which can never be satisfied. Whence also it is called by Paul the root of all evil; because they who desire to swallow up everything must be perfidious, and cruel, and ungrateful, and in every way unjust. Besides, it is to be observed that the sons of Laban, in the impetuosity of their younger years, give vent to their vexation; but the father, like a cunning old fox, is silent, yet betrays his wickedness by his countenance.

Verse 2

22.And it was told Laban. The Lord gave to his servant the interval of a three-days’ journey, so that having passed the Euphrates, he might enter the boundaries of the promised land. And perhaps, in the mean time, he cooled the rage of Laban, the assault of which, in its first heat, might have been intolerable severe. (95) By afterward permitting Jacob to be intercepted in the midst of his journey, God intended to tender his own interposition the more illustrious. It seemed desirable that Jacob’s course should not be interrupted, and that he should not be filled with alarm by the hostile approach of his father-in-law; but when Laban, like a savage wild beast, breathing nothing but slaughter, is suddenly restrained by the Lord, this was far more likely to confirm the faith of the holy man, and therefore far more useful to him. For, as in the very act of giving assistance, the power of God shone forth more clearly; so, relying on divine help, he passed more courageously through remaining trials. Whence we learn, that those perturbations which, at the time, are troublesome to us, yet tend to our salvation, if only we obediently submit to the will of God; who purposely thus tries us, that he may indeed show more fully the care which he takes of us. It was a sad and miserable sight, that Jacob, taking so large a family with him, should flee as if his conscience had accused him of evil: but it was far more bitter and more formidable, that Laban, intent on his destruction, should threaten his life. Yet the method of his deliverance, which is described by Moses, was more illustrious than any victory. For God, descending from heaven to bring assistance to his servant, places himself between the parties, and in a moment assuages the indomitable fury with which Laban was inflamed.

(95) “Doubtless this pursuit, undertaken with such vehemence by Laban, was for the purpose of bringing back Jacob with all his family and all his wealth, and under the pretext that he had taken flight and had been guilty of theft, to retain him henceforth as a captive, and to subject him to perpetual slavery.” — Rivetus in Genesis.

Verse 3

3.And the Lord said unto Jacob. The timidity of the holy man is here more plainly seen; for he, perceiving that evil was designed against him by his father-in-law, still dared not to move a foot, unless encouraged by a new oracle. But the Lord, who, by facts, had shown him already that no longer delay was to be made, now also urges him by words. Let us learn from this example, that although the Lord may incite us to duty by adversity, yet we shall thereby profit little, unless the stimulus of the word be added. And we see what will happen to the reprobate; for either they become stupefied in their wickedness, or they break out into fury. Wherefore, that the instruction conveyed by outward things may profit us, we must ask the Lord to shine upon us in his own word. The design, however, of Moses chiefly refers to this point, that we may know that Jacob returned to his own country, under the special guidance of God. Now the land of Canaan is called the land of Abraham and Isaac, not because they had sprung from it; but because it had been divinely promised to them as their inheritance. Wherefore, by this voice the holy man was admonished, that although Isaac had been a stranger, yet, in the sight of God, he was the heir and lord of that land, in which he possessed nothing but a sepulcher.

Verse 4

4.And Jacob sent. He sends for his wives, in order to explain to them his intention, and to exhort them to accompany him in his flight; for it was his duty as a good husband to take them away with him; and therefore it was necessary to inform them of his design. And he was not so blind as to be unmindful of the many dangers of his plan. It was difficult to convey women, who had never left their father’s house, to a remote region, by an unknown journey. Moreover, there was ground to fear lest they, in seeking protection for themselves, might betray their husband to his enemies. The coverage of many would so far have failed them, in such a state of perturbation, that they would have disregarded conjugal fidelity, to provide for their own safety. Jacob, therefore, acted with great constancy in choosing rather to expose himself to danger than to fail in the duty of a good husband and master of a family. If his wives had refused to accompany him, the call of God would have compelled him to depart. But God granted him what was far more desirable, that his whole family, with one consent, were prepared to follow him: moreover, his wives, with whose mutual strifes his house before had rung, now freely consent to go with him into exile. So the Lord, when in good faith we discharge our duty, and shun nothing which he commands, enables us to succeed, even in the most doubtful affairs. Further, from the fact that Jacob calls his wives to him into the field, we infer what an anxious life he led. Certainly it would have been a primary convenience of his life, to dwell at home with his wives. He was already advanced in age, and worn down with many toils; and therefore he had the greater need of their service. Yet satisfied with a cottage in which he might watch over his flock, he lived apart from them. If, then, there had been a particle of equity in Laban and his sons, they would have found no cause for envy.

Verse 5

5.I see your father’s countenance. This address consists of two parts. For first, he speaks of his own integrity, and expostulates concerning the perfidy of his father-in-law. He next testifies that God is the author of his prosperity, in order that Rachel and Leah may the more willingly accompany him. And whereas he had become very rich in a short space of time, he purges himself from all suspicion; and even appeals to them as witnesses of his diligence. And though Moses does not minutely relate everything; yet there is no doubt that the honesty of their husband had been made clear to them by many proofs, and that, on the other hand, the injuries, frauds, and rapacity of their father, were well known. When he complains that his wages had been changed ten times, it is probable that the number ten is simply put for many times. Nevertheless it may be, that within six years Laban might thus frequently have broken his agreements; since there would be twice as many seasons of breeding lambs, namely, at spring and autumn, as we have said. But this narration of the dream, although it follows in a subsequent part of the history, shows that holy Jacob had undertaken nothing but by the Divine command. Moses had before related the transaction simply, saying nothing respecting the counsel from which it had proceeded; but now, in the person of Jacob himself, he removes all doubt respecting it; for he does not intimate that Jacob was lying, in order, by this artifice, to deceive his wives; but he introduces the holy servant of God, avowing truly, and without pretense, the case as it really was. For otherwise he would have abused the name of God, not without abominable impiety, by connecting this vision with that former one, in which we see that the gate of heaven was opened unto him.

Verse 13

13.I am the God of Beth-el. It is not wonderful that the angel should assume the person of God: either because God the Father appeared to the holy patriarchs in his own Word, as in a lively mirror, and that under the form of an angel; or because angels, speaking by the command of God, rightly utter their words, as from his mouth. For the prophets are accustomed to this form of speaking; not that they may exalt themselves into the place of God; but only that the majesty of God, whose ministers they are, may shine forth in his message. Now, it is proper that we should more carefully consider the force of this form of expression. He does not call himself the God of Bethel, because he is confined within the limits of a given place, but for the purpose of renewing to his servant the remembrance of his own promise; for holy Jacob had not yet attained to that degree of perfection which rendered the more simple rudiments unnecessary for him. But little light of true doctrine at that time prevailed; and even that was wrapped in many shadows. Nearly the whole world had apostatized to false gods; and that region, nay, even the house of his father-in-law, was filled with unholy superstitions. Therefore, amid so many hindrances, nothing was more difficult for him than to hold his faith in the one true God firm and invincible. Wherefore, in the first place, pure religion is commended to him, in order that, among the various errors of the world, he may adhere to the obedience and worship of that God whom he had once known. Secondly; the promise which he had before received is anew confirmed to him, in order that he may always keep his mind fixed on the special covenant which God had made with Abraham and his posterity. Thus he is directed to the land of Canaan, which was his own inheritance; lest the temporal blessing of God, which he was soon to enjoy, should detain his heart in Mesopotamia. For since this oracle was only an appendix of the previous one, whatever benefits God afterwards bestowed ought to be referred to that first design. We may also conjecture from this passage, that Jacob had before preached to his household concerning the true God and the true religion, as became a pious father of his family. For he would have acted absurdly in uttering this discourse, unless his wives had been previously instructed respecting that wonderful vision. To the same point belongs what he had said before, that the God of his father had brought him assistance. For it is just as if he would openly distinguish the God whom he worshipped from the god of Laban. And now, because he holds familiar discourse with his wives, as on subjects which they know, the conjecture is probable, that it was not Jacob’s fault if they were not imbued with the knowledge of the one God, and with sincere piety. Further, by this oracle the Lord declared that he is always mindful of the godly, even when they seem to be cast down and deserted. For who would not have said that the outcast Jacob was now deprived of all celestial help? And truly the Lord appears to him late; but beyond all expectation shows, that he had never been forgetful of him. Let the faithful, also, at this day, feel that he is the same towards them; and if, in any way, the wicked tyrannically oppress them by unjust violence, let them bear it patiently, until at length, in due time, he shall avenge them.

Verse 14

14.And Rachel and Leah answered. Here we perceive that to be fulfilled which Paul teaches, that all things work together for good to the children of God. (Romans 8:28.) For since the wives of Jacob had been unjustly treated by their father, they so far act in opposition to the natural tenderness of their sex, that at the desire of their husband, they become willing to follow him into a distant and unknown region. Therefore, if Jacob is compelled to take many and very bitter draughts of grief, he is now cheered by the most satisfying compensation, that his wives are not separated from him by their attachment to their father’s house: but rather, being overcome by the irksome nature of their sufferings, they earnestly undertake to join him in his flight. “There is nothing,” they say, “which should cause us to remain with our father; for daughters adhere to their fathers, because they are esteemed members of his family; but what a cruel rejection is this, not only that he has passed us off without dowry, (92) but that he has set us to sale, and has devoured the price for which he sold us?” By the word money (Genesis 31:15), I understand the price of sale. For they complain that, at least, they had not received, instead of dowry, the profit which had been unjustly extorted from their husband, but this gain also had been unjustly suppressed by their covetous father. Therefore the particle גם (gam) is inserted, which is used for the purpose of amplification among the Hebrews. For this increased not a little the meanness of Laban, that, as an insatiable whirlpool, he had absorbed the gain acquired by this most dishonorable traffic. And it is to be noted, that they were then devoted to their husband, and were therefore free to depart from their father; especially since they knew that the hand of God was stretched out to them. There is also no doubt, seeing they were persuaded that Jacob was a faithful prophet of God, but that they freely embraced the heavenly oracle from his mouth; for at the close of their reply, they show that they did not so much yield to his wish as to the command of God.

(92) The word in the original is harsh, “prostituit.”

Verse 16

16.For all the riches which God has taken from our father. Rachel and Leah confirm the speech of Jacob; but yet in a profane and common manner, not with a lively and pure sense of religion. For they only make a passing allusion to the fact, that God, in pity to his servant, had deigned to honor him with peculiar favor; and in the meantime, insist upon a reason of little solidity, that what they were carrying away was justly their due, because a part of the inheritance pertained to them. They do not argue that the riches they possessed were theirs, because they had been justly acquired by the labor of their husband; but because they themselves ought not to have been defrauded of their dowry, and now deprived of their lawful inheritance. For this reason they mention also their children with themselves, as having sprung from the blood of Laban. By this method they not only obscure the blessing of God, but indulge themselves in greater license than is right. They also form a mean estimate of their husband’s labors, in boasting that the fruit of those labors proceeded from themselves. Wherefore we are, by no means, to seek hence a precedent for the way in which each is to defend his own right, or to attempt the recovery of it, when it has been unjustly wrested from him.

Verse 17

17.Then Jacob rose up. The departure of Jacob Moses afterwards more fully relates, he now only briefly says that “he rose up;” by which he means, that as soon as he could obtain the consent of his wives to go with him, he yielded to no other obstacles. Herein appears the manly strength and constancy of his mind. For Moses leaves many things to be reflected upon by his readers; and especially that intermediate period, during which the holy man was doubtless agitated with a multiplicity of cares. He had believed that his exile from home would be only for a short time: but, deprived of the sight of his parents and of his native soil during twenty years, he suffered many things so severe and bitter, that the endurance of them might have rendered him callous, or, at least, might have so oppressed him as to have consumed the remnant of his life. He was now verging towards old age, and the coldness of old age produces tardiness. Yet the flight for which he was preparing was not free from danger. Therefore it was necessary that he should be armed with the spirit of fortitude, in order that the vigor and alacrity of which Moses speaks, might cause him to hasten his steps. And since we read that the departure of the holy man was effected by stealth, and was attended with discredit; let us learn, whenever God abases us, to turn our minds to such examples as this.

Verse 19

19.And Rachel had stolen. Although the Hebrews sometimes call those images תרפים (teraphim,) which are not set forth as objects of worship: yet since this term is commonly used in an ill sense, I do not doubt that they were the household gods of Laban. (93) Even he himself, shortly afterwards, expressly calls them his gods. It appears hence how great is the propensity of the human mind to idolatry: since in all ages this evil has prevailed; namely, that men seek out for themselves visible representations of God. From the death of Noah not yet two hundred years had elapsed; Shem had departed but a little while before; his teaching, handed down by tradition, ought most of all to have flourished among the posterity of Terah; because the Lord had chosen this family to himself, as the only sanctuary on earth in which he was to be worshipped in purity. The voice of Shem himself was sounding in their ears until the death of Abraham.; yet now, from Terah himself, the common filth of superstition inundated this place, while the patriarch Shem was still living and speaking. And though there is no doubt that he endeavored, with all his power, to bring back his descendants to a right mind, we see what was his success. It is not indeed to be believed, that Bethuel had been entirely ignorant of the call of Abraham; yet neither he, with his family, was, on that account, withdrawn from this vanity. Holy Jacob also had not been silent during twenty years, but had endeavored, by counsel and admonition, to correct these gross vices, but in vain; because superstition, in its violent course, prevailed. Therefore, that idolatry is almost innate in the human mind, the very antiquity of its origin bears witness. And that it is so firmly fixed there as scarcely to be capable of being uprooted, shows its obstinacy. But it is still more absurd, that not even Rachel could be healed of this contagion, in so great a length of time. She had often heard her husband speaking of the true and genuine worship of God: yet she is so addicted to the corruptions which she had imbibed from her childhood, that she is ready to infect the land chosen by God with them. She imagines that, with her husband, she is following God as her leader, and at the same time takes with her the idols by which she would subvert his worship. It is even possible that by the excessive indulgence of his beloved wife, Jacob might give too much encouragement to such superstitions. Wherefore, let pious fathers of families learn to use their utmost diligence that no stain of evil may remain in their wives or children. Some inconsiderately excuse Rachel, on the ground that, by a pious theft, she wished to purge her father’s house from idols. But if this had been her design, why, in crossing the Euphrates, did she not cast away these abominations? Why did she not, after her departure, explain to her husband what she had done? But there is no need of conjecture, since, from the sequel of the history, it is manifest that the house of Jacob was polluted with idols, even to the time of the violation of Dinah. It was not, then, the piety of Rachel, but her insane hankering after superstition which impelled her to the theft: because she thought that God could not be worshipped but through idols; for this is the source of the disease, that since men are carnal, they imagine God to be carnal too.

(93) See the subject of Teraphim discussed at length in Rivetus, who confirms the opinion of Calvin by arguments and illustrations drawn from learned writers. Exercitatio cxxxii. — Ed.

Verse 20

20.And Jacob stole away unawares to Laban (94) By the Hebrew form of expression, “stole away the heart of Laban,” Moses shows that Jacob departed privately, or by stealth, unknown to his father-in-law. Meanwhile, he wishes to point out to what straits Jacob was reduced, so that he had no hope of deliverance but in flight. For Laban had determined to hold him all his life as a captive, as if he had been a slave bound to the soil, or sentenced to the mines. Therefore let us also learn, by his example, when the Lord calls us, courageously to strive against every kind of obstacle, and not to be surprised if many arduous difficulties oppose themselves against us.

(94) Et furatus est Jahacob cor Laban. The margin of the English translation renders the passage in the same way, “And Jacob stole away the heart of Laban.” To this translation the remards of Calvin apply. He understands the passage, however, in the sense which the English version of the text gives. — Ed.

Verse 23

23.And pursued him seven days’ journey. Since the cruelty of Laban was now appeased, or at least bridled, he did not dare severely to threaten; but laying aside his ferocity, he descended to feigned and hypocritical blandishments. He complains that injury had been done him, because he had been kept in ignorance of Jacob’s departure, whom he would rather leave sent forth with customary tokens of joy, in token of his paternal affection. Thus hypocrites, when the power of inflicting injury is taken away from them, heap false complaints upon the good and simple, as if the blame rested with them. Wherefore, if at any time wicked and perfidious men, when they have unjustly harassed us, put forward some pretext of equity on their own part, we must bear with the iniquity; not because a just defense is to be entirely omitted; but because we find it inevitable that perverse men, ever ready to speak evil, will shamelessly cast upon us the blame of crimes of which we are innocent. Meanwhile, we must prudently guard against giving them the occasion against us which they seek.

Verse 29

29.It is in the power of my hand. The Hebrew phrase is different, “my hand is to power;” yet the meaning is clear, that Laban declares he is ready to take vengeance. Some expound the words thus: “my hand is to God;” but from other places it appears that the word אל (el) is taken for power. But Laban, inflated with foolish boasting, contradicts himself; for whereas he had been forbidden by God to attempt anything against Jacob, where was the power of which he boasted? We see, therefore, he precipitates himself by a blind impulse, as if, at his own pleasure, he could do anything against the purpose of God. For when he perceives that God is opposed to him, he yet does not hesitate to glory in his own strength; and why is this, unless he aimed at being superior to God? Finally; pride is always the companion of unbelief; so that unbelievers, although vanquished, yet cease not impetuously to rise up against God. To this they add another sin, that they complain of being unjustly oppressed by God.

But the God of your father. Why does he not also acknowledge God as his own God, unless because Satan had so fascinated his mind already, that he chose rather to wander in darkness than to turn to the light presented before him? Willingly or unwillingly, he is compelled to yield to the God of Abraham; and yet he defrauds him of the glory which is due, by retaining those fictitious deities by which he had been deceived. We see then that the ungodly, even when they have had proof of the power of God, yet do not entirely submit themselves to his authority. Wherefore, when God manifests himself to us, we must also seek from heaven the spirit of meekness, which shall bend and subdue us to obedience unto himself.

Verse 30

30.Wherefore hast thou stolen my gods? (96) The second head of accusation which is alleged against Jacob is, that he had not departed through love to his country, nor for any just and probable cause; but that, in fact, he was implicated in an act of robbery. Heavy and disgraceful charge, of which Jacob was far from being guilty! But we learn hence, that no one can live so innocently in the world, but he must sometimes bear undeserved reproach and marks of infamy. Whenever this may happen to us, let that precious promise sustain us, that the Lord, in his own time, will bring forth our innocence as the morning light. (Psalms 37:6.) For by this artifice Satan attempts to seduce us from the practice of well-doing, when, without any fault of ours, we are traduced by false calumnies. And since the world is ungrateful, it often makes the very worst return for acts of kindness. Some, indeed, are found, who, with heroic magnanimity, despise unfavourable reports, because they esteem the testimony of a good conscience more highly than depraved popular opinion. But it behoves the faithful to look to God, that their conscience may never fail them. We see that Laban calls his gods תרפים (teraphim,) not because he thought the Deity was enclosed within them; but because he worshipped these images in honor of the gods. Or rather, because, when he was about to pay homage to God, he turned himself to those images. At this day, by the sole difference of a word, the Papists think they skilfully effect their escape, because they do not attribute to idols the name of gods. But the subterfuge is frivolous, since in reality they are altogether alike; for they pour forth before pictures or statues whatever honor they acknowledge to be due to the one God. To the ancient idolaters the pretext was not wanting, that by a metonymy they styled those images gods, which were formed for the sake of representing God.

(96) “Wonderful is the madness of idolatry. He confesses that those whom he calls his gods, might yet be carried off by theft. It was the part of impiety that he worshipped idols; but it was the part of the folly that he declared those to be gods, who were unable to preserve themselves from being stolen.” — Rivetus in Gen., p. 656.

Verse 31

31.And Jacob answered. He briefly refutes each head of the accusation: with respect to his secret departure, he modestly excuses himself, as having been afraid that he might be deprived of his wives. And in this way he takes part of the blame to himself, deeming it sufficient to exonerate himself from the malice of which he was thought to be guilty. He does not dispute, as a casuist, whether it was lawful to depart by stealth; but leaves it undetermined whether or not his fear was culpable. Let all the children of God learn to imitate this modesty, lest through an immoderate desire to vindicate their own reputation, they should rush into contentions: just as we have seen many raise tragic scenes out of nothing, because they will not endure that any censure, however trifling, should be cast upon them. Jacob, therefore, was content with this excuse, that he had done nothing wickedly. His defense on the other charge follows, in which Jacob shows his confidence, by adjudicating the person to death, with whom the things stolen should be found. (97) He speaks, indeed, from his heart; but if the truth had then been discovered, he must, of necessity, have been ashamed of his rashness. Therefore, though he was not conscious of guilt, he yet singled through excessive haste, in not having diligently inquired before he pronounced concerning a doubtful matter. He ought to have called both his wives and his children, and to have inquired of each how the affair stood. He was, indeed, persuaded, that his family was so well conducted, that no suspicion of the theft had ever entered into his mind; but he ought not so to have relied upon his own discipline, as to be free from fear when a crime is alleged against his family. Wherefore, let us learn to suspend our judgment in matters of which we are ignorant, lest we should repent too late of our temerity. We may add, that hence it happened, that the pollution which he might have exterminated immediately, continued still longer in the family of Jacob.

(97) “Jacob might cover himself with the shield of his own innocence; but it was not large enough to cover all others, not even his most beloved wife, whom he, in ignorance, adjudicates to death, and incautiously gives sentence against her.” — Rivetus in Gen, p. 657.

Verse 32

32.That Rachel had stolen them. Moses relates the manner in which Rachel had concealed her theft; namely, by sitting on the idols, and pretending the custom of women as her excuse. It is a question, whether she did this through shame or pertinacity. It was disgraceful to be caught in the act of theft; she also dreaded the severe sentence of her husband. Yet to me it appears probable that fear did not so much influence her as the obstinate love of idolatry. For we know how greatly superstition infatuates the mind. Therefore, as if she had obtained an incomparable treasure, she thinks that she must attempt anything rather than allow herself to be deprived of it. Moreover, she chooses rather to incur the displeasure of her father and her husband, than to relinquish the object of her superstition. To her stratagem she also adds lying words, so that she deserves manifold censure.

Verse 36

36.And Jacob was wroth, and chode with Laban. Jacob again acts amiss, in contending with Laban about a matter not sufficiently known, and in wrongfully fastening on him the charge of calumny. For although he supposed all his family to be free from blame, yet he was deceived by his own negligence. He acts, indeed, with moderation, because in expostulating with Laban he does not use reproaches; but in this he is not to be excused, that he undertakes the cause of his whole family, when they were not exempt from blame. If any one should make the objection to this statement, that Jacob was constrained by fear, because Laban had brought with him a great band of companions: the circumstances themselves show, that his mind was thus influenced by moderation rather than by fear. For he boldly resists, and shows no sign of fear; only he abstains from the insolence of evil speaking. He then adds that he had just cause of accusation against Laban; not because he wished to rise in a spirit of recrimination against his father-in-law; but because it was right that the kindred and associates of Laban should be made witnesses of all that had passed, in order that, by the protracted patient endurance of Jacob, his integrity might be the more manifest. Jacob also calls to mind, not only that he had been a faithful keeper of the flock, but also that his labor had been rendered prosperous by the blessing of God; he adds, besides, that he had been held accountable for all losses. In this he insinuates against Laban the charge of great injustice: for it was not the duty of Jacob voluntarily to inflame the avarice and rapacity of his father-in-law, by attempting to soothe him; but he yielded, by constraint, to his injuries. When he says that sleep departed from his eyes, he not only intimates that he passed sleepless nights, but that he had so contended against nature itself, as to defraud himself of necessary repose.

Verse 42

42.Except the God of my father. Jacob here ascribes it to the favor of God, that he was not about to return home entirely empty; whereby he not only aggravates the sin of Laban, but meets an objection which might seem at variance with his complaints. He therefore denies that he has been made rich by the kindness of his father-in-law; but testifies that he has been favourably regarded by the Lord: as if he had said, I owe it not to thee, that thou hast not further injured me; but God, who is propitious to me, has withstood thee. Now, since God is not the defender of unfaithfulness, nor is wont to help the wicked, the integrity of Jacob may be ascertained from the fact that God interposed as his vindicator. It is also to be observed, that by expressly distinguishing the God of Abraham from all fictitious gods, he declares that there is no other true God: by which he, at the same time, proves himself to be a truly pious worshipper. The expression “the fear of Isaac,” is to be taken passively for the God whom Isaac revered; just as, on account of the reverence due to him, he is called the “fear and the dread” of his people. (98) A similar expression occurs immediately after, in the same chapter. Now the pious, while they fear God, are by no means horror — struck at his presence, like the reprobates; but trembling at his judgment, they walk circumspectly before him.

God has seen my affliction, and the labor of my hands. This was spoken from a pious feeling that God would bring help to him when afflicted, if he should conduct himself with fidelity and honesty. Therefore, in order that the Lord may sustain us with his favor, let us learn to discharge our duty rightly; let us not flee from our proper work; and let us not refuse to purchase peace by submitting to many inconveniences. Further, if they from whom we have deserved well treat us severely and unjustly, let us bear our cross in hope and in silence, until the Lord shall succor us: for he will never forsake us, as the whole Scripture testifies. But Jacob distinctly presses his father-in-law with his own confession. For why had God rebuked him, unless because he was persecuting an innocent man in defiance of justice and equity; for as I have lately intimated, it is abhorrent to the nature of God to favor evil and unjust causes.

(98) Isaiah 8:13. “Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.”

Verse 43

43.These daughters are my daughters. Laban begins now to speak in a manner very different from before: he sees that he has no farther ground of contention. Therefore, being convinced, he buries all strife, and glides into placid and amicable discourse. “Why,” he asks, “should I be hostile to thee, when all things between us are common? Shall I rage against my own bowels? For both thy wives and thy children are my own blood; wherefore I ought to be affected towards you, as if you all were part of myself.” (99) He now answers like an honorable man. Whence, then, has this humanity so suddenly sprung up in the breast of him who lately had been hurried onward, without any respect to right or wrong, to ruin Jacob; unless it were, that he knew Jacob to have acted towards him with fidelity, and to have been at length compelled by necessity to adopt the design of departing by stealth? And this was an indication that he was not absolutely desperate: for we may find many persons of such abandoned impudence, that though overcome and silenced by arguments, they yet do not cease to rush headlong in insane rebellion. From this passage we infer, that although avarice and other sinful affections take away judgment and soundness of mind; there yet remains a knowledge of truth engraven on the souls of men, which being stirred up emits scintillations, to prevent the universal triumph of depravity. If any one before had said, What does thou, Laban? What brutality is this to rage against thine own bowels? the remonstrance would not have been heard, for he burned with headstrong fury. But now he voluntarily suggests this to himself, and proclaims what he would have been unwilling to hear from another. It appears, then, that the light of justice which now breaks forth, had been smothered in his mind. In short, it is self-love alone which blinds us; because we all judge aright where personal interests are not concerned. If, however, it should so happen that we are for a time in perplexity, we must still seek to obey the dictates of reason and justice. But if any one hardens himself in wickedness, the interior and hidden knowledge, of which I have spoken, will yet remain engraven in his mind, and will suffice for his condemnation.

(99) Acsi gererem omnium personam. “As if I bore the person or character of all,” perhaps, “as your representative — the one who personates you.” Yet, in the translation, the sense is given which will, perhaps, on the whole, be most intelligible to the reader. — Ed.

Verse 44

44.Let us make a covenant, I and thou. Laban here acts as men conscious of guilt are wont to do, when they wish to guard themselves against revenge: and this kind of trepidation and anxiety is the just reward of evil deeds. Besides, wicked men always judge of others from their own disposition: whence it happens that they have fears on all sides. Moses before relates a somewhat similar example, when Abimelech made a covenant with Isaac. Wherefore we must take the greater care, if we desire to possess tranquil minds, that we act sincerely and without injury towards our neighbors. Meanwhile Moses shows how placable Jacob was, and how easily he permitted himself to be conciliated. He had endured very many and grievous wrongs; but now, forgetting all, he freely stretches out the hand of kindness: and so far is he from being pertinacious in defending his own right, that he, in a manner, anticipates Laban himself, being the first to take a stone, and set it up for a pillar. And truly it becomes the children of God, not only with alacrity to embrace peace, but even ardently to search for it, as we are commanded in Psalms 34:14 (100) As to the heap of stones, it was always the practice to use some ceremony which might confirm the compact on both sides; on this occasion a heap of stones is raised, in order that the memory of the covenant might be transmitted to posterity. That Jacob took part in this was a proof, as we have said, of a mind disposed to peace. He freely complained, indeed, when it was right to do so; but when the season of pacification arrived, he showed that he cherished no rancour. Moses, in relating afterwards that they did eat there, upon the heap, does not observe the order of the history. For, on both sides, the conditions of the covenant were agreed upon and declared, before the feast was celebrated: but this figure of speech (as we have before seen) was sufficiently in use.

(100) “Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”

Verse 47

47.And Laban called it. Each, in his own language, gives a name, of the same signification, to the heap. Whence it appears, that Laban used the Syrian tongue, though born of the race of Heber. But it is not wonderful that he, dwelling among Syrians, should have accustomed himself to the language as well as to the manners of the Syrians. And a little before, he is twice called a Syrian; as if Moses would describe him as degenerate, and alienated from the Hebrews. But this seems by no means accordant with the previous history, where we read that the daughters of Laban gave Hebrew names to their sons. Yet the solution is not difficult; for since the affinity between these languages was great, the inflection of one word into another was easy: besides, if the wives of Jacob were tractable, it is not surprising that they should have learned his language. And beyond doubt, he would himself make a point of this matter: seeing he knew that his family was separated from the rest of the nations. Moses, in using the name of Galeed, does it proleptically; for since he was writing for his own times, he does not scruple to give it the generally received name. Moreover we hence infer, that ceremonies and rites ought to refer to that which those who use them mutually agree upon. Which rule also ought to be applied to the sacraments; because if the word by which God enters into covenant with us be taken away, useless and dead figures will alone remain.

Verse 49

49.The Lord watch between me and thee. Laban commits to the judgment of God, for vengeance, whatever offense either of them should be guilty of against the other in his absence; as if he would say, “Though the knowledge of the injury should not reach me, because I shall be far distant, yet the Lord, who is everywhere present, will behold it.” Which sentiment he more clearly expresses afterwards, when he says, “No one is with us; God will be witness between me and thee.” By which words he means, that God will be a severe avenger of every wickedness, though there should be no judge upon earth to decide the cause. And certainly if there were any religion flourishing within us, the presence of God would influence us far more than the observation of men. But it arises from the brutal stupidity of our flesh, that we reverence men only; as if we might mock God with impunity, when we are not convicted by the testimony of men. If, then, this common feeling of nature dictated to Laban, that the frauds which were hidden from men would come into judgment before God; we who enjoy the light of the gospel should indeed be ashamed to seek a covert for our fallacies. Hence also, we gather the legitimate use of an oath, which the Apostle declares in his epistle to the Hebrews; namely, that men, in order to put an end to their controversies, resort to the judgment of God.

Verse 50

50.If thou shalt take other wives besides my daughters. Laban declares that it would be a species of perfidy, if Jacob should take to himself any other wives. But he had himself compelled Jacob to the act of polygamy: for whence was it that the holy man had more wives than one, except that Leah had been craftily substituted in the place of Rachel? But he now, from a pure sentiment of nature, condemns the fault, of which, blinded by avarice, he had wickedly been the author. And certainly, when the bond of marriage is broken, than which none among men is more sacred, the whole of human society sinks into decay. Wherefore, those fanatical men, who, at this day, delight to defend polygamy, have no need of any other judge than Laban.

Verse 53

53.The God of Abraham. It is indeed rightly and properly done, that Laban should adjure Jacob by the name of God. For this is the confirmation of covenants; to appeal to God on both sides, that he may not suffer perfidy to pass unpunished. But he sinfully blends idols with the true God, between whom there is nothing in common. Thus, truly, men involved in superstitions, are accustomed to confound promiscuously sacred things with profane, and the figments of men with the true God. He is compelled to give some honor to the God of Abraham, yet he lies plunged in his own idolatrous pollution; and, that his religion may not appear the worse, he gives it the color of antiquity. For in calling him the God of his father, he boasts that this God was handed down to him from his ancestors. Meanwhile Jacob does not swear superstitiously. For Moses expressly declares, that he sware only by “the fear of Isaac;” whence we learn that he did not assent to the preposterous form of oath dictated by his father-in-law; no too many do, who, in order to gain the favor of the wicked, pretend to be of the same religion with them. But when once the only God is made known to us, we wickedly suppress his truth, unless by its light all the clouds of error are dispersed.

Verse 54

54.And called his brethren to eat bread. In courteously receiving his kindred, by whom he had been ill-treated, as his guests, Jacob showed his kindness. Moses also intimates that it was by the special favor of God that, after the most dreadful storm which threatened the holy man with destruction, a placid serenity suddenly shone forth. To the same cause is to be assigned what immediately follows, that Laban departed in a friendly manner: for by this method the Lord openly manifested himself as the guardian of his servant, seeing that he wonderfully delivered him as a lost sheep out of the jaws of the wolf. And truly, not only was the fury of Laban appeased; but he put on paternal affection, as if he had been changed into a new man.

Verse 55

55.And blessed them. The character of the person is here to be noticed, because Laban, who had lapsed from true piety, and was a man of unholy and wicked manners, yet retained the habit of giving his blessing. For we are hereby taught, that certain principles of divine knowledge remain in the hearts of the wicked, so that no excuse may be left to them on the ground of ignorance; for the custom of pronouncing a blessing arises hence, that men are certainly persuaded that God alone is the author of all good things. For although they may proudly arrogate what they please to themselves; yet when they return to their right mind, they are compelled, whether they will or no, to acknowledge that all good proceeds from God alone.

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Genesis 31". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/genesis-31.html. 1840-57.
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