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the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 31

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

Verses 1-55

Chapter 31

And he heard the words of Laban's sons, saying, Jacob hath taken away all that was our father's; and all that which was our father's hath he gotten all this glory ( Genesis 31:1 ).

In other words, they are now saying, "Hey, that really belongs to our dad. Jacob's stolen it from us". Not so. Jacob made the deal. His dad made the deal, but now the brothers are jealous because Jacob has such a large flock. They're so strong and healthy and there's a great jealousy.

And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, behold, it was not toward him as before ( Genesis 31:2 ).

It wasn't, "Oh, hi there", you know, and "son", and wasn't the old good buddy anymore but his father-in-law was really changing in his attitude.

And the LORD said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to your family; and I will be with thee ( Genesis 31:3 ).

And so Jacob now hears from the Lord. He sees that the attitude is changing and God speaks to his heart and tells him to go back.

And Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field to his flock ( Genesis 31:4 ),

Now he, rather than talking about it in the tent where he might be overheard, he calls them out in the field so that he can talk to them privately.

And he said unto them, I see that your father's countenance, that it is not toward me as it was before; but the God of my father hath been with me. And you know that with all my power I have served your father. And your father has deceived me, and he's changed my wages ten times; but God would not allow him not to hurt me. If he said thus, The speckled shall be your wages; then all the cattle bore speckled: and if he said thus, The ringstreaked shall be your hire; then the cattle all ringstreaked. And thus God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me. And it came to pass at the time that the cattle conceived, that I lifted up my eyes, and I saw in a dream, and, behold, the rams which leaped upon the cattle were ringstreaked, speckled, and grisled ( Genesis 31:5-10 ).

In other words, God showed him really in a dream how and when and so forth to cause them to conceive.

And the angel of God spake unto me in a dream, saying, Jacob: And I said, Here am I. And he said, Lift up now your eyes, and see, all the rams which leap upon the cattle are ringstreaked, speckled, and grisled: for I have seen all that Laban doeth unto thee. And I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar, and where you vowed a vow unto me: now arise, and get thee out from this land, and return to the land of thy family ( Genesis 31:11-13 ).

So it is interesting that God announces to him, "I am the God of Bethel. Come back to the place of your family. I am the God that met you there in Bethel".

And so Rachel and Leah answered and said unto him, Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father's house ( Genesis 31:14 )?

In other words, our father has gone ahead and used up our dowry. He's not given us anything. We've got nothing there.

We are counted to him as strangers for he has sold us, and has devoured our money ( Genesis 31:15 ).

He spent the dowry. He sold them. He spent the dowry. We're just like a stranger to him.

For all the riches which God hath taken from our father, it's really ours, and our children's: now then, whatsoever God hath said unto you, go ahead and do it. Then Jacob rose up, and he set his sons and his wives upon camels; And he carried away all of his cattle, and his goods which he had gotten, and the cattle of his getting, which he had gotten in Padanaram, to go to Isaac his father in the land of Canaan. And Laban went to shear his sheep: and Rachel had stolen [the teraphims], the images that were her father's ( Genesis 31:16-19 ).

The little idols that they used.

And Jacob stole away unaware to Laban the Syrian, in that he told him not that he was fleeing. So he fled with all that he had; and he rose up, and he passed over the river, and he set his face toward mount Gilead ( Genesis 31:20-21 ).

Now Mount Gilead is about three hundred miles away and Mount Gilead is the mountain range that goes on the West Bank of the sea of Galilee and into that area there, about three hundred miles away. He fled with all of he had towards Mount Gilead. But of course, traveling with that many animals and the family and everything was slow travel. The best you could do would be about fifteen to twenty miles a day. And he had a good start.

Actually his father-in-law was out shearing the sheep and it was three days before Laban even found out that he was gone. He probably had worked his flocks down to the southern extremities anyhow. And probably put about ninety miles distance between at the start of the time before he started driving them away. And then he put three days more journey between him and Laban and Laban couldn't just leave the shearing of the sheep immediately. Probably finished up as fast as he could before he took off to catch Jacob. But because he was forced in a fast march to catch Jacob, he caught him down around the area of Mount Gilead. Just about three hundred miles distance.

So it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob had fled. And so he gathered his brothers with him, and he pursued after him for seven days; until he overtook him at mount Gilead. And God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said to him, Take heed that you speak not to Jacob either good or bad. Then Laban overtook Jacob. And now Jacob had pitched his tent in the mount: and Laban with his brothers pitched in the mount of Gilead. And Laban said to Jacob, What have you done, you stolen away unaware to me, and carried away my daughters, as captives taken with the sword? Why did you flee away secretly, and steal away from me; and did not tell me, that I might have sent thee away with parties, and songs, and the tabret, and the harp? And you've not allowed me to even kiss my grandchildren, my daughters? You've done foolishly in doing this ( Genesis 31:22-28 ).

Laban really had other ideas. He had really ideas of taking by force all that Jacob had. He had ideas of perhaps even killing Jacob. But God came to him in the night before and said, "Hey, don't you even talk to him good or bad". Well, that was a hard order and so Laban comes in and he puts on this whole hypocritical thing, you know. "Why did you steal off? I wanted to kiss my grandchildren. We could have had a big party", you know. In reality he would have never let Jacob go. He would have just ripped him off and sent him away without anything. But because God has now put the squeeze on him and won't let him do anything, he's just, you know, acting like he's been hurt and offended and all.

And he said,

It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt: but the God of your father spake unto me last night, saying, Take heed that you don't speak to Jacob either good or bad. And now, though you would needs be gone, because you long after your father's house, why have you stolen my gods? And Jacob answered and said to Laban, Because I was afraid: for I said, Peradventure you would take by force your daughters from me ( Genesis 31:29-31 ).

And Jacob had a right to be afraid. The guy probably would have taken the daughters and all of the animals.

With whomsoever you find your gods, let him not live: before our brothers discern thou what is thine with me, take it to thee ( Genesis 31:32 ).

Whatever I have, search through everything. Whatever I have that belongs to you, take it. Let these guys be a witness. I don't want anything of yours. And so he's accusing him of stealing his gods.

But he did not know that Rachel had ripped off these two little teraphims, these two little idols. And Laban went into Jacob's tent, and into Leah's tent, and into the two maidservants' tents; but he did not find them. And so he went out of Leah's tent, and he entered into Rachel's tent. Now Rachel had taken the images, and put them in the camel's furniture, and she was sitting on them. And Laban searched all the tent, but he did not find them. And she said to her father, Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise up; for the custom of woman is upon me. [I'm weak; I'm in my menstrual period.] And so he searched, but he did not find the images. And Jacob ( Genesis 31:32-36 ).

At this time had his little chance to spout off.

He was angry and he chided with Laban: and Jacob answered and said unto Laban, What is my trespass? what is my sin, that you have so hotly pursued after me? Whereas you've searched all my stuff, what have you found of all of your household stuff? set it here before the brothers, let them judge between us both. For twenty years I've been with you; the ewes and the she goats have not cast their young, and the rams of the flock have I not eaten ( Genesis 31:36-38 ).

In other words, there were-he was careful there were many times when the animals were pregnant. They would have miscarriages because they weren't taken care of properly. But he had so carefully watched over them, had been so diligent. There were no miscarriages of the animals while he was serving. Not only that, it was the right of the shepherd to eat, you know, to kill a lamb and to eat it occasionally. But he never once killed any of the animals for his own eating. And so he's just telling, you know, how honestly and how diligently he was serving the old man for twenty years.

That which was torn by the beasts I brought it not unto thee ( Genesis 31:39 );

Now if a shepherd was watching over a flock and a beast would tear it, he would bring the carcass to the owner and give him the carcass, and thus he proved that he had driven off the wild beast and captured the animal. But he didn't have to pay for it. Actually the owner suffered the loss. But he said, I didn't bring any carcasses to you.

I bore the loss of it; of my hand did you require it, whether it was stolen by day, or stolen by night ( Genesis 31:39 ).

Laban, you know, charged him for everything.

And thus I was; and in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night ( Genesis 31:40 );

He was out there in the hot sun. And he was out there in the cold nights. And for twenty years he had really gone through all of the miseries of the outdoors and all.

and my sleep departed from my eyes. Thus have I been for twenty years in your house; and I have served you for fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your cattle: and you have changed my wages ten times. And except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely you would have sent me away empty. But God has seen my affliction and the labour of my hands, and he rebuked you last night. And Laban answered and said unto Jacob, These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and these cattle are my cattle, and all that you see is mine: and what can I do this day unto these my daughters, and unto their children which they have born? Now therefore come, let's make a covenant, you and I; and it'll be a witness between me and thee ( Genesis 31:40-44 ).

I can't do anything; I feel it's all mine. I don't know by what right but yet,

So they took a stone, and they set it for a pillar. And Jacob said to his brothers, Gather stones; and they took the stones, and they made a heap of them. And Laban called it Jegarsahadutha: but Jacob called it Galeed ( Genesis 31:45-47 ).

He called it by the Hebrew name whereas Laban called it by the Aramaic name. And it's a heap of the heap of witness.

And Laban said, This heap is a witness between me and you this day. So we'll call it Galeed; and Mizpah; for he said, The LORD watch over you, when we are absent one from the other. And if you will afflict my daughters, or if you will take other wives beside my daughters, no man is with us; let God watch over you and witness between me and thee. And Laban said to Jacob, Behold this heap, this is the pillar that I have cast between me and you; This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you shalt not pass over this heap and pillar unto me ( Genesis 31:48-52 ).

In other words, you don't come my way, I don't go yours. This is it. This is the separation.

The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of thy father, judge between us. And Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac. And then Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat bread: and they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the mount. And early in the morning Laban rose up, kissed his sons and daughters, and blessed them: and Laban departed, and returned to his place ( Genesis 31:53-55 ).

Now this Mizpah, verse forty-nine, has been used sometimes as sort of a Christian greeting. That's tragic. It isn't a very pleasant thing. It sounds beautiful to read that the Lord watch between me and thee while we are absent one from the other. Like God watch over you, you know, my beloved friend, while we're absent. But that isn't the idea of the context at all. The idea is "I think you're a crook, I don't know what to do about it. You're leaving me; I can't watch you anymore. May God watch over you and if you do anything wrong, may God smite you".

So next time one of your Christian friends says Mizpah, you might not be so willing to just smile. It isn't a pleasant departure but it has one intention, the Lord watch you, I can't.

So we'll start in chapter thirty-two next Sunday and we did pretty well tonight. Moving along. "

Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Genesis 31". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/csc/genesis-31.html. 2014.
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