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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 31

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-3


Verses 1-3:

Jacob’s success in animal husbandry aroused the jealousy of Laban’s sons. They accused Jacob of gaining this wealth by fraud, by stealing what rightfully belonged to their father. Laban listened to the innuendoes of his jealous sons. His attitude toward Jacob changed, and he was no longer friendly as he had been to his son-in-law.

Jehovah was moving in the lives of Laban and his sons, to make it clear to Jacob that he was no longer welcome in Haran. He must return to the Land which Jehovah had promised to his offspring. Some of Jacob’s sons were in their early teens, and any delay in departure would make it more difficult to leave. In addition, the prosperity Jacob enjoyed would offer strong incentive to remain in Haran. God began to "tear up the nest" and make matters uncomfortable for Jacob so he would readily return to the Land.

Verses 4-16

Verses 4-16:

Jehovah reminded Jacob of his Beth-el experience, twenty years earlier. He had been with Jacob all this time, although His hand was often not evident to the patriarch. At this point Jacob was tending his own flock. He sent for Rachel and Leah to come to the field where he was, for a family conference. Perhaps this was to assure that there would be no listening ears to report to Laban of the conversation.

At this point, Jacob acknowledged the hand of Jehovah in prospering him. The Lord intervened in Jacob’s scheming, and the blessing was not the result of Jacob’s machinations but of Jehovah’s faithfulness. One reason was Laban’s deception and scheming to enrich himself at Jacob’s expense. In every generation, God intervenes to protect and provide for His children, against the schemes of greedy, wicked men.

Rachel and Leah readily agreed that Jacob should return to the Promised Land, and Beth-el. The shabby treatment Laban had shown toward them, his own daughters, convinced them they no longer had any portion with their father. He had treated them no better then slaves. Now they agreed that the prosperity Jacob enjoyed at Laban’s expense was nothing more than wages rightfully due them.

In verse 7, the expression "ten times" in reference to Laban’s changing of Jacob’s wages implies that there were many transactions which the Scriptures do not record.

Verses 17-24

Verses 17-24:

Jacob waited until Laban left the family home to shear his sheep.

According to custom, he would be away for several days, as this was regarded as a festive occasion. Jacob wasted no time. He gathered together all his flocks and household possessions, and set his wives and children upon camels to begin the long journey. The language denotes haste, for Jacob knew he must put as much distance as possible between him and Haran.

Rachel availed herself of the opportunity presented by Laban’s absence, to steal his "images," teraphim or household gods. These were small human figures, made either of silver (Jg 17:4) or wood (Isaa 19:13), worshipped as gods. They were consulted as oracles (Eze 21:26; Zec 10:2), and were regarded as custodians of happiness. By taking these teraphim, Rachel thought to make it impossible for Laban to consult them to divine their whereabouts. There may have also been a touch of greed in her action, since the images would be quite valuable. This action also indicates that her faith was not yet fully mature, for she was unwilling at this point to dissociate herself completely from all forms of idolatry and accept fully the leadership and provision of Jehovah.

The "river" (verse 21) refers to the Euphrates. Jacob’s immediate destination was Mount Gilead. This was the hard, stony mountain range Jebel Ajlun, near Mahanaim and along the northern bank of Jabbok.

Word reached Laban of Jacob’s departure, on the third day of their journey. Laban quickly set out in pursuit, accompanied by his kinsmen. He overtook the caravan on the tenth day of their journey. From Padan-aram to Gilead was about 300 miles. Jacob covered this distance in ten days. Laban required but seven days, since he was unencumbered with children, women, and livestock. On the night before he overtook Jacob, God spoke to Laban in a dream and warned him not to say anything acrimonious to Jacob when he caught up with him. God was still at work, protecting His chosen one.

Verses 25-35

Verses 25-35:

Laban was a consummate hypocrite. In an air of pained innocence, he confronted Jacob with a demand to know why he had "stolen" away Leah and Rachel and their children. He had already evidenced his lack of parental affection by his contract with Jacob to give them in marriage in return for 14 years of servitude. Laban feigned a desire to give them a farewell party, with songs and dancing and feasting. The "tabret" was a musical instrument like the modern tambourine. The "harp", kinnor (Ge 4:21), was a stringed instrument similar to a lyre, and played with a plectrum or pick. These were common instruments of music in that day.

Laban then charged Jacob with theft, in stealing his teraphim. Jacob hotly denied this charge, and boldly affirmed that Laban could put to death the one who had taken his household gods. He did not realize that he placed in jeopardy the life of his beloved Rachel.

Jacob agreed that Laban could search all his tents to see if he could find the stolen teraphim. Laban started with Jacob’s own personal tent; then to Leah’s tent; then to the tents of Bilhah and Zilpah, with no results. When he came to Rachel’s tent, she deceived her father by hiding the teraphim among the camels’ furniture (saddles). This was a device commonly made of wicker, with the shape of a basket or cradle. It was usually covered with heavy fabric, like a carpet, and had a canopy with curtains, for protection against sun and rain. It doubled as a place for reclining and resting when not riding.

Rachel showed her kinship to her father, by practicing deception upon him. Oriental etiquette required that children rise when their father entered the room. But when Laban entered her tent, Rachel apologized for not rising, pretending ceremonial uncleanness due to menstruation. Laban accepted her explanation, and conducted a fruitless search of her tent.

In the light of Divine principles of righteousness, Rachel was wrong in what she did, first in stealing her father’s teraphim, then in lying in order to cover up her sin. She did not escape the consequences of her sin, however. It was not until these teraphim were finally put away that the family could go back to Beth-el. And serious tragedy struck the family in the interim, Genesis 34; and Ge 35:1-4.

Verses 36-42

Verses 36-42:

Laban’s accusation of theft and his fruitless search for his stolen teraphim infuriated Jacob. He felt injured unjustly by Laban’s mistrust. For twenty years Jacob served Laban faithfully. During that time he had not taken anything for his own that belonged to Laban. Even that which had been stolen from Laban, Jacob made good from his own flocks. And when he left Laban’s house he took nothing except that which he had earned and which belonged to him. The years spent in caring for Laban’s flocks were hard. In that land the temperature falls well below freezing at night, but during the day the heat becomes oppressive. Also the rigors of the shepherd’s life involve many sleepless nights, watching over the flocks to protect them from both predatory animals and marauding bandits. Jacob further accused Laban of unfair business dealings, changing his wages "ten times" (verse 7), when it was to his advantage to do so.

Jacob pointed out that except for the intervention of Jehovah, God of his fathers, and Laban’s respect for Isaac. Laban would have sent him away empty handed. This acknowledges God’s protection of the "underdog," the employee who is at the mercy of an unscrupulous employer. This principle applies today. There is much injustice in the business world. Christian employees are often discriminated against and oppressed by ungodly and selfish employers. Many seek to rectify these wrongs by strikes, slow-downs, protests, or other forms of retaliation. God’s way is to depend upon him for redress of grievances and for recognition, see Ephesians 6:5-8; God issues a stern warning against any employer who defrauds or oppresses his employees, see Jas 5:1-6.

Verses 43-55

Verses 43-55:

Jacob’s angry speech had little effect upon Laban, as evidenced by his words in verse 43. He claimed legal right to all that Jacob had: the two daughters who were Jacob’s wives, their maidservants, the children born to Jacob and his wives, the livestock which Jacob claimed - all these belonged to Laban by the custom of the times. In this claim, Laban acknowledged that by doing anything to harm these, he would only be hurting himself. So, he proposed that there be a covenant "made" or "cut" between him and Jacob, a proposal which Jacob readily accepted.

Jacob found a stone, probably a large, elongated shape, and set it up as a pillar, matzebah, or monument to the covenant about to be made. He then instructed the kinsmen to gather stones and make a "heap," gal, from galal meaning to roll (the word from which Gilgal comes, see Jos 5:9). This "heap" was probably a circular cairn, to serve as altar, table, and witness. There on this "heap" Jacob and Laban ratified the covenant with a solemn banquet, in keeping with the custom of the time. Both men acknowledged the terms of the agreement as binding not only upon themselves but upon their posterity.

Laban gave a Chaldaic name to the monument: Jaegar-sahadutha, meaning "heap of testimony" in the language of Mesopotamia. Jacob called the place "Galeed," a compound of gal and ed, meaning "heap of witness" in the Hebrew. Jacob also called the place "Mizpah," or "watch-tower," from tsaphah, "to watch." This later was the site of a town in Gilead (Jg 10:17; 11:11, 19, 34). The reason for this latter name: a solemn affirmation that Jehovah Himself would watch over both Jacob and Laban and enforce the terms of the agreement.

The covenant between Jacob and Laban provided that: (1) neither Laban nor Jacob (nor their descendants) would cross over this boundary with hostile intent against the other; and (2) Jacob would deal kindly and justly with the daughters of Laban; and (3) that Jacob would not take other wives either in the place of or in addition to Laban’s daughters (this would assure their inheritance rights). Jacob and Laban ratified the covenant with a solemn vow: Laban to the God of Nahor and his father; and Jacob by the fear and reverence of his father Isaac. The transaction was concluded with a banquet. Early the next morning, Laban said farewell to his daughters and grandchildren, pronounced a benediction upon them, and turned eastward to Mesopotamia. In parting, it is implied that there was reconciliation at last between Laban and the family of Jacob.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Genesis 31". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/genesis-31.html. 1985.
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