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Saturday, June 15th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 31

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

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

He heard the words of Laban's sons. It must have been from rumour that Jacob got knowledge of the invidious reflections cast upon him by his cousins; because they were separated at the distance of three days' journey.

Verse 2

And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, behold, it was not toward him as before.

The countenance of Laban ... not toward him as before - literally, was not the same as yesterday and the day before: a common Oriental form of speech. The insinuations against Jacob's fidelity by Laban's sons, and the sullen reserve, the churlish conduct, of Laban himself, had made Jacob's situation, in his uncle's establishment, most trying and painful. It is always one of the vexations attendant on worldly prosperity, that it excites the envy of others (Ecclesiastes 4:4); and that, however careful a man is to maintain a good conscience, he cannot always reckon on maintaining a good name in a censorious world. This Jacob experienced; and it is probable that, like a good man, he had asked direction and relief in prayer.

Verse 3

And the LORD said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee.

The Lord said ... Return. Notwithstanding the ill-usage he had received, Jacob might not have deemed himself at liberty to quit his present sphere under the impulse of passionate fretfulness and discontent. Having been conducted to Haran by God (Genesis 28:15), and having gotten a promise that the same heavenly Guardian would bring him again into the land of Canaan-he might have thought he ought not to leave it, without being clearly persuaded as to the path of duty. So ought we to set the Lord before us, and to acknowledge him in all our ways, our journeys, our settlements and plans in life. Jacob did receive an answer, which decided his entrance upon the homeward journey to Canaan, with a reassurance of the divine presence and protection by the way. But he himself alone was responsible for making his departure a hurried and clandestine flight.

Verse 4

And Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field unto his flock,

Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah. His wives and family were in their usual residence; and whether he wished them to be present at the festivities of sheep-shearing, as some think; or, because he could not leave his flock, he called them both to come to him, in order that, having resolved on immediate departure, he might communicate his intentions. Rachel and Leah only were called, for the other two wives, being secondary, and still in a state of servitude, were not entitled to be taken into account. Jacob acted the part of a dutiful husband in telling them his plans; because husbands who love their wives should consult with them, and trust in them (Proverbs 31:1).

Verse 5

And said unto them, I see your father's countenance, that it is not toward me as before; but the God of my father hath been with me. No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 6

And ye know that with all my power I have served your father.

Ye know that ... I have served. Having stated his strong grounds of dissatisfaction with their father's conduct, and the ill requital he had gotten for all his faithful services, he informed them of the blessing of God, that had made him rich notwithstanding Laban's design to ruin him; and, finally, of the command from God he had received to return to his own country, that they might not accuse him of caprice, or disaffection to their family; but be convinced that, in resolving to depart, he acted from a principle of religious obedience.

Verse 7

And your father hath deceived me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me.

Changed my wages ten times - i:e., many times: ten, besides signifying a determinate number, frequently stands in Scripture for many (cf. Leviticus 26:26; 1 Samuel 1:8; Ecclesiastes 7:9; Dan. 1:26; Amos 6:9; Zechariah 8:23).

Verses 8-10

If he said thus, The speckled shall be thy wages; then all the cattle bare speckled: and if he said thus, The ringstraked shall be thy hire; then bare all the cattle ringstraked.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 11

And the angel of God spake unto me in a dream, saying, Jacob: And I said, Here am I. The angel of God. That Divine Being styles himself (Genesis 31:13) the God of Beth-el (cf. Genesis 32:24-32; Genesis 35:9-15; Genesis 48:15-16). He was not one of the angels who were seen ascending and descending on the symbolic ladder. He identified himself with God.

Verses 12-13

And he said, Lift up now thine eyes, and see, all the rams which leap upon the cattle are ringstraked, speckled, and grisled: for I have seen all that Laban doeth unto thee.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 14

And Rachel and Leah answered and said unto him, Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father's house?

Rachel and Leah answered. Having heard his views, they expressed their entire approval; and, from grievances of their own, were fully as desirous of a separation as himself. They display not only conjugal affection, but piety, in following the course described - "whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do." 'Those that are really their husbands' helps-meet will never be their hindrances in doing that to which God calls them' (Henry).

Verses 15-16

Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath quite devoured also our money.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 17

Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon camels;

Then Jacob rose up. Little time is spent by pastoral people in removing. The striking down the tents and poles, and stowing them among their other baggage; the putting their wives and children in houdas like cradles, on the backs of camels, or in panniers on donkeys; and the ranging of the various parts of the flock in droves under the respective shepherds-all this is a short process. A plain that is covered in the morning with a long array of tents, and with browsing flocks, may, in a few hours, appear so desolate that not a vestige of the encampment remains, except the holes in which the tent-poles had been fixed.

Verse 18

And he carried away all his cattle, and all his goods which he had gotten, the cattle of his getting, which he had gotten in Padan-aram, for to go to Isaac his father in the land of Canaan.

He carried ... the cattle ... which he had gotten - i:e., his own and nothing more. He did not indemnify himself for his many losses by carrying off anything of Laban's, but was content with what Providence had given him. Some may think that due notice should have been given; but when a man feels himself in danger, the law of self-preservation prescribes the duty of immediate flight, if it can be done consistently with conscience.

Verse 19

And Laban went to shear his sheep: and Rachel had stolen the images that were her father's.

Rachel had stolen the images that were her father's, [Hebrew, hatªraapiym (H8655)] - the Teraphim; Penates or household gods, apparently miniature representations of the human form, used as objects of inferior worship, or for purposes of divination, in later times (Ezekiel 21:21; Zechariah 10:2), as dispensers of domestic happiness, and oracles (Judges 17:5; Judges 18:14; 2 Kings 23:24; Ezekiel 21:16; Zechariah 10:2; Hosea 3:4). The etymology is uncertain. Bunsen ('Egypt's Place,' chapter 4:, p. 196) derives it from [ `aarap (H6201)] to pluck off, and considers them images of family ancestors exalted to divine honours. Jurieu takes the same view, but supposes them to have been images of Noah and Shem-Noah as the second father of the human race, and Shem as ancestor of Laban's family ('Hist. Critique des dogmes and et des cultes').

Gesenius traces the word Teraphim to the root verb [ taarap (H2963)], to live in comfort, to be prosperous. Others think that it comes from [rapaa'] to relax with fear, to strike with terror; because the Teraphim are believed to have been of hideous appearance, as are some small images of baked clay, of repulsive aspect, found by Botta at Khorsabad, and supposed to be the Teraphim. The word, though in a plural form, may denote only one image (as in 1 Samuel 19:13).

Verse 20

And Jacob stole away unawares to Laban the Syrian, in that he told him not that he fled.

Jacob stole away unawares - literally, deceived the mind of Laban.

Verse 21

So he fled with all that he had; and he rose up, and passed over the river, and set his face toward the mount Gilead.

Passed over the river, [ hanaahaar (H5104)] - the Euphrates.

Verse 22

And it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob was fled.

It was told Laban on the third day. No sooner did the intelligence reach Laban than he set out in pursuit, and he being not encumbered, advanced rapidly; whereas Jacob, with a young family and numerous flocks, had to march slowly, so that he overtook the fugitives after seven days' journey, as they lay encamped on the brow of mount Gilead, an extensive range of hills forming the eastern boundary of Canaan. (For the length of one days' journey, see the note at Genesis 30:36).

Verse 23

And he took his brethren with him, and pursued after him seven days' journey; and they overtook him in the mount Gilead.

Overtook him in the mount Gilead. 'There is a mountain-chain extending between the Yarmuk and the deep valley of the Zerka (the ancient Jabbok), which is known by the name of Jebel Ajlun. There is no ridge nor range of hills connecting them with Jebel esh-Sheikh or Jebel Heish. The intervening tract, the plain of Jaulan, presents, along the east side of the lake of Tiberius the edge of a high plateau, intersected by deep ravines. These mountains constitute the northern portion of the land of Gilead, which lay between the Yarmuk on the north, the Arnon on the south, and was divided at about one-third of the distance by the deep valley of the Jabbok, which cleaves the mountains to their base. This territory, in its whole length, is often spoken of as the land of Gilead, and rarely as mount Gilead. The portions north and south of the Jabbok are each spoken of as, "the half Gilead" (Joshua 12:2; Joshua 12:5; Joshua 13:31; Deuteronomy 3:12), though the northern is only two-thirds as long as the southern, or about 30 geographical miles. It was in this northern mount Gilead that Laban overtook Jacob' (Robinson's 'Physical Geography of the Holy Land').

Dr. Beke, who proposes a place in the vicinity of Damascus as the Haran of Scripture (see the note at Genesis 24:10), founds one of his objections to the Mesopotamian Haran on the circumstance that seven days were far too short for the journey of Laban to Gilead, if his starting-point was beyond the Euphrates-that would be a distance of 350 miles-but it was a very practicable journey in that space of time from the neighbourhood of Damascus. [Dr. Beke's theory has not met with general acceptance. But his narrative of exploration, given first in the 'Journal of the Royal Geographical Society,' 1862, and afterward published as a separate tract, is exceedingly interesting, and contains, among other topics, a very graphic description of mount Gilead, Jebel Ajlun, and of the whole route traversed by Jacob on his return to Canaan.]

Being accompanied by a number of his people, Laban might have used violence, had he not been divinely warned in a dream to give no interruption to his nephew's journey. Josephus says that he reached the neighbourhood of mount Gilead 'at eventide.' And having resolved not to disturb Jacob's encampment until the morning, it was during that intervening night he had the warning dream, in which God told him, that if he (Laban) despised their small number, and attacked them in a hostile manner, He would Himself assist them ('Antiquities,' book 1:, chapter 19:, section 10). How striking and sudden a change! For several days he had been full of rage, and was now in eager anticipation that his vengeance would be fully wreaked, when, lo, his hands are tied by invisible power (Psalms 76:10). He dared not touch Jacob, but there was a war of words!

Verses 24-25

And God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said unto him, Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verses 26-30

And Laban said to Jacob, What hast thou done, that thou hast stolen away unawares to me, and carried away my daughters, as captives taken with the sword?

Laban said ... What hast thou done? Not a word is said of the charge, Genesis 31:1. His reproaches were of a Laban said ... What hast thou done? Not a word is said of the charge, Genesis 31:1. His reproaches were of a different kind. His first charge was for depriving him of the satisfaction of giving Jacob and his family the usual salutations at parting. In the East it is customary, when any are setting out to a great distance, for their relatives and friends to accompany them a considerable way with music and valedictory songs. Considering the past conduct of Laban, his complaint on this ground was hypocritical cant.

Verse 27. Wherefore didst thou flee away secretly? - literally, Wherefore didst thou lie (wast thou) hid, to break away.

And steal away from me, [Hebrew, watignob (H1589) 'otiy (H853)] - and didst deceive or elude me.

With mirth, [Hebrew, bªsimchaah (H8057)] - with loud demonstrations of joy.

With tabret, [Hebrew, bªtop (H8596)] - with drum or tambourine [Septuagint, tumpannoon], a simple instrument of percussion, consisting of a thin wooden frame, over which was stretched a layer of membrane-leather or parchment-and the rim or hoop of which was perforated with holes containing small jingling bells. It seems to have been played by females, beaten by the hand, and used, not in war, but on festive occasions.

If the Mesopotamian tambourine resembled the Egyptian, it must have been of different forms; as on the monuments of Egypt tabrets are depicted of a circular, oblong, and also square form. It was generally an accompaniment to the harp (cf. Exodus 15:20; Job 21:12). The Arabians have still a similar musical instrument, which they call doff.

And with harp, [Hebrew, uwbkinowr (H3658); Septuagint, kitharas (G2788), guitar] - a stringed instrument, the playing on which was usually accompanied with the voice of the performer. It gave forth melodious sounds, and was employed generally (Isaiah 5:12), though not exclusively, on joyous occasions (Job 30:31). Its framework was a wooden bow, with strings which varied in number, and it was played sometimes with the fingers (1 Samuel 16:23; 1 Samuel 18:10; 1 Samuel 19:9), at other times with a plectrum or key (Josephus, 'Antiquities,' book 7:, chapter 12:, section 3).

But Laban's second charge was a grave one-the carrying off his gods-Hebrew, Teraphim, small images of human figure, used not so much as idols or objects of worship, but as talismans for superstitious purposes. Josephus, followed by Havernick, Kurtz, etc., considers that they were used as objects of idolatry. Hengstenberg thinks that 'they were material images, used at first merely as media in consulting God, and that, in fact, this incident proves that the worship of God, though obscured, was not utterly extinguished in Haran; because those Teraphim were evidently not objects of worship in themselves; they were merely emblems or tokens, such as served pretty much the same purpose as pictures and images of the saints do among the Roman Catholics of the present day,' ('Handbook of Sculpture, Ancient and Modern,' by R. Westmacott, R.A., reprinted from his Essay contributed to the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica').

As to the way in which the consultation was made, Jewish writers say that, being formed under certain constellations, according to the astrological notions of antiquity, they were made by the influence of magical art to speak at certain times in answer to questions. It was, according to them, with a view to prevent Laban ascertaining by this means the route taken by Jacob and his family, that Rachel stole her father's Teraphim (Spencer de Legg, 'Hebraeorum,' p. 354; Maimonides, p. 53). Creuzer maintains that, since they presided over births, she wished to secure their favour in obtaining children. Josephus, however, says that Rachel's only object in taking away those images was, that though Jacob had taught her to despise them, yet, in case of being pursued and overtaken by her father, she might have recourse to them in order to obtain his pardon being pursued and overtaken by her father, she might have recourse to them in order to obtain his pardon ('Antiquities,' book 1:, chapter 19:, section 9).

Verses 31-32

And Jacob answered and said to Laban, Because I was afraid: for I said, Peradventure thou wouldest take by force thy daughters from me.

Jacob ... said ... With whomsoever ... Conscious of his own innocence, and little suspecting the misdeed of his favourite wife, he boldly challenged a search, and denounced the heaviest penalty on the culprit.

Verse 33

And Laban went into Jacob's tent, and into Leah's tent, and into the two maidservants' tents; but he found them not. Then went he out of Leah's tent, and entered into Rachel's tent.

Laban went into ... tents. Tents are of two descriptions-the family tent and the single tent. With the patriarchs the latter seems to have been the kind used (see the note at Genesis 18:9-10), especially in traveling, as recommended by its convenience, and formed in the manner described in the passage just referred to. The patriarch had the principal tent, and each of his wives, even the married handmaids and concubines, had their separate tents also. A personal scrutiny was made by Laban, who examined every tent; and having entered Rachel's last, would have infallibly discovered the stolen images, had not Rachel made an appeal to him which prevented further search.

Verse 34

Now Rachel had taken the images, and put them in the camel's furniture, and sat upon them. And Laban searched all the tent, but found them not.

And put them in the camel's furniture, and sat upon them. The common pack-saddle is often used as a seat or a cushion, against which a person squatted on the floor may lean. [But kar (H3733) denotes a carriage, a litter; and kar (H3733) hagaamaal (H1581), a camel's litter, saddle - i:e., the houda or canopy begirt on a camel's back, in which ladies are seated when traveling.]

Verse 35

And she said to her father, Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise up before thee; for the custom of women is upon me. And he searched, but found not the images.

Let it not displease my lord. The Hebrews, instead of addressing a person of dignity in the second person singular, thou and thee, said, "my lord" (Numbers 12:11; 1 Kings 17:18; 2 Samuel 14:9).

For the custom of women is upon me. She availed herself of a notion which seems to have obtained in patriarchal times, and which was afterward enacted in the Mosaic Code as a law, that a woman in the alleged circumstances was unclean, and communicated a taint to everything with which she came into contact. It was a mere pretext, however, on the part of Rachel, to avoid the further researches of her father.

Verses 36-43

And Jacob was wroth, and chode with Laban: and Jacob answered and said to Laban, What is my trespass? what is my sin, that thou hast so hotly pursued after me?

Jacob answered and said to Laban. The use of the word "answered," as in this instance, is a Hebrew idiom, and peculiar to the Hebrew mode of conception, in reference to something prior as the occasion of speaking. The words, though in the form of question, are an answer to Laban's injurious, and so far as Jacob was concerned, unfounded, suspicions. Recrimination on his part was natural in the circumstances, and, as usual, when passion is high, the charges took a wide range. He rapidly enumerated his grievances for 20 years, and in a tone of unrestrained severity described the niggard character and vexatious exactions of his uncle, together with the hardships of various kinds he had patiently endured.

Verse 38. The rams ... have I not eaten. Eastern people seldom kill the females for food unless they are barren.

Verse 39. That which was torn of beasts. The shepherds are strictly responsible for losses in the flock, unless they can prove these were occasioned by casualties beyond their foresight to anticipate, or their power to prevent. They are bound every evening to re-deliver their charge as they received it, without diminution. Their wages being paid not in money but in kind, consisting commonly of a tenth part of the milk and lambs, they are required, in the event of any of the flock being lost while under their custody, to make up the damage out of their earnings; and even in those exceptional cases where they can plead the prevalence of distemper, or the ravages of wild beasts, they must demonstrate their attention in applying the proper remedies to the diseased, and their vigilance in repelling the ravenous prowlers by some ocular proof, such as the diseased head or body of the animal, or a fragment of its ears, legs, or tail, snatched from the beast of prey (Amos 3:12). These stringent rules were in existence in the time of Jacob, who, however, chose rather to repair the losses himself than to enter upon the irksome task of satisfying his grasping father-in-law.

Verse 40. In the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night. Obliged to be much abroad in the fields, under the slender covert of a tent, and frequently without any shelter, he was exposed, not only to all the variations of the seasons, but to the sudden and great alternations of temperature which distinguish the climate of Mesopotamia, where the vicissitudes of day and night appear like a transition in a few hours, from the heat of the summer's solstices to the piercing cold and rigours of winter. The temperature changes often in 24 hours from the greatest extremes of heat and cold, most trying to the shepherd who has to keep watch by his flocks.

Verse 42. The Fear of Isaac [Hebrew, pachad (H6343)] - the object of his fear and reverence (see the note at verse 53). Much allowance must be made for Jacob. Great and long-continued provocations ruffle the mildest and most disciplined tempers. It is difficult to "be angry and sin not." But these two relatives, after having given utterance to their pent-up feelings, came at length to a mutual understanding. Laban was so cut by the severe and well-founded reproaches of Jacob, that he saw the necessity of an immediate surrender, or rather, God influenced him to make reconciliation with his injured nephew (Proverbs 16:7).

Verse 44

Now therefore come thou, let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee.

Come ... let us make a covenant. The way in which this covenant was ratified was by a heap of stones being laid in a circular pile, to serve as seats, and in the center of this circle a large one was set up perpendicularly for an altar. It is probable that a sacrifice was first offered, and then that the feast of reconciliation was partaken of by both parties, seated on the stones around it (cf. verse 54). To this day, heaps of stones, which have been used as memorials, are found abundantly in the region where this transaction took place.

Verses 45-46

And Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 47

And Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha: but Jacob called it Galeed.

Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha [yªgar] - a heap of stones [ saahªduwtaa' (H3026)], testimony, witness. This word may be either Chaldee or Syriac, according to the vowels used. The language of Laban was that spoken in Syria. It is called Aramaean or Syrian (2 Kings 18:26; Isaiah 36:11), which is known to us in two dialects-Chaldee, and a later form, Syriac. It had probably been the native tongue of Abraham; but upon emigrating to the land of promise he adopted the language of the people of Canaan-the Canaanite or Phoenician language-which, as it was spoken by the Hebrews, we designate as "Hebrew."

But Jacob called it Galeed [ Gal`eed (H1567) - a mound or hill testimony. This is Hebrew, and signifies the same thing as the name originated by Laban; but it was given by Jacob because, although familiar with the language of Laban, he was in a district of country where the Hebrew was the spoken dialect. This incident, which took place on the highest peak of Jebel-Ajlun (see the note at verse 25), gave occasion to the name Galaad, or Gilead, being applied to all the mountainous region eastward of Argob (Josephus, 'Antiquities,' b.

i., ch. 19:, sec. 11).

Verse 48

And Laban said, This heap is a witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed;

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 49

And Mizpah; for he said, The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.

And Mizpah [ Mitspaah (H4709)] - a watch-tower, an eminence. When the word is used as the name of a place, it always has the article prefixed (cf. Judges 10:17; Judges 11:11; Judges 11:34). Its bestowment upon this spot originated in a paronomasia in reference to the circumstances in which the parties had met.

Verse 50

If thou shalt afflict my daughters, or if thou shalt take other wives beside my daughters, no man is with us; see, God is witness betwixt me and thee.

God is witness betwixt me and thee. [This is the only instance, in the historical reference to Laban, of his using 'Elohiym (H430) as the name of the Divine Being in an absolute sense, and it is when making a solemn appeal by an oath.] On other occasions Laban calls him the Lord [ Yahweh (H3068)] - a name which he had most probably borrowed from Abraham's servant (Genesis 24:31; Genesis 24:50-51), and from Jacob (Genesis 31:49).

Verse 51

And Laban said to Jacob, Behold this heap, and behold this pillar, which I have cast betwixt me and thee;

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 52

This heap be witness, and this pillar be witness, that I will not pass over this heap to thee, and that thou shalt not pass over this heap and this pillar unto me, for harm.

This heap be witness. Objects of nature were frequently thus spoken of. But over and above, there was a solemn appeal to God; and it is observable that there was a marked difference in the religious sentiments of the two. Laban spoke of the God of Abraham and Nahor, their common ancestors; but Jacob, knowing that idolatry had crept in among that branch of the family, swore by the Fear (God) of Isaac. It is thought by many that Laban comprehended, under the peculiar phraseology that he employed, all the objects of worship in Terah's family, in Mesopotamia; and in that view we can discern a very intelligible reason for Jacob's omission of the name of Abraham, and swearing only by "the Fear of his father Isaac," who had never acknowledged any deity but "the Lord." They who have one God should have one heart; they who are agreed in religion should endeavour to agree in everything else.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Genesis 31". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/genesis-31.html. 1871-8.
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