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

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

Verses 1-55


THEIR FIRST MEETING (Genesis 29:1-14 )

Jacob’s journey to Haran, his mother’s country, was first to the north and then the east, re-traversing the original course of his grandfather Abraham. As he nears its termination; his attention is attracted by the shepherds with their flocks around a well, whose mouth is covered with a stone. Inquiry reveals that they belong to Haran, and are acquainted with his uncle Laban. Rachel, his daughter and the keeper of his sheep, will be there presently, for her they are waiting, since their custom is not to remove the stone or water the flocks till all are gathered. Rachel appears, and it is a case of love at first sight on Jacob’s part, if one may judge by his action in rolling the stone from the well and watering her sheep, to say nothing of the kiss he bestows upon her. As another observes, the morals of these simple folk were good, and the estimation in which they held the honor of women was high, for a young and beautiful girl like Rachel might expose herself to the hazards of pastoral life without risk. But among the ancient Greeks it was the custom for daughters of princes to perform this office, and even today among the Arabs unmarried women expose themselves without harm to the same class of dangers. The personal habits of people make a great difference in their national customs.

Anstey shows that Jacob was seventy-seven years of age at this time. Rachel’s enthusiasm in carrying the news to her father reminds us of her aunt, Rebekah, at an earlier time. Though Jacob calls himself her father’s brother, we know after the oriental fashion he means his nephew. What a talk they had around the family hearth as he rehearsed the story of the mother he loved so truly since she left her home long before! A month has passed before they settle down again to prosaic things (Genesis 29:14 ).

THEIR FIRST CONTRACT (Genesis 29:15-35 ; Genesis 30:1-24 )

The seven years Jacob serves for Rachel are a heavy burden in one sense, but a light one in another. But how he is deceived at the end of it, when he begins to reap what he had sown! All this is part of God’s plan for his conviction, conversion, sanctification, and preparation for His great purpose on behalf of Israel and the whole world later on. Happily Jacob is not obliged to wait another seven years before marrying Rachel, but receives that part of his compensation in advance (Genesis 29:27-28 ).

One cannot read this story without being impressed with the use God made of the envy of these sisters for building up the house of Jacob and of Israel. We meet some indelicate things here, but we should remember that these histories were written not from our point of view but in the style of the people of the past. It is desirable to become familiar with the names of Jacob’s twelve sons, since they become so prominent in the history of Israel and the world. Notice who was the mother of Levi and of Judah, and also of Joseph (Genesis 29:24-35 ; Genesis 30:24 ). The polygamy and concubinage spoken of are not only contrary to the Gospel, but not to be regarded as approved of God at any time (Malachi 2:14-15 ; Matthew 19:3-9 ), but in accordance with the customs of those times. Notably, Isaac seems to have remained monogamous.

THEIR SECOND CONTRACT (Genesis 30:25-43 ; Genesis 31:1-16 )

As one reads the story of this section he feels little sympathy for Laban, who deserved the punishment he received, but wonders at Jacob’s smartness until he reads his explanation (Genesis 31:4-13 ), and learns that God interposed on his behalf, and prompted him in what he did. This is in fulfillment of the original promise of blessing and cursing, which was carried out in the later history of Israel, and will be very markedly fulfilled at the end of this age and throughout the millennium. There is a divine reason why the Jew of today holds the money bags of the world, and why he is such a factor in our commercial centers.

Oh, you treacherous and crafty Laban, type of the Gentile oppressor of Israel in all time, do you think you can circumvent Jehovah by removing all the speckled goats and black sheep from your flocks that Jacob may have none (Genesis 30:34-36 )? Place three day’s journey between yourself and Jacob, but leave Jacob to God, and he will ask no more (Genesis 31:5 )!

It is interesting that Jacob has the sympathy of his wives in the issue between him and their father, and that they support him in his purpose to return to his own land. What was the inspiration and the encouragement of this purpose (Genesis 31:13 )?

THEIR SEPARATION (Genesis 31:17-55 )

What advantage of Laban did Jacob take at this juncture (Genesis 31:19-20 )? What shows Jacob’s wives to have been idolaters at this time? How does this further indicate the divine patience and long-suffering? How does it indicate that God has a purpose of grace He is seeking in the earth independent of the conscious and willing cooperation of His creatures?

Look on the map and determine what river Jacob crossed going from Haran into Gilead (a distance of probably 350 miles). How does God interpose for Jacob (Genesis 31:24 )? Where have we seen a similar revelation of God to a heathen? Do you think Laban was sincere in Genesis 31:27 ? What teaching do we obtain of the responsibilities and hardships of the shepherd’s life in Genesis 31:38-40 ? Notice Jacob’s testimony to God’s great favor to him (Genesis 31:42 ), and the distinction of faith in Jacob’s oath as compared with that of Laban.

It is desirable to add that the names which Laban and Jacob gave to the locality of their covenant means the same thing in the Aramaic and Hebrew tongues, “the heap of witness,” while Mizpah means “the watch tower.”

How does the conclusion of this story illustrate Proverbs 16:7 ?


1. Rehearse the story of Jacob from the time of leaving home until he met Laban.

2. Try to recall the story he would have to tell Laban.

3. Give the substance of the references to Malachi and Matthew.

4. Of what is Laban a type in all the generations?

5. Memorize Proverbs 16:7 , with chapter and verse.

Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on Genesis 31". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jgc/genesis-31.html. 1897-1910.
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