Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, July 18th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 31

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

Verses 1-16

The Plan to Flee

v. 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. That was the voice of envy, which begrudged Jacob the obvious blessing of God, incidentally revealing a very ugly suspicion, as is customary in such cases.

v. 2. And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, behold, it was not toward him as before. Laban no longer concealed his selfishness and covetousness, with the resulting ill will against Jacob.

v. 3. And the Lord said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee. Canaan was the land of Jacob's fathers, Genesis 17:8; Genesis 26:3; there lived his nearest relatives. The Lord therefore not only bade him return, but also assured him of His protection.

v. 4. And Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field unto his flock,

v. 5. and said unto them, I see your father's countenance, that it is not toward me as before. Yesterday and the day before, in the first years of Jacob's service, the gain which Jacob brought him had caused Laban to be kind enough, but now envy had taken possession of his heart also, together with covetousness. But the God of my father hath been with me; the God whom Isaac, his father, had worshiped, who had revealed Himself in mercy and with the promise of His blessing upon Jacob.

v. 6. And ye know that with all my power I have served your father. As Jacob had emphasized his faithfulness over against Laban, Genesis 30:30-33, so he could truthfully point to it in the presence of Laban's daughters, his wives.

v. 7. And your father hath deceived me, and changed my wages ten times. This puts another ugly blot upon Laban's character, for as the contract was made, Genesis 30:34, no changes were looked for. Yet Laban had frequently and in an arbitrary manner altered its provisions in favor of himself. But God suffered him not to hurt me, neither in body nor in goods.

v. 8. If he said thus, The speckled shall be thy wages; then all the cattle bare speckled; and if he said thus, The ring-straked (banded) shall be thy hire; then bare all the cattle ring-straked. When Laban noted that his cattle were bearing in favor of Jacob, according to the original contract, he changed the stipulation from time to time, making it ever more difficult for Jacob to gain, since the provisions were narrowed more with every new agreement.

v. 9. Thus God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me. Jacob thus confesses and acknowledges with thankfulness that it was the Lord who had watched over his interests, turned the evil intention in his favor, and multiplied that part of the flock which was set apart for his wages.

v. 10. And it came to pass at the time that the cattle conceived that I lifted up mine eyes, and saw in a dream, and, behold, the rams which leaped upon the cattle were ring-straked, speckled, and grisled (dappled). It was, accordingly, the dispensation of God which had governed the increase of Jacob's flocks, without which even the keenest business sagacity would have availed him nothing.

v. 11. And the Angel of God spake unto me in a dream, saying, Jacob; and I said, Here am I. This is again the Angel of the Lord in a special sense, Jehovah, the Son of God, as He often revealed Himself to His children in the Old Testament.

v. 12. And he said, Lift up now thine eyes and see, all the rams which leap upon the cattle are ring-straked, speckled, and grisled; for I have seen all that Laban doeth unto thee. Apparently Jacob had had a number of visions in the course of the six years, the Lord indicating to him that He was looking out for his interests, but the climax had come in the recent dream.

v. 13. I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto Me. The Angel of the Lord was identical with the God of Bethel, with the God who revealed Himself at Bethel as exalted above the angels. Jacob had confessed his faith in the true God both by consecrating the place at Bethel and by making his earnest vow. Now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred. Jacob thus urged not only the envy and injustice of Laban, but the direct command of God as well, for their immediate flight.

v. 14. And Rachel and Leah answered and said unto him, Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father's house? Laban's treatment of his daughters made it appear that he was glad to get rid of them.

v. 15. Are we not counted of him strangers? For he hath sold us, and hath quite devoured also our money. Laban's conduct toward his daughters made it seem that he considered them sold to Jacob for the fourteen years' service. And not only that, but the very price, the very money that their services were worth to him, he retained for himself; he devoured their very substance, wherein they received no share.

v. 16. For all the riches which God hath taken from our father, that is ours and our children's; now, then, whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do. Laban is an example of a covetous, hard-hearted, and tyrannical man, who has only his own advantage in mind and considers no one else's rights. It is from people of this stamp that pious, faithful men are obliged to endure much suffering. But God watches over His children and will permit no harm to strike them without His permission.

Verses 17-24

Jacob Flees and is Pursued by Laban

v. 17. Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon camels;

v. 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 Padanaram, for to go to Isaac, his father, in the land of Canaan. Jacob's plans had evidently been laid and all arrangements made with great care even before he summoned his wives for the conference which decided in favor of immediate flight. The text repeatedly emphasizes the fact that all the wealth in cattle and goods which Jacob had collected and took along with him on his flight was such as he had honestly gotten.

v. 19. And Laban went to shear his sheep; and Rachel had stolen the images that were her father's. The fact that Laban, with his sons, was keeping the feast of sheep-shearing, which lasted several days, gave Jacob the opportunity which he had sought, for Laban would never have permitted him to go in peace. There is no wrong in fleeing from a tyrant and seeking a place where one may live in peace and security and tend to the works of his calling without interference. That Rachel, although a believer in the true God, stole the images, the small household gods of her father, probably because she feared that Laban might consult them as oracles, shows that she was not yet entirely free from heathen superstition.

v. 20. And Jacob stole away unawares to Laban, the Syrian, in that he told him not that he fled. Jacob took the opportunity to remove himself and his goods without the knowledge of Laban, 2 Samuel 15:6, neither was the fact told to the older man.

v. 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. He forded the Euphrates, and then turned directly southwest toward Mount Gilead, on the farther side of the Jarmuk River, southeast of the Sea of Galilee.

v. 22. And it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob was fled.

v. 23. And he took his brethren with him, and pursued after him seven days' journey; and they overtook him in the Mount Gilead. Jacob had a start of three days, but he was hampered by his large herds, whereas Laban, with his tribesmen, could travel very rapidly. Still Jacob had made excellent time in the ten days of his journey.

v. 24. And God came to Laban, the Syrian, a name used to distinguish him from the members of God's own people, in a dream by night, and said unto him, Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad. Literally, Laban should, in speaking to Jacob, not pass from good to bad, from a hasty greeting of his daughters and their children to reproaches and other indications of anger. The power of the enemies of God, so far as His children are concerned, is limited by God's permission.

Verses 25-35

Laban Scolds Jacob

v. 25. Then Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the mount; and Laban with his brethren pitched in the mount of Gilead. So Jacob had gone into camp on the height of the mountain range of which Mount Gilead was the highest peak, and Laban, in overtaking him with his kinsmen, also pitched his tent.

v. 26. 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 believed that he would make the greatest impression upon Jacob by feigning outraged fatherly love and acted accordingly, accusing him of leading his daughters off like captives of war, against their will.

v. 27. Wherefore didst thou flee away secretly, and steal away from me; and didst not tell me, that I might have sent thee away with mirth, and with songs, with tabret, and with harp? In his passionate reproach Laban heaps the expressions which are intended to make Jacob appear as a low sneak, whereas he intimates that his own generosity would not have failed to provide an appropriate farewell festival, with joy and with songs, with drum, or tabret, and with zither.

v. 28. And hast not suffered me to kiss my sons and my daughters? Thou hast now done foolishly in so doing. The entire behavior of Jacob is here labeled downright folly by Laban.

v. 29. It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt; but the God of your father spake unto me yesternight, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad. The band which Laban had brought along was indeed large enough to inflict severe harm upon Jacob, and it was only the fear of God's punishment which deterred him from following his inclination. At this point the animosity of Laban evidently caused him to forget all prudence and to betray his bitterness and his real intention.

v. 30. And now, though thou wouldest needs be gone, because thou sore longedst after thy father's house, yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods? Laban means to say that there is some explanation for Jacob's leaving, even if it was done in secret, but no excuse could be found for the stealing of his gods, of which he now accuses Jacob outright.

v. 31. And Jacob answered and said to Laban, Because I was afraid; for I said, Peradventure thou wouldest take by force thy daughters from me. That was answering the first question of Laban, as to why Jacob had left Mesopotamia in the manner he did, and it did not reveal the most flattering opinion of Laban. And so far as the accusation was concerned:

v. 32. With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live; before our brethren discern thou what is thine with me, and take it to thee. The statement shows the emphasis with which Jacob resented the suspicion of thieving which was raised against him. He boldly invited Laban to institute a search in the presence of their kinsmen and declares that the person with whom the images should be found had merited death. For Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them.

v. 33. And Laban went into Jacob's tent, and into Leah's tent, and into the two maid-servants tents; but he found them not. Then went he out of Leah's tent, and entered into Rachel's tent. So sure was Laban of his ground that he made his search very thorough. There is an irony in the fact that the idolater searches for his gods and cannot find them.

v. 34. Now Rachel had taken the images, and put them in the camel's furniture, under the large saddle with its heavy hangings and deep basket, and sat upon them. And Laban searched all the tent, but found them not. He went over everything in the tent very thoroughly, not only peering around, but even feeling with his hands.

v. 35. And she said to her father, Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise up before thee, as filial respect would have demanded; for the custom of women is upon me. Whether this was actually true or not, she proved herself a worthy daughter of a cunning father, for the ruse served to keep Laban from looking under the saddle which Rachel was using as a couch. At a later period this matter was regulated by law, Leviticus 15:19 ff. Thus the Lord did not permit Jacob, who knew nothing of Rachel's trick, to be put to shame.

Verses 36-42

Jacob Rebukes Laban

v. 30. 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? The advantage was now entirely on Jacob's side, and he lost no time in making use of it, but called Laban to account for his attitude as well as for all his misdeeds, also in coming after him in such a high-handed way.

v. 37. Whereas thou hast searched all my stuff, what hast thou found of all thy household stuff? Set it here before my brethren and thy brethren that they may judge betwixt us both. That the search, undertaken upon suspicion which amounted to a certainty, had yielded absolutely no results made Laban, appear foolish in the eyes of both parties.

v. 38. This twenty years have I been with thee; thy ewes and thy she-goats have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flock have I not eaten.

v. 39. That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee; I bare the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it, whether stolen by day, or stolen by night. Rather than go to Laban with a detailed report concerning every loss in the flocks, Jacob voluntarily filled all gaps.

v. 40. Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes. In the Orient, the intense cold of the night corresponds to the burning heat of the day, just as in the Southwest of our country.

v. 41. Thus have I been twenty years in thy house; I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters and six years for thy cattle; and thou hast changed my wages ten times. As one commentator says: The strong feeling and the lofty self-consciousness which utter themselves in his speech impart to it a rhythmical movement and poetic forms. "

v. 42. Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, that is, the God whom Isaac feared, the object of his reverence or veneration, had been with me, surely thou hadst sent me away now empty. God hath seen mine affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked thee yesternight. The service of Jacob in the house of Laban is an example of true faithfulness, which is here throughout contrasted with the selfishness of the older man. A true believer will be diligent, faithful, conscientious, careful not to neglect or to waste aught of the goods entrusted to him, anxious to serve God and his neighbor with the work of his hands.

Verses 43-55

The Covenant on Mount Gilead

v. 43. 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 thou seest is mine; and what can I do this day unto these my daughters or unto their children which they have born? Although Laban still speaks with an unwarranted boastfulness, referring to his superior power and assuming rights which he no longer possessed, yet his words also show that Jacob's rebuke has had its effect. He realizes that any attempt against the life or well-being of Jacob would hurt also his children and grandchildren. At the same time the fear arises in him that Jacob might some day return to Mesopotamia at the head of a mighty band and avenge his wrong.

v. 44. Now, therefore, come thou, let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee. This proposal was largely an outgrowth of selfishness, but it served the purpose.

v. 45. And Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar, this stone being the monument of the settlement, of the peaceful separation, to which he assented.

v. 46. And Jacob said unto his brethren, his kinsmen that had come with Laban, Gather stones; and they took stones, and made an heap; and they did eat there upon the heap, which designated the friendly communion.

v. 47. And Laban called it Jegarsahadutha; but Jacob called it Galeed, both names, the first Chaldean, the other Hebrew, signifying the same: Heap of testimony, or witness.

v. 48. And Laban said, This heap is a witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed;

v. 49. and Mizpah, another name, which was later applied to the location on account of another remark by Laban; for he said, The Lord watch between me and thee when we are absent one from another. Mizpah, or Mizpeh, means watch-tower, for Jehovah was called upon to be the watchman, to watch carefully that all the terms of the agreement should be observed.

v. 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. The Lord, knowing what the stipulation included, would watch that none of its terms be violated.

v. 51. And Laban said to Jacob, Behold this heap, and behold this pillar, which I have cast betwixt me and thee;

v. 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. If either one should ever have thoughts of vengeance, his way into the country of the other would lead past this place, and the monument of stones would serve to remind him of the covenant.

v. 53. The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, that is, the God of Terah, judge betwixt us. Laban, the idolater, is rather indefinite in naming his god, though he tries to find common ground. And Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac, by the God whom his father worshiped and whom he knew to be the only true God.

v. 54. Then Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, he killed animals for an offering to the true God, and called his brethren to eat bread and thus to seal the covenant with a common meal. And they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the mount.

v. 55. And early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his daughters, and blessed them, thus taking leave of them in a very tender manner, a contrast to his former harshness: and Laban departed, and returned unto his place. From the story of this covenant we learn that the believers, so far as it is possible without denying the truth, will try to have peace with all men, even with the unbelievers, which does not change the fact, however, that there is constant warfare on their part against sin.

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Genesis 31". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/genesis-31.html. 1921-23.
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