Friday, June 2nd, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Genesis 31". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ genesis-31.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Genesis 31". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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Genesis 31:7. Changed my wages ten times.] Probably to be understood as a round number, meaning any number of times—as often as he could. The expression “ten times” is used for frequently, in Numbers 14:22, and in other passages.—
Genesis 31:11. The Angel of God.] This is, as elsewhere, the angel or messenger who speaks in the person of God himself. (Genesis 31:13).
Genesis 31:19. Images.] Heb. Teraphim. “This word occurs fifteen times in the Old Testament. It appears three times in this chapter, and nowhere else in the Pentateuch. It is always in the plural number. The teraphim were symbols or representatives of the deity. They seem to have been busts of the human form, sometimes as large as life. (1 Samuel 19:13.) The employment of them in the worship of God which Laban seems to have inherited from his fathers (Joshua 24:2), is denounced as idolatry (1 Samuel 15:23); and hence they are classed with the idols and other abominations put away by Josiah. (2 Kings 23:24.) (Murphy.)—
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 31:1-21
JACOB’S DEPARTURE FOR CANAAN
I. It was hastened by persecution. Laban’s sons began to envy the prosperity of Jacob. They are sure that his riches have come out of their father’s estate, and suggest that he has employed unfair means. (Genesis 31:1.) Such is that spirit of envy which cannot bear to see another thrive. Laban was also of the same mind as his sons, and his conduct towards Jacob had become quite altered. (Genesis 31:2.) Jacob foresaw the coming storm of persecution, and made up his mind to avoid it by flight.
II. It was prompted by a sense of offended justice. Jacob consults with his wives upon the situation of his affairs, complains of their father’s unjust treatment and of his changed manner towards himself. He had served their father faithfully for many years, and yet he had often been deceived and defrauded in the matter of wages. (Genesis 31:17.) Laban had agreed to a bargain, and now is displeased at the result. Jacob ascribes his prosperity, not to himself alone, but to God. (Genesis 31:9.) His wives agree that Jacob’s cause is just. They confess that their father had treated them shamefully. They were little better than slaves. (Genesis 31:14-16.) These continued acts of injustice could be tolerated no longer. Jacob’s righteous soul must rise up against this unjust oppression and shake it off.
III. It was at the command of God. There were prudential reasons why Jacob should suddenly quit the service of his uncle, but he justifies his conduct by alleging that he was acting by the express command of God. (Genesis 31:13.) The Lord was making good his old promise “to be with Jacob, and keep him in all places whither he went.” The time arrives when the word of God becomes to us more than a general promise or command, when it summons us to some special duty. Jacob’s way was now plain, as he had clear divine direction. By this command of God it was intended to make Jacob feel that he was but a stranger and pilgrim here, and that this world was not his rest. Trials are sent to us so that we may not make this world our home. They are to us the voice of God telling us that here “we have no continuing city.”
IV. It illustrates the imperfections as well as the virtues of Jacob’s character. It was right in Jacob to avoid persecution by flight, to feel keenly the injustice done to him, and above all to obey the command of God that he should return to his kindred. But in carrying out these high principles of duty, Jacob reveals the inherent faults of his character. He “stole away unawares.” (Genesis 31:20.) He practises his wily arts, as of old, pretending all the while as if he would remain, when he knew that he had arranged for sudden flight. The assertion of his own rights was, regarded in itself, noble, and yet it is marred by deceit. God’s commandment is good, but man’s obedience is marked by many flaws.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 31:1. How often what a man hears said of him determines his course in life! This was probably a report to him of what his cousins had said, as they were three days’ journey distant. They were dissatisfied with Jacob’s large share of the flocks, and no wonder. He had gotten so much of their father’s property, and all with nothing of his own to start with, that they are incensed, and intimate that there must be the overreaching of Jacob in it all.—(Jacobus.)
All this glory. That is, all this wealth, which easily begets glory; and goes, therefore, joined with it. (Proverbs 3:16; Proverbs 8:18.) This regina pecunia doth all, and hath all, here below, saith Solomon, (Ecclesiastes 10:19.) Money beareth the mastery, and is the monarch of this world.—(Trapp.)
Genesis 31:2. As the wicked have no peace with God, so the godly have no peace with men; for if they prosper not they are despised, if they prosper they are envied.—(Bp. Hall.)
He said little, for shame, but thought the more, and could not so conceal his discontent, but that it appeared in his lowering looks. And this was plain to Jacob by his countenance, which had been friendly, smooth, and smiling, but now he was cloudy, sad, spiteful. The young men could not hold or hide what was in their heart, but blurted it out and spake their minds freely. This old fox held his tongue, but could not keep his countenance.—(Trapp.)
Genesis 31:3. Like a watchful friend at his right hand, the Lord observes his treatment, and warns him to depart. In all our removals it becomes us to act as that we may hope for the Divine presence and blessing to attend us; else, though we may flee from one trouble, we shall fall into many, and be less able to endure them.—(Fuller.)
Laban’s frowns were a grief to Jacob; the Lord calls upon him, therefore, to look homeward. Let the world’s affronts, and the change of men’s countenances, drive us to Him who changeth not; and mind us of heaven where is a perpetual serenity and sweetness.—(Trapp.)
To the godly, all the changes and afflictions of life are Divine calls to the true home of their souls.
Genesis 31:4. He called his wives, the daughters of Laban, and explained to them the whole case, and appeals to their knowledge of the facts, and declares the favour of God towards him. Observe—
(1.) The case is clear for his return when God so commands.
(2.) He shows himself to be a kind and faithful husband.—(Jacobus.)
He sends for his wives into the field, where he might converse with them freely on the subject, without danger of being overheard. Had they been servants, it would have been sufficient to have imparted to them his will; but, being wives, they require a different treatment. There is an authority which Scripture and nature give the man over the woman; but everyone who deserves the name of a man will exercise it with a gentleness and kindness that shall render it pleasant rather than burdensome. He will consult with her as a friend, and satisfy her by giving the reasons of his conduct. Thus did Jacob to both his wives, who by such conduct forgot the differences between themselves, and cheerfully cast in their lot with him.—(Fuller.)
Genesis 31:5. This is the world’s wages. All Jacob’s good service is now forgotten. Do an unthankful person nineteen kindnesses, unless you add the twentieth all is lost. “Very rarely grateful men are found,” saith Cicero. “No one writes a benefit in the calendar,” saith Seneca.—(Trapp.)
It is wisely ordered that the countenance shall, in most cases, be an index to the heart; else there would be much more deception in the world than there is. Sullen silence is often less tolerable than contention itself, because the latter, painful as it is, affords opportunity for mutual explanation. But while Jacob had to complain of Laban’s cloudy countenance, he could add, “The God of my father hath been with me.” The smiles of God are the best support under the frowns of men. If we walk in the light of His countenance we need not fear what man can do unto us.—(Bush.)
Genesis 31:6-7. How often men reprove in others the very wrong of which they are guilty themselves. Often God punishes sin in kind, allowing the deceiver to be deceived.—(Jacobus.)
Laban, the churl, the richer he grew by him, the harder he was to him; like children with mouthfuls and handfuls, who will yet rather spoil all, than part with any. It is the love, not the lack of money that makes men churls.—(Trapp).
Genesis 31:8-10. Jacob, we are to remember, left his hire to the providence of God. He thought himself bound at the same time to use all legitimate means for the attainment of the desired end. His expedients may have been perfectly legitimate in the circumstances, but they were evidently of no avail without the Divine blessing. And they would become wholly ineffectual when his wages were changed. Hence he says, God took the cattle and gave them to me. (Murphy).
Genesis 31:11-13. When at Bethel, the Lord said, I am Jehovah, God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac. He might have said the same now; but it was His pleasure to direct the attention of His servant to the last, and to him the most interesting of His manifestations. By giving him hold of the last link in the chain, he would be in possession of the whole. In directing Jacob’s thoughts to the vision at Bethel, the Lord reminds him of those solemn acts of his own, by which he had at that time devoted himself. It is not only necessary that we be reminded of God’s promises for our support in troubles, but of our own solemn engagements, so that in all our movements we may keep the end in view for which we live. The object of the vow was, that Jehovah should be his God; and whenever he should return, that stone should be God’s house. And now that the Lord commands him to return, He reminds him of his vow. He must not go to Canaan with a view to promote his own temporal interest, but to introduce the knowledge and worship of the true God. This was the great end which Jehovah had in view in all that he did for Abraham’s posterity, and they must never lose sight of it.—(Fuller.)
Genesis 31:14. By “portion” is to be understood such voluntary gifts and presents as he might be induced to make to them; and by “inheritance,” that to which they might expect to succeed by law or common usage.—(Bush.)
Genesis 31:15. Instead of dealing with us as daughters, disposing of us with honourable dowries, he has bargained us away like slaves, and applied the proceeds to his own use, instead of bestowing any portion of it upon us.
The “selling” was Laban’s compact with Jacob for fourteen years’ service. As this service was in lieu of a dowry, which would naturally have accrued to the wives as a right, they jointly complain of being excluded from all participation in the avails of it. Their crimination of their father is not to be reckoned a breach of filial reverence, for they are not traducing him in the presence of strangers, but merely stating the reason which justified them to their own consciences in leaving him.—(Bush.)
Genesis 31:16. As to their acknowledging the hand of God in giving their father’s riches to their husband, this is no more than is often seen in the most selfish characters, who can easily admire the Divine providence when it goes in their favour.—(Fuller.)
Genesis 31:17-18. The people in the East prepare for an entire removal with great expedition. In a quarter of the time which it would take a poor family in England to get the furniture of a single room ready for removal, the tents of a large encampment will have been struck, and, together with all the movables and provisions, packed away upon the backs of camels, mules, or asses; and the whole party will be on its way, leaving, to use an expression of their own, not a halter nor a rag behind.—(Bush.)
Genesis 31:19-21. It is not the business of Scripture to acquaint us with the kinds and characteristics of false worship. Hence we know little of the teraphim, except they were employed by those who professed to worship the true God. Rachel had a lingering attachment to these objects of her family’s superstitious reverence, and secretly carried them away as relics of a home she was to visit no more, and as sources of safety to herself against the perils of her flight.
It is hardly probable that Rachel intended, by a pious and fanatical theft, to free her father from idolatry, for then she would have thrown the images away. She appears to have stolen them with the superstitious idea that she would prevent her father from consulting them as oracles, and under their guidance from overtaking and destroying Jacob. She attributed to the images a certain magical, though not religious, power (perhaps as oracles). The very lowest and most degrading supposition is that she took the images, often overlaid with silver, or precious metals, from mercenary motives. Jacob himself had at first a low rather than a strict conscience in regard to these images (Ch. Genesis 35:2), but the stricter view prevails since the time of Moses. (Exodus 20:0; Joshua 24:2; Joshua 24:14.) The tendency was always hurtful, and they were ultimately rooted out from Israel. Laban had lapsed into a more corrupt form of religion, and his daughters had not escaped the infection.—(Lange.)
It is not a chance that we meet here in the idols of Laban the earliest traces of idolatry in the Old World, although they had doubtless existed elsewhere much earlier and in a proper form. We can see how Polytheism gradually developed itself out of the symbolic image worship of Monotheism. (Romans 1:23.) Moreover, the teraphim are estimated entirely from a theocratic point of view. They could be stolen as other household furniture (have eyes but see not). They could be hidden under a camel’s saddle. They are a contemptible nonentity, which can render no assistance. The zeal for gods and idols is always fanatical.—(Lange.)
The teraphim were used for two reasons: first for the purposes of divination and fortune telling; but secondly for the deeper reason of the inseparable tendency in human nature to worship God under a form. Wherein lay the guilt of this? Not in worshipping God under a form, for we cannot worship Him otherwise; but in this—that the form was necessarily inadequate and false, and therefore gave a false conception of God. There are but two forms in which we, as Christians, are allowed to worship God; to worship Him through the universe, and through the humanity of Jesus Christ.—(Robertson.)
Genesis 31:34. The camel’s furniture.] “This was a packsaddle, in the recesses of which articles might be deposited, and on which was a seat or couch for the rider.” (Murphy.)—
Genesis 31:40. In the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night.] In the East the hotter the day, the colder the night. (Jeremiah 36:30; Psalms 121:6.)—
Genesis 31:42. The fear of Isaac.] “This is used as a name of God in His covenant relation. He who is the object of Isaac’s fear or reverential awe; like the Hope of Israel.” (Jeremiah 14:8.) There is a similar use of the word “fear” as an object of fear, in Psalms 31:11.; Proverbs 1:26-27.—Rebuked thee.]—“Judged thee, by giving forewarning against violent language.” (Jacobus.)—
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 31:22-42
LABAN’S EXPOSTULATION WITH JACOB, AND JACOB’S DEFENCE
I. Laban’s Expostulation with Jacob. Jacob stole away “unawares,” taking with him his family, goods, and cattle. Laban, who overtook him, after seven days’ pursuit, complains of his conduct and expostulates with him.
1. There was, apparently, cause for just complaint.
(1.) There were some criminal elements in the conduct of Jacob. Laban complains that he had not only committed a serious moral fault, but also something of the nature of a crime and violent wrong against society. He accuses Jacob of acting like a thief in carrying off his daughters as booty. (Genesis 31:26.)
(2.) There was unkindness and a breach of social obligations. Jacob by his conduct in this matter had denied Laban the opportunity of taking affectionate leave of his daughters. He had sinned against the tender charities of domestic life, and neglected his plain duty towards the family with whom he had cast his lot. (Genesis 31:27-28.)
2. But this complaint was, really, the disguise of Laban’s own evil nature. Thus Laban complains that he had been robbed, when he was only envious and suspicious. Men are often that very thing themselves which they suspect in others. And they are quick to spy those very faults in others for which they themselves are notorious. Laban’s affection for his daughters was only a pretence. Consider his conduct towards them while they dwelt with him. He had kept them penniless, and now he wants to dismiss them with a generous feast. (Genesis 31:14-15; Genesis 31:27.) He is also passionate and revengeful while he appears to be pious. He asserts that his superior power puts Jacob at his mercy, but that he is restrained from hurting him by God’s injunction. (Genesis 31:29.) But all this time he feels the passion of revenge burning within him, as if he would say to Jacob,—“I could crush you if I pleased, only that God has forbidden me.”
II. Jacob’s Defence.
1. He challenges proof of his dishonesty. He asserts that there was no ground for these accusations. Nothing was found in his possession that he had wrongly taken. (Genesis 31:37).
2. He appeals to many many years of faithful and honest service. He had been scrupulous in his attention to every duty. Throughout his long service he had maintained a high sense of justice, and had even suffered loss himself rather than run the risk of committing a wrong, (Genesis 31:38-39). He had led a hard and trying life. (Genesis 31:40). And all this was the more praiseworthy, as it was for a bad and unthankful master. Jacob, in truth, owed nothing to Laban. He had fairly earned all that he had received. He had served Laban for twenty years, fourteen years of these for his two daughters, and six for the cattle. And all this time Laban had treated him with manifest injustice, changing his wages as often as he had the chance. (Genesis 31:41). And only for the special favour of God, Jacob would have nothing, even now. (Genesis 31:42). He could appeal to the fact that God was on his side, who had seen his affliction and rebuked his oppressor. (Genesis 31:42).
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 31:22-23. He heard of it no earlier on account of the distance that intervened between his flocks and Jacob’s (compare ch. Genesis 30:36 with ch. Genesis 31:19). But no sooner does he hear of his son-in-law’s abrupt departure, than he collects a sufficient force from among his kinsmen and adherents, and sets out in hot pursuit of him. It is easy to see from this with what reception a formal request or proposal to be dismissed from his service that he might return to Canaan would have met at the hand of Laban. The patriarch was no doubt fully satisfied in his own mind that he must leave his employer clandestinely if he left him at all.—(Bush).
Genesis 31:24. Such communications were anciently made to man independently of their moral character. The Divine influence, which makes known the will of God, or the coming events of His providence, is entirely different from that which is put forth in the renewal of men’s characters, and making them heirs of eternal life. Accordingly, we find such men as Abimelech, Laban, Balaam, and Nebuchadnezzar, made on particular occasions, and for particular purposes, the recipients of Divine revelations.—(Bush).
Genesis 31:25. Seeing Laban so near, he set himself in as good order as he could, fearing the worst. But God was better to him than his fears. He spake for him, and so He can and doth oft for us in the hearts of our enemies. (Isaiah 41:9; Isaiah 41:9.)—(Trapp.)
Genesis 31:26. Part of this accusation was unjust. The daughters of Laban had gone, of their own free will, with Jacob, and he had a right to take them with him.
The unjust and the oppressive are the most forward to question sharply the conduct of others.
Genesis 31:27. The Easterns used to set out, at least on their long journeys, with music and valedictory songs. If we consider them, as they probably were, used not on common, but more solemn occasions, there appears peculiar propriety in the complaint of Laban.—(Harmer.)
Genesis 31:28. His words are obviously full of hypocrisy and cant. However he may talk about his children and grandchildren, that which lay nearest his heart was the substance which Jacob had taken with him, and which he, no doubt, meant in some way to recover. But he acts the part of thousands, who, when galled by an evil conscience, endeavour to ease themselves of its reproaches by transferring the blame from themselves to the persons they have wronged.—(Bush.)
Genesis 31:29. Truth will in the end make itself to appear, whatever may have been the disguises in which it was wrapped. Laban here virtually acknowledges the violent purpose with which he had undertaken the pursuit; but in the same breath he would fain make a merit of abstaining from the harm which he meditated. He would impress Jacob that he acted very religiously in paying so much deference to the warning voice of Jacob’s God. Thus do men sometimes vainly magnify as a virtue that which is imposed upon them through sheer necessity.—(Bush.)
Genesis 31:30. Goodly gods that could not save themselves from the thief. (Jeremiah 10:5; Jeremiah 10:11; Jeremiah 10:15.) Joseph suffered as a dishonest person; Elisha, as a troubler of the State; Jeremiah, as a traitor; Luther, as the trumpet of rebellion.—(Trapp.)
It must have gone sore against the heart of Jacob when he found that he was accused of stealing idols which he abhorred as an abomination.
Genesis 31:31-32. With respect to the reiterated complaints of the secrecy of his departure, Jacob answers all in a few words. It was, “because I was afraid,” etc. This was admitting his power, but impeaching his justice; and as he had dwelt only upon the taking away of his daughters, so Jacob in answer confines himself to them. With respect to the goods, his answer is expressive of the strongest indignation. He will not deign to disown the charge; but desires that all his company might be searched. It was worthy of an upright man to feel indignant at the charge of stealing, and of a servant of God at that of stealing idols. But unless he had been as well assured of the innocence of all about him, as he was of his own, he ought not to have spoken as he did. His words might have proved a sorer trial to him than he was aware of.—(Fuller.)
It is wise not to be too confident in the goodness of those connected with us. Hasty speech may work much woe. How sorry would Jacob have been if Laban had found the images under Rachel, and taken him at his word! What a snare befel Jephthah by his rash speaking! Let, therefore, thy words be few, true, and ponderous.—(Trapp.)
Genesis 31:33-34. Kitto thinks that it was under the common pack-saddle of the camel, which is high, and shaped so as to suit the ridge of the camel’s back; and that under this, or among the shawls, cloaks and rugs which are used to make the saddle easy for women, the teraphim were concealed. There was room enough under this for the small teraphim, or busts of human form, and Rachel, cunning as ever, did not lack a device and pretence to give her success. Laban could not think that in such circumstances she would sit upon his gods.—(Jacobus.)
Jacob finds himself pursued, accused, and searched. How painful to a man conscious of innocence! How little confidence Laban had in his veracity!
Genesis 31:35. This apology was very necessary according to existing usages and feelings in the East, which inculcate the greatest external deference on the part of the children towards their parents. In Quintus Curtius, Alexander is represented as saying to the queen mother of Persia, “Understanding that it is in Persia considered a great offence for a son to be seated in the presence of his mother unless by her permission, I have always in my visits to you remained standing till you authorised me to sit.”—(Bush.)
Genesis 31:36. A righteous man may feel unjust imputations keenly, and defend himself with the warmth and courage inspired by conscious innocence. The difficulty is to keep the storm, even of a noble passion, from stirring up evil. (Ephesians 4:26.)
Jacob now takes greater boldness, grows indignant, and retorts upon Laban with the sharpest crimination. He demands now the cause of such hot pursuit, and the ground of such severe accusations, which he could not at all prove. Little did Jacob dream of what Rachel had done, and of how the search might have turned the tables against him to the triumph of Laban. He had better not have been quite so sure of the innocence of all his family. Alas! he thinks they could do no such wrong; but he should rather not so freely offer the wrong-doer’s life as a forfeit.—(Jacobus.)
Genesis 31:37. See the confidence of a clear conscience! Happy is he that can be acquitted by himself in private; in public by others; in both by God.—(Trapp.)
Genesis 31:38. Jacob’s fidelity in this respect will appear more striking when contrasted with the opposite conduct of shepherds, whose neglected duties and abused functions are so graphically portrayed by the prophet. (Ezekiel 34:1-5.)—(Bush.)
Genesis 31:39-41. When one can show that he has been faithful, upright, and diligent in his office, he can stand up with a clear conscience and assert his innocence. A good conscience and a gracious God gives one boldness and consolation.—(Lange.)
In many parts of Asia very severe and even frosty nights are, even in winter, succeeded by very warm days; and it may be said, indeed, that the only experience of what we should call winter weather which the inhabitants obtain, is exclusively during the night-time. (Pictorial Bible.) Mr. Bruce, the Abyssinian traveller, lost all his camels by the cold in one night in the deserts of Senaar; and Volney relates an affecting story of a hapless wanderer who was like Jacob frozen by the north wind at night, and burnt by the dreadful heat of the sun by day. (Jeremiah 36:30.)—(Bush.)
Genesis 31:42. Laban had made a merit of obeying the dream, but Jacob shows that this Divine visitation was in itself an evidence of his evil designs. God intended thereby to rebuke him, and thus to plead the cause of the injured.
God is the perpetual and sure portion of His departed saints, and an object of holy fear to His saints on earth.
Genesis 31:47. And Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha; but Jacob called it Galeed.] “It is remarkable that in giving these names Laban chooses the Chaldee, Jacob the Hebrew, for the same meaning, the heap of witness.” (Alford.)—“These words are the oldest testimony that in Mesopotamia, the mother country of the Patriarchs, Aramaic or Chaldee was spoken; while in Canaan, the country of Jacob’s birth, Hebrew was the vernacular. And hence we may conclude that Abraham’s family had adopted the Hebrew from the Canaanites (i.e., the Phœnicians.)” (Keil.)—
Genesis 31:49. Mizpah.] A watch-tower or beacon. “The pile of stones was to be not only a memorial but a sort of look out—when they should be absent from each other—keeping watch upon each of them for their fidelity.” (Jacobus.) There were several places bearing this name in Palestine. (1 Samuel 7:5-16; Joshua 15:28; Joshua 11:3-8.)—
Genesis 31:53. The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge betwixt us. And Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac.] “Laban calls to witness the Gods (the verb is in the plural in the original) of Abraham and Nahor and their father Terah; but Jacob swears only by the true God, Him whom Isaac, his father, feared.” (Alford.)
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 31:43-55
LABAN’S COVENANT WITH JACOB
Laban himself proposes this covenant, and imparts to it the sanctions of religion (Genesis 31:49-53). But—
I. It was forced upon him by circumstances. This was no expression of a friendship which needed not an outward sign, but was rather an expedient to save further trouble. It was wrung from Laban by the hard necessity of his position. He had been in a great rage against Jacob, but now his temper is cooled. The circumstances which tamed his spirit, and brought him to a better mind were these:—
1. His long journey in pursuit of Jacob. He pursued after him seven days’ journey (Genesis 31:23). Physical toil, the continued strain of anxiety, the proved impossibility of inflicting vengeance,—all these tend to cool passion.
2. The Divine warning. God had appeared to Laban charging him that he should do no violence to Jacob (Genesis 31:29). This warning was really of the nature of a rebuke (Genesis 31:42).
3. His failure to criminate Jacob. He had charged Jacob with theft, and after a fruitless search, was mortified at finding no evidence of crime.
4. The overwhelming force of Jacob’s self-defence (Genesis 31:36-42). Jacob recites the evidence of his faithful and laborious service for twenty years, and the facts to which he appealed could not be gainsaid. The truth of his reproaches against Laban was but too evident.
II. It showed an imperfect sense of religious duty and obligation. When it comes to the point, Laban cannot find it in his heart to do anything against his own flesh and blood. (Genesis 31:43.) The natural feelings of a father prevail. Laban and Jacob enter into a covenant. They set up a heap and call it Mizpah; “for he said, the Lord watch between me and thee when we are absent one from another” (Genesis 31:49.) But
1. The natural love of kindred may exist apart from piety. The social affections are beautiful in themselves, but they may be exercised by those who have very imperfect notions of religion, or who even set it aside altogether.
2. The forms of religion may be used with but an imperfect recognition of their real significance. The setting up of this pillar, and the pious motto attached to it, seemed to indicate a most sacred friendship and a solemn regard to the realities of religion. The all-pervading presence and the power of God were recognised. God is regarded as One to whom men are ultimately accountable. But this transaction, though employing the sanctions of religion, shows but a very low apprehension of its nature. This heap was set up by enemies who called upon God to protect them, each from the encroachments of the other. They seemed to think that the chief work of the Almighty in this world was to make them happy, to guard their interests, to avenge their private wrongs. They think little of God’s glory, or of their own perfection in godliness. This is a mean and selfish view of religion.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 31:43. Laban wishes to adjust matters in the best way he can. He cannot help prefacing his wish, however, by another sample of vain boasting and affected generosity. He attempts no defence against the charge of having repeatedly altered the terms of contract with Jacob, nor will conscience allow him to deny his secret purpose of sending him away empty. But this strange mixture of avarice, cunning, and effrontery is not without its parallel in every age and country.—(Bush.)
Genesis 31:44. “A fool is full of words,” saith Solomon. Laban likewise talks a great deal here. A covenant he will have, a pillar he will have, a heap he will have; and that heap shall be a witness, and that pillar a witness, and God a witness, and a Judge too. There is no end of his discourse. The basest things are ever the most plentiful, so the least worth yields the most words.—(Trapp.)
Jacob makes no reply to Laban’s boasting, but lets it pass; and though he had felt so keenly and spoken so warmly, yet he consents to a covenant of peace. His resentment is under the control of his moral principle. He said nothing, but expressed his mind by actions.—(Bush.)
Genesis 31:46-47. Jegarsahadutha. Here is the first decided specimen of Aramaic, as contra-distinguished from Hebrew. Its incidental appearance indicates a fully formed dialect known to Jacob, and distinct from his own. Gilead, or Galeed remains to this day in Jebel Jel’ad, though the original spot was further north.—(Murphy.)
Genesis 31:48-49. The Lord takes cognisance of the conduct of men when they are absent one from another. The Most High is above all, and sees all.
The power of religion is extremely weak in our minds if the consideration of the all-seeing eye of Jehovah does not operate more strongly to restrain us from evil than the presence of the world of mortal men.—(Bush.)
Genesis 31:50. Men are sometimes so situated that they are thrown upon their personal honour and fidelity, having no outward compulsion to make them do what is right. The only firm support for such honour is the practical recognition of the presence of a just and holy God.
This sentiment shews that some knowledge of the true God was extensively prevalent at that early period, though in Laban’s case it did not avail to extinguish the relics of his idolatrous propensities. Like thousands of others, he “held the truth in unrighteousness.”—(Bush.)
Genesis 31:51-53. We are surprised to hear that a man who had been seven days in pursuit of certain stolen gods, speak so much, and in so solemn a manner about Jehovah: but wicked men will on some occasions utter excellent words. After all, he could not help manifesting his attachment to idolatry. When speaking to Jacob of Jehovah, he calls Him “the God of your father,” in a manner as if He was not his God. He does not appear to have invoked Jehovah as the only true God. It is very observable, that though he makes mention of “the God of Abraham,” yet it is in connection with “Nahor,” and their father, i.e. Terah: but when Abraham was with Nahor and Terah, they were idolaters. (Joshua 24:2). “The God of Abraham, and Nahor, and Terah,” were words capable of very ill construction. Nor does Jacob appear to be ignorant of Laban’s design in thus referring to their early ancestors; and therefore, that he might bear an unequivocal testimony against all idolatry, even that of Abraham in his younger years, he would swear only by “the fear of his father Isaac,” who had never worshipped any other than the true God. It were worth while for those who plead for antiquity as a mark of the true Church to consider that herein they follow the example of Laban, and not of Jacob.—(Fuller.)
Genesis 31:54-55. Laban had professed his regret that he had not an opportunity to enjoy a day of feasting and of mirth at parting with his children. Such a parting would hardly have been seemly, even in a family which had no fear of God before their eyes. Jacob, however, makes a religious feast previous to the departure of his father-in-law. “He offered sacrifices upon the Mount Galeed.” Laban departed, and this parting proved final. We hear no more of Laban, nor of the family of Nahor. They might, for several ages retain some knowledge of Jehovah; but mixing with it the superstitions of the country, they would in the end sink into gross idolatry, and be lost among the heathen.—(Fuller.)
Laban imitated the corruptions of his ancestors, some of whom were good men and had knowledge of the true God. His descendants followed his example unto greater corruption, until the knowledge of God was, at length, lost. This religious degeneration is often seen in families and nations.