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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 31

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 2265. B.C. 1739.

Jacob was, in general, a man of devotion and integrity; yet he had more trouble than any of the patriarchs. Here is,

( 1,) His resolution to return, Genesis 31:1-16 .

(2,) His clandestine departure, Genesis 31:17-21 .

(3,) Laban’s pursuit of him in displeasure, Genesis 31:22-25 .

(4,) The hot words that passed between them, Genesis 31:26-42 .

(5,) Their amicable agreement at last, Genesis 31:43-55 .

Verse 1

Genesis 31:1. He heard the words of Laban’s sons For it seems they spoke them in Jacob’s hearing. The last chapter began with Rachel’s envying Leah; this begins with Laban’s sons envying Jacob. Hath taken away all that was our father’s Not all, sure: what was become of those cattle which were committed to the custody of Laban’s sons, and sent three days’ journey off? He has gotten all this glory And what was this glory? It was a parcel of brown sheep, and speckled goats, and some camels and asses. But they meant wealth, which the possessors usually glory in, and whereby they gain much esteem from others.

Verses 3-4

Genesis 31:3-4 . The Lord said unto Jacob, Return God, who orders all things aright, having blessed Jacob with greater substance in the house of Laban than he could have obtained in his father’s house, without great inconveniences, perhaps irreconcilable, fatal hatred between him and his brother Esau, now orders him to return. For, though Jacob had met with very hard usage, yet he would not quit his place till God bid him. The direction he had from Heaven is more fully related to his wives afterward. Unto the land of thy fathers Not which was properly theirs, but only that in which they had sojourned, and which was promised to them in their seed. And, as Jacob was an inheritor of the promise, it was proper that he should sojourn in the land, to keep alive the hopes of it in his posterity. Jacob sent for Rachel and Leah to the field That he might discourse with them more privately.

Verses 7-8

Genesis 31:7-8 . Hath changed my wages ten times That is, oft-times, as is often the signification of the number ten. It appears that Laban, through envy and covetousness, often broke his agreement made with Jacob, and altered it as he thought fit, and that Jacob patiently yielded to all such changes Then all the cattle bare speckled This seems to put it out of doubt, that, as Jacob says in the following verse, it was indeed God who ordered this matter; for it can scarcely be supposed that any natural causes whatever, without his peculiar providence, could produce so many different changes in a thing of this nature, without once failing.

Verse 9

Genesis 31:9. God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me Thus the righteous God paid Jacob for his hard service out of Laban’s estate, as he afterward paid the seed of Jacob for the service of the Egyptians with the spoils of that people.

Verses 11-13

Genesis 31:11-13 . The angel of the Lord spake, I am the God of Beth-el This, no doubt, was the Word, or Son of God, who now condescended to be the angel or messenger of the Father to Jacob, and yet styles himself the God of Beth-el. Thus was Jacob reminded of Beth-el, and of the promises made to him there, by the same divine person, who now again appeared to him in a dream, to his great comfort.

Verse 12

Genesis 31:12. I have seen all that Laban doeth to thee If we attend to this vision we cannot but see reason to conclude that it was really communicated to Jacob at this time to make use of the speckled rods; for here is a plain declaration that God would effect the thing, and the reason why; because he had seen Laban’s ungenerous and unfair dealing toward Jacob, and therefore was resolved to punish him for it, and at the same time reward Jacob for his fidelity and contentedness under these injuries.

Verses 14-15

Genesis 31:14-15 . Is there any portion Any hope of benefit; for us in our father’s house? They both agree in acknowledging that his behaviour had been extremely ungenerous and sordid, even to them, his own children. Are we not counted of him strangers? Dealt with as strangers, rather than children: for he hath sold us To thee for fourteen years’ service. And hath quite devoured (wholly converted to his own use) our money That which in equity was due to us for our portions, and for our husband’s service. Whereas Jacob looked upon the wealth which God had transferred from Laban to him as his wages, they look upon it as their portions; so that, both ways, God forced Laban to pay his debts, both to his servant and to his daughters.

Verse 19

Genesis 31:19. Laban went to shear his sheep That part of his flock which was in the hands of his sons, three days’ journey off. Now, 1st, It is certain it was lawful for Jacob to leave his service suddenly: it was not only justified by the particular instructions God gave him, but warranted by the fundamental law of self-preservation, which directs us, when we are in danger, to shift for our own safety, as far as we can do it without wronging our consciences. 2d, It was his prudence to steal away unawares to Laban, lest if Laban had known, he should have hindered him, or plundered him. 3d, It was honestly done to take no more than his own with him, the cattle of his getting. He took what Providence gave him, and would not take the repair of his damages into his own hands. Yet Rachel was not so honest as her husband; she stole her father’s images, and carried them away. The Hebrew calls them teraphim. Some think they were only little representations of the ancestors of the family in statue or picture, which Rachel had a particular fondness for, and was desirous to have with her, now she was going into another country. It should rather seem they were images for a religious use, penates, household gods, either worshipped, or consulted as oracles; and we are willing to hope that she took them away, not out of covetousness, much less for her own use, or out of any superstitions fear, lest Laban, by consulting his teraphim, might know which way they were gone; but with a design to convince her father of the folly of his regard to those as gods which could not secure themselves.

Verse 23

Genesis 31:23. He took his brethren That is, his relations, and pursues Jacob to bring him back into bondage, or to strip him of what he had. They overtook him in the mount Gilead This mount was about two hundred and fifty miles from Haran; so that Jacob travelled twenty-five miles each day, and Laban, in pursuing him, thirty-seven.

Verse 24

Genesis 31:24. Speak not to Jacob either good or bad The Hebrew is, from good to bad That is, enter into no altercations, and use no harsh language with him, which may occasion a quarrel. Say nothing against his going on with his journey, for the thing proceedeth from the Lord. The same Hebraism we have, Genesis 24:50. The safety of good men is very much owing to the hold God has on the consciences of bad men, and the access he has to them.

Verse 27

Genesis 31:27. I might have sent thee away with mirth and with songs Not as Rebekah was sent away out of the same family above one hundred and twenty years before, with prayers and blessings, but with sport and merriment; which was a sign that religion was much decayed in the family.

Verse 29

Genesis 31:29. The God of your fathers spake to me yesterday We find here that Laban, whatever his disposition was, and how great soever his anger, paid regard to the heavenly vision. For though he supposed that he had both right and strength on his side, either to revenge the wrong or recover the right, yet he owns himself under the restraint of God’s power; he durst not injure one whom he saw to be the particular care of Heaven. It seems probable that God, who can change the heart in a moment, effected a sudden alteration in his disposition toward Jacob.

Verse 30

Genesis 31:30. Wherefore hast thou stolen my gods? Foolish man! to call those his gods that could be stolen! Could he expect protection from them that could neither resist nor discover their invaders? Happy are they who have the Lord for their God. Enemies may steal our goods, but not our God.

Verses 31-32

Genesis 31:31-32 . Jacob clears himself by giving the true reason why he went away unknown to Laban; he feared lest Laban should by force take away his daughters, and so oblige him to continue in his service. As to the charge of stealing Laban’s gods, he pleads not guilty. He not only did not take them himself, but he did not know that they were taken. Let him not live This was rashly said, and might have produced fatal effects.

Verses 39-40

Genesis 31:39-40 . That which was torn I brought not unto thee What Jacob here affirms, and for the truth of which he appeals to Laban, shows him to have been of a very industrious and faithful disposition, and that Laban’s temper was exceedingly selfish and sordid: for though Jacob was his relation, and his substance had increased so greatly under his hand, yet he was very rigid toward him, and required him to make good all the cattle that were lost, by whatever accident it happened. In the day the drought consumed me “In Europe,” says Sir John Chardin, quoted by Harmer, vol. 1. p. 74, “the days and nights resemble each other, with respect to the qualities of heat and cold; but it is quite otherwise in the East. In the lower Asia, in particular, the day is always hot, and, as soon as the sun is fifteen degrees above the horizon, no cold is felt in the depth of winter itself. On the contrary, in the height of summer, the nights are as cold as at Paris in the month of March. It is for this reason that in Persia and Turkey they always make use of furred habits in the country, such only being sufficient to resist the cold of the nights.”

Verse 42

Genesis 31:42. Except God had been with me Jacob, on every mention of his substance, attributes all the increase of it to the care that God had of him. And he here speaks of God, as the God of his father, intimating, that he thought himself unworthy to be thus regarded, but was beloved for his father’s sake. He calls him the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac: for Abraham was dead, and gone to that world where there is no fear; but Isaac was yet alive, sanctifying the Lord in his heart as his fear and his dread.

Verses 43-44

Genesis 31:43-44 . All is mine That is, came by me. Let us make a covenant It was made and ratified with great solemnity, according to the usages of those times. 1st, A pillar was erected, a heap of stones raised to perpetuate the memory of the thing, writing being then not known. 2d, A sacrifice was offered, a sacrifice of peace-offerings. 3d, They ate bread together, jointly partaking of the feast upon the sacrifice. This was in token of a hearty reconciliation. Covenants of friendship were anciently ratified by the parties eating and drinking together.

Verses 47-53

Genesis 31:47-53 . But Jacob called it Galeed The name Laban gave it signifies the heap of witness, in the Syrian tongue, which he used, and Galeed signifies the same in Hebrew, the language which Jacob used. It appears that the name which Jacob gave it remained to it, and not the name which Laban gave it. And Mizpah (Genesis 31:49,) This name in Hebrew signifies a watchtower. And they agreed to give it this second name to remind them and their posterity of the solemn appeal they had now mutually made to the all-seeing eye of God, whose providence watches over the actions of mankind, rewarding sincerity and punishing deceitfulness. They appeal to him, 1st, As a witness, The Lord judge between thee and me That is, the Lord take cognizance of every thing that shall be done on either side in violation of this league. 2d, As a judge. The God of Abraham, (Genesis 31:53,) from whom Jacob was descended; and the God of Nahor Laban’s progenitor; the God of their father From whom they were both descended; judge betwixt us. God’s relation to them is thus expressed, to intimate that they worshipped one and the same God, upon which consideration there ought to be no enmity betwixt them. Those that have one God, should have one heart: God is judge between contending parties, and he will judge righteously. Whoever does wrong, it is at his peril. Jacob sware by the Fear of his father Isaac The God whom his father Isaac feared, who had never served other gods, as Abraham and Nahor had done: to this only living and true God he offered a sacrifice, (Genesis 31:54,) in gratitude for the peace he had obtained with Laban.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 31". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/genesis-31.html. 1857.
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