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Saturday, July 13th, 2024
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 31

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-12

Genesis 31:1-12

And the Lord said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers

Jacob’s departure for Canaan






The stirring-up of the nest

Jacob was becoming too contented in that strange land. Like Ulysses and his crews, he was in danger of forgetting the land of his birth; the tents of his father; and the promises of which he was the heir. He was fast losing the pilgrim-spirit, and settled into a citizen of that far country. His mean and crafty arts to increase his wealth were honeycombing his spirit, and eating out his nobler nature, prostituting it to the meanest ends. His wives, infected with the idolatry of their father’s house, were in danger of corrupting the minds of his children; and how then would fare the holy seed, destined to give the world the messages of God? It was evident that his nest must be broken up in Haran; that he must be driven back into the pilgrim-life--to become a stranger and a sojourner, as his fathers were. And this was another step nearer the moment when he became an Israel, a prince with God.

THE SUMMONS TO DEPART. Whether there was voice audible to the outward ear I cannot tell; but there was certainly the uprising of a strong impulse within his heart. Sometimes on a sultry summer day we suddenly feel the breeze fanning our faces, and we say that the wind is rising; but we know not whence it comes, or whither it goes: so does the Spirit of God frequently visit us with strong and holy impulses. There is a Divine restlessness; a noble discontent; a hunger created in the heart, which will not be satisfied with the husks on which the swine feed. We cannot always understand ourselves; but it is the Lord saying to us, Arise and depart; for this is not your rest.

THE TENACITY OF CIRCUMSTANCES. When the pilgrim-spirit essays to obey the voice of God, the house is always filled with neighbours to dissuade from the rash resolve. “As Christian ran, some mocked; others threatened; and some cried after him to return.” There was something of this in Jacob’s case. The bird-lime clung closely to him, as he began to plume his wings for his homeward flight. He was evidently afraid that his wives would hinder his return. It would have been natural if they had. Was it likely that they would at once consent to his proposal to tear them from their kindred and land? This fear may have greatly hindered Jacob. He at least thought it necessary to fortify himself with a quiverful of arguments, in order to carry his point. In those arguments we catch another glimpse of his cowardly and crafty nature. They are a strange medley of lies and cant and truth. He might have saved himself from all this, if he had only trusted God to roll away the stones from the path of obedience. For God had been at work before him; and had prepared their hearts, so that they at once assented to his plan, saying: “We have no further ties to home; now then, whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do?” If we would only go forward in simple obedience, we should find that there would be no need for our diplomacy; He would go before us, making the crooked straight, and the rough smooth. In the endeavours of Laban to retain Jacob, we have a vivid picture of the eager energy with which the world would retain us, when we are about to turn away from it for ever. It pursues us, with all its allies, for seven days and more (Genesis 31:23). It asks us why we are not content to abide with it (Genesis 31:27). It professes its willingness to make our religion palatable, by mingling with it its own tabret and dance (Genesis 31:27). It appeals to our feelings, and asks us not to be too cruel (Genesis 31:28). It threatens us (Genesis 31:29). It jeers us with our sudden compunction, after so many years of contentment with its company (Genesis 31:30). It reproaches us with our inconsistency in making so much of our God, and yet harbouring some cunning sin. “Wherefore hast thou stolen my gods?” (Genesis 31:30). All, friends, how sad it is, when we, who profess so much, give occasion to our foes to sneer, because of the secret idols which they know we carry with us!

THE DIVINE CARE. Well might Jacob have thrilled with joy, as he said to his wives, “The God of my father has been with me.” When God is for us, and with us, who can be against us? Blessed is he who is environed by God, and for whom God fights. He must be more than a conqueror. So Jacob found it; and, at the end of his encounter with Laban, he was able to repeat his assurance, that the God of his father had been with him (Genesis 31:42). (F. B.Meyer, B. A.)

Jacob and Laban


1. God’s revelations of Himself, of His love and purposes, are incentives to action and encouragements to duty.

2. Notice the similarity and difference between Eliezer’s arrival at Haran and reception by Laban, and Jacob’s.

(1) Both met the object of their quest as well.

(2) Laban welcomed Eliezer because of his presents, and sent Rebekah away with him. He welcomed Jacob as a kinsman, but, with keen foresight that he should not be a loser, practically enslaved the heir of Isaac.


1. Even a wise custom is no justification of untruth or deceit (Genesis 29:26).

2. There is a law of retribution and of compensation in life. Jacob’s love for Rachel sweetened his servitude.

3. The danger of taking narrow views of life.

4. Faith is proved by patience rather than by retaliation (Genesis 30:37-43).

5. The faithfulness of God is irrespective of man’s desert.


1. Mutual distrust produces estrangement.

2. Suspicion leads to angry accusation and recrimination.

3. The use and misuse of solemn words (Genesis 31:47-48). (A. F.Joscelyne, B. A.)


1. Prosperity usually draweth on envy to the best of men.

2. It is no rare thing that the saints of God should hear ill of evil men for their best doings.

3. Slanderous tongues are usually to be found in the houses of the wicked.

4. Children are the natural heirs of parents’ corruptions; Laban’s sons have Laban’s heart.

5. Covetousness is discontented at any good that passeth unto others.

6. Heat of wicked youth is apt to break forth into railing upon the most upright.

7. Covetous, envious spirits transfer the blessing of God on His to base reproaches (Genesis 31:1)

8. Old subtle sinners keep their tongues and vent their hatred in their looks.

9. As God changeth His providences from one to another, so the wicked change their carriages.

10. It is Christian prudence to observe the discontented and angry faces of wicked rulers.

11. Carnal respects from the wicked to the righteous are but momentary (Genesis 31:2).

12. God sometimes useth the unjust carriages of wicked men to move His saints unto respect of Him.

13. God calleth His saints at last in His set time out of bondage to the wicked.

14. God’s call alone warrants souls as to leaving of their stations.

15. God’s gracious presence is ever with them, who are obedient to His call (Genesis 31:3). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. God’s call will put men upon honest endeavours to accomplish it.

2. It beseems godly husbands to communicate God’s will to their wives about household affairs.

3. Prudence imparts counsel in fittest places.

4. Sedulity in men’s calling will not suffer them to lose time (Genesis 31:4). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. Just occasions of moving place may be urged by husbands to wives for their concurrence to and comfort in it.

2. Real and undeserved disrespects from men are justly to be complained of, though fathers.

3. The gracious presence of God with His innocent ones is enough to counterpoise the frowns of men.

4. It is rational to leave fathers with their unjust frowns, and follow God with His smiles (Genesis 31:5). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. No fraud, lying, or deceit, come amiss to covetous worldly spirits for their own ends.

2. Multiplied falsehoods and oppressions are usual with wicked men, to oppress the innocent and to help themselves.

3. The greatest service is of no account with wicked worldly men.

4. Safe are those faithful ones who are taken into God’s charge.

5. Men may invent many ways to hurt the righteous, but God giveth them not up to their hand (Genesis 31:7).

6. God’s power and justice turneth the very purposes of the wicked to His saints’ good and their evil.

7. The subtlety of man can never prevent the power and wisdom of God (Genesis 31:8). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. Providence orders the best seasons of comforting His servants against their fears.

2. Saints must take their comforts in the way wherein God will impart them. In dreams, if God will.

3. The saints have real proof of God’s care of them, and goodness in suiting to them their consolations (Genesis 31:10).

4. God alone is the comforter of His people.

5. God calls by name to poor souls, in application of comfort, to prepare them thereunto.

6. God’s servants answer at His call to receive His consolations (Genesis 31:11).

7. God showeth His afflicted ones the way of His consolations for their support.

8. God’s observation of the oppressions of men cannot but stir Him up to work His saints’ relief (Genesis 31:12). (G. Hughes, B. D. )

Verse 13

Genesis 31:13

I am the God of Bethel

The God of Bethel


THE GOD OF BETHED IS A GOD OF PROVIDENCE, of a special gracious Providence towards His people; and of this as exercised through a Mediator, by the ministry of angels.

1. He is the God of Providence, extending to all the creatures He has made. God did not make the world, and then leave it, confining Himself to heaven, as some would have Him. Though His throne be above, His kingdom ruleth over all. He is no unconcerned spectator of what is done; but like a skilful pilot sits at the helm, and steers the world to what course it shall move. His providence is often mysterious, but nevertheless real and universal.

2. God exercises a special gracious providence about His servants. God has a regard to all the works of His hands; but it is spoken with an emphasis, “Behold the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear Him, upon them that hope in His mercy.” Upon every one of this number His eye is fixed with satisfaction and delight.

3. God employs His angels as the ministers of His providence in the world, particularly as to His people. Not that God needs the agency of any of His creatures, but for the honour of His majesty He is pleased to use them.

THE GOD OF BETHEL IS THE GOD OF PROMISE. And as it is here declared by Himself, I am the God of Bethel, it plainly denotes--

1. That He takes delight in the promises He hath made to His people, and the covenant engagements in which He stands to them.

2. These words, “I am the God of Bethel,” being spoken twenty years after the promises and appearances there, were first made, God intimated by them, that He was the same now as heretofore; as able to guide and guard, as formerly.

3. God proclaims this to tell His servant that all the mercies he enjoyed came from His hand and love, as his God in covenant; and that under this notion, he was still to look to Him for all he should further need.

At Bethel Jacob vowed a vow, which was in confirmation of his covenant with God: and so God’s styling Himself the God of Bethel denotes in general that HE TAKES SPECIAL NOTICE OF THE SOLEMN TRANSACTIONS OF HIS SERVANTS, what promises and vows they make to Him and where. Particularly He is the God of Bethel, i.e., of His house, of every place appointed for His worship, as observing who there vow and dedicate themselves to Him, and who do not; in what manner any vow unto Him, whether in truth and with the heart, or deceitfully and with guile. God cannot be ignorant of what is done, and where; but He would be considered as particularly observing what passes at Bethel, i.e., in His hoarse, and at His table there, now under these New Testament ages.

1. God takes notice who tarries away from His house that ought to be there; and He takes notice too, in what dress every individual comes thither.

2. God is the God of Bethel, as approving His people’s dedicating themselves by vow, in confirmation of their covenant to Him. This is their reasonable service, and what His promises and grace should readily lead them to.

3. God is the God of Bethel, as He is ready to reward His servants who make conscience of keeping their engagements, and walk in a sense of the vows of God upon their souls.

And now as THE USE of all.

1. How desirable is a special relation to the God of Bethel, as the God of Providence, and of this as in a peculiar manner exercised about His people.

2. As the God of Bethel is ever mindful of His promises, His people can never want encouragement to come to His throne of grace.

3. Does God style Himself the God of Bethel, as denoting His strict observance of what passes in His house? What seriousness becomes us in all religious duties and services, or when, in a way of worship, we have to do with God?

4. Is the God of Bethel to be conceived of, as a witness to all our solemn transactions and engagements? how great must be the sin and folly of being formal and insincere in vowing to the Lord, or in pretending, either to enter into or confirm our covenant with Him, when leaving our hearts behind?

5. Does God as the God of Bethel remember the vows there made, with what confusion will they appear before Him who have omitted to perform their promises? (D. Wilson.)

The God of Bethel

I am the God of Bethel! 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. The God of Bethel was the God of his fathers, Abraham and Isaac; the God who had entered into covenant with the former, had renewed it with the latter, and again renewed it with him. What satisfaction must it afford, to be directed by such a God! (A. Fuller.)

God’s reminders

“I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and vowedst a vow unto Me.” It is not only necessary that we be reminded of God’s promises for our support in troubles, but of our own solemn engagements, that the same affections which distinguished the best seasons of our life may be renewed, and that in all our movements we may keep in view the end for which we live. The object of the vow was, that Jehovah should be his God: and whenever he should return, that 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. (A. Fuller.)


1. God sets Himself out to His saints distinctly and eminently from the misconceits of Him by nations.

2. God is the God of Bethel to His Jacobs, of sweet providences and precious promises to His saints.

3. God’s providence and promise may justly cause souls to dedicate and vow themselves to Him.

4. Souls devoting of themselves to God, engageth them to follow Him at this call.

5. God is forced to put His saints in mind of their engagement sometimes before they think of 2:6. God’s call alone is the just ground of the egress and regress of His servants, for blessing, and with 2:7. God will surely call in His set time to His saints for their returning to the place of rest.

8. Preparation and execution to go where God calleth, is due from saints to the call of God (Genesis 2:13). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

The God of Bethel

Does not that mean, first, that our God is the God of our early mercies 2 Bethel was to Jacob the place of early mercy. Let us look back upon our early mercies. Did they not come to us, as they did to him, unsought and unexpected, and when, perhaps, we were unprepared for them?

Does it not mean, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ? What is “Beth-el” but “the house of God.” And the house of God, the true Bethel, is the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, for “In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”

Still further let us remember that this God of Bethel is the God of angels. We do not often say much about those mysterious beings, for it is but little that we know of them. This, however, we know--that angels are set by God to be the watchers over His people. We shall not come to harm if we put our trust in God. “I will lay me down to sleep, for Thou makest me to dwell in safety.” These angels were also messengers. “Are they not all ministering spirits? “ and are they not sent with messages from God? Moreover, they are our protectors. God employs them to bear us up in their hands, lest at any time we dash our foot against a stone. We do not see them, but unseen agencies are probably the strongest agencies in the world.

Notice, once more, that the God of Bethel is the God of our vows. (C. H.Spurgeon.)

Verse 14

Genesis 31:14

Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house

Inheritance for us

So asked Rachel and Leah of Jacob.

And we see how suggestive these historical touches in Old Testament story are, when vitalized by the spirit of the gospel. We think at once of the Saviour, who is the open door to the great Father’s house. There are multitudes who have lost their portions, and some are very sad and weary. Prodigal meets prodigal, and recounts the story of the painful way. Ruins always touch us with sadness; and “human hearts get ruinous in so much less time than stone walls do!”

THE CRY IS PERSONAL. Men do not ask, “Is there hope for the lost--the profligate, the vile?” but, “Is there hope for me?” The soldier lying wounded in the battle-field thinks of the home harvest-fields far away, and the soul amid its wounds and woes whispers, “I will arise and go to my Father. There is a home-returning way for me!”

THE CRY IS ANXIOUS. “Is there yet?” Once the soul was ready to surmise there might be! But is there now? when sin has consolidated into habit, when the door has been shut so often in the marred face of the Man of Sorrows! “My sin is ever before me,” is the great cry of conscience. We sympathize with human anxiety. We watch with moistened eyes the widow who asks, “Is there yet a table in the wilderness for me and my little ones?” In reply to the “yet,” let us answer, “Though thy sins be as scarlet, He shall make them white as wool”; “He shall blot out thy transgressions as a cloud, and thine iniquities as a thick cloud”; “He is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by Him.”

THE CRY IS CHILDLIKE. “My Father’s house!” For we are, in one sense, all of us God’s offspring. True, we have lost likeness to Him and peace with Him; and only by faith can we become the spiritual sons of God. But there is memory of the lost estate in every heart. Man was made for God, and He is the only home of the soul. God gave us our earthly homes and relationships, to be parables of that great central truth. No word thrills us like “home”; no picture on Academy walls touches us like Provis’s interiors. And this is natural. For let home be dark or deserted, let the dove of peace leave that, let those sweet sanctities be desecrated, and no outside joys, no travels, no pursuits can make compensation! And to know the value of a home, you must lose one.

THE CRY IS ANSWERED. Yes! in many parables, in many promises, in deeds of love and sacrifice. Faith leads all along the way, from justification to glory. But it were wrong to conceive of the inheritance as all future. Heaven does begin on earth, because the heavenly principles, purposes, and pleasures may be ours now. CONCLUSION. We close with the remembrance that there is welcome for us, room for us, reward for us. Have you ever stood outside a flower-show in the summer-time, and seen carriage after carriage drive up, with rustling silks and dazzling liveries and crested panels, pride and pomp entering in; and then caught the wistful face of a poor child at the gate, with another child in her arms, shut out from seeing God’s beautiful flowers? The poor, the blind, the maim, the halt, the prodigals of every type are welcome. What, does He want me? does He wait for me? has He asked for me? (W. M. Statham, M. A.)

A worldly-spirited reply

We have seen some things in the history of these women which have induced us to hope well of them, notwithstanding their many failings; but though in this case it was their duty to comply with the desire of their husband, and to own the hand of God in what had taken place between their father and him; yet there is something in their manner of expressing themselves that looks more like the spirit of the world, than the spirit which is of God. A right spirit would have taught them to remember that Laban, whatever was his conduct, was still their father. They might have felt it impossible to vindicate him; but they should not have expatiated on his faults in such a manner as to take pleasure in exposing them. Such conduct was but too much like that of Ham towards his father. And 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. The ease, however, with which all men can discern what is just and equitable towards themselves, renders the love of ourselves a proper standard for the love of others, and will sooner or later stop the mouth of every sinner. Even those who have no written revelation have this Divine law engraven on their consciences: they can judge with the nicest accuracy what is justice to them, and therefore cannot plead ignorance of what is justice from them to others. (A. Fuller.)


1. It becometh wives, especially in good families, to listen unto advice of husbands from God.

2. God can make them that disagree in a family sweetly to concur to do His work.

3. It is unnatural for children to find no portions in their father’s house, when they abound.

4. Such brands of cruelty are left upon unnatural fathers by the Spirit (Genesis 31:14).

5. It is cruel for fathers to use their children as slaves and make merchandize of them.

6. It is savage for parents to consume the substance of children for whom they should provide.

7. Such unnatural dealings, in God’s justice, alienate hearts of children from parents (Genesis 31:15).

8. It is fit to consider how God recompenseth cruelties of unnatural parents in depriving them of their children.

9. What God giveth to parents and children may be justly owned by them.

10. Good women will be free and helpful to their husbands to go and do whatever is the will of God unto them (Genesis 31:16). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Verses 17-21

Genesis 31:17-21

Then Jacob rose up.


1. Concurrence of all things with the call of God points out the time of man’s obedience to him.

2. He that hath God’s call for himself and others to any undertaking should prepare first for it.

3. It concerns husbands and fathers to provide for convenient motions of wives and children upon God’s call (Genesis 31:17).

4. Prudence teacheth men to order all their substance as motions rightly upon God’s call.

5. Justice will suffer no man to take anything but that which is his own.

6. Courage becometh God’s servants to break through all difficulties to follow God (Genesis 31:18) and go where He calleth them. (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. Providence finds work to call off such as would hinder obedience to His work from His servants.

2. Hard it is for souls bred up in superstition to be wholly taken off from it.

3. There may be a temptation upon children to rob parents, but it is grievous wickedness.

4. Hearts not purged will have their superstitions and means of will-worship, though they steal them.

5. God suffers such irregular practices in good families sometimes for the trial of His own (Genesis 31:19). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. Providence directs God’s servants to prudence for escaping the hands of wicked men at His call.

2. It is no iniquity, not to declare God’s call and way to such as would oppose them (Genesis 31:20).

3. Flight is not unbeseeming saints from under the hands of oppressors when God calleth to 2:4. Difficult passages God’s servants find sometimes in following God’s call.

5. No difficulties should discourage where God appears to warrant man’s motions.

6. Man’s face should be set to that mark which God points him out in his pilgrimage (Genesis 2:21). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. Providence ordereth tidings of His delivering His servants, to come to their enemies when they are not to be hindered by them (Job 5:12; Job 5:10).

2. Tidings of mercy to saints may come to the wicked soon enough to try them (Genesis 31:22). (G. Hughes, B. D. )

The Teraphim

Rachel stole the Teraphim, either, as has been advanced, because she wished to prevent Laban’s consulting them on the direction of their flight, or to secure their guardianship for a journey apparently fraught with difficulties and dangers. The value of the precious metal of which the idol might have been made was certainly a temptation subordinate to the superstitious motive. The example given by Jacob with regard to the worship of God, had manifestly exercised a greater influence upon Leah than upon Rachel; though both, therefore, acknowledged, in Jacob’s blessing, the will and favour of God, and urged him to follow the Divine directions (Genesis 31:16), Rachel continued to attach a high value to dumb images, and regarded herself safe only under the guardianship of her own gods. Our knowledge concerning the shape of the Teraphim is very limited. They resembled the form of man (1 Samuel 19:13), either consisting of the entire human body, or only of head and breast. They were made of various materials, and not unfrequently of silver, two hundred shekels of which were employed for one statue (Judges 17:4). Our information is more accurate respecting the use and nature of the Teraphim. But we must distinguish between the earlier and later history of the Hebrews. The origin of the Teraphim seems to have been in Mesopotamia or Chaldea, a supposition probable from our passage, and from a later allusion in which the Babylonian king is related to have consulted them (Ezekiel 21:26). Although no doubt comprised amongst the idols which Jacob is recorded to have removed in Shechem (Genesis 35:4), they long remained in favour among his descendants; and while the Hebrews were always conscious of their crime whenever they worshipped other gods, they do not seem to have regarded the adoration of the Teraphim as equally reproachful. On this point, the history of Micah is highly instructive (Judges 18:1-31.). It shows clearly, that the Teraphim were considered as tutelar deities, fully compatible with the homage solely due to the Lord; that they were used, by many, as oracles, like the Urim and Thummim, or like the Ark of the Covenant; and that they were deemed sacred and lawful, if but a descendant of Aaron performed the ministerial functions: they implied a transgression of the second, not of the first commandment. Thus we account for the fact, otherwise most strange, that the prophet Hosed enumerates the Teraphim among the boons of which the disobedient Israelites would be deprived (3:4); he threatens them with the dissolution of national and of family life; he predicts, that princes and sacrifices will disappear, and together with them their own domestic gods, the Teraphim, who, therefore, have there a political and social rather than a religious import. The prophet does not hesitate to mention them, because they were evidently in his time still considered as the mildest and most harmless form of idolatry. But gradually, when the pure doctrines of Mosaism began to be enforced with greater rigour, the Teraphim were naturally included among the objects of religious aversion; even the author of the Book of Judges, who wrote in the latest times of the monarchy (Judges 18:30), inserted in his truthful narrative a remark of disapproval: “in those days there was no king in Israel, every one did what was right in his own eyes” (17:6); when king Josiah established the strict worship of monotheism, he destroyed among the other idols, the Teraphim also (2 Kings 8:24); and, perhaps, exactly because they were considered as almost innocent images, the later writers were extremely severe in denouncing them: the crime of obstinacy against the Divine will is compared to the idolatry of the Teraphim (1 Samuel 15:23); they are classed among the “detestations and abominations” (2 Kings 13:24); their oracles are described not only as falsehood, but as wickedness; they lead astray those who consult them like sheep which have no shepherd (Zechariah 10:2); and they are attributed to the Babylonian monarch together with his other absurd modes of divination, as the auguries taken from “looking in the liver” (Ezekiel 21:26; Ezekiel 21:28). (M. M. Kalisch, Ph. D.)

Verses 22-42

Genesis 31:22-42

Laban said to Jacob, What hast thou done, that thou hast stolen away unawares to me, and carried away my daughters,
. . . ?


Laban’s expostulation with Jacob, and Jacob’s defence


1. There was, apparently, cause for just complaint.

(1) There were some criminal elements in the conduct of Jacob.

(2) There was unkindness and a breach of social obligations.

2. But this complaint was, really, the disguise of Laban’s own evil nature.


1. He challenges proof of his dishonesty.

2. He appeals to many years of faithful and honest service. (T. H. Leale.)


1. Laban, upon tidings of Jacob’s deliverance, haste in fury to avenge themselves on them.

2. Wicked men of might join to themselves their allies, to help on their furious revenges.

3. Injustice and cruelty will spur souls on to the persecution of the innocent many days.

4. Envy and revenge will not give over pursuing the innocent until they overtake their prey (Genesis 31:23). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

THE FLIGHT of Jacob from Laban.

1. Cause.

(1) Jealousy of Jacob’s prosperity amongst Laban’s family (Genesis 31:1).

(2) Jacob had himself been not very kindly treated by Laban (Genesis 31:7).

(3) Command of God that he should return (Genesis 31:13). Added to this, Rachael and Leah, also, were willing to depart, as feeling that they were not so welcome at home as formerly (Genesis 31:14-15);

(4) and yet could not go away openly. Laban would have hindered him, or have prevented his carrying away the whole of his property (Genesis 31:42).

2. Time. Sheepshearing. So important a duty that Laban must himself superintend it. He goes some distance from home. While Laban is absent, Jacob steals away. Collects his flocks and herds, servants and substance, and sets out over the desert which he had traversed some twenty-one years before with only his staff in his hand.

THE PURSUIT. Of Laban after Jacob. Laban did not hear of Jacob’s flight till three days had passed. This part of the journey Jacob would naturally travel with all speed. So large a caravan could not march without leaving the plain track behind. Laban in pursuit for seven days, i.e., until ten days after Jacob had started. Reaching the mountains of Gilead and their defiles, and not overtaken; Jacob might think the pursuit had not been undertaken, or if so, then abandoned. Evening of tenth day Laban and his band approach. Too exhausted by the march to bring matters to an issue at once. The two camps retired to rest. Night settles down on the hills of Gilead, and watch fires, &c. Probably it was this night that Laban had a wonderful vision, in which he was warned respecting his treatment of Jacob. From the nature of the vision it is plain how murderous his intentions were.

THE PARTING. Of Jacob and Laban.

1. The controversy between Laban and Jacob. Laban’s charge against Jacob. Going by stealth. Leading his daughters as captives (comp. Verses 14, 15 with 26). Pretence of great affection (Genesis 31:27-28). Assertion of power. Acknowledgment of Divine interference. Charge of stealing the idols.

2. Jacob’s reply. Tells the truth (Genesis 31:31), but not all the truth (comp. Verses 1-16). Repudiates, sternly and prompt]y, the charge of carrying off the images.

3. The search for the idols, which are not found.

4. They set up a memorial pillar, and so part at Mizpah. The two camps remaining there another night, and travelling, east and west, early in the morning, to meet no more. Learn:

Be thankful for the domestic relations of life, and that ours do not demand our flight from home and kindred.

Jacob bore cruel usage for twenty years, and even then did not prepare for flight till God had given him the command.

The vision sent to Laban shows that God would have family meetings peaceably conducted, and those who have had unkind thoughts, He would have them lay them aside.

Christ Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is the Great Reconciler. (J. C. Gray.)


1. The Almighty God appears seasonably to stop the rage of cruel oppressors against His saints.

2. Night apparitions in dreams God can make to terrify wicked enemies from their purposes.

3. God warns envious spirits, that they look to themselves, if they oppress His saints.

4. God curbs the spirits of wicked men sometimes, and charges them not to speak an evil word to His people (Genesis 31:24). (G Hughes, B. D.)


1. It is no harm for the wicked to overtake the righteous, while they are curbed by God.

2. Providence may bring enemies near to His saints, and yet keep mischief far off from them.

3. God can cause the righteous to pitch near their oppressors, and yet secure them (Genesis 31:25). (G. Hughes, B. D. )


1. The worst dealers are most apt to question others for their doings though good.

2. Violence questions innocency for escaping from its heart, though God call it.

3. The interrogatories of oppression pretend captivity of daughters, when they go freely (Genesis 31:26).

4. Unreasonable oppressors require a reason of the innocent’s escape, where there needs none to be rendered; it being apparent.

5. Injurious men are displeased when the righteous escape without their knowledge.

6. Hypocritical violence may pretend a free dismission of the righteous, which it never meant. Laban’s music (Genesis 31:27).

7. Unnatural fathers are apt to question others as causes of their unnaturalness to children.

8. Wicked and foolish men are very forward to charge the innocent with doing wickedly (Genesis 31:28). (G. Hughes, B. D. )


1. It is the property of wicked oppressors to boast of their strength, which is more than they have.

2. Wicked injurious men boast that they can do mischief against the righteous (Psalms 52:1).

3. The hand of the wicked is ready to oppress the innocent, if God hinder not.

4. Wicked oppressors complain that God hinders them in their cruel designs.

5. The ungodly will not learn to own God, though they find Him too mighty for them.

6. Fear of self-destruction keeps oppressors from destroying saints.

7. God worshipped in truth by His, is stronger than God falsified by the wicked.

8. God maketh the wicked enemy confess His sovereignty sometimes against their will (Deuteronomy 31:1-30; Deuteronomy 32:29). (G. Hughes, B. D. )


1. Plain and ready answers become the saints against the charges of the wicked.

2. Just fear of violence is a just ground of the saints escaping it, under God’s call.

3. God’s call and saints’ fear of dangers from men may well consist together.

4. Violent rapture of wives and children by cruel men may make the saints afraid of, and fly from it (Genesis 31:31).

5. Holy souls abhor idols, and much more the covering of them.

6. Innocency is not afraid to put itself upon trial of life.

7. Plain honest hearts dare put themselves upon the search and judgment of their enemies.

8. Good fathers of families would have all with them innocent its themselves.

9. Good men may be too confident of the goodness of such as are under them.

10. Ignorance of other’s hearts and actions makes men so rash and confident of them (Genesis 31:32). (G. Hughes, B. D. )


1. False accusers of the saints are willing to turn every stone, to make good their charge upon them (Genesis 31:33).

2. God in His wisdom useth the sins of one creature to frustrate the sin of others (Genesis 31:31).

3. Sin once committed putteth souls upon more sin to conceal it.

4. Hypocrisy and lying is the way that sinners use to cover stealing.

5. God may bear with the iniquity of some to clear the innocency of others.

6. Such as seek occasion against the saints, God so orders, that they find it not (Genesis 31:35). (G. Hughes, B. D. )

Jacob at Haran; or, The disciplinary retributions of life


1. Jacob had sought by fraud, position and possession in his father’s house. He is now an exile from his father’s house--an outcast and a wanderer.

2. He who had defrauded Esau, is now himself defrauded by Laban.

3. He who had deceived his father was afterwards himself deceived by his sons.

4. Another form of retribution that awaited Jacob, was the having to encounter and deal with the brother whom he had so cruelly and foully wronged.

THE DISCIPLINARY CHARACTER OF THE RETRIBUTIONS THAT MARKED THE LIFE OF JACOB. We are slow to learn the lessons of a godly life by precept. God therefore teaches us them by experience. Jacob’s character did certainly advance under the discipline.

1. At Haran he applied himself at once to honest industry, instead of having recourse to artifice and cunning.

2. A spirit of magnanimity marked many of his dealings with his uncle, contrasting favourably with his earlier indications of self-seeking. (W. Roberts.)

The years of servitude


1. His trials. And among these we should rank, as of the first importance, that he had been compelled by circumstances to dwell beyond the range of true piety, and to sojourn in an idolatrous land, and with an idolatrous family. Another of the trials to which Jacob was exposed, was the footing on which he stood in the family of Laban. The whole period had been to him a time of affliction; and, but for the favour of his God, this lengthened service, hard as it was, would have terminated in poverty. “Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely thou hadst sent me away now empty.” Jacob had no reason to expect such treatment as this from a cousin and a father-in-law. A third trial which Jacob had to endure was, to a feeling mind, peculiarly severe. His attachment to Rachel appears to have been sincere and ardent. He could not, then, but feel deeply the deception that was practised upon him. Among Jacob’s trials we must enumerate also many of the scenes of domestic life.

2. We come to notice Jacob’s errors.

3. But we turn now to a more gratifying subject of consideration, when we notice, the personal piety of Jacob--the influence which, during twenty years of trial, his principles had upon his personal character.

(1) With reference to his sobriety, excepting the error of polygamy, which was indirectly sanctioned, there is nothing on record against him. He was not guilty of any of that violence which had filled the earth, or of those vices which were too general all around him.

(2) With reference to the righteousness of his dealings with his fellow-men, he was zealous in the service of his master, moderate beyond measure in his requirements, and faithful in his engagements. He could appeal to Rachel and to Leah, “Ye know that, with all my power, I have served your father.” And he had their testimony, and even that of Laban, to the faithfulness of his service.

(3) Of his godliness there can be no question. It is manifest that he dwelt with God, and God with him. His habits were those of piety and communion with God; and even the language of Leah and of Rachel show that, by his influence, they were led to cultivate the same spirit. We are told that they prayed, and that God hearkened to them. “The God of my fathers hath been with me, God suffered him not to hurt me.” “God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me.” And again, “Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely thou hadst sent me away now empty.” “God hath seen my affliction, and the labour of mine hands, and rebuked thee yesternight.” And this view of Jacob’s devotional habits is confirmed by the testimony of the sacred writer, that God really was with him.

But before we draw a practical conclusion from these things, there is another point on which we shall do well for a moment to delay. IT IS THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD TO HIS SERVANT. God had made a covenant with Jacob by promise; and when Jacob journeyed onward from Bethel, the promise of Divine favour rested upon him. Jacob was pious, because God was gracious. Jacob persevered, because God was faithful. His God had promised “to be with him, and to keep him in all places whither he should go”; and not one word failed of all that the Lord had spoken to him of. The secret agency of God’s providence availed for his protection, and for his correction in righteousness. From this period, then, of the Patriarch’s life, let us learn the wisdom of confiding ourselves to the care of the Almighty God. “He careth for us.” You, then, who are only entering upon the world, or are now struggling with its cares and its temptations--who feel how difficult it is to walk humbly, circumspectly, and without offence--let the twenty years of Jacob’s hard service teach you a useful lesson. The path of probity and rectitude is the path of honour, happiness, and success. It is not man, but God that you serve, and He will not forget you. At the same time this history will administer to you a salutary caution. You must not expect deliverance precisely when you wish it, nor in the way most satisfactory to yourself. Clouds may gather when you look for sunshine. Look to the covenant of His grace, and lean upon it, for “it shall not be moved”; and determine, that by His grace you will faithfully fulfil all the relative duties of life, however painful and distressing. (E. Craig.)


1. Faithfulness in good servants makes them undergo day and night labours for the good of their rulers.

2. Heat and cold consumptions with restless nights will grace incline to endure to honour God in service.

3. Such faithful service is a testimony against the wrongs and injustice of cruel masters (Genesis 31:40).

4. Unwearied doth grace make souls to be in the service to which they are called by God.

5. Faithfulness will not let a soul to take wages or receive good gratis.

6. The best service may be repaid with hardest measure from griping masters.

7. Good service will rise in judgment against the hard dealings of evil rulers (Genesis 31:41).

8. Where man is injurious God Himself will plead for righteous servants.

9. The true God is known to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

10. Propriety in God and fear of Him is the best way of knowing God.

11. It is the design of wicked men to undo those in this world whom God doth own and will prosper in it.

12. God takes special notice of the sufferings and faithful doings of His servants towards wicked men.

13. God rebukes the envious and malicious spirit of cruel men against His righteous servants.

14. God’s approbation of His own and reprehension of the wicked is a full defence against false charges or criminations (Genesis 31:42). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


Laban seeks to get God’s blessing, as it were, at second-hand. If men could be related to God indirectly, as if in law and not by blood, that would suit Laban. If God would admit men to His inheritance on any other terms than being sons in the direct line, if there were some relationship once removed, a kind of sons-in-law, so that mere connection with the godly, though not with God, would win His blessing, this would suit Laban. Laban is the man who appreciates the social value of virtue, truthfulness, fidelity, temperance, godliness, but wishes to enjoy their fruits without the pain of cultivating the qualities themselves. He is scrupulous as to the character of those he takes into his employment, and seeks to connect himself in business with good men. In his domestic life he acts on the idea which his experience has suggested to him, that persons really godly will make his home more peaceful, better regulated, safer than otherwise it might be. If he holds a position of authority, he knows how to make use, for the preservation of order and for the promotion of his own ends, of the voluntary efforts of Christian societies, of the trustworthiness of Christian officials, and of the support of the Christian community. But with all this recognition of the reality and influence of godliness, he never for one moment entertains the idea of himself becoming a godly man. In all ages there are Labans who clearly recognize the utility and worth of a connection with God, who have been much mixed up with persons in whom that worth was very conspicuous, and who yet, at the last, “depart and return unto their place,” like Jacob’s father-in-law, without having themselves entered into any affectionate relations with God. (M. Dods, D. D.)

Verses 43-48

Genesis 31:43-48

Let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee

Laban’s covenant with Jacob



1. His long journey in pursuit of Jacob.

2. The Divine warning.

3. His failure to criminate Jacob.

4. The overwhelming force of Jacob’s self-defence.


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 recognized. 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. (T. H. Leale.)

Bethel to Mizpah; or, Service in a strange land


1. He had served a long time.

2. He had served Laban honestly.

3. He had undergone much toil.



1. God’s providence.

2. God’s faithfulness. (W. S. Smith, B. D.)


1. False accusers, though silent at a just defence, yet are not ready to clear the innocent.

2. Guilt makes wicked men dumb to answer the plea of the righteous. Laban knew his guilt, but owns it not.

3. Proud oppressors, when they cannot hurt, yet they brag all is theirs.

4. Unnatural parents, when found out, pretend nearness and interest in their offspring.

5. Cruelty is sometimes crafty to pretend to spare for relation’s sake (Genesis 31:43).

6. Bloody men overawed by God are forced to seek peace with the righteous whom they hate.

7. Oppressors are wily to secure their peace by covenant with the innocent when forced to it.

8. Crafty persecutors overcome desire engagement from the persecuted for their safety (Genesis 31:44). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. The righteous and wicked in covenants of peace may agree in the same terms, but not in the same heart.

2. Good and bad have inclination to use terms consonant to their country and religion.

3. Imposition of names upon dead things may tend to the information of the living (Genesis 31:47).

4. Visible tokens may lawfully bear the titles of things signified by them.

5. The worst souls may be ready in word to appeal to witness, but such as they conceive cannot hurt them.

6. Pillars and places may bear the name of memorable actions to teach posterity (Genesis 31:48).

7. Titles and words enough the falsest hearts may use for their own ends.

8. Jehovah may be appealed unto by false hearts as to selfseeking and their own security.

9. Fair pretences and guilty fears may move wicked souls to lay bends from God upon the innocent for their own safety.

10. God doth oversee and watch all parties covenanted what they do when they are separated (Genesis 31:49). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

The pillar a witness

The following story is told of a rich old citizen of Bermago. He had lent to one of his countrymen at Florence four hundred crowns, which he advanced without any witness, and without requiring a written acknowledgment. When the stipulated time had elapsed, the creditor required his money; but the borrower, well apprised that no proof could be brought against him, positively denied that he had ever received it. After many fruitless attempts to recover it, the lender was advised to resort to the duke, who would find some method of doing him justice. Alessandro accordingly ordered both the parties before him; and after hearing the assertions of the one, and the positive denial of the other, he turned to the creditor, saying, “Is it possible, then, friend, that you can have lent your money when no one was present?” “There was no one, indeed,” replied the creditor. “I counted out the money to him on a post.” “Go, bring the post then, this instant,” said the duke, “and I will make it confess the truth.” The creditor, though astonished at receiving such an order, hastened to obey, having first received a secret caution from the duke not to be very speedy in his return. Meantime the duke employed himself in transacting the affairs of his other suitors, till at length, turning to the borrower, he said, “This man stays & long time with this post.” “It is so heavy, sir,” replied the other, “that he could not yet have brought it.” Again Alessandro left him, and, returning some time afterward, carelessly exclaimed, “What kind of men are they that lend their money without evidence? Was there no one present but the post. No, indeed, sir! replied the knave. “The post is a good witness then,” said the duke, “and shall make thee pay the man his money.”

Verses 49-55

Genesis 31:49-55

The Lord watch between me and thee.



1. Injurious persons are most apt to suspect the innocent for doing wrong.

2. Wicked men would not have others wrong their children though they do it themselves.

3. Nature denieth polygamy though men’s lusts design and plead for it.

4. Want of human witness to require fealty is no ground of breaking covenant security.

5. God Himself is witness to the covenants of men, and will see right to be done by them or judge for it.

6. The most fraudulent men may be strict upon others to press on them the testimony of God (Genesis 31:50). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. Treacherous, deceitful men are most fearful of hurt pursuing them. So Laban.

2. Guilty fear makes men solicitous and intent to save themselves.

3. Sinful solicitousness for safety is full of words to little purpose (Genesis 31:51).

4. Jealousy groundless contents not itself with God’s witness, but will have visible assurance.

5. Wickedness may sometimes be content not to do harm to others when it is afraid itself.

6. The most injurious are most solicitous to secure themselves from the innocent, who think no harm unto them (Genesis 31:52). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. An oath of God is a just means of confirmation to a lawful covenant for setting things out of doubt.

2. Superstitious men, though convinced of the true way of God, yet worship and swear in old corrupt ways.

3. Oaths taken by false gods, or the true in false ways, are yet binding.

4. in making peace with idolaters it is lawful to take their corrupt swearing, but net to follow it.

5. True saints, when called to swear, must do it in the true fear of the true God.

6. It is just for saints to glorify God by swearing in just cases and making Him Judge (Genesis 31:53). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. It is suitable unto a day of peacemaking for God’s servants to make a feast.

2. The spirits of good men are free and ingenious even to such as have been adversaries to them.

3. Friendly invitations and communion are the best issue of hot debates.

4. The power of God so overrules as to make persecutors sleep under the shelter of such whom they have oppressed (Genesis 31:54). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. The purposes of wicked men are not in their own hands to effect them. Laban goeth changed home.

2. Furious pursuits of the innocent God turneth to early departures of their enemies.

3. Overruling Providence can make unnatural men show natural affection.

4. Wicked men are convinced there cometh good to men only from the blessing of God.

5. Ungodly ones may use forms of blessing when yet they can procure none from God.

6. God turns oppressors to their own with rebukes who thirsted after the possessions of the innocent (Genesis 31:55). So God delivereth His out of temptations. (G. Hughes, B. D.)


The ordinary use of this word is not quite the same as its original use. It is generally used as a kind of bond or link between parted friends; whereas it was first used as a SAFEGUARD AND WARNING between two men who were in some sort enemies, or, at least, but doubtful friends, and one of them very suspicious of the other.

1. When two men part, as Laban and Jacob parted, and their circumstances are such that, while absent from one another, one of them, or perhaps each of them, will have it in his power to injure the other in any way, in such a case let this word act as a wholesome warning: “Mizpah,” a beacon or watch-tower. The Lord Himself is such. He overlooks all.

2. A servant must often be free from the ken of master or mistress. But there is an eye on that servant always--the all-seeing eye of God. He stands as a watch-tower between servant and master or mistress, marking and judging how each fulfils his part. Is the master or mistress kind, just, considerate? Is the servant faithful and true, honest, upright, diligent?

3. Men have many dealings with one another in business. The Lord stands and overlooks each bargain.

But though the original application of the word was such, yet it may very well be applied also in that other way in which it is so often used. When those who love one another are called to part--when friends, for instance, go from each other, when brothers and sisters separate, when children leave home, when even a husband is called to a distance, perhaps to a foreign land, and that for a long time--it is A GREAT COMFORT to remember that the Lord is as a watch-tower between those thus parted. The closest and dearest of all bonds is that of having one Father, one Saviour, one Spirit, one hope now, one eternal home hereafter. Those thus united are hardly absent, even when parted in the body. (F. Bourdillon, M. A.)

“Mizpah” tokens

Tokens and memorials are not without use. The “Mizpah” on seal or ring, on locket or in book, may well bring to mind those absent, and even serve to draw the thoughts to God. The daughter, whose home is among strangers, will think of the fond mother who made that parting gift, and whose wish and prayer seems to be contained in that little word. The son, far off in a foreign land, carries with him a memorial of the same kind; and when he reads that word his thoughts go back to the home of his childhood, a father and mother’s loving words and earnest prayers come back to his mind, his heart is softened, and he remembers Him who is above all, whose eye is in every place, and now watches over both him and those at home. (F. Bourdillon, M. A.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 31". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/genesis-31.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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