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the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 31

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



Twenty years have now passed since Jacob came to Laban’s house. Genesis 31:38. The single one has become a multitude. Twelve children have been born unto him, and every thing has prospered in his hand. But it now becomes evident that the time for separation has arrived. Two families, of such diverse interests and hopes as those of Jacob and Laban, cannot abide long together, and Jacob is called to separate himself as Abraham had been two hundred years before.

Verse 1

1. Heard the words of Laban’s sons Either overheard with his own ears, or had them reported to him . Perhaps angry words at times passed between them in the fields or by the way . Such success and prosperity as attended all Jacob’s movements would naturally provoke the jealousy of Laban’s sons .

Verse 2

2. Not toward him as before During the fourteen years of his service, when Laban had all the advantage, and every thing his own way, he doubtless treated Jacob with great regard, so that the latter would be quick to note coldness and opposition . His changing his wages (Genesis 31:7) gave him opportunity to show his growing dislike . The Hebrew for as before is idiomatic; literally, yesterday three days; that is, yesterday and the third day, or yesterday and before . Somewhat like our “yesterday week . ”

Verse 3

3. Return This word of Jehovah was as truly a divine call as that which led Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees . It came to him in the field and evidently made a deep impression on Jacob, so that he at once sent for his two wives, and told them all .

Verse 7

7. Ten times Probably a round number used for an indefinite number, and equivalent to very frequently, or, as often as possible . Compare Numbers 14:22; Job 19:3. The manner of Laban’s changing Jacob’s wages was doubtless that indicated in the next verse . “He made repeated attempts to limit the original stipulation by changing the rule as to the colours of the young, and so diminishing Jacob’s wages . ” Keil .

Verse 10

10. Saw in a dream In Genesis 30:37-43, we have the human side of Jacob’s procedure . We there see his artifice and cunning . Here is another view, not at all in conflict with that, but designed to show that all Jacob’s tricks were as nothing without supernatural interference . God interposed to favour Jacob, not because of his guile or cunning, still less to sanction any thing of the kind as an example for others . Probably such dreams had come repeatedly during the last four or five years, and at the end of the sixth year of his independent service he received the revelation of Genesis 31:11-13.

Verse 11

11. The angel of God spake He refers probably to the same revelation as that of Genesis 31:3. This word came to him in a dream, in which was repeated the vision of many a previous dream . Genesis 31:10.

Verse 12

12. All that Laban doeth Or, rather, all that he is doing . God’s interposition had been to punish Laban for his unnatural and narrow policy towards his own children, not to show favour to Jacob’s deception . In their natural lives and works both Laban and Jacob were bad enough, but in this case Laban was the aggressor in taking undue advantage, and Jacob’s action was a policy of self-defence .

Verse 13

13. I am the God of Beth-el See Genesis 28:12-22. The revelations and promises of Jacob’s dream at Beth-el were incompatible with his remaining permanently in Haran, and it was now time for him to get himself away . Keil argues that this dream was largely the work of Jacob’s excited imagination, “the materials being supplied by the three thoughts that were most frequently in his mind, by night as well as by day, namely: 1) His own schemes and their success; 2) The promise received at Beth-el, 3) The wish to justify his actions to his own conscience.” No doubt absorbing thoughts and schemes, united with strong desires to succeed, may furnish the proper physical conditions for dreams like this of Jacob; but it seems entirely superfluous to insinuate such a suspicion of the objective reality of the angel’s words to Jacob. If we allow such an exposition here, we introduce a principle of hermeneutics that would as easily make against the reality of other recorded revelations. Jacob had natural reason to withhold from his wives his own artifices, but we can scarcely believe that he tells a falsehood in respect to this dream. As in all the wrong actions of his life God overruled and wrought good out of evil, so in this.

Verse 15

15. Counted of him strangers Rachel and Leah both readily sympathize with their husband as against their father, and look upon Laban’s dealings as narrow, unfatherly, and unworthy of him . The last twenty years had largely alienated them from their father’s house .

Verse 17

17. Upon camels Hebrews, upon the camels, that is, the camels provided for the purpose . No mention of camels as a part of Laban’s or Jacob’s possessions has as yet been made . But there has been no occasion; and even if there were no camels among Laban’s property, Jacob might readily have purchased these at the time for his purpose . Genesis 32:5; Genesis 32:15, shows that Jacob’s possessions of cattle included many camels, oxen, kine, bulls, and asses, of which we have no other mention . But his secret departure showed how he yet leaned more to his own devices than upon the providence of God .

Verse 19

19. Laban went to shear his sheep This afforded an opportunity for Jacob to effect his escape without trouble or excitement, for he feared forcible opposition from Laban . Genesis 31:31.

Had stolen Or, stole . While Laban went to the shearing, she steals .

The images The teraphim . This word is always used in the plural, and is of uncertain origin . It appears to denote a sort of household gods, ( Penates,) common in Syria, and often consulted as domestic oracles . By these probably Laban was wont to divine, (Genesis 30:27, note,) and Rachel’s object in taking them was both to prevent their being used by her father to her disadvantage, and also for her own domestic interests . Comp . Judges 17:5; Ezekiel 21:21; Zechariah 10:2; and note on Joshua 24:14. The teraphim were small images of human form, though sometimes of life size. 1 Samuel 19:13. They were essentially connected with idolatrous ideas and practices, and seem to have served as a transition from Monotheism unto Polytheism. In some such transition state Laban appears to have been, and from it Rachel was not free. Other members of Jacob’s household also clung to similar superstitions and carried off strange gods with them. Comp. Genesis 35:2-4.

Verse 20

20. Stole away unawares to Laban Hebrews, stole the heart of Laban . There is a play on the words heart and Laban stole the Leb-Laban . Rachel stole the teraphim, Jacob the heart, of Laban . He used deception in keeping Laban from any suspicion of his plans for flight .

Verse 21

21. The river Euphrates, near which he probably abode at that time . Mount Gilead So called by anticipation here . Comp . Genesis 31:47-48.

Verse 22


22. It was told Laban Such a movement as Jacob’s, whose family and herds made a large caravan, could not long be kept a secret .

Verse 23

23. Took his brethren Various relatives who were with him at the feast of sheep shearing . Compare the use of this word in Genesis 13:8.

Seven days’ journey From what date and from what place this seven days’ journey is to be reckoned, is not clear . The tidings of Jacob’s flight reached Laban on the third day after its occurrence, (Genesis 31:22,) and it would probably take Laban three days more to get ready for the pursuit and to reach the point from which Jacob started; for there were three days’ journeying between them. Genesis 30:36. Reckoning the seven days from that point, we give Jacob twelve or thirteen days the start of Laban, in which time he might have travelled three hundred and fifty miles . Both parties, doubtless, made the greatest possible haste; but Laban, unencumbered with flocks and family, would move twice or thrice as rapidly as Jacob, and so, in seven days from the time of his hearing of Jacob’s flight, he might have overtaken him . The Arab post is said to go from Damascus to Bagdad in eight days a distance of about five hundred miles. The distance between the Euphrates and Gilead is about three hundred miles.

Verse 24

24. God came to Laban Mark the constant divine care that guards the ways of Jacob, and redeems him from all evil . Genesis 48:16.

Either good or bad Hebrews, from good unto bad . That is, do not from good friendly greetings pass to bad words of violence . Do not make matters worse .

Verse 25

25. Laban overtook Jacob At this it was evident that a serious controversy must be held, and accordingly both Jacob and Laban pitched their tents, and made ready for a great council .

Verse 26

26. Laban said Laban opens the controversy, and his speech, both here (Genesis 31:26-30) and afterwards, (Genesis 31:43-44; Genesis 31:48-53,) and Jacob’s also, (in Genesis 31:36-42,) read like the fragments of an ancient poem. They have the rhythm and passion of poetry, and should be put in the poetic form.

We render Laban’s speech thus: What hast thou done?

And thou hast stolen my heart, And hast carried off my daughters As captives of the sword.

Why didst thou hide thyself to flee? And thou hast stolen me, And didst not inform me, And I would have sent thee away with joy, And with songs, with timbrel, and with harp. And thou didst not permit me To kiss my sons and my daughters, Now hast thou played the fool to do! It is to the God of my hand To do with you an evil.

But the God of your father Yesternight said to me, saying, Guard thyself from speaking with Jacob From good to evil.

And now going thou hast gone; For longing thou hast longed For the house of thy father. Why hast thou stolen my gods?

Verse 27

27. I might have sent thee away with mirth His previous conduct had given no hopes of any such kind treatment, as Jacob freely intimates, when he comes to respond.

Verse 29

29. Power of my hand Or, to the God of my hand לאל ידי . Laban, leavened with the notions of idolatry, contrasts the God of his hand that is, the God for whom he lifts his hand with the God of Jacob’s father .

Verse 30

30. My gods This theft he finally charges as the most aggravating thing of all .

Verse 31

31. Take by force He feared that the man who forced him to marry, contrary to his desire and agreement, would be as likely to add other high-handed acts of wrong .

Verse 34

34. Camel’s furniture The car, כר , or palanquin of the camel, “a covered vehicle which is secured on the back of the camel, and answers the purpose of a small house . It is often divided into two apartments, and the traveller, who can sit in either of them, is enabled also to carry some little furniture with him . These conveyances are protected by veils, which are not rolled up, except in front, so that the person within has the privilege of looking out while he is himself concealed. They are used chiefly by the women, rarely by the men.” JAHN’S Biblical Archaeology, § 49.

Verse 35

35. My Lord Rachel addresses her father in terms of cold but dignified respect .

Verse 36

36. Chode with Laban Contended with him in wordy war . Jacob’s speech (Genesis 31:36-42) is still more pointed and vigorous than Laban’s . Render as follows:

What my trespass, What my sin, That thou hast been burning after me?

For thou hast been feeling all my vessels, What hast thou found of all the vessels of thy house? Place here Before my brethren and thy brethren, And let them decide between us two. This twenty year I with thee, Thy ewes and thy goats have not been bereft, And the rams of thy flock have I not eaten. The torn I brought not to thee; I atoned for it. Of my hand didst thou demand it, Stolen by day, And stolen by night. I have been In the day heat devoured me, And cold in the night, And sleep fled from my eyes, This to me twenty year in thy house, I served thee fourteen years for two of thy daughters And six years for thy flock, And thou hast changed my wages ten parts. Unless the God of my father, The God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac were for me, That now empty thou hadst sent me away.

My affliction and the labour of my hands God has seen; And he judged yesternight.

Verse 40

40. Drought… frost Comp . Psalms 121:6; Jeremiah 36:30. The extremes of heat and cold between day and night in the East are evidenced by all travellers .

Verse 42

42. Fear of Isaac He whom Isaac feared . Laban closed his speech with allusion to his gods, (Genesis 31:30,) and now Jacob, more nobly, appeals to the intervention of the God of his fathers, who had rebuked Laban as an adversary.

Verse 43

43. Laban answered Whether awed by Jacob’s words, or convinced of the folly of attempting to change his plans or purposes, he hastens to propose a covenant, to which Jacob readily agrees . Laban’s words may be rendered as follows:

The daughters my daughters,

And the sons my sons,

And the flock my flock,

And all which thou seest

Mine it is!

And to my daughters, what shall I do to them to-day?

Or to their sons, which they have borne?

And now come, let us cut a covenant,

I and thou;

And let it be for a witness

Between me and thee .

Verse 47

47. Jegar-sahadutha… Galeed The Aramaic and Hebrew words, respectively, for heap of witness . יגר yegar, or gar, is a dialectic variation of גל , gal, rendered heap in Genesis 31:46. This incidental notice of the naming of their stone memorial shows that already, in Jacob’s time, the dialectical differences between the Aramaic and Hebrew tongues were noticeable . This was probably the origin of the name Gilead, applied to the whole range of mountains running north and south on the east of the Jordan . The particular spot where the covenant was made was probably at the northern end of the range, not at what was later known as Mizpeh of Gilead, (Judges 11:29,) for Jacob, after this, passing southward crossed the Jabbok, (Wady Zerka,) which is itself north of the modern mount Jelad . The name Mizpah (Genesis 31:49) subsequently became very common, and is applied to three other places on the east (Joshua 11:3; Judges 10:17; 1 Samuel 22:3) and two on the west of the Jordan . Joshua 15:38; Joshua 18:26.

Verse 48

48. Laban said The following verses appear more like an antique song than formal narrative, and may be regarded as an ode composed upon this occasion, or soon after . We may regard the whole passage as the words of Laban, and translate, literally, thus:

And Laban said, This heap, a witness, Between me and thee to-day.

Therefore he called its name Galeed, And the Watch-Tower, as he said:

Let Jehovah watch between me and thee. For we are hidden, a man from his fellow, If thou afflict my daughters, And if thou take wives upon my daughters, No man with us!

Behold, God, a witness between me and thee! And Laban said to Jacob, Behold this heap, And behold the pillar.

Which I have cast between me and thee! A witness this heap, And a witness the pillar, If I pass not to thee over this heap, And if thou pass not to me over this heap, And over this pillar for evil.

The God of Abraham, And the God of Nahor, Shall judge between us, The God of their father. And let Jacob swear In the Fear of his father Isaac.

Verse 54

54. Jacob offered sacrifice He slew of the lambs of his flock, offered a solemn offering to his God, and made a sacrificial meal, and called his brethren to eat. It was the solemn evening of the last separation and farewell between the chosen seed and their “fathers on the other side of the flood.” Joshua 24:14. Henceforth they diverge more and more widely, and none of Jacob’s sons go back to take wives in that eastern land.

Verse 55

55. Rose… kissed… blessed… departed… returned There is something most touching and impressive in this affectionate farewell . The bad passions of the previous day and the wrongs of former years are all forgotten, and the two parties separate; the one to be the chosen people of God, the depositary of his oracles, the religious teachers of the world; the other to be lost from history .

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 31". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/genesis-31.html. 1874-1909.
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