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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Genesis 31

 

 

Verses 1-21

Genesis 31:1-21. Jacob's Flight.—This section is, for the most part, from E, Genesis 31:1; Genesis 31:3 are from J, Genesis 31:18 (after "cattle") from P.

Jacob realises from the words of Laban's sons (J) and the altered demeanour of Laban himself (E) that his enrichment at Laban's expense is deeply resented. Yahweh also bade him return (J). To his wives he complains of the treatment he has received from their father, which God has nevertheless overruled for his advantage, the God of Bethel who is now summoning him home. They side with Jacob, embittered by Laban's meanness in giving them no part of the bride-price (mg.). So, with their warm encouragement, he sets out with family, flocks, and property, outwitting Laban, who was sheep-shearing. Rachel, without Jacob's connivance (Genesis 31:32), also stole Laban's teraphim (p. 101), thus securing the family "luck." They crossed the Euphrates (mg.) and headed towards the hill-country of Gilead.

Genesis 31:7-12. The difference between this and the representation in Genesis 30:31-42 darkens the obscurity which already invests that passage. Here the representation is that Laban kept changing the conditions, finding, to his mortification, that every arrangement turned to Jacob's profit.

Genesis 31:20. the heart (mg.): the understanding.


Verses 22-55

Genesis 31:22 to Genesis 32:2. After Mutual Recriminations, Jacob and Laban Make a Covenant to Refrain from Aggression on each other's Territories.—The analysis is uncertain; Gunkel assigns Genesis 31:22-24, Genesis 31:26, Genesis 31:28-31 a (to "Laban"), Genesis 31:32-35, Genesis 31:36 b, Genesis 31:37, Genesis 31:41-43, Genesis 31:45; Genesis 31:49 f., Genesis 31:53 b - Genesis 33:2 to E the rest, apart from Genesis 31:47, to J. According to E, Laban learns of Jacob's flight on the third day, and overtakes him seven days later, but is warned in a dream the night before their encounter to say nothing to him, a command which he interprets as forbidding him to take hostile measures. He reproaches Jacob with his sudden flight, depriving him of the opportunity of saying adieu to his children. He could hurt him but for God's prohibition. And if sore home-sickness excused him, why has he stolen his gods? Jacob, ignorant of Rachel's theft, replies that the thief shall die (cf. Genesis 44:9), and gives him full liberty to search. Laban searches the tents of Jacob, the maids, and Leah, without discovering the teraphim. Last of all, he enters Rachel's tent. She had concealed them in the camel's howdah, in which she travelled, and alleges her condition of ceremonial uncleanness as the reason why she cannot rise (a stolen god protected from discovery in so ignominious a way!). Jacob concludes that Laban's charge was a pretext for ransacking his property to see if he can find anything of his own, and challenges him to produce it. Then (Genesis 31:41 f.) he carries the war into the enemy's camp. Fourteen years he had served for the daughters, six for the flock; but for God's care Laban would have turned him away penniless. God's rebuke shows that he bad marked Jacob's wrongs. Laban replies, "Daughters, children, flocks, all you have is mine, yet I must part with them; what kindness can I show them?" Then he (not Jacob) sets up a pillar, to indicate that God will watch between them, to see that Jacob, when no longer under his father-in-law's eye, does not illtreat his daughters. Jacob swears by the Fear of Isaac, offers a sacrifice, and partakes with his brethren of a sacrificial meal. In the morning Laban bids his children adieu, and returns home.

According to J, Laban overtakes Jacob and reproaches him for leaving without the customary "send-off." He replies that he feared that Laban might rob him of his daughters. (Laban's reply is not preserved; it aroused Jacob's hot anger (Genesis 31:36 a), and from the tenor of Jacob's reply Gunkel conjectures that he charged him with stealing his flocks.) Jacob replies in wrath that he had served him twenty years, there have been no miscarriages in the flock, he has not eaten the rams, if beasts had devoured he had not brought the mangled remains for inspection to prove his honesty (Exodus 22:13, Amos 3:12), but had borne the loss; pitiless heat by day, biting frost by night, scanty sleep, such had been his thankless lot. Laban proposes a covenant (and (?) the making of a cairn) to witness between them. He (not Jacob) bids his brethren collect stones, and they celebrate the covenant feast on the cairn. This cairn is to be a witness that neither will pass it in hostile aggression against the other.

In Genesis 32:1 f. (E) we have apparently a fragmentary explanation of the name Mahanaim. The incident is so curious that probably something objectionable to later piety (possibly a conflict between Jacob and the angels; cf. Genesis 32:24-32) has been struck out.

Genesis 31:25. the mountain: apparently different from "the mountain of Gilead"; perhaps Mizpah stood in the text (Genesis 31:49).

Genesis 31:42. the Fear of Isaac: i.e. the deity feared by Isaac, not the terror inspired by the god Isaac (E. Meyer) or a sacred object belonging to and reverenced by Isaac and now in Jacob's possession (Eerdmans).

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Genesis 31:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/genesis-31.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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