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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
Genesis 31

 

 

Verses 1-21

EXPOSITION

Genesis 31:1

And he—Jacob had now served twenty years with Laban, and must accordingly have been in his ninety-seventh or seventy-seventh year (vide Genesis 27:1)—heard the words of Laban's sons,—who were not at this time only small youths about fourteen years of ago (Delitzsch), since they were capable of being entrusted with their father's flocks (Genesis 30:35)—saying (probably in a conversation which had been over. heard by Jacob), Jacob hath taken away (by fraud is what they meant, an opinion in which Kalisch agrees; but it is not quite certain that Jacob was guilty of dishonesty in acting as he did) all that was our father's;—this was a manifest exaggeration; sed hoe morbo laborant sordidi et nimium tenaces, ut sibi ereptum esse putent quicquid non ingurgitant (Calvin)—and of that which was our father's hath he gotten (literally, made, in the sense of acquiring, as in Genesis 12:5; 1 Samuel 14:48) all this glory. כָּבוֹד (from כָּבַד, to be heavy, hence to be great in the sense of honored, and also to be abundant) signifies either glory, splendor, renown, δόξα (LXX.), as in Job 14:21; or, what seems the preferable meaning here, wealth, riches, facultates (Vulgate), as in Psalms 49:13; Nahum 2:10. The two ideas appear to be combined in 2 Corinthians 4:17; βάρος δόξης (cf. Wordsworth, in loco).

Genesis 31:2

And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, Behold, it (i.e. either Laban or his countenance) was not toward him (literally, with him) as before—literally, as yesterday and the day before. The evident change in Laban's disposition, which had previously been friendly, was obviously employed by God to direct Jacob's mind to the propriety of returning to the land of his inheritance; and the inclination thus started in his soul was further strengthened and confirmed by a revelation which probably soon after, if not the night following, was sent for his direction.

Genesis 31:3

And the Lord—Jehovah; since the entire journey to Padan-aram had been conducted under his special care, vide Genesis 28:15 (Hengstenberg), and not because the first three verses of this chapter have been inserted or modified by the Jehovist (Tuch, Block, et al.)—said unto Jacob, probably in a dream (cf. Genesis 28:5, Genesis 28:10, Genesis 28:11). Return unto the land of thy fathers (i.e. Canaan), and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee. So Jehovah had promised at Bethel twenty years before (Genesis 28:15).

Genesis 31:4

And Jacob went—being unwilling to approach the house lest Laban should discover his design (Rosenmüller)—and called Rachel and Leah—Rachel may be placed first as the beloved wife of Jacob (Wordsworth, Lange), scarcely as the principal wife in comparison with Leah, who was adventitia (Rosenmüller; cf. Genesis 31:14)—to the field unto his flock. The expression "his flock" indicates that Jacob had abandoned Laban's sheep and taken possession of those which belonged to himself—probably in preparation for his departure.

Genesis 31:5

And said unto them, I see your father's countenance, that it is not toward me as before (vide supra); but the God of my father—literally, and the Elohim of my father, the term Elohim employed by Jacob not being due to "the vagueness of the religious knowledge" possessed by his wives (Hengstenberg), but to a desire on his own part either to distinguish the God of his father from the gods of the nations, or the idols which Laban worshipped ('Speaker's Commentary'), or perhaps, while using an expression exactly equivalent to Jehovah, to bring out a contrast between the Divine favor and that of Laban (Quarry)—hath been with me—literally, was with me; not the night before simply, but during the past six years, as he explains in Genesis 31:7.

Genesis 31:6

And ye know that with all my power I have served your father. The term Jacob here uses for power is derived from an unused onomatopoetic root, signifying to pant, and hence to exert one's strength. If, therefore, the assertion now made to his wives was not an unblushing falsehood, Jacob could not have been the monster of craft and deception depicted by some (Kalisch); while, if it was, it must have required considerable effrontery to appeal to his wives' knowledge for a confirmation of what they knew to be a deliberate untruth. The hypothesis that Jacob first acquired his great wealth by "consummate cunning," and then piously "abused the authority of God in covering or justifying them" (Kalisch), presupposes on the part of Jacob a degree of wickedness inconceivable in one who had enjoyed the sublime theophany of Bethel.

Genesis 31:7

And your father hath deceived me,— הֵתֵל, the hiph. of תָּלַל, means to rob or plunder (Furst), or to cause to fall, as in the cognate languages, whence to deceive (Gesenius)—and changed my wages ten times;—i.e. many times, as in Numbers 14:22; Job 19:3 (Rosenmüller, Bush, Kalisch, Lange); as often as possible, the number ten expressing the idea of completeness (Keil, Murphy)—but God (Elohim, Jacob purposing to say that he had been protected, not by human stratagem, but by Divine interposition) suffered him not to hurt me—literally, to do evil to me. The verb here construed with עִמָּד = עִם is sometimes followed by עַל (1 Kings 17:20), and sometimes by בְּ (1 Chronicles 16:22).

Genesis 31:8

If he (i.e. Laban) said thus, The speckled shall be thy wages;—by the original contract Jacob had been promised all the parti-colored animals (Genesis 30:32);" here it seems as if Laban, struck with the remarkable increase of these, took the earliest opportunity of so modifying the original stipulation as to limit Jacob's portion to one sort only, viz. the speckled. Yet this dishonorable breach of faith on the part of Laban was of no avail; for, when the next lambing season came—then (it was discovered that) all the cattle bare speckled: and if he said thus (changing the sort of animals assigned to his son-in-law), The ringstraked shall be thy hire (the result was as before); then bare all the cattle ringstraked.

Genesis 31:9

Thus—literally, and (as the result of this)—God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me. In ascribing to God what he had himself effected by (so-called) fraud, this language of Jacob appears to some inexcusable (Kalisch); in passing over his own stratagem in silence Jacob has been charged with not telling the whole truth to his wives (Keil). A more charitable consideration of Jacob's statement, however, discerns-in it an evidence of his piety, which recognized and gratefully acknowledged that not his own "consummate cunning, 'but Jehovah's watchful care had enabled him to outwit the dishonest craft of Laban (Rosenmüller, Ainsworth, Bush, Candlish, Murphy).

Genesis 31:10

And it came to pus at the time that the cattle conceived (this obviously goes back to the commencement of the six years' service), that I lifted up mine eyes, and saw in a dream, and, behold, the ramsעַתֻּדים, he-goats, from an unused root, to be ready, perhaps because ready and prompt for fighting (Gesenius, sub voce)which leaped (literally, going up) upon the cattle were ringstraked, speckled, and grisled. The grisled (beruddim, from barad, to scatter hail) were spotted animals, as if they had been sprinkled with hail, not a fifth sort in addition to the four already mentioned (Rosenmüller), but the same as the teluim of Genesis 30:35 (Kalisch). Wordsworth observes that the English term grisled, from the French word grele, hail, is a literal translation of the Hebrew. Gesenius connects with the Hebrew root the words πάρδος, pardus, leopard (so called from its spots), and the French broder, to embroider. The LXX. understand the עַתֻּדים to include both sheep and goats, and translate οἱ τράγοι καὶ οἱ κριοὶ ἀναβαίντες ἐπὶ τὰ πρόβατα καὶ τὰς αἰγας.

Genesis 31:11

And the angel of God—literally, the angel (or Maleach) of Elohim, i.e. of the God who was with me and protecting me, though himself continuing unseen—spake unto me in a dream, saying, Jacob: And I said, Here am I (vide Genesis 20:1, Genesis 20:11).

Genesis 31:12

And he said, Lift up now thine eyes, and see, all the rams which leap upon the cattle are ringstraked, speckled, and grisled. Since all the parti-colored animals had already been removed (Genesis 30:35), this vision must have been intended to assure him that the flocks would produce speckled and spotted progeny all the same as if the ringstraked and grisled rams and he-goats had not been removed from their midst (cf. Kurtz, § 78). To insist upon a contradiction between this account of the increase of Jacob's flocks and that mentioned in Genesis 30:37 is to forget that both may be true. Equally arbitrary does it seem to be to accuse Jacob of fraud in adopting the artifice of the pilled rods (Kalisch). Without resorting to the supposition that he acted under God's guidance (Wordsworth), we may believe that the dream suggested the expedient referred to, in which some see Jacob's unbelief and impatience (Kurtz, Gosman in Lange), and others a praiseworthy instance of self-help (Keil). For I have seen all that Laban doeth unto thee. If the preceding clause appears to imply that the vision was sent to Jacob at the beginning of the six years' service, the present clause scents to point to the end of that period as the date of its occurrence; in which case it would require to be understood as a Divine intimation to Jacob that his immense wealth was not to be ascribed to the success of his own stratagem, but to the blessing of God (Delitzsch). The difficulty of harmonizing the two views has led to the suggestion that Jacob here mixes the accounts of two different visions accorded to him, at the commencement and at the close of the period of servitude (Nachmanides, Rosenmüller, Kurtz, ('Speaker's Commentary,' Murphy, Candlish).

Genesis 31:13

I am the God of Bethel,—the angel here identifies himself with Jehovah (vide Genesis 28:13). Contrary to usual custom, הָאֵל, though in the construct, state, has the art.—where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindredi.e. to the land of Canaan, which was Jacob's true inheritance.

Genesis 31:14-16

And Rachel and Leah (vide on Genesis 31:4) answered and said unto him (Kalisch overdoes his attempt to blacken Jacob's character and whitewash Laban's when he says that Rachel and Leah were so entirely under their husband's influence that they spoke about their father "with severity and boldness bordering on disrespect." It rather seems to speak badly for Laban that his daughters eventually rose in protest against his heartless cruelty and insatiable greed), Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father's house? The interrogative particle indicates a spirited inquiry, to which a negative response is anticipated. Kalisch obviously regards it as preposterous that Rachel and Leah should have expected anything, since "married daughters in the East never had any such claim where there were sons." But Laban had not treated Jacob's wives even as daughters. Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us (however much they loved Jacob they could not but resent the mercenary meanness of Laban, by which they, the free-born daughters of a chieftain, had been sold as common serfs), and hath quits devoured also our money—literally, and hath eaten up, yes, even eating up, our money, the inf. abs; אָוֹל, after the finite verb, expressing the continuance (Keil) and intensity (Kalisch) of the action. Forכִּי is by some interpreters rendered but (Jarchi), so that (Keil), indeed (Kalisch), though there is no sufficient reason for departing from the usual meaning "for" (Rosenmüller)—all the riches which God hath taken from our father,—thus Rachel and Leah also recognize the hand of God (Elohim) in Jacob's unusual prosperity—that is ours, and our children's (Rachel and Leah mean to say that what Jacob had acquired by his six years of service with their father was no more than would have naturally belonged to him had they obtained their portions at the first): now then, Whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do. It is clear that, equally with himself, they were prepared for breaking off connection with their father Laban.

Genesis 31:17, Genesis 31:18

Then (literally, and) Jacob rose up (expressive of the vigor and alacrity with which, having obtained the concurrence of his wives, Jacob set about fulfilling the Divine instructions), and set his sons—his children, as in Genesis 31:1; Genesis 32:12, including Dinah, if by this time she had been born (vide Genesis 30:21)—and his wives upon camels. Since neither were able to undertake a journey to Canaan on foot, his oldest son being not more than thirteen years of age and his youngest not more than six. One camel, vide Genesis 12:16. And he carried away—the verb נָהֵג, to pant, which is specially used of those who are exhausted by running (Gesenins, sub voce), may perhaps indicate the haste with which Jacob acted—all his cattle,—Mikneh, literally, possession, from kanah, to procure, always used of cattle, the chief wealth of a nomad (cf. Genesis 13:2; Genesis 26:14)—and all his goods which he had gotten,—Recush, literally, acquisition, hence substance, wealth in general, from racash, to acquire (vide Genesis 14:11, Genesis 14:16, Genesis 14:21; Genesis 15:14), which, however, is more specifically described as—the cattle of his getting, which he had gotten (both of the above verbs, kanah and racash, being now employed) in (i.e. during his stay in) Padan-aram, for to go to Issac his father in the land of Canaan.

Genesis 31:19

And Laban went—or, Now Laban had gone, probably ,to the other station, which was three days journey from Jacob's flocks (vide Genesis 30:36; and cf. Genesis 31:22)—to shear his sheep. In this work he would probably be detained several days, the time of shearing being commonly regarded as a festal season (cf. Genesis 38:12; 1 Samuel 25:4; 2 Samuel 13:23), at which friendly entertainments were given. Whether Jacob's absence from the festivities is to be explained by the dissension existing between him and Laban, which either caused him to be uninvited or led him to decline the invitation (Kurtz), or by the supposition that he had first gone and subsequently left the banquet (Lange), the fact that Laban was so engaged afforded Jacob the opportunity he desired for making his escape. And Rachel had stolen (or, "and Rachel stole," availing herself likewise of the opportunity presented by he? father's absence) the images that were her father's. The teraphim, from an unused root, taraph, signifying to live comfortably, like the Sanscrit trip, Greek τρέφειν, Arabic tarafa (Gesenius, Furst, sub voces), appear to have been small human figures (cf. Genesis 31:34), though the image in 1 Samuel 19:13 must have been nearly life-size, or at least a full-sized bust, sometimes made of silver ( 17:4), though commonly constructed of wood (1 Samuel 19:13-16); they were worshipped as gods (εἰδωλα, LXX.; vide, Vulgate, cf. Genesis 31:30), consulted for oracles (Ezekiel 21:26; Zechariah 10:2), and believed to be the custodians and promoters of human happiness ( 18:24). Probably derived from the Aramaeans (Furst, Kurtz), or the Chaldeans (Ezekiel 21:21, Kalisch, Wordsworth), the worship of teraphim was subsequently denounced as idolatrous (1 Samuel 15:23; 2 Kings 13:24). Cf. with Rachel's act that ascribed to AEneas:—

"Effigies sacrae divum, Phrygiique Penates,

Quos mecum a Troja, mediisque ex ignibus urbis,"

Extuleram".

Rachel's motive for abstracting her father's teraphim has been variously ascribed to a desire to prevent her father from discovering, by inquiring at his gods, the direction of their flight (Aben Ezra, Rosenmüller), to protect herself, in case, of being overtaken, by an appeal to her father's gods (Josephus), to draw her father from the practice of idolatry (Bazil, Gregory, Nazisnzen, Theodoret), to obtain children for herself through their assistance (Lengerke, Gerlach), to preserve a memorial of her ancestors, whose pictures these teraphim were (Lightfoot); but was probably due to avarice, if the images were made of precious metals (Pererius), or to a taint of superstition which still adhered to her otherwise religious nature (Chrysostom, Calvin, 'Speaker's Commentary ), causing her to look to these idols for protection (Kalisch, Murphy) or consultation (Wordsworth) on her journey.

Genesis 31:20

And Jacob stole away unawares to Laban the Syrian,—literally, stole the heart of Laban the Syrian, he deceived his mind and intelligence, like κλέπτειν νόον, Horn; ' II.,' 14. 227 (el. Genesis 31:26, Genesis 31:27); hence—ἔκρυψε (LXX.); so Calvin, Rosenmüller, Keil, Gesenius, and others. Lange fancifully understands by the heart of Laban which Jacob stole either Laban's daughters or his favorite Rachel Gerlach contrasts Jacob's stealing with that of Rachel, in which Jacob, had no part. The exact import of Jacob's stealing is declared by the words that follow—in that he told him not (Lunge and Bush interpret הִגִּיד impersonally, as signifying in that or because it was not told; but in this among expositors they stand alone) that he fled.

Genesis 31:21

So (literally, and) he fled with (literally, and) all that he had; and he rose up, and passed over the river,—i.e. the Euphrates, which was called by preeminence the river (cf. 1 Kings 4:21; Ezra 4:10, Ezra 4:16)—and set his face toward the mount Gilead. גִּלְעַד, according to Gesenius, "the hard, stony region," from an unused quadrilateral root, signifying to be hard, though, according to the historian (by a slight change in the punctuation), "The hill, or heap of witness," from the transaction recorded in Genesis 31:45-47, which name it here proleptically receives, was not the mountain-range to the south of the Jahbok, now styled Jebel Jilad (Gesenius), Jebel-as-Salt (Robinson), Jebel-osha (Tristram), since Jacob had not yet crossed the river, but that upon its northern hank, called Jebel Ajlun, and situated near Mahanaim (Delitzsch, Keil, Kalisch, Porter).

HOMILETICS

Genesis 31:1-21

Jacob's flight from Laban.

I. THE HOMEWARD DESIRE. The longing to revisit Canaan, which six years previously Laban's exactions and Joseph's birth (Genesis 30:25) had combined to inspire within the heart of Jacob, returned upon him with an intensity that could no longer be resisted. Accelerated in its vehemence partly by the interposed delay to which it had been subjected, partly by his further acquaintance with the meanness and craft of his uncle, and partly by his own rapidly- accumulating wealth, it was now brought to a head by—

1. The calumnious remarks of Laban's sons. Inheriting the sordid and avaricious nature of their parent, they were filled with envy at the remarkable prosperity which had attended Jacob during the past six years. If good men are sometimes "envious at the foolish," it is not surprising that wicked men should occasionally begrudge the success of saints. Then from sinful desires they passed to wicked thoughts, accusing Jacob of having by superior craft out-maneuvered their designing father, and appropriated the flocks and herds that ought to have been his; which, however, was a manifest exaggeration, since Jacob bad not taken away all their father's "glory," and an unjustifiable calumny, since it was not Jacob's stratagem, but God's blessing, that had multiplied the parti-colored flocks. And lastly, from wicked thoughts they advanced to evil words, not only accusing Jacob in their minds, but openly vilifying him with their tongues, adding to the sin of private slander that of public defamation—conduct which the word of God severely reprehends (Proverbs 30:10; 1 Corinthians 6:10; Titus 3:2; James 4:11).

2. The manifest displeasure of Laban. During the fourteen years that Jacob kept the flocks for Rachel and Leah, Laban regarded him with evident satisfaction; not perhaps for his own sake, but for the unprecedented increase in his (Laban's) pastoral wealth which had taken place under Jacob's fostering care. He was even disposed to be somewhat pious so long as the flocks and herds continued multiplying (Genesis 30:27). But now, when at the end of six years the relative positions of himself and Jacob are reversed,—when Jacob is the rich man and he, comparatively speaking at least, the poor one,—not only does his piety towards God disappear, but his civility towards man does not remain. There are many Labans in the Church, whose religion is but the shadow that waits upon the sun of their prosperity, and many Labans in the world, whose amiability towards others is only the reflection of their complacent feeling towards themselves.

3. The explicit command of God. Twenty years before, at Bethel, God had promised to bring Jacob back again to Canaan, and now he issues formal instructions to his servant to return. As really, though not as visibly and directly, God orders the footsteps of all his children (Psalms 32:8; Psalms 37:23). If it is well not to run before God's providence, as Jacob would have done had he returned to Canaan at the end of the fourteenth year, it is also well not to lag behind when that providence has been clearly made known. The assurance given to Jacob of guidance on his homeward journey is extended to all who, in their daily goings forth, obey the Divine instructions and follow the Divine leadings.

II. THE CONFERENCE IN THE FIELD.

1. The explanation of Jacob. Three con- trusts complete the sum of Jacob's announcements to his wives. First, between the growing displeasure of Laban their father and the manifest favor of the Elohim of his father (Genesis 31:5); second, between the unwearied duplicity of their father, notwithstanding Jacob's arduous service, and the ever-watchful protection of God against his injurious designs (Genesis 31:6, Genesis 31:7); and third, between the diminishing herds of Laban and the multiplying flocks of himself, Jacob, both of which were traceable to Divine interposition (Genesis 31:8, Genesis 31:10, Genesis 31:12). After enlarging on these contrasts, he informs them of the Divinely-given order to return (Genesis 31:13).

2. The answer of Rachel and Leah. Acknowledging the mean and avaricious spirit of their father, who had not only sold them as slaves, but unjustly deprived them of the portions to which, as the daughters of a chieftain, they were entitled (Genesis 31:14, Genesis 31:15), they first confess that Jacob's wealth was nothing more than it would have been had they been honorably dowered at the first; second, recognize the hand of God in thus punishing their father and restoring to their husband what was practically his; and, third, encourage him to yield complete and prompt obedience to the Divine commandment (Genesis 31:16).

III. THE HASTY DEPARTURE. In this there were four things discernible.

1. Faith. In setting his face towards Canaan he was acting in obedience to Divine instructions; and respect unto God's commandments is an essential characteristic of living faith.

2. Love. In determining "to go to Isaac his father" he was actuated by a true spirit of filial piety.

3. Wisdom. In stealing away unawares to Laban, while Laban was providentially detained at the sheep-shearing, there was commendable prudence, which, if possible, a good man should never lack.

4. Sin. Not indeed on Jacob's part, but on that of Rachel, who, taking advantage of her father's absence, carried off his Penates or household images.

Learn—

1. That the love of country and friends is deeply implanted in the human breast.

2. That it is a great trial for worldly men to see good fortune go past their doors.

3. That the love of money, or the greed of gain, is the root of every kind of evil.

4. That the promises of God, however long delayed, are certain of fulfillment.

5. That loving husbands should consult their wives in all important steps in life.

6. That daughters should avoid speaking ill of parents, even should those parents deserve it.

7. That wives should always study to encourage their husbands in doing God's will.

8. That those who flee from oppression should seek for safety in paths of God's appointing.

9. That thriving and prosperous sons should not forget their parents in old age.

10. That daughters should not steal from their fathers, even to the extent of pilfering worthless images.


Verses 22-44

EXPOSITION

Genesis 31:22, Genesis 31:23

And it was told Laban on the third dayi.e. the third after Jacob's departure, the distance between the two sheep-stations being a three days' journey (vide Genesis 30:36)—that Jacob was fled. And he took his brethren—i.e. his kinsmen, or nearest relations (cf. Genesis 13:8; Genesis 29:15)—with him, and pursued after him (Jacob) seven days' journey (literally, a way of seven days); and they overtook him in the mount Gilead. The distance between Padan-aram and mount Gilead was a little over 300 miles, to perform which Jacob must at least have taken ten days, though Laban, who was less encumbered than his son-in-law, accomplished it in seven, which might easily be done by traveling from forty to forty-five miles a day, by no means a great feat for a camel.

Genesis 31:24, Genesis 31:25

And God—Elohim is here employed, neither because the section belongs to the fundamental document (Tuch, Bleek, Colenso, et alii), nor because, though Laban had an outward acquaintance with Jehovah (vide Genesis 31:49), his real religious knowledge did not extend beyond Elohim (Hengstenberg), but simply because the historian wished to characterize the interposition which arrested Laban in his wrath as supernatural (Quarry)—came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night,—(cf. Genesis 20:3; Job 33:15; Matthew 1:20). This celestial visitation occurred the night before the fugitives were overtaken (vide Genesis 31:29). Its intention was to guard Jacob, according to the promise of Genesis 28:15, against Laban's resentment—and (accordingly God) said unto him, Take heed—literally, take heed for thyself, the verb being followed by an ethical dative, as in Genesis 12:1; Genesis 21:16, q.v.—that thou speak not to Jacob—literally, lest the, speak with Jacob; μή ποτε λαλήσυς μετὰ Ἰακὼβ (LXX.) either good or bad. Literally, from good to bad, meaning that on meeting with Jacob he should not pass from peaceful greetings to bitter reproaches (Bush, Lunge), or say anything emphatic and decisive for the purpose of reversing what had occurred (Keil); or, perhaps more simply, say anything acrimonious or violent against Jacob (Rosenmüller, Murphy), the expression being a proverbial phrase for opposition or interference (Kalisch). (Cf. Genesis 14:1-24 :50; 2 Samuel 13:23). Then (literally, and) Laban overtook Jacob. Now (literally, and) Jacob had pitched his tent—this was done by means of pins driven into the ground, the verb תָּקַע signifying to fasten, or fix anything by driving (cf. 4:21; Isaiah 22:23, Isaiah 22:25)—in the mount (vide supra, Genesis 21:21): and Laban with his brethren (kinsmen, ut supra) pitched—his tent; not ἔστησε τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς (LXX.)—in the mount of Gilead (vide supra, Genesis 21:21).

Genesis 31:26-30

And Laban (assuming a tone of injured innocence) said to Jacob, What hast thou done, that thou hast stolen away unawares to me,—literally, and (meaning, in that) thou hast stolen my heart (vide supra, Genesis 31:20; and cf. Genesis 31:27)—and carried away (vide Genesis 31:18) my daughters, as captives taken with the sword? Literally, as captives of the sword, i.e. invitis parentibus (Rosenmüller); language which, if not hypocritical on Laban's part, was certainly hyperbolical, since he had already evinced the strength of his parental affection by selling his daughters to Jacob; and besides, so far as it concerned either Jacob or his wives, it was quite untrue, Rachel and Leah having voluntarily accompanied their husband in his flight. Wherefore didst thou floe away secretly,—literally, wherefore didst thou hide thyself to flee away; חָבַא (niph.), with an inf. following, corresponding to the similar construction in Greek of λανθάνειν with a part, and being correctly rendered in English by an adverb—and steal away from me (literally, and steal me, ut supra); and didst not tell me, that I might (literally, and I would) have sent thee away with mirth, and with songs,—in Oriental countries those about to make a long journey are still sent away cantionibus et musicorum instrumentorum concentu (Rosenmüller)—with tabret,—the toph was a drum or timbrel, consisting of a wooden circle covered with membrane, and furnished with brass bells (like the modern tambourine), which Oriental women beat when dancing (cf. Exodus 15:20; 11:34; Jeremiah 31:4)—and with harp! For a description of the kinnor see Genesis 4:21. And hast not suffered me to kiss my sons (i.e. the children of Leah and Rachel) and my daughters! It is perhaps judging Laban too severely to pronounce this complete hypocrisy and cant (Alford, Bush, Candlish, Gerlach), but equally wide of the truth is it to see in Laban's conduct nothing but generosity of feeling (Kalisch); probably there was a mixture of both paternal affection and crafty dissimulation (Delitzsch). Thou hast now done foolishly in so doing. The charge of folly in Old Testament Scriptures commonly carries with it an imputation of wrong-doing (cf. 1 Samuel 13:13; 2 Samuel 14:10). It is in the power of my hand—so the phrase יָדִי יֶשׁ־לְאֵל (cf. Deuteronomy 28:32; Nehemiah 5:5; Micah 2:1) is rendered by competent authorities (Gesenius, Furst, Rosenmüller, Kalisch, Murphy, et alii), with which agree laxly, ἡ χειρ μου (LXX.), and valet manus men (Vulgate), though the translation "My hand is for God," i.e. my hand serves me as God (cf. Job 12:6; Hebrews 1:11), is by some preferred (Keil, Knobel, Jacobus)—to do you hurt: but the God of your father—the use of this expression can be rightly regarded neither as a proof of Elohistic authorship (Tuch, Bleek, Colenso, Davidson) nor as a sign of Laban's spiritual degeneracy (Hengstenberg, Wordsworth), since it is practically equivalent to Jehovah (vide Genesis 28:13), but is probably to be viewed as a play upon the sound and sense of the preceding clause, as thus:—"It is in the El of my hand to do you evil, but the Elohim of your father spake to me." Another instance of this play upon the sound and sense is to be found in Genesis 4:19, Genesis 4:20—"Rachel stole the teraphim that were her father's; and Jacob stole the heart of Laban the Syrian"—spake unto me yester night, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob—literally, guard or keep thee for thyself (the pleon, pron. being added ut supra, Genesis 4:24) from speaking with Jacob—either good or bad (vide on Genesis 4:24). And now, though thou wouldest needs be gone (literally, going thou didst go—thou hast indeed gone), because thou sore longedst after thy father's house (literally, because desiring thou didst desire. The verb כָּסַף, to be pale (whence כֶּסֶף, silver, so called from its pale color), expresses the idea of pining away and languishing through strong inward longing), yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods? Laban had probably gone to consult his teraphim and so discovered their loss. Augustine calls attention to this as the first Scripture reference to heathen gods, and Calvin probably supplies the right explanation of the sense in which they were so styled by Laban, non quia deitatem illie putaret esse inclusam, sed quia in honorem deorum imagines illas colebat; vel potius quod Deo sacra facturus, vertebat se ad illas imagines (of. Exodus 32:4; 1 Kings 12:28). "This complaint of Laban, that his "gods were stolen, showeth the vanity of such idolatry" (Ainsworth). Cf. 6:31; 16:24; Jeremiah 10:5, Jeremiah 10:11, Jeremiah 10:15.

Genesis 31:31, Genesis 31:32

And Jacob answered—"in an able and powerful speech" (Kalisch)—and said to Laban (replying to his first interrogation as to why Jacob had stolen away unawares), Because I was afraid: for I said (sc. to myself), Peradventure (literally, lest, i.e. I must depart without informing thee lest) thou wouldest (or shoudest) take by force—the verb signifies to strip off as skin from flesh (vide Micah 3:2), and hence to forcibly remove—thy daughters from me (after which, in response to Laban's question about his stolen gods, he proceeds). With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live. If Jacob meant he shall not live, but I will slay him with mine own hand (Aben Ezra), let God destroy him (Abarbanel), I give him up to thee to put to death (Rosenmüller), let him instantly die (Drusius), he was guilty of great unadvisedness in speech. Accordingly, the import of his words has been mollified by regarding them simply as a prediction, "he will not live," i.e. he will die before his time (Jonathan), a prediction which, the Rabbins note, was fulfilled in Rachel (vide Genesis 35:16, Genesis 35:18); or by connecting them with clause following, "he will not live before our brethren," i.e. let him be henceforth cut off from the society of his kinsmen (LXX; Bush). Yet, even as thus explained, the language of Jacob was precipitats, since he ought first to have inquired at his wives and children before pronouncing so emphatically on a matter of which he was entirely ignorant (Calvin). Before our brethren—not Jacob's sons, but Laban's kinsmen (Genesis 31:23)—discern thou—literally, examine closely for thyself, the hiph. of נָכַר (to be strange) meaning to press strongly into a thing, i.e. to perceive it by finding out its distinguishing characteristics (vide Furst, sub voce)—what is thine with me, and take it to thee. For (literally, and) Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them—otherwise he would have spoken with less heat and more caution.

Genesis 31:33

And Laban went into Jacob's taut, and into Leah's tent, and into the two maid-servants' tents;—the clause affords an interesting glimpse into the manners of the times, showing that not only husbands and wives, but also wives among themselves, possessed separate establishments)—but he found them not. Then went he out of Leah's tent (he probably commenced with Jacob's and those of the hand-maids, and afterwards passed into Leah's), and entered into Rachel's tent—last, because she was the favorite. Cf. Genesis 33:2, in which a similar partiality towards Rachel is exhibited by Jacob.

Genesis 31:34

Now Rachel had taken the images (teraphim), and put them in the camel's furniture,—the camel's furniture was not stramenta cameli (Vulgate), "the camel's straw" (Luther), but the camel's saddle (LXX; Onkelos, Syriac, Calvin, Rosenmüller, Keil, and others), here called כּר, from כָּרַר, an unused root signifying either to go round in a circle, hence to run (Gesenius), or to be firmly wound together, hence to be puffed up as a bolster (Furst). The woman's riding-saddle was commonly made of wicker-work and had the appearance of a basket or cradle. It was usually covered with carpet, and protected against wind, rain, and sun by means of a canopy and curtains, while light was admitted by openings in the side (cf. Gesenius, sub voce; Kalisch in loco). "That which is now customary among the Arabs consists of a large closed basket-work, with a place for sitting and reclining, and a window at the side; one of this kind hangs on each side of the camel" (Gerlach)—and sat upon them. "To us the picture of Rachel seated upon the camel furniture is true to life, for we have often seen its counterpart. The saddle-bags and cushions which were to be set upon the camel lay piled on the floor, while she sat upon them. And Laban searched—the word means to feel out or explore with the hands (cf. Genesis 27:12; Job 12:25)—all the tent, but found them not.

Genesis 31:35

And she said to her father,—"covering theft by subtlety and untruth" (Kalisch), and thus proving herself a time daughter of Laban, as well as showing with how much imperfection her religious character was tainted—Let it not displease my lord—literally, let it not burn with anger ( יִחַר, from חָרָה, to glow, to burn) in the eyes of my lord (Adoni)—that I cannot rise up before thee;—Oriental politeness required children to rise up in the presence of their parents (vide Le Genesis 19:32; and cf. 1 Kings 2:19). Hence Rachel's apology was not unnecessary—for the custom of women—(literally, the way of women; a periphrasis for menstruation (cf. Genesis 18:11) which, under the law, required females, as ceremonially unclean, to be put apart (Le Genesis 15:19). That, prior to the law, this particular statute concerning women was in force among the Aramaeans appears from the present instance; and that it was not exclusively Jewish, but shared in by other nations of antiquity, is the opinion of the best authorities. Roberts mentions that under similar circumstances with Rachel no one in India goes to the temple or any religious ceremony—is upon me. It is just possible Rachel may have been speaking the exact truth, though the probability is she was guilty of fabrication. And he searched (everywhere except among the camel's furniture, partly from fear of defilement, but chiefly as regarding it impossible that Rachel in her then state would sit upon his gods), but found not the images (teraphim). The three times repeated phrase "he found not," emphasizes the completeness, of Lahan's deception.

Genesis 31:36-42

And Jacob was wroth,—literally, and it burned, sc. with indignation (same word as used by Rachel, Genesis 31:35), to Jacob, i.e. he was infuriated at what he believed to be Laban's unjustifiable insinuation about his lost teraphim—and chode—or contended; the fundamental signification of the root, רוּב or רִיב, being to seize or tear, e.g. the hair, hence to strive with the bands (Deuteronomy 33:7), or with words (Psalms 103:9). The two verbs, וַתִּחַר and וַיָּרֶב, give a vivid representation of the exasperation which Jacob felt—with Laban: and Jacob answered and said to Laban,—in words characterized by "verbosity and self-glorification" (Kalisch), or "acute, sensibility and elevated self-consciousness (Delitzsch, Keil), according as one inclines to an unfavorable or favorable view of Jacob's character—What is my trespass? what is my sin, that thou hast so hotly pursued after me? The intensity of Jacob's feeling imparts to his language a rythmical movement, and leads to the selection of poetical forms of expression, such as דָּלַק אַחֲרֵי, to burn after, in the sense of fiercely persecuting, which occurs again only in 1 Samuel 17:53 (vide Gesenius and Furst, sub voce; and cf. Keil, in lose), causing the reader at times to catch "the dance and music of actual verse" (Ewald). Whereas thou hast searched all my stuff,—literally (so. What is my sin) that thou hast felt all my articles (LXX; Kalisch)? the clause being co-ordinate with the preceding; though by others כִּי is taken as equivalent to כַּאֲשֶׁר, quando quidem, since (A.V; Ainsworth), or quando, when (Calvin, Murphy)—what hast thou found of all thy household stuff? set it here Before my brethren and thy brethren (i.e. Laban's kinsmen who accompanied him, who were also of necessity kinsmen to Jacob), that they may judge betwixt us both—which of us has injured the other. This twenty years have I been with thee (vide infra, vet. 41); thy ewes ( רָחֵל, a ewe, whence Rachel) and thy she goatsעֵן a she-goat; cf. Sanscrit, adsha, a he-goat; adsha, a she-goat; Goth; gaitsa; Anglo-Saxon, gat; German, geis; Greek, αἵξ; Turkish, gieik (Gesenius, sub voce)—have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flock have I not eaten. Roberts says that the people of the East do not eat female sheep except when sterile, and that it would be considered folly and prodigality in the extreme to eat that which has the power of producing more. That which was torn of beasts ( טְרֵפָה, a coll. fem; from טָרַף, to tear in pieces, meaning that which is torn in pieces, hence cattle destroyed by wild beasts) I brought not unto thee; I bare the loss of it;— אֲחֶטַּנָּה, literally, I made expiation for it, the piel of חָטָא, signifying to make atonement for a thing by sacrifice (Le 1 Samuel 9:15), or by compensation, as here; hence "I bare the loss it" (Rashi, equivalent to cf. Furst), or ἐγὼ ἀπετίννουν (LXX.), or, perhaps, "I will be at the loss of it, or pay it back" (Kalisch)—of my hand didst thou require it,—otherwise, "of my hand require it" (Kalisch)—whether stolen by day, or stolen by night. Without adhering literally to the text, the LXX. give the sense of this and the preceding clause as being, "From my own I paid back the stolen by day and the stolen by night." Thus I was; (i.e. I was in this condition that) in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night קֶרַח, ice, so called from its smoothness, hence cold. The alternation of heat and cold in many eastern countries is very great and severely felt by shepherds, travelers, and watchmen, who require to pass the night in the open air, and who in consequence are often obliged to wear clothes lined with skins (of. Psalms 121:6; Jeremiah 36:30). "The thermometer at 24° Fahr. at night, a lump of solid ice in our basins in the morning, and then the scorching heat of the day drawing up the moisture, made the neighborhood, convenient as it was, rather a fever-trap, and premonitory symptoms warned us to move". "The night air at Joaiza was keen and cold; indeed there was a sharp frost, and ice appeared on all the little pools about the camp". "Does a master reprove his servant for being idle; he will ask, "What can I do? the heat eats me up by day, and the cold eats me up by night'". And my sleep departed from mine eyes. Syrian shepherds were compelled to watch their flocks often both night and day, and for a whole month together, and repair into long plains and deserts without any shelter; and when reduced to this incessant labor, they were besides chilled by the piercing cold of the morning, and scorched by the succeeding heats of a flaming sun, the opposite action of which often swells and chafes their lips and face". Thus have I been—literally, this to me (or for myself, vide infra)twenty years in thy house; I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle. The majority of expositors understand the twenty years referred to in 1 Samuel 17:38 to be the same as the twenty spoken of here as consisting of fourteen and six. Dr. Kennicott, regarding the twenty years of 1 Samuel 17:38 as having intervened between the fourteen and the six of 1 Samuel 17:41, makes the entire period of Jacob's sojourn in Padan-aram to have been forty years. In support of this he contends—

Genesis 31:43, Genesis 31:44

And Laban answered and said unto Jacob,—neither receiving Jacob's torrent of invective with affected meekness (Candlish), nor proving himself to be completely reformed by the angry recriminations of his "callous and hardened son-in-law (Kalisch); but perhaps simply owning the truth of Jacob's wants, and recognizing that he had no just ground of complaint (Calvin), as well as touched in his paternal affections by the sight of his daughters, from whom he felt that he was about to part for ever. These daughters—literally, the daughters (there)—are my daughters, and these (literally, the) children are my children, and these (literally, the) cattle are my cattle; and all that thou seest is mine. Not as reminding Jacob that he had still a legal claim to his (Jacob's) wives and possessions (Candlish), or at least possessions (Kalisch), though prepared to waive it, but rather as acknowledging that in doing injury to Jacob he would only be proceeding against his own flesh and blood (Calvin, Rosenmüller, Gerlach, Alford). And what can I do this day unto these my daughters,—literally, and as for (or to) my daughters, what can I do to these this day? The LXX; connecting "and to my daughters" with what precedes, reads, καὶ πάντα ὅσα σὺ ὁρᾷς ἐμά ἐσι καὶ τῶν θυγατέρων μουor unto their children which they have born?—i.e. why should I do anything unto them An ego in viscera mea saervirem (Calvin). Now therefore literally, and now, νῦν ο}un (LXX.)—come thou,— לְכָה, imperf; of יָלַךְ—age, go to, come now (cf. Genesis 19:32)—let us make a covenant,—literally, let us cut a covenant, an expression which, according to partitionists (Tuch, Stahelin, Delitzsch, et alii), is not used by the Elohist until after Exodus 14:8; and yet by all such authorities the present verse is assigned to the Elohist (cf. Keil's 'Introduction,' part 1. § 2; div. 1. § 27)—I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee.

HOMILETICS

Genesis 31:22-44

Laban's pursuit of Jacob.

I. THE HOSTILE PREPARATION. Learning of his son-in-law's departure, Laban at once determines on pursuit; not alone for the purpose of recovering his household gods, but chiefly with the view of wreaking his pent-up vengeance on Jacob, whom he now regarded as the spoiler of his fortunes, and if possible to capture and detain the much-coveted flocks and herds which he considered had been practically stolen by his nephew. Mustering his kinsmen by either force or fraud,—by command enjoining those belonging to his household, and by misrepresentation probably beguiling such as were independent of his authority, he loses not a moment, but starts upon the trail of the fugitives. Worldly men are seldom slow in seeking to repair their lost fortunes, and angry men are seldom laggard in exacting revenge, it is only God's vengeance that is slow-footed.

II. THE DIVINE INTERPOSITION. Six days the wrathful Laban follows in pursuit of Jacob, and now the distance of one day is all that parts him from the fugitives. In a dream by night he is warned by Elohim to speak neither good nor bad to Jacob. The incident reminds us of the Divine superintendence of mundane affairs in general, and of God's care for his people in particular; of the access which God ever has to the minds of his dependent creatures, and of the many different ways in which he can communicate his will; of his ability at all times to restrain the wrath of wicked men, and check the hands of evil-doers, who meditate the spoiling of his Church or the persecution of his saints.

III. THE STORMY INTERVIEW.

I. The pompous harangue of Laban. Laban gives way to—

2. The ingenuous response of Jacob. In this are discernible virtues worthy of imitation, if also infirmities deserving reprobation. If Jacob's candor in declaring the reasons of his flight (Genesis 31:31) and willingness to restore to Laban whatever property belonged to him (Genesis 31:32) are examples to be copied, on the other hand, the over-confident assertion that no one had Laban's gods, and the over-hasty imprecation on any who should be found possessing them, are not to be commended.

IV. THE FRUITLESS SEARCH.

1. The missing gods. On the nature, probable origin, and uses of the teraphim see Exposition, Genesis 31:19. The existence of these silver or wooden images in Laban's tent was a proof of the religious declension, if not complete apostasy, of this branch of the family of Terah. Scripture never represents idolatry as an upward effort of the human heart, as a further development in the onward evolution of the soul; but always as a deterioration, or a retrogression, or a falling away of the human spirit from its rightful allegiance. The loss of Laban's manufactured deities was a ridiculous commentary on the folly of worshipping or trusting in a god that could be stolen—a complete reductio ad absurdum of the whole superstructure of idolatry (cf. 1 Kings 18:27; Psalms 115:4, Psalms 115:8; Isaiah 43:19; Isaiah 46:6, Isaiah 46:7; Jeremiah 10:5).

2. The anxious devotee. Invited by Jacob to make a search for his lost teraphim, Laban begins with Jacob's tent, then with the tents of Bilhah and Zilpah, after which he passes into Leah's, and finally comes to Rachel's; but everywhere his efforts to recover his gods are defeated. What a spectacle of infinite humor, if it were not rather of ineffable sadness—a man seeking for his lost gods! The gospel presents us with the opposite picture—the ever-present God seeking for his lost children.

3. The lying daughter. If the conduct of Rachel in carrying off the images of her father was open to serious question (vide Exposition, Genesis 31:19), her behavior towards her father in the tent was utterly inexcusable. Even if she spoke the truth in describing her condition, she was guilty of bare-faced deception. This particular passage in-Rachel's history is painfully suggestive of the disastrous results of worldliness and irreligion in the training of children. Laban's craft and Laban's superstition had both been factors in Rachel's education.

4. The deceived parent. Worse than being disappointed in his gods, Laban was dishonored by his daughter. But what else could he expect? Laban was only reaping as he had sowed. Marvelous and appropriate are God's providential retributions.

V. THE PASSIONATE INVECTIVE. It was now Jacob's turn to pour out the vials of his wrath upon Laban, and certainly it burned all the hotter because of its previous suppression.

1. He upbraids Laban with the unreasonableness of his persecution (Genesis 31:36).

2. He taunts Laban with the fruitlessness of his search (Genesis 31:37).

3. He reminds Laban of the faithful service he had given for twenty years (Genesis 31:38-41).

4. He recalls the crafty attempts to defraud him of which Laban had been guilty (Genesis 31:41).

5. He assures Laban that it was God's gracious care, and neither his honesty nor affection, that had prevented him from being that day a poor man instead of a rich emir (Genesis 31:42).

6. He somewhat fiercely bids Laban accept the rebuke which God had addressed to him the previous night.

VI. THE AMICABLE SETTLEMENT. Doubtless much to Jacob's surprise, the wrath of Laban all at once subsided, and a proposal came from him to bury past animosities, to strike a covenant of friendship with one another, and to part in peace. The seven days' journey, affording time for reflection; the Divine interposition, inspiring him with fear; the mortification resulting from his fruitless search, convincing him that he had really overstepped the bounds of moderation in accusing Jacob; the voice of conscience within his breast re-echoing the words of Jacob, and declaring them to be true; and perhaps the sight of his daughters at last touching a chord in the old man's heart;—all these may have contributed to this unexpected collapse in Laban; but whether or not, Jacob, as became him, cordially assented to the proposition.

Lessons:—

1. The reality of God's care for his people—illustrated by the appearances of Elohim to Jacob and to Laban.

2. The miserable outcome of a worldly life—exemplified in Laban.

3. The efficacy of a soft answer in turning away wrath—proved by Jacob's first response.

4. The difficulty of restraining angry speech within just bounds—exemplified by both.

5. The folly of idolatry, as seen in Laban's lost teraphim.

6. The evil fruits of bad parental training, as they appear in Rachel.

7. The proper way of ending quarrels—exhibited by Laban and Jacob in their covenant agreement.


Verses 45-55

EXPOSITION

Genesis 31:45

And Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar—or Matzebah, as a memorial or witness of the covenant about to be formed (Genesis 31:52); a different transaction from the piling of the stone-heap next referred to (of. Genesis 28:18; Joshua 14:1-15 :27).

Genesis 31:46

And Jacob said unto his brethren,—Laban's kinsmen and his own (vide Genesis 31:37)—Gather stones; and they took stones, and made an heap:—Gal, from Galal, to roll, to move in a circle, probably signified a circular cairn, to be used not as a seat (Gerlach), but as an altar (Genesis 31:54), a witness (Genesis 31:48), and a table (Genesis 31:54), since it is added—and they did eat there—not immediately (Lange), but afterwards, on the conclusion of the covenant (Genesis 31:54)—upon the heap.

Genesis 31:47

And Laban called it Jegar sahadutha:—A Chaldaic term signifying "Heap of testimony," βουνὸς τῆς μαρτυρίας (LXX.); tumulum testis (Vulgate)—but Jacob called it Galeed—compounded of Gal and 'ed and meaning, like the corresponding Aramaic term used' by Laban, "Heap of witness," βουνὸς μάρτυς (LXX.); acervum testimonii (Vulgate). "It is scarcely possible to doubt," says Kalisch, "that an important historical fact," relating to the primitive language of the patriarchs, "is concealed in this part of the narrative;" but whether that fact was that Aramaic, Syriac, or Chaldee was the mother-tongue of the family of Nahor, while Hebrew was acquired by Abraham in Canaan (Block, Delitzsch, Keil), or that Laban had deviated from the original speech of his ancestors, or that' Laban and Jacob both used the same language with some growing dialectic differences (Gosman in Lange, Inglis), Laban simply on this occasion giving the heap a name which would be known to the inhabitants of the district (Wordsworth), seems impossible to determine with certainty. The most that ran be reasonably inferred from the term Jegar-sahadutha is that Aramaic was the language of Mesopotamia (Rosenmüller); besides this expression there is no other evidence that Laban and Jacob conversed in different dialects; while it is certain that the word Mizpah, which was probably also spoken by Laban, is not Chaldee or Aramaic but Hebrew.

Genesis 31:48-50

And Laban said, This heap is a witness between me and thee this day. The historian adding—Therefore was the name of it called (originally by Jacob, and afterwards by the Israelites from this transaction) Galeed (vide on Genesis 31:21). The stony character of the regon may have suggested the designation. And Mizpah;—watchtower from Tsaphah, to watch. Mizpah afterwards became the site of a town in the district of Gilead ( 10:17; 11:11, 11:19, 11:34); which received its name, as the historian intimates, from the pile of witness erected by Laban and his kinsmen, and was later celebrated as the residence of Jephthah ( 11:34) and the seat of the sanctuary ( 11:11). Ewald supposes that the mound (Galeed) and the watch tower (Mispah) were different objects, and that the meaning of the (so-called) legend is that, while the former (the mountain) was riled up by Jacob and his people, the latter (now the city and fortress of Mizpah on one of the heights of Gilead) was constructed by Laban and his followers; but the "grotesqusnesa" of this interpretation of the Hebrew story is its best refutation—for he (i.e. Laban) said, The Lord—Jehovah; a proof that Genesis 31:49, Genesis 31:50 are a Jehovistic interpolation (Tuch, Bleek, Colenso, Kalisch); an indication of their being a subsequent insertion, though not warranting the inference that the entire history is a complication (Keil); a sign that henceforth Laban regarded Jehovah as the representative of his rights (Lange); but probably only a token that Laban, recognizing Jehovah as the only name that would bind the conscience of Jacob (Hengstenberg, Quarry), had for the moment adopted Jacob's theology ('Speaker's Commentary'), but only in self-defense (Wordsworth)—watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another—literally, a man from his companion. If thou shalt afflict my daughters, or if thou shalt take other wives beside my daughters, no man is with us;—either then they stood apart from Laban's clan followers (Inglis); or his meaning was that when widely separated there would be no one to judge betwixt them, or perhaps even to observe them (Rosenmüller), but—see, God (Elohim in contrast to man) is witness betwixt me and thee.

Genesis 31:51-53

And Laban said to Jacob,—according to Ewald the last narrator has transposed the names of Laban and Jacob—Behold this heap, and behold this pillar, which I have cast (same word as in Genesis 31:45. The Arabic version and Samaritan text read yaritha, thou hast erected, instead of yarithi, I have erected or cast up) betwixt me and thee; this heap be witness, and this pillar be witness, that (literally, if, here = that) I will not pass over this heap to thee, and that thou shalt not pass over this heap and this pillar (Laban bound himself never to pass over the heap which he had erected as his witness; whereas Jacob was required to swear that he would never cross the pillar and the pile, both of which were witnesses for him) unto me, for harm. The emphatic word closes the sentence. The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge—the verb is plural, either because Laban regarded the Elohim of Nahor as different from the Elohim of Abraham (Rosenmüller, Keil, Kalisch, Wordsworth, 'Speaker's Commentary'), or because, though acknowledging only one Elohim, he viewed him as maintaining several and distinct relations to the persons named—betwixt us. Laban here invokes his own hereditary Elohim, the Elohim of Abraham's father, to guard his rights and interests under the newly-formed covenant; while Jacob in his adjuration appeals to the Elohim of Abraham's son. And Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac (vide supra, Genesis 31:42).

Genesis 31:54

Then Jacob offered sacrifice—literally, slew a slaying, in ratification of the covenant—upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat bread. The sacrificial meal afterwards became an integral part of the Hebrew ritual (Exodus 14:3-8; Exodus 29:27, Exodus 29:28; Le Exodus 10:14, Exodus 10:15). And they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the mount.

Genesis 31:55

And early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his daughters,—i.e. Rachel and Leah and their children. It does not appear that Laban kissed Jacob on taking final leave of him as he did on first meeting him (Genesis 29:1-35 :39)—and blessed them (cf. Genesis 14:1-24 :60; Genesis 28:1): and Laban departed, and returned unto his place—Padan-aram (cf. Genesis 18:33; Genesis 30:25).

HOMILETICS

Genesis 31:45-55

Galeed and Mizpah, or the covenant of peace.

I. THE COVENANT MEMORIALS.

1. The pillar of remembrance. The erection of the stone slab appears to have been the act of Jacob alone, and to have been designed to commemorate the important transaction about to be entered into with Laban. It is well to keep note of those engagements we make with our fellow-men in order to their punctual fulfillment; much more of those we make with God. It does not appear that any name was given to the column, and this may have been because it was intended chiefly for himself.

2. The pile of witness. This was the work both of Laban and Jacob, which they conjointly performed through the instrumentality of their brethren; and being of the nature of a public monument, it was further characterized by a name—Laban calling it Jegar-sahadutha, and Jacob styling it Galeed, both expressions signifying heap of witness, and perhaps both of them naming it Mizpah, or watchtower, from the nature of the oath which they both took on the occasion. Men who are truly sincere in their covenant engagements are never afraid to bind themselves by public attestations of their good faith, though it is certain that of all men these least require to be so bound.

II. THE COVENANT WORDS.

1. The solemn engagements. On the one hand Laban undertakes never to pass the stone heap on Gilead to do injury to Jacob—not mentioning the pillar, which was purely of Jacob's construction, and therefore supposed to have a religious significance solely for Jacob; and on the other hand Jacob records his vow never to cross the pillar and the pile to inflict wrong on Laban, and in addition, as Laban might be injured in his daughters without crossing the forbidden line, never to afflict Rachel and Leah by taking other wives besides them; The engagement on both sides is to abstain from doing injury of any sort to each other; and to this all men are bound by both natural and revealed religion without the formality of an oath; and much more than other men, are Christians taken bound by God's grace and Christ's blood to live peaceably with all men and be at peace amongst themselves.

2. The impressive oaths. If it is dubious whether Laban appealed to God or only to the stone-heap to witness his sincerity in promising not to harm Jacob, it is certain that he appealed to God to keep a strict eye on Jacob (Genesis 31:49), and in a semi-superstitious way united the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their fathers, to judge between them. Jacob does not mention either pile or pillar, but swears by the fear of his father Isaac.

III. THE COVENANT ACTIONS.

1. The sacrifice. The offering of sacrifice was essential to the formation of a covenant. As between God and man, it virtually proclaimed that God could enter into amicable relations with sinful man only on the basis of an atonement. As between man and man, it was equivalent to an acknowledgment by the covenanting parties that both required to be covered with the blood of propitiation. That Jacob, and not Laban, offered sacrifice intimates that these truths were already in some degree appreciated by Jacob, though possibly they were not understood by Laban.

2. The feast. In making this feast Jacob may only have been following the example of his father Isaac, who similarly entertained Abimelech and his statesmen at Beersheba on the occasion' of the treaty which was there formed between them; but the sacrificial feast afterwards became an important element in the Mosaic cultus, and was designed to express the idea of house and table fellowship between the covenanting parties.

IV. THE COVENANT RESULTS.

1. The kiss of reconciliation. It is not certain that Laban kissed Jacob when he prepared for his departure in the morning; perhaps that was too much to expect; but he kissed Rachel and Leah and their children. It was a sign of forgiveness not alone to them, but through them also to Jacob.

2. The paternal benediction. Laban, whose better nature appears to have returned as the result of the covenant, or of the feast, or of the contemplated parting with his daughters, poured out his feelings in a farewell blessing on their heads. It is the last we hear or see of Laban in the Scripture narrative. Let us hope it was the revival of early kindness and piety in the old man's heart.

HOMILIES BY J.F. MONTGOMERY

Genesis 31:51-55

Final covenant between Jacob and Laban.

I. ENTIRE SEPARATION FROM TEMPTATION IS THE ONLY SAFETY. Very imperfect knowledge in the Mesopotamian family. Rachel's theft of the household gods a sign of both moral and spiritual deficiency. The religion of Jacob and his descendants must be preserved from contamination. Intercourse with the unenlightened and unsanctified, though necessary for a time and in some degree, must not be suffered to obscure the higher light, or surround us with practical entanglements which hinder our faithfulness to God.

II. WHEREVER THE SPIRITUAL LIFE IS FEEBLE IT IS WELL THAT THERE SHOULD BE SOLEMN PUBLIC ACTS OF COVENANT AND TESTIMONY. We want the Galeed and the Mizpah, the heap of witness and the watch-tower of faith. Many united together in the covenant, and thus became witnesses in whose presence the oath was taken. We are helped to faithfulness by the publicity of our vows. But the higher the spiritual life, the less we shall call in material things to support it. Jacob with Laban is not the true Jacob. All dependence upon the symbol and rite is more or less compromise.

III. THE CONTACT OF THE HIGHER FORM OF RELIGION WITH THE LOWER ONE, OF THE MEANS OF PREPARING THE WORLD FOR THE TRUTH. Laban and his family types of the lower order of religious knowledge and life. The covenant between the father-in-law and son-in-law in the name of the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor points to a rising light in the Mesopotamian family. We may be sure that the influence of Christianity will be supreme wherever it is brought face to face with men's religions. That influence may be embodied in matters of common life, in covenants between man and man, in laws and commercial regulations and social arrangements.

IV. THE SEED OF THE DIVINE LIFE IS PLANTED IN THE SOIL OF NATURE, BUT REVEALS ITS SUPERIORITY TO NATURE BY BRINGING ALL THINGS AND MEN INTO SUBJECTION TO ITSELF. Jacob, Rachel, and afterwards Joseph, present to the Spirit of God elements of character which require both elevation and renovation. The grace is given. On a natural foundation inherited from others God rears by his grace a lofty structure. The crafty and the thoughtful are often nearly allied. It is one of the spiritual dangers to which specially energetic and subtle minds are exposed, that they may so easily fall into an abuse of their superior mental quickness to the injury of their moral purity and simplicity. Jacob and Laban making their covenant together, and erecting their witnessing monuments, are another illustration of the homage which even very imperfect characters pay to the God of truth. They appeal to him, and they do so in the presence of a world which they know will justify God, and not the sinner. The God of Abraham, the God of Nahor, the God of Isaac, judged between them. Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and invited his brethren to a sacrificial banquet; and it was in that atmosphere of mingled reverence for God and human affection that the heir of the covenant bade farewell to all that held him in restraint. and set his face once more towards the land of promise.—R.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Genesis 31:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/genesis-31.html. 1897.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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