GEN. 31:2-16 COMMENTARY - JACOB FLEES FROM LABAN TO CANAAN
1 Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, "Jacob has taken all that was our father's, and from what was our father's he has gained all this wealth." 2 And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before.
2. (Gen 31:3) God tells Jacob to go back home.
3 Then the LORD said to Jacob, "Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you."
3. (Gen 31:4-13) Jacob explains the situation and his plan to his wives.
4 So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah into the field where his flock was 5 and said to them, "I see that your father does not regard me with favor as he did before. But the God of my father has been with me. 6 You know that I have served your father with all my strength, 7 yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times. But God did not permit him to harm me. 8 If he said, 'The spotted shall be your wages,' then all the flock bore spotted; and if he said, 'The striped shall be your wages,' then all the flock bore striped. 9 Thus God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me. 10 In the breeding season of the flock I lifted up my eyes and saw in a dream that the goats that mated with the flock were striped, spotted, and mottled.11 Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, 'Jacob,' and I said, 'Here I am!' 12 And he said, 'Lift up your eyes and see, all the goats that mate with the flock are striped, spotted, and mottled, for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred.'"
(Gen 31:14-16) Leah and Rachel support Jacob in his desire to move back to Canaan.
14 Then Rachel and Leah answered and said to him, "Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father's house? 15 Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and he has indeed devoured our money. 16 All the wealth that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children. Now then, whatever God has said to you, do."
Gen. 31:1-16 - Word and Phrase Study Guide - Utley [NASB]
Cole's Overview: As Christians we are supposed to be distinct from the world, but many professing Christians have blended in with the world so much that it's hard to tell the difference between them and it. I admit, it's not always easy to relate to the world in a Christian manner. I've often felt like I was between a rock and a hard place, not knowing quite how to act or what to say in some situations. I've often blown it. But it's comforting to know that as long as I'm seeking the Lord, He will protect me when I'm between that rock and hard place and will work patiently with me as I'm in the process of maturing. In Genesis 31, Jacob is between a rock and a hard place. He has left Haran and is heading back to Canaan in obedience to the Lord. Behind him is his crafty father‑in‑law, Laban. Before him is his brother, Esau, whom he had cheated and run from 20 years before. Jacob, in a blundering sort of way, is attempting to break away from Laban and to get back to the place God wants him to be, which means facing Esau. So Jacob is trying to obey God, but he's caught between the rock of Laban and the hard place of Esau, both of whom represent the world. But in spite of Jacob's immaturity and mistakes, God's protective hand is on him. So there are two themes in this story: (1) God's protection of His people from the world in spite of their blunders; and, (2) The need for God's people to separate themselves from the world, as seen in Jacob's separation from Laban and return to the place God wants him.
31:1 "Now Jacob heard the words of Laban's sons, saying" Exactly how old these sons were is uncertain, but they were old enough to tend the flocks by themselves (cf. 30:35). Several years must have passed since chapter 30. Apparently they were repeating what they had heard at home. They were also repeating it in public, which shows that they were not afraid of Jacob's finding out. Their accusations, though understandable, were not factual (cf. 30:30). Before Jacob came, Laban was not a wealthy man. YHWH was with Jacob; Laban had been blessed by the association. ▣ "wealth" This is literally "glory" (BDB 459, cf. KJV). The Hebrew term "glory" means "heaviness" or "weight." It can be used of "honor," but here it seems to mean "physical abundance" (NKJV).
31:2 "Jacob saw the attitude of Laban" Laban was a manipulator. Although he had treated Jacob harshly, he had always smiled at him, but now his countenance had changed.
31:3 "Then the Lord said to Jacob" YHWH took this opportunity of Jacob's recognition of a negative situation to reveal to him that it was time for him to go home ("return," BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal imperative). He reminded him of the Bethel experience with the phrase "I will be with you," which had occurred 20 years earlier (cf. Gen. 28:10-22, esp. v. 15).
31:4 "Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to his flock in the field" Rachel is mentioned first because she was the favored wife. They are called out into the field for a private, secret meeting. Apparently Jacob had not discussed this with his wives before.
31:5 "the God of my father" This is one of several phrases in chapter 31 which shows the historical continuity of God's covenant with several generations of Abraham's family.
31:6 "you know that I have served your father with all my strength" The wives had been cognizant of Jacob's long hours and difficult working schedule in connection with their father. He worked 14 years for them and 6 more years for his own flocks and herds.
31: 7 "Yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times" The term "cheated" (Hiphil perfect) comes from the Hebrew root which means "to mock," "to deceive," or "to trifle with."
The term "changed" (BDB 322, KB 321) is also alluded to in v. 41. Although we are not told exactly how Laban changed his wages, it is obvious from the context that Jacob was supposed to get all of the off-colored animals, but when the off-colored animals produced more offspring, Laban began to take certain groups of them for his own. Every time he made a change, God blessed the remaining flock of Jacob, whether they were speckled or mottled or striped (cf. v. 8).
▣ "ten times" This seems to be a round number used as hyperbole, not exactly ten times (be careful of western literalism).
▣ "God did not allow him to hurt me" Jacob, realizing his position before God, based not only on the prophecy of 25:23, but of God's specific vision to him in 28:10-22, has the theological understanding of what he is experiencing. Laban knew it too (cf. v. 29).
31:8 This verse describes in detail how Laban tried to change their agreement. However, every time he changed it, God changed the breeding habits of the goats and sheep to benefit Jacob (cf. v. 9).
31:9 "God has taken away" This is a strong verb (BDB 664, KB 717, Hiphil imperfect), which in the Hiphil stem denotes "snatching away," cf. vv. 9 and 16. It is used of delivering prey from wild animal attacks (cf. I Sam. 17:34-35; Ezek. 34:10; Amos 3:12). As Laban took away Jacob's rightful wages, now God snatches away his flock and gives it to Jacob. The mechanism of the transfer is described in v. 12.
31:10 "And it came about at the time that the flocks were mating" This describes a subsequent vision that Jacob had concerning the animals which would belong to him. It was not Jacob's manipulation of certain techniques (i.e., 30:37-43), but God's grace, that caused Jacob's portion of the flock to prosper (cf. v. 9, and esp. v. 12).
31:11 "the angel of God" Again, the angel of the Lord is a personification of Deity (i.e., Gen. 16:7-13; 18:1; 19:1; 21:17, 19; 22:11-15; 31:11, 13; 32:24, 30; 48:15, 16; Exod. 3:2, 4; 13:21; 14:19; Jdgs. 6:12, 14; Zech. 3:1-2). He speaks for YHWH. See Special Topic at 12:7.
31:13 "I am the God of Bethel" This refers to God's vision to Jacob which is recorded in Gen. 28:10-22. The God of Jacob's father and grandfather (cf. v. 5) issues new orders.
31:14 Jacob's wives are fully with him!
31:15 "Are we not reckoned by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and has also entirely consumed our purchase price" Here the two daughters of Laban accuse their father of not acting faithfully with them in light of the cultural expectations of that day (Hurrian culture). In the Hurrian documents the "Mohar"or "wife's dowry" was saved, at least in part, for the daughter. However, Laban had taken Jacob's wages and totally consumed them. Verse 15 shows us the daughters recognized this greediness and neglect by Laban their brother. The phrase "entirely consumed" is an infinitive absolute and imperfect verb of the same root (BDB 37, KB 46), which denotes intensity.
Barnes' Gen. 31 Commentary
Jacob had now been twenty years in Laban's service, and was therefore, ninety-six years of age. It has now become manifest that he cannot obtain leave of Laban to return home. He must, therefore, either come off by the high hand, or by secret flight. Jacob has many reasons for preferring the latter course.
Circumstances at length induce Jacob to propose flight to his wives. His prosperity provokes the envy and slander of Laban's sons, and Laban himself becomes estranged. The Lord now commands Jacob to return, and promises him his presence to protect him. Jacob now opens his mind fully to Rachel and Leah. Rachel, we observe, is put first. Several new facts come out in his discourse to them. Ye know - Jacob appeals to his wives on this point - "that with all my might I served your father." He means, of course, to the extent of his engagement. During the last six years he was to provide for his own house, as the Lord permitted him, with the full knowledge and concurrence of Laban. Beyond this, which is a fair and acknowledged exception, he has been faithful in keeping the cattle of Laban. "Your father deceived me, and changed my wages ten times;" that is, as often as he could.
If, at the end of the first year, he found that Jacob had gained considerably, though he began with nothing, he might change his wages every following half-year, and so actually change them ten times in five years. In this case, the preceding chapter only records his original expedients, and then states the final result. "God suffered him not to hurt me." Jacob, we are to remember, left his hire to the providence of God. He thought himself bound at the same time to use all legitimate means for the attainment of the desired end. His expedients may have been perfectly legitimate in the circumstances, but they were evidently of no avail without the divine blessing. And they would become wholly ineffectual when his wages were changed. Hence, he says, God took the cattle and gave them to me. Jacob seems here to record two dreams, the former of which is dated at the rutting season. The dream indicates the result by a symbolic representation, which ascribes it rather to the God of nature than to the man of art. The second dream makes allusion to the former as a process still going on up to the present time. This appears to be an encouragement to Jacob now to commit himself to the Lord on his way home. The angel of the Lord, we observe, announces himself as the God of Bethel, and recalls to Jacob the pillar and the vow. The angel, then, is Yahweh manifesting himself to human apprehension.
His wives entirely accord with his view of their father's selfishness in dealing with his son-in-law, and approve of his intended departure. Jacob makes all the needful preparations for a hasty and secret flight. He avails himself of the occasion when Laban is at a distance probably of three or more days' journey, shearing his sheep. "Rachel stole the teraphim." It is not the business of Scripture to acquaint us with the kinds and characteristics of false worship. Hence, we know little of the teraphim, except that they were employed by those who professed to worship the true God. Rachel had a lingering attachment to these objects of her family's superstitious reverence, and secretly carried them away as relics of a home she was to visit no more, and as sources of safety to herself against the perils of her flight.
Genesis 31:1-21 . ENVY OF LABAN AND SONS - Extra Commentary
1. he heard the words of Laban's sons--It must have been from rumor that Jacob got knowledge of the invidious reflections cast upon him by his cousins; for they were separated at the distance of three days' journey.
2. And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban--literally, "was not the same as yesterday, and the day before," a common Oriental form of speech. The insinuations against Jacob's fidelity by Laban's sons, and the sullen reserve, the churlish conduct, of Laban himself, had made Jacob's situation, in his uncle's establishment, most trying and painful. It is always one of the vexations attendant on worldly prosperity, that it excites the envy of others ( Ecclesiastes 4:4 ); and that, however careful a man is to maintain a good conscience, he cannot always reckon on maintaining a good name, in a censorious world. This, Jacob experienced; and it is probable that, like a good man, he had asked direction and relief in prayer.
3. the Lord said . . . Return unto the land of thy fathers--Notwithstanding the ill usage he had received, Jacob might not have deemed himself at liberty to quit his present sphere, under the impulse of passionate fretfulness and discontent. Having been conducted to Haran by God ( Genesis 28:15 ) and having got a promise that the same heavenly Guardian would bring him again into the land of Canaan, he might have thought he ought not to leave it, without being clearly persuaded as to the path of duty. So ought we to set the Lord before us, and to acknowledge Him in all our ways, our journeys, our settlements, and plans in life.
4. Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah--His wives and family were in their usual residence. Whether he wished them to be present at the festivities of sheep shearing, as some think; or, because he could not leave his flock, he called them both to come to him, in order that, having resolved on immediate departure, he might communicate his intentions. Rachel and Leah only were called, for the other two wives, being secondary and still in a state of servitude, were not entitled to be taken into account. Jacob acted the part of a dutiful husband in telling them his plans; for husbands that love their wives should consult with them and trust in them ( Proverbs 31:11 ).
6. ye know that . . . I have served your father--Having stated his strong grounds of dissatisfaction with their father's conduct and the ill requital he had got for all his faithful services, he informed them of the blessing of God that had made him rich notwithstanding Laban's design to ruin him; and finally, of the command from God he had received to return to his own country, that they might not accuse him of caprice, or disaffection to their family; but be convinced, that in resolving to depart, he acted from a principle of religious obedience.
14. Rachel and Leah answered--Having heard his views, they expressed their entire approval; and from grievances of their own, they were fully as desirous of a separation as himself. They display not only conjugal affection, but piety in following the course described--"whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do" ( Genesis 31:16 ). "Those that are really their husbands' helpmeets will never be their hindrances in doing that to which God calls them" [HENRY].
17. Then Jacob rose up--Little time is spent by pastoral people in removing. The striking down the tents and poles and stowing them among their other baggage; the putting their wives and children in houdas like cradles, on the backs of camels, or in panniers on asses; and the ranging of the various parts of the flock under the respective shepherds; all this is a short process. A plain that is covered in the morning with a long array of tents and with browsing flocks, may, in a few hours, appear so desolate that not a vestige of the encampment remains, except the holes in which the tent poles had been fixed.