Well thank you once again for joining me on this verse by verse Bible study podcast, I’m your host Randy Duncan, and in this episode we’ll be covering Genesis chapter 31, which sees Jacob finally leave Laban’s household, and start his journey back home. This will be the final scene in the relationship between Jacob and Laban. And I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to leave Laban behind and move on.
In the last episode we covered the birth of Jacob’s sons, who will go on to become the twelve tribes of Israel, as well as Jacob approaching Laban and telling him he was ready to return home. And now the time has finally come. And so with that, we begin chapter 31, which will be a bit longer than usual, but there wasn’t a good spot to break ths into two different episodes
1-3 – 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. 3 Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.”
So this chapter begins with Laban’s sons complaining that Jacob has taken all that was Laban’s and had become wealthy. They see Jacob’s wealth as basically stolen from Laban. The reality however, is that Laban was the one who agreed to the wages he would pay Jacob. They sound like many people today who envy and resent the success of others. Rather than ask Jacob for tips on how to better manage flocks, or learning from him, they simply accuse him of stealing it from their father Laban. But this was not true. It wasn’t the reality of the situation. But people will be people, and emotion oftentimes overrides rationality.
There is an old lawyer’s saying that “If you have the law on your side, argue the law. If you have the facts on your side, argue the facts. But if you have neither, pound the table.” Again, sounds a lot like what we see in society today. It doesn’t matter if your position i s based in reality or not, if I yell loud enough maybe I can get my way.
But anyway, Jacob hears all this. Meanwhile, Jacob also notices that Laban’s demeanor towards him has changed. So between both of these, Jacob no doubt sees trouble on the horizon.
And if Jacob had any doubts about whether or not this was the time to leave, God takes care of that for him, as He commands Jacob to return to the land of his fathers. He also reassures Jacob by saying, “And I will be with you”. This also hearkens back to the episode at Bethel, during Jacob’s journey to Laban’s house, where God told Jacob “Remember, I am with you”.
It’s interesting, this is the exact opposite of the command God gave to Abraham. God told Abraham to leave his home and his family, but here, God tells Jacob to return to his home and to the land of his fathers.
But even more importantly I think, God’s command to Jacob to depart foreshadows the Exodus, with Jacob, whose name will be changed by God to Israel, leaves a situation of bondage to return back to his homeland, the land of Canaan.
Now I’m going to read a few more verses together here than I normally do, because there just isn’t a good break-point.
So verses 4-16 read…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.’” 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.”
So Jacob gathers his two wives and lays everything out to them. Up until this point, and through all of the children that were born, Jacob has seemed like a pawn used in the competition between Rachel and Leah. But at this point, he appears to have finally taken a spiritual leadership position.
He calls both wives out into the field where his flock was, and in his discussion with them, he exposes Laban’s character. He probably called them out into the field so that they would not be overheard by anyone else or raise any suspicion.
Now this speech he gives to Rachel and Leah is an important one, because in it, in addition to explaining all that Laban had done, Jacob also openly proclaims his faith by giving all credit to God for his blessing.
When Jacob says that Laban has changed his wage “ten times”, that word in Hebrew literally means, “time and time again”, and so it doesn’t literally mean ten times, it is used rhetorically to mean “repeatedly”.
In his speech, Jacob says that “the God of my father has been with me”. So even though Laban has been against him, God has been with him. Itbrings to mind Romans 8:31 which says “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
But Jacob explains his success with the flocks, and credits the success to God. Telling them that God has taken away the livestock from Laban, and given them to Jacob.
God then reminds Jacob that he is the God of Bethel, which is simply God reminding Jacob about the encounter at Bethel, and of his promise to Jacob that he would be with him, and would protect him and ensure his safe return to his homeland. Remember, this encounter was 20 years earlier, when Jacob was still on his way to Laban’s home after fleeing from Esau.
And God now commands Jacob to “arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred”. Again, sounds almost identical to what God called Abraham to do, only in reverse.
So how do Rachel and Leah respond to Jacob’s speech? They agree. They say “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.” That Hebrew phrase literally means “to consume money”, and so they feel like Laban’s cheating of Jacob over the last several years is equivalent to cheating them, which it is.
What they are saying here is that their father Laban has sold them, used up what was paid for them. They see themselves sort of reduced to livestock, sold off for a profit, rather than their father marrying them off. Furthermore, they say Laban is regarding them as foreigners, as outsiders, which means they would have been deprived of protection and with no legal recourse. They understand that their future, and that of their children, depends on the wealth they have now, but they are afraid Laban will steal that too. IOW, they feel treated as foreigners rather than as members of the household, and exploited in the same way Jacob has been exploited by Laban.
And so they end by telling Jacob “ Now then, whatever God has said to you, do”. Many of us could use that same advice. Whatever God tell us to do, we should do.
And so they acknowledge God’s blessing, and support the journey back to Jacob’s homeland. And with that, Jacob prepares to flee from Laban’s home, and return to his own home
Verses 17-21 – 17 So Jacob arose and set his sons and his wives on camels. 18 He drove away all his livestock, all his property that he had gained, the livestock in his possession that he had acquired in Paddan-aram, to go to the land of Canaan to his father Isaac. 19 Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father’s household gods. 20 And Jacob tricked Laban the Aramean, by not telling him that he intended to flee. 21 He fled with all that he had and arose and crossed the Euphrates, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead.
So Jacob doesn’t lose any time. He gets up in the morning, gathers his family and all his possessions, and sets out for his homeland. But since he has a large caravan travelling with him, this trip back home will be much slower than his trip to Laban’s while travelling alone.
It says that Laban had gone to shear his sheep. This would have been an ideal time for Jacob to leave, because the shearing of sheep required a large number of men working at a great distance from home for an extended period of time. IOW, Laban and his men are preoccupied and far away.
These verses also tell us that while Laban was away, Rachel went in and stole his household gods. These household gods were believed to provide household protection and blessings, and some scholars think there is a connection between access to the family gods and heirship. So Rachel may have stolen them for that reason. And even though she believes in teh God of Jacob, she may also at this point still believed in the power of the pagan idols she grew up with. There are also reasons to think that Rachel may have stolen them so that Laban couldn’t use them in divination, maybe in an effort to prevent Laban from detecting their escape. Or, she may simply have stolen them out of spite. This may be her way of getting back at her father who stole her away from Jacob, stole her property and money. So she now steals his most prized possessions.
And so events for Jacob have now come full circle. Just as Jacob fled his home to the safety of Laban’s, now he flees Laban’s for the safety of his homeland.
22 When it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob had fled, 23 he took his kinsmen with him and pursued him for seven days and followed close after him into the hill country of Gilead. 24 But God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream by night and said to him, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.”
So when Laban hears of Jacob’s flight, he sets out right away in hot pursuit. Laban gathered up his kinsman, and pursued Jacob. This likely would have been his whole clan, which would have been larger than Jacob’s, and would have given Laban military superiority.
As he is catching up with Jacob, God appears to Laban in a dream, and warns him not to say anything to Jacob, good or bad. This was not the first time God has appeared to someone in a dream and warned them about harming one of his people. Remember Abraham and Sarah, Abimelech took Sarah, and God explained the situation to him in a dream. God told Abimelech “Genesis 20:3, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.
Here, God tells Laban “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.” Which literally means “speaking from good until bad”. This is a figure of speech called a merism. A merism is a rhetorical device used to describe something by contrasting its opposites. For example, if you want to tell someone you have looked everywhere for something you have lost, you might say that you have looked near and far, or you looked high and low. You are expressing the totality of something through the combination of opposites.
And so here, when God says be careful not to say anything to Jacob, neither good nor bad, God is warning Laban not to say or do anything to Jacob that will cause him harm. IOW, leave Jacob alone!
V 25 – 32 continue…25 And Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsmen pitched tents in the hill country of Gilead. 26 And Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done, that you have tricked me and driven away my daughters like captives of the sword? 27 Why did you flee secretly and trick me, and did not tell me, so that I might have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre? 28 And why did you not permit me to kiss my sons and my daughters farewell? Now you have done foolishly. 29 It is in my power to do you harm. But the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’ 30 And now you have gone away because you longed greatly for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods?” 31 Jacob answered and said to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force. 32 Anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live. In the presence of our kinsmen point out what I have that is yours, and take it.” Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them.
So here we are , in this climactic scene involving Jacob and Laban. Laban and his men catch up to Jacob and his family. And Laban starts right away by asking Jacob, “What have you done, that you have tricked me and driven away my daughters like captives of the sword? Wow, the irony here of Laban’s words “What have you done, that you have tricked me” These are the very words that Jacob spoke to Laban the morning after his wedding night, when Laban had tricked him!
Laban then accuses Jacob of stealing his daughters and his gods. Laban is so deluded that he doesn’t even recognize his daughters as Jacob’s wives. And again, the irony, as Laban accuses Jacob of stealing Rachel and Leah away like captives in war, while it has actually been Laban who has treated Jacob like a war captive. Again, his words ring empty when he complains that he did not get to send them away with songs and music and a festival, because everyone knew how Laban treated them at the last happy festival, the supposed marriage of Jacob and Rachel. Laban’s speech and his accusations here are pure hypocrisy, and Jacob’ and his wives know it
And after telling Jacob that he has done a foolish thing, an obvious attempt to make Jacob look bad in the eyes of his family, Laban then accuses Jacob of perhaps the most serious charge- stealing his gods.
Jacob responds by telling Laban, “Anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live. In the presence of our kinsmen point out what I have that is yours, and take it.” But Jacob didn’t know that Rachel had stolen them.
So rather than just assuring Laban that he did not steal his gods, he makes this bold and audacious statement. Can you imagine how Rachel must have felt when she heard Jacob say this? Jacob invites Laban to search for the gods, and if he finds them, whoever has stolen them will be put to death. Now Jacob obviously was unware that Rachel had stolen them. If they were found, Jacob of course would lose his reputation and would have appeared guilty. But even worse, Rachel would have perhaps lost her life.
Verses 33-35 continue….33 So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two female servants, but he did not find them. And he went out of Leah’s tent and entered Rachel’s. 34 Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them in the camel’s saddle and sat on them. Laban searched all about the tent, but did not find them. 35 And she said to her father, “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the way of women is upon me.” So he searched but did not find the household gods.
So Laban wastes no time in going into search for his stolen gods. He searches the tents, but doesn’t find them. No huge surprise there, that is about the norm for how men typically look for things! I mean, most of us men can’t look in the refrigerator and find the ketchup bottle!
But Rachel had placed the stolen gods in a saddle, and then she sat on them. And when Laban enters Rachel’s tent and begins looking, she says “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the way of women is upon me.” IOW, Rachel tells Laban that she is not going to get up because she is having her period.
It is Rachel’s condition that prevents Laban from searching the cushion. In this condition, he cannot approach her, and he can’t possibly imagine that she would actually sit on his gods in her condition and defile them like that. That would have been unthinkable to Laban.
This is sort of Rachel’s last bit of retaliation for her father’s treatment. Here, the younger daughter deceives her father, just as she was deceived by him. And it also demonstrates that Rachel must not have thought too highly or too much of Laban’s gods. What she did basically relegated Laban’s idols to the equivalent of sanitary napkins. Her intentional defilement of his gods demonstrates that she rejected them and viewed them as worthless. There is a huge difference between Laban’s idols and Jacob’s God.
Verses 36-42 continue…36 Then Jacob became angry and berated Laban. Jacob said to Laban, “What is my offense? What is my sin, that you have hotly pursued me? 37 For you have searched through all my goods; what have you found of all your household goods? Set it here before my kinsmen and your kinsmen, that they may decide between us two. 38 These twenty years I have been with you. Your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, and I have not eaten the rams of your flocks. 39 What was torn by wild beasts I did not bring to you. I bore the loss of it myself. From my hand you required it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. 40 There I was: by day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes. 41 These twenty years I have been in your house. I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times. 42 If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands and rebuked you last night.”
So it sounds like 20 years of frustration and suppressed anger have finally boiled over within Jacob, and he basically goes off on Laban. Ironically, although Jacob’s complaints about Laban were legitimate, he finally goes off, but he goes off over the one complaint from Laban that was actually valid, that somebody had stolen his idols!
But Jacob asks, “What is my crime? What is my sin? Show me what you found, and bring it out for all to see, so that they can judge between us!! In doing so, Jacob turns the tables, and he goes from being the accused, to now being the accuser.
He reminds Laban of how over the past 20 years he has done right by Laban in his handling of his flocks, and even absorbed the losses himself, going way beyond his actual obligations to Laban.
Jacob also summarizes the 14 years he worked for his wives, and how he endured great hardship along the way, and during that time, laban has cheated him time and time again. And he ends his berating of Laban by saying that if God had not been with him, Laban would have sent him and his family away empty-handed.
V 43- 50 – 43 Then Laban answered and said to Jacob, “The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day for these my daughters or for their children whom they have borne? 44 Come now, let us make a covenant, you and I. And let it be a witness between you and me.” 45 So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46 And Jacob said to his kinsmen, “Gather stones.” And they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there by the heap. 47 Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed. 48 Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” Therefore he named it Galeed, 49 and Mizpah, for he said, “The Lord watch between you and me, when we are out of one another’s sight. 50 If you oppress my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no one is with us, see, God is witness between you and me.”
Laban has now been publicly exposed by Jacob, and even still, he responds with an emotional last attempt to save face by sort of telling Jacob, “All that you have is mine, and if it were not for me, you would still be a nobody, you would still have nothing. Besides, how could you think I would harm my own daughters?” So Laban is completely dismissing the contracts he made with Jacob. But more importantly, he is dismissing God’s hand in all of this, because the truth is that God is the one that has given everything to Jacob.
To Laban, Jacob is nothing more than an indentured servant, and he viewed Jacob’s children and grandchildren as his rightful possessions. But he also understands that his options here are limited.
And so Laban then shifts gears and says “Come now, let us make a treaty together”. By proposing this, he concedes and admits that he has lost the lawsuit. In fact, Jacob has no need of a treaty with Laban, God has vindicated Jacob, and so Jacob has nothing to fear. On the other hand Laban has been plundered, he is now the inferior, and now feels threatened by Jacob, which is why he initiates a non-aggression treaty.
In legal terms, this treaty acknowledges that Jacob is now a separate, independent social entity of equal status. And this comes through in the description here, by the fact that there were two stone markers, two meals, two place-names, two languages, and so forth
Even in his remarks regarding teh treaty, Laban doesn’t recognize the irony of his words, when he tells jacob, “and if you oppress my daughters”…When all the while, the truth is that it has been Laban himself who has oppressed his daughters
And so closing out the last five verses of this chapter – verses 51-55 read – -51 Then Laban said to Jacob, “See this heap and the pillar, which I have set between you and me. 52 This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm. 53 The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.” So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac, 54 and Jacob offered a sacrifice in the hill country and called his kinsmen to eat bread. They ate bread and spent the night in the hill country.55 Early in the morning Laban arose and kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then Laban departed and returned home.
So the purpose of the stone pillars that were erected were to serve two purposes. First, they served as a witness to the peace treaty. But secondly, they also served as boundary markers. They stand as a witness to the agreed upon land between Israel and Aram. And we see later on in 1 & 2 Kings that this area was an area of dispute
Laban also says “May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor judge between us.” So Laban has two dieties in mind here. Jacob’s God and his god. It is important here to notice that Jacob ignores Laban’s exact formula, and he swore only by the “Fear of his father Isaac”, meaning, he is swearing only to his God, not also to the god of Laban.
Erecting a stone monument and offering a sacrifice were two important aspects in the treaty-making process. So Jacob does this. And just as God enabled Abraham and Isaac to establish themselves as a distinct nation, equal to the Phillistines, he also now enables Jacob to do the same with the Arameans.
As we look back at this chapter, and this entire episode of Jacob fleeing Esau, all he endured at the hands of Laban, and now that he is set to return home, I think there are a couple of important things to consider.
First, is the incredible foreshadowing we see in this episode. And what I mean is how the foreshadowing of these chapters with Jacob point to Israel’s bondage to Egypt, and then the subsequent Exodus. Both of them flee from bondage, they leave in response to God’s command to go back to the land of Canaan, they spoil their enemy of wealth and of their Gods, they are both pursued and overtaken by superior forces, and they are both delivered by divine intervention.
And I think the other thing to think about here is that whether when he was leaving his home, on the run from Esau, or now that he will be returning home now that he has been redeemed, Jacob has never travelled alone. And as you go through life, neither do you. When things are going great, or when you are in a season of hardship and difficulties, whether you’re standing on the mountaintop, or walking through the valley, God is there. You see, Jacob has been redeemed, he is coming home. And that same promise is available to you
Isa -41- 10 fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you, For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
Col 1:13-14 – He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.