Genesis 31 - Jacob Flees From Laban to Canaan
A. Jacob’s disputes with Laban and his sons.
1. (1-2) Contention with Laban’s sons causes Laban to look differently at Jacob.
Now Jacob heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, “Jacob has taken away all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has acquired all this wealth.” And Jacob saw the countenance of Laban, and indeed it was not favorable toward him as before.
a. Jacob has taken away all that was our father’s: It wasn’t that Jacob had taken anything belonging to Laban. Rather, it was that his wealth was increasing in proportion to Laban’s wealth. The problem wasn’t that Jacob stole, it was that Laban’s sons were filled with envy.
i. Envy will distort the truth. Jacob had not taken anything of Laban’s, but envy will lie.
b. The countenance of Laban . . . was not favorable toward him: The envy of Laban’s sons poisoned Laban’s heart against Jacob. Before, he was entirely pleased with the agreement.
i. Envy is bad not only on its own, but also for the company it keeps: for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:3) For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there (James 3:16).
ii. Instead, Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy (1 Corinthians 13:4).
iii. God wants to deliver us from envy: For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another (Titus 3:3).
iv. Is envy a small sin? It put Jesus on the cross: For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy (Matthew 27:18).
2. (3) God tells Jacob to go back home.
Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you.”
a. Return to the land of your fathers: Even if Jacob never knew it, God prepared him for this time. First, God gave him the desire to go back home (Genesis 30:25). Then his present circumstances became unbearable. Finally, the Lord gave personal direction to Jacob. God often leads us in the same pattern.
b. And I will be with you: This confirmed the direction of God in Jacob’s life.
3. (4-13) Jacob explains the situation and his plan to his wives.
So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field, to his flock, and said to them, “I see your father’s countenance, that it is not favorable toward me as before; but the God of my father has been with me. And you know that with all my might I have served your father. Yet your father has deceived me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not allow him to hurt me. If he said thus: ‘The speckled shall be your wages,’ then all the flocks bore speckled. And if he said thus: ‘The streaked shall be your wages,’ then all the flocks bore streaked. So God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me. And it happened, at the time when the flocks conceived, that I lifted my eyes and saw in a dream, and behold, the rams which leaped upon the flocks were streaked, speckled, and gray-spotted. Then the Angel of God spoke to me in a dream, saying, ‘Jacob.’ And I said, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Lift your eyes now and see, all the rams which leap on the flocks are streaked, speckled, and gray-spotted; for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar and where you made a vow to Me. Now arise, get out of this land, and return to the land of your family.’ “
a. But the God of my father has been with me: Even though Laban tried to cheat Jacob, God protected him all the time. We don’t have to fear what man can do to us when God is on our side.
i. The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? (Psalm 118:6)
b. You know that with all my might I have served your father: This shows Jacob knew his wives were aware of his righteous conduct and Laban’s unfair treatment of him.
c. I am the God of Bethel: God told Jacob to go back to Bethel, back to the place where he first encountered the Lord in a personal way. This is a way of returning to one’s first love and first works (Revelation 2:4-5).
i. I am the God of Bethel: it is good for us to remember times and places where the Lord did great works for us, and met us in wonderful ways. As we remember them, God reminds us He is still the same God Who met our needs then and wants to meet our needs now.
d. The Angel of God spoke to me in a dream: Significantly, there is much more to what the Lord said to Jacob than what was reported in Genesis 31:3. Genesis 31:3 is completely true, but there was more to it than this simple bare word from the Lord.
4. (14-16) Leah and Rachel support Jacob in his desire to move back to Canaan.
Then Rachel and Leah answered and said to him, “Is there still any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house? Are we not considered strangers by him? For he has sold us, and also completely consumed our money. For all these riches which God has taken from our father are really ours and our children’s; now then, whatever God has said to you, do it.”
a. Is there still any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house? Their support was significant. This is a huge undertaking, moving such a massive family so far. If not for the support of his wives, Jacob perhaps would not have done what the Lord had told him to do.
b. Whatever God has said to you, do it: This may be the first time in quite a while when the sisters Leah and Rachel agreed on anything. They can agree in uniting against a common foe - their father Laban.
B. Jacob’s flight from Laban.
1. (17-21) Jacob leaves without saying goodbye.
Then Jacob rose and set his sons and his wives on camels. And he carried away all his livestock and all his possessions which he had gained, his acquired livestock which he had gained in Padan Aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan. Now Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel had stolen the household idols that were her father’s. And Jacob stole away, unknown to Laban the Syrian, in that he did not tell him that he intended to flee. So he fled with all that he had. He arose and crossed the river, and headed toward the mountains of Gilead.
a. Jacob stole away, unknown to Laban the Syrian: God has already told him to go and promised him safe passage. Jacob is clearly acting in the flesh, because has no need to be afraid of Laban or to sneak away.
i. “He could have announced his departure and gone in the glory of an army with banners. But fear made it impossible to reap the full measure of blessing. He sneaked away into the will of God instead of departing in triumph.” (Barnhouse)
b. Rachel had stolen the household idols that were her father’s:
Rachel took her father’s household idols (teraphim). She may have wanted them because perhaps she worshipped these idols and did not want to be without them. Perhaps she did not want her father to inquire of them, using them as tools of divination to catch them (as he may have previously done, Genesis 30:27). Or perhaps it was because such idols were often used as deeds to property and she thought this she was taking her “inheritance.”
i. Perhaps Rachel stole the teraphim simply to get back at her father, whom she felt had mistreated her, her husband, and her whole family. Jewish traditions say Rachel took the teraphim because she wanted to keep her father Laban from idolatry.
c. Headed toward the mountains of Gilead: It was nearly 300 miles from Haran to the mountains of Gilead, but the journey was longer and tougher psychologically for Jacob than anything else. He is leaving the place of safety, where he has lived in a comfortable servitude, to go to a place where God has called him, but dangerous enemies abound (like his brother Esau, who swore to kill him).
2. (22-24) Laban pursues and catches Jacob.
And Laban was told on the third day that Jacob had fled. Then he took his brethren with him and pursued him for seven days’ journey, and he overtook him in the mountains of Gilead. But God had come to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said to him, “Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.”
a. God had come to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night: God’s speaking to Laban in a dream shows he had evil intention towards Jacob. God is protecting Jacob.
3. (25-29) Laban meets and confronts Jacob.
So Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the mountains, and Laban with his brethren pitched in the mountains of Gilead. And Laban said to Jacob: “What have you done, that you have stolen away unknown to me, and carried away my daughters like captives taken with the sword? Why did you flee away secretly, and steal away from me, and not tell me; for I might have sent you away with joy and songs, with timbrel and harp? And you did not allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters. Now you have done foolishly in so doing. It is in my power to do you harm, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.’ “
a. Why did you flee away secretly: Laban first tried to shame Jacob with kindness (“We wanted to throw you a party!”). When that didn’t work (we can only imagine the stony faces answering him), he did what most bullies do - he boasted of his ability to harm Jacob.
4. (30-35) Laban accuses Jacob of stealing his teraphim and searches for them.
“And now you have surely gone because you greatly long for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods?” Then Jacob answered and said to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I said, ‘Perhaps you would take your daughters from me by force.’ With whomever you find your gods, do not let him live. In the presence of our brethren, identify what I have of yours and take it with you.” For Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them. And Laban went into Jacob’s tent, into Leah’s tent, and into the two maids’ tents, but he did not find them. Then he went out of Leah’s tent and entered Rachel’s tent. Now Rachel had taken the household idols, put them in the camel’s saddle, and sat on them. And Laban searched all about the tent but did not find them. And she said to her father, “Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women is with me.” And he searched but did not find the household idols.
a. Why did you steal my gods? Jacob, not knowing his beloved wife Rachel stole the household idols, proclaimed his innocence and pronounced a harsh curse on the thief, not knowing actually put a curse on his own wife.
b. Rachel had taken the household idols, put them in the camel’s saddle, and sat on them: Rachel learned the ways of deception well from her father. She succeeded in deceiving her father about the idols.
i. “Amid much that is sad and even sordid in this story . . . amid craft, deceit, and lying on almost every side, we cannot fail to see the hand of God overruling and making even the wrath of man to praise Him.” (Griffith Thomas, cited in Barnhouse)
5. (36-42) Jacob rebukes his father-in-law Laban.
Then Jacob was angry and rebuked Laban, and Jacob answered and said to Laban: “What is my trespass? What is my sin, that you have so hotly pursued me? Although you have searched all my things, what part of your household things have you found? Set it here before my brethren and your brethren, that they may judge between us both! These twenty years I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried their young, and I have not eaten the rams of your flock. That which was torn by beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it. You required it from my hand, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. There I was! In the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night, and my sleep departed from my eyes. Thus I have been in your house twenty years; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times. Unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked you last night.”
a. Then Jacob was angry and rebuked Laban: It isn’t hard to see these words building up in Jacob for 20 years. He has practiced this speech over and over again in his mind.
b. What is my trespass? How faithfully did Jacob serve Laban? It was an ancient custom that a shepherd could bring the torn carcass of a sheep to his owner, as evidence that he was brave enough to not let the wolf devour it or take it away, and thus the shepherd would be excused. But Jacob says he didn’t even do this, and every animal that was attacked, he made good out of his own flock.
c. Unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had been with me: Jacob saw God’s place in all this. Unfortunately, nowhere does Jacob say, “He is my God.”
C. Laban and Jacob make a covenant.
1. (43-50) Jacob and Laban make a covenant.
And Laban answered and said to Jacob, “These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and this flock is my flock; all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day to these my daughters or to their children whom they have borne? Now therefore, come, let us make a covenant, you and I, and let it be a witness between you and me.” So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. Then Jacob said to his brethren, “Gather stones.” And they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there on the heap. Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed. And Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me this day.” Therefore its name was called Galeed, also Mizpah, because he said, “May the Lord watch between you and me when we are absent one from another. If you afflict my daughters, or if you take other wives besides my daughters, although no man is with us; see, God is witness between you and me!”
a. All that you see is mine: Laban lays claim to all this that is already out of his hand. He says, “It is mine, but Jacob, out of the generosity of my heart, I’ll let you have it.”
b. May the Lord watch between you and me when we are absent one from another: In this covenant, Laban expresses how suspicious he is of Jacob. The idea of Mizpah (“watch”) is “If you do wrong, God will see it and may He punish!”
i. “In effect, the pillar of Mizpah meant, ‘If you come over on my side of this line, the pact is void and I will kill you.’ The covenant breaker would need God to take care of him, because the other would shoot to kill.” (Barnhouse) Mizpah was never meant to be a nice sentiment - despite what your “Mizpah coin” might say.
2. (51-55) A pillar of separation and a parting of their ways.
Then Laban said to Jacob, “Here is this heap and here is this pillar, which I have placed between you and me. This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not pass beyond this heap to you, and you will not pass beyond this heap and this pillar to me, for harm. The God of Abraham, the God of Nahor, and the God of their father judge between us.” And Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac. Then Jacob offered a sacrifice on the mountain, and called his brethren to eat bread. And they ate bread and stayed all night on the mountain. And early in the morning Laban arose, and kissed his sons and daughters and blessed them. Then Laban departed and returned to his place.
a. I will not pass beyond this heap to you: The best solution for Jacob’s in-law problems is for him to separate from Laban. In fact, they erect a pillar to be a barrier between them.
i. There is wisdom in having some separation from in-laws. The Bible does say, therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife (Genesis 2:24), though the separation in Jacob’s case is indeed extreme!
b. Then Laban departed and returned to his place: After a proper good-bye, Laban sees his daughters and grandchildren for the last time. “This is the last we hear of Laban in the Bible, and it is good that this is the end of him. Laban is of the world, and Jacob needed to be freed from this world in order to live wholeheartedly for the God of his fathers.” (Boice)
i. Morris on Laban: “Rather than seeking to follow the truth of God’s plan as witnessed by Jacob, he merely resented and coveted the blessing of God on Jacob. He finally ended up with neither. His life constitutes a sober warning to a great host of semireligious but fundamentally self-worshipping and self-seeking men and women today.”
ii. So, Rachel and Leah were wrong to look to their father Laban for their portion or inheritance (Genesis 31:14) once they were married to Jacob. He now was their portion and inheritance. “Since you are saved and joined to Christ, appraise the world and ask, ‘Is there yet any portion for me?’ If you think there is, you are mistaken.” (Barnhouse)
©2006 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission.