- Locate the passage
As God blessed Jacob with increasing flocks, Laban’s sons recognized that Jacob’s gain came at their father’s loss and began to despise Jacob. The passage begins with conflict, but ends with a treaty.
The passage is narrative. It records the conversation between Jacob and his wives; Rachel and Laban; and Jacob and Laban.
- Determine the structure of the passage
31:1-2 – Jacob recognizes that Laban’s family has begun to despise him
31:3-13 – Jacob convinces Rachel and Leah that it is time to leave
31:14-16 – Rachel and Leah agree that there is no reason for them to stay
31:17-21 – Jacob flees without telling Laban
31:22-30 – Laban pursues Jacob, rebukes him for leaving, and accuses him of stealing his household idols
31:31-42 – Laban searches for his idols, but does not find them; Jacob responds to Laban in anger
31:43-55 – Jacob and Laban make a covenant together
- Exegete the passage
Jacob’s deceit and Laban’s deceit is further compounded by Rachel’s deceit. It is odd that in the face of his deceit and Rachel’s deceit (although the text suggests that Jacob was unaware of the theft – 31:32) Jacob is still talking about God, the Angel of God, his vow, and worshiping God at Bethel.
Note the significance of the word “steal” (Hb. “ganab”). This verb occurs 8 X in this pericope (19, 20, 26, 27, 30, 32, 39, 39).
This passage pits Laban’s sons against his daughters over Laban’s inheritance. The sons are angry that Jacob has become wealthy at the expense of Laban. The daughters (ironically in unison on this issue) seem to recognize Jacob’s wealth as their inheritance.
This pericope closes the Jacob/Laban cycle.
God spoke to Laban in a dream to ensure Jacob’s protection, like God spoke to Abimelech to ensure Abraham’s (Gen. 20:3-4).
31:1 – The animosity of Laban’s sons reaches Jacob’s attention. The text says that Jacob “heard” their words. It is unclear if he literally overheard them speaking or heard about their complaints.
- The chapter begins with division caused by Laban’s sons and ends with Laban making a treaty for peace (unity) with Jacob and specifically mentions Laban’s grandsons (31:55).
- The enmity of Laban’s sons is met by the Lord’s instruction to Jacob to return home (31:3).
- The sons accuse Jacob of “taking” their father’s wealth
- Note, Rachel and Leah suggest that God has “taken” their father’s wealth
31:1-3 – These verses contain the three reasons introduced in the text for why Jacob chooses to leave Paddam Aram. First, Laban’s sons have become jealous of him and angry at him (vs. 1). Second, Laban’s attitude is no longer friendly towards Jacob (vs. 2). Third, the Lord instructed Jacob to leave (vs. 3).
31:2 – Jacob saw Laban’s attitude (lit. “face”). Cf. 31:5.
31:3 – The language of Jacob’s “fathers” is contrasted in the text to the language of Laban as Rachel and Leah’s “father.”
31:3 – The Lord reiterates His promise of Divine presence with Jacob (cf. Gen. 28:15).
- This was the same promise that the Lord made to Abraham in Gen. 26:3.
- He would also later make this promise to David (2 Sam. 7:9).
- Gen. 32:10.
31:4-15 – Here, Jacob repeats the details of the previous chapter from his own perspective. The main differences are Jacob’s assertion of God’s presence throughout Laban’s changing of his wages (31:4), Jacob’s crediting the Lord for His protection from Laban (31:7) and that Jacob interprets his actions in deceiving Laban as following the directive of the Angel of God (31:11). This detail is not recorded by the narrator in Genesis 30.
31:6 – It seems important for Jacob to know that his wives (Laban’s daughters) recognize that he served their father well.
31:10-13 – Jacob attributes the success of his “plan” with the flocks to the Lord’s direct intervention.
31:11-13 – Jacob’s description of the theophany may be a more complete description of what the narrator described in 31:3.
31:14-15 – Rachel and Leah recognize that their father has “consumed” their money (i.e. their inheritance). Thus, the resources that Jacob has accumulated are part of their inheritance.
31:15 – Rachel and Leah feel like “strangers” from their father.
- “nokri” means, “foreigners.”
- They are willing to leave their father to return with their husband to his homeland.
31:16 – Jacob did not “take” from their father. The Lord has taken away Laban’s wealth.
- They express their willingness to follow whatever the Lord directs Jacob to do.
31:19 – Like her husband stole his brother’s blessing, Rachel stole her father’s idols. This act affirms her feeling of entitlement to an inheritance from her father.
31:22-23 – Laban found out three days later that Jacob and his family had fled. It took him seven days to catch up to Jacob and his family who with their children and livestock are moving much slower than Laban.
31:24 – God instructed Laban not to speak to Jacob “either good or bad.”
31:25-42 – This section contains two cycles of Jacob and Laban’s discussion.
First Cycle: Gen. 31:25-32
- What have you done? (stolen away; carried my daughters as captives)
- Why did you flee and steal from me?
- I would have sent you away with joy and songs
- You did not allow me to kiss my sons and daughters
- You have done foolishly
- It is in my power to do you harm
- God told me not to
- I’m sure you long to be with your father’s house, but why did you steal from me
- Because I was afraid (I thought you might take your daughters back by force)
- Whoever took your stuff should be punished
- Identify what is yours
Second Cycle: Gen. 31:33-42
- Laban (Laban does not speak in this cycle)
- Laban went through all of Jacob’s stuff looking for his idols
- Rachel pretends to be unable to dismount from her camel, where she had hidden the idols
- Jacob (when Laban does not produce anything “stolen” Jacob gets angry)
- What is my sin?
- What have you found that I have stolen? Set it here for everyone to see and judge between you and me.
- I have served you 20 years and have faithfully cared for your flocks
- When loss occurred, I absorbed it
- The work was difficult
- I followed the agreement you and I established
- You kept changing my wages (10 times)
- Unless God had been with me, you would have sent me away empty-handed.
- God judged you last night
31:26 – Laban implies that Jacob coerced Rachel and Leah into going with him
31:30 – Laban interprets Jacob’s departure as homesickness
31:30 – Laban accuses Jacob of stealing his idols
31:32 – The narrator makes it clear that Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the idols.
31:36 – Jacob is angry at being “falsely accused” of stealing from Laban.
31:38-40 – Jacob points out four things about his service to Laban
- He has served Laban well (the flocks have not miscarried)
- He has served Laban honestly (I have not eaten from your flock)
- When the flock has been attacked by beasts, Jacob bore the loss and not Laban
- The work is long hours and uncomfortable
31:41 – Jacob notes that Laban changed their agreement ten times.
- Jacob does not elaborate on how Laban changed his wages
- Perhaps Laban switched from speckled and spotted to non-speckled and non-spotted
- The irony of changing wages so many times, Laban would not be able to determine if any among Jacob’s flock were taken outside of their agreement because he changed the agreement.
- By changing the agreement, Laban actually put himself in the position of having to depend on Jacob’s honesty in following the agreement.
31:42 – God rebuked you last night
- Jacob interprets God’s message to Laban as judgment and Divine confirmation of Jacob’s departure.
- Jacob interpreted Laban’s efforts to change his wages to defraud Jacob of payment.
- “The fear of Isaac” (Cf. 31:52)
- This phrase seems to be a unique name for God that Jacob alone used in Scripture
- Gen. 49:24 – The Mighty One of Jacob”
- God has seen my affliction
- In another instance of Divine all-seeing, Jacob recognized that God “saw” his affliction. God saw creation, Babel, Hagar, Leah, and now Jacob.
31:43 – “These daughters are my daughters
- This is Laban’s response to Jacob’s challenge in 31:37 for Laban to produce something among him that belongs to Laban. Laban said, everything here originally belonged to me.
31:44 – The covenant between Jacob and Laban recalls the covenant between Abraham and Abimelech.
- Laban and Jacob now enter a new agreement. This agreement is not based on wages, but on faith in the Lord
31:45 – Jacob took another stone and used it as a pillar
- Perhaps only Jacob knew the significance of his stone pillar, but he remembered God’s provision at Bethel and made a similar monument as a reminder.
31:47-49 – The location of the covenant is given three names in the text: an Aramaic name, and two different Hebrew names. The Aramaic name (“Jegar Sahadutha” and “Galeed”) both are rendered, “heap of witness.” The other Hebrew name “Mizpah” means, “watch.” The precise location of Mizpah is lost.
- There is a Hb wordplay here between the name, “Mizpah” and the word for the “pillar” (Hb. “mazbah”) that Jacob set up in 31:45.
31:50 – God is witness
- “ed.” The Hebrew “gal” means “heap;” and “ed” means, “witness”
- This “heap” is not the ultimate witness; the ultimate witness is God.
- The meaning of the rocks was not just to remember the occasion; it was to remind them that God is witness
- God sees what we cannot see
31:55 – Laban kissed his daughters and grandchildren as he professed he wanted to do (Cf. 31:28)
- Let the structure of the text drive the sermon
Exp. This pericope emphasizes the need to follow God’s call and trust His protection
Exp. God called Jacob to leave and intervened to protect him from Laban.
- Following God’s Call
- The text implies several reasons for Jacob’s leaving (sons, Laban, Lord; Laban also suggests it was homesickness), but the ultimate reason for Jacob to leave was trusting in God’s Promise (31:3; 10-12).
- God calls us to fulfill His will and our commitment to Him
- His call fulfills His promise
- Trusting His Protection
Exp. When we follow God’s direction, we find God’s protection
Exp. Covenants made by Jacob and Laban might be suspicious (as both would have reason to distrust the other), but the Lord is the ultimate witness
- How do we respond when the World despises our blessing?
- When deception becomes contagious
- The passage demonstrates the consequences of deception on our homes
- A foreigner in your own house
- The sad reality that family division can infect a home
- Rachel and Leah no longer feel at home, at home
- Where is the ultimate source of wealth?
- Our wealth is not in our creativeness or even hard work, but the blessing of the Lord
- When is it time to leave?