Genesis 31:1-55

 |  April 9, 2018

Gen. 31:1-55

  1. 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.

  1. Genre

The passage is narrative. It records the conversation between Jacob and his wives; Rachel and Laban; and Jacob and Laban.

  1. 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

  1. 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.

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).

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.

31:16 – Jacob did not “take” from their father. The Lord has taken away Laban’s wealth.

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

Second Cycle: Gen. 31:33-42

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

31:41 – Jacob notes that Laban changed their agreement ten times.

31:42 – God rebuked you last night

31:43 – “These daughters are my daughters

31:44 – The covenant between Jacob and Laban recalls the covenant between Abraham and Abimelech.

31:45 – Jacob took another stone and used it as a pillar

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.

31:50 – God is witness

31:55 – Laban kissed his daughters and grandchildren as he professed he wanted to do (Cf. 31:28)

  1. 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.

Tangential Lessons:

Category: Sermon Structure
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