Genesis 31
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 31 (J, E.)

1–21.  The Flight of Jacob.

22–55.  The Pursuit of Laban, and the Covenant between Laban and Jacob at Gilead.

The greater part of this chapter is taken from E. The discrepancies between it and the previous chapter are to be explained by the compiler’s prevalent use in that chapter of J and in this of E.

And he heard the words of Laban's sons, saying, Jacob hath taken away all that was our father's; and of that which was our father's hath he gotten all this glory.
1. Laban’s sons] See Genesis 30:35. It has hitherto been a contest of wits between Laban and Jacob. Jacob has had the best of it. Laban’s sons are jealous and thoroughly alienated.

glory] R.V. marg. wealth. The Hebrew word kâbôd, usually rendered “honour” or “glory,” has sometimes the meaning of “wealth,” as here and Psalm 49:17, “for when he dieth he shall carry nothing away, his glory shall not descend after him.” Cf. Isaiah 10:3.

And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, behold, it was not toward him as before.
2. the countenance of Laban] Here, and in Genesis 31:5, Laban’s countenance toward Jacob is said to be altered. For this idiomatic use of “the countenance” as expressing feeling, cf. Genesis 4:5.

And the LORD said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee.
3. And the Lord said] In a dream; cf. Genesis 31:11.

the land of thy fathers] i.e. Canaan, as the country of Abraham and Isaac.

I will be with thee] The renewal of the promise of the Divine Presence made to Jacob in Genesis 28:15; cf. Genesis 21:22, Genesis 26:24.

And Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field unto his flock,
And said unto them, I see your father's countenance, that it is not toward me as before; but the God of my father hath been with me.
And ye know that with all my power I have served your father.
And your father hath deceived me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me.
7. changed my wages] The account given in the following passage differs from that in the preceding chapter, Genesis 30:25-31. There Jacob specified the conditions, to which Laban acceded; and then Jacob resorted to artifice, in order to improve his position. Here it is Laban that has specified the wages, and arbitrarily changed them (cf. Genesis 31:41) from time to time. But in every case, by the providence of God, not by Jacob’s cleverness, the result has worked out advantageously to Jacob. In ch. 30 we had principally, probably, the narrative of J; in this chapter, that of E is predominantly employed.

ten times] A phrase used to denote frequency, as in Genesis 31:41, Numbers 14:22, Nehemiah 4:12, Job 19:3, by a round number; Lat. decem vicibus. But LXX, not understanding the Hebrew word rendered “times” (mônîm), seems to have transliterated it with the rendering ἀμνῶν, “lambs” (or is this for μνῶν?), i.e. “ten lambing seasons.”

If he said thus, The speckled shall be thy wages; then all the cattle bare speckled: and if he said thus, The ringstraked shall be thy hire; then bare all the cattle ringstraked.
8. If he said thus] Applying to Laban the proposal made by Jacob in Genesis 30:32.

Thus God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me.
And it came to pass at the time that the cattle conceived, that I lifted up mine eyes, and saw in a dream, and, behold, the rams which leaped upon the cattle were ringstraked, speckled, and grisled.
10. in a dream] Cf. Genesis 20:3. It is thus revealed to Jacob (Genesis 31:10-12) that the birth, in such numbers, of spotted and parti-coloured young is due to God’s goodness towards him, and in order to requite Laban (Genesis 31:12).

grisled] i.e. “gray” (Fr. gris). This Old English word, now generally spelt “grizzled,” occurs also in Zechariah 6:3; Zechariah 6:6. Compare, in Bacon’s Essays, “pusled” for “puzzled.”

And the angel of God spake unto me in a dream, saying, Jacob: And I said, Here am I.
11. And the angel of God] The vision combines the account of the events connected with the wages in Genesis 30:31-42 with the mention of the Divine word to Jacob in Genesis 31:3.

Notice the frequent use of “God” (Elohim), not Lord (Jehovah), in this chapter, Genesis 31:9; Genesis 31:11; Genesis 31:16; Genesis 31:24; Genesis 31:42.

And he said, Lift up now thine eyes, and see, all the rams which leap upon the cattle are ringstraked, speckled, and grisled: for I have seen all that Laban doeth unto thee.
I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred.
13. the God of Beth-el] i.e. the God who appeared unto thee at Beth-el; see Genesis 35:7. For the mention of the pillar and the vow, see Genesis 28:18-22. By the words “I am the God of Beth-el,” the Angel is shewn to be not a created angel, but Jehovah Himself in a manifested form; cf. Exodus 23:20-21, “Behold, I send an angel before thee … my name is in him.” See notes on Genesis 16:10, Genesis 21:17-18, Genesis 22:11-12. The Hebrew text is ungrammatical: LXX ὁ θεὸς ὁ ὀφθείς σοι ἐν τόπῳ θεοῦ.

And Rachel and Leah answered and said unto him, Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father's house?
14. Is there yet] i.e. “we have no reason any longer to expect.” Leah and Rachel had both been alienated from their father by his disregard of their feelings and by his mean grasping policy.

portion or inheritance] A proverbial phrase: see 2 Samuel 20:1; 1 Kings 12:16.

Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath quite devoured also our money.
15. strangers] i.e. foreigners, people of another kindred or country.

sold us] Referring to the bargain by which Jacob had obtained his two wives at the price of fourteen years’ service (Genesis 29:15-20; Genesis 29:27).

our money] Better, as marg., the price paid for us. Laban had taken to himself the full profits of Jacob’s fourteen years’ service as the gift, or mohar, to the bride’s family; but had assigned nothing of it as the dowry or gift to the two brides. Cf. Genesis 24:53. This conduct they imply was contrary to usual custom, and was part of his stinginess. It was too late now to expect him to give anything back.

18 (P). all his substance] It would appear that this verse, taken from P, is the brief summary of Jacob’s departure given in that narrative. The words for “substance” and “his getting,” the mention of “Paddan-aram,” and the redundancy of the language, are characteristic of P.

to Isaac his father] The narrative of JE (Genesis 27:1, Genesis 28:21) would suggest that Isaac had died long previously.

For all the riches which God hath taken from our father, that is ours, and our children's: now then, whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do.
Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon camels;
And he carried away all his cattle, and all his goods which he had gotten, the cattle of his getting, which he had gotten in Padanaram, for to go to Isaac his father in the land of Canaan.
And Laban went to shear his sheep: and Rachel had stolen the images that were her father's.
19. gone to shear his sheep] Jacob selected, as an opportune moment for flight, Laban’s absence from home and attendance at the important festival of sheep-shearing. Among shepherds this was an occasion of feasting, which lasted several days. Cf. 1 Samuel 25:2; 1 Samuel 25:7; 1 Samuel 25:11; 2 Samuel 13:23. Jacob, by seizing this opportunity, is able to get clear away, cross the Euphrates, and start homewards.

the teraphim] The teraphim were the household gods, like the Latin Penates, sometimes small in size, as would appear from this verse and Genesis 31:30; Genesis 31:34; but sometimes, as is to be inferred from 1 Samuel 19:13, large enough to be shaped like human figures. Their presence in the houses of Israelites was common; cf. Jdg 17:4-5; Hosea 3:4. But they seem to have been a source of superstition. The narrative in Genesis 35:2, 1 Samuel 15:23, 2 Kings 23:24, shews that their use was opposed to the best spirit of Israelite religion. The versions here render “teraphim” by “idols,” LXX τὰ εἴδωλα, Lat. idola.

The mention of them here and in Genesis 35:2-4 seems to connect their use with Aramaean influences. There is no reference to them in the story of Abraham and Isaac. Rachel hopes to bring with her the good genius of her own home.

And Jacob stole away unawares to Laban the Syrian, in that he told him not that he fled.
20. stole away, &c.] Heb. stole the heart of Laban the Aramean. Cf. Genesis 31:26. Jacob outwitted Laban; fled secretly, and got three days’ start. For the phrase, cf. the Greek κλέπτειν νοῦν, “to steal the mind,” i.e. to deceive; see 2 Samuel 15:6.

So he fled with all that he had; and he rose up, and passed over the river, and set his face toward the mount Gilead.
21. the River] i.e. the Euphrates. See note on Genesis 15:18. Cf. Psalm 72:8, “from the River unto the ends of the earth.” “Haran” (Genesis 24:4) was Laban’s home.

toward the mountain of Gilead] i.e. towards the hill-country on the east side of Jordan. The name “Gilead” is here used in its widest application.

And it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob was fled.
And he took his brethren with him, and pursued after him seven days' journey; and they overtook him in the mount Gilead.
22–55. The Pursuit of Laban, &c.

23. his brethren] i.e. the men of his kindred and clan, as in Genesis 31:25; Genesis 31:32. Jacob is similarly attended; cf. Genesis 31:37; Genesis 31:46; Genesis 31:54, Genesis 24:60.

seven days’ journey] The distance from Haran to the land of Gilead for a company with flocks and herds would require a longer time. It is computed to be over 300 miles in a straight line. But we do not need to be very exacting about geographical accuracy in old-world popular stories.

The point to notice is that Jacob was encumbered with his flocks and herds and household, and that Laban, travelling without encumbrance in pursuit, overtook him in ten days from his flight.

And God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said unto him, Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.
24. And God came] Cf. Genesis 31:11. For this revelation to Laban the Syrian, compare the revelation to Abimelech, king of Gerar, in Genesis 20:3. It is God, not the “angel of God” (Genesis 31:11), who appears to Laban.

either good or bad] A phrase used by Laban himself in Genesis 24:50.

Then Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the mount: and Laban with his brethren pitched in the mount of Gilead.
25. in the mountain] Very probably the name has dropped out of the text. We should expect a proper name to balance “the mountain of Gilead” in the second clause. The opposing camps were lodged on hill-tops over against each other. Perhaps Mizpah, mentioned in Genesis 31:49, was the name that is here missing.

And Laban said to Jacob, What hast thou done, that thou hast stolen away unawares to me, and carried away my daughters, as captives taken with the sword?
26. What hast thou done?] Cf. Genesis 4:10. Laban’s reproach in Genesis 31:26-30 is expressed in terms of forbearance and injured innocence: why had Jacob fled secretly? why not suffer himself to be dismissed with dignity? For the sake of the God of Isaac Laban will say no more, but he must protest against the theft of his household gods.

Wherefore didst thou flee away secretly, and steal away from me; and didst not tell me, that I might have sent thee away with mirth, and with songs, with tabret, and with harp?
27. steal away from me] Heb. didst steal me; cf. Genesis 31:20.

sent thee away] The same word as in Genesis 12:20, “And they brought him on the way.” The suggestion of a musical accompaniment is rhetorical. The “tabret” (tôph) is the “timbrel” or “tambourine.”

And hast not suffered me to kiss my sons and my daughters? thou hast now done foolishly in so doing.
28. sons … daughters] Laban’s grandchildren; cf. Genesis 31:43; Genesis 31:55.

It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt: but the God of your father spake unto me yesternight, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.
29. in the power of my hand] A Hebrew idiom occurring in Deuteronomy 28:32, Nehemiah 5:5, Proverbs 3:27, Micah 2:1. The word “power” is “Êl,” usually rendered “God”; in this idiom it denotes “power” or “might” in the abstract.

the God of your father] Laban’s conscience smites him, as is implied by the vision recorded in Genesis 31:24.

And now, though thou wouldest needs be gone, because thou sore longedst after thy father's house, yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods?
30. though thou wouldest needs be gone] Lit. “thou art actually gone.”

my gods] “My Elohim, or god,” here in the sense of the figures of the household gods, as in Jdg 18:24, and possibly in Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:7-8; Exodus 32:1.

And Jacob answered and said to Laban, Because I was afraid: for I said, Peradventure thou wouldest take by force thy daughters from me.
31. I was afraid] Jacob’s defence is brief: (1) he fled because he could not trust Laban, who, he thought, would keep his daughters by force; (2) as to the teraphim, he was innocent; if any of his party had stolen them, they should be punished by death.

With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live: before our brethren discern thou what is thine with me, and take it to thee. For Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them.
32. our brethren] Cf. Genesis 31:23.

And Laban went into Jacob's tent, and into Leah's tent, and into the two maidservants' tents; but he found them not. Then went he out of Leah's tent, and entered into Rachel's tent.
33. tent] Four tents are mentioned, one occupied by Jacob, one each by Leah and Rachel, and one by handmaidens. LXX renders by οἶκον = “house.”

Now Rachel had taken the images, and put them in the camel's furniture, and sat upon them. And Laban searched all the tent, but found them not.
34. the camel’s furniture] By this is probably meant the wicker framework of the camel’s saddle, with its trappings and hangings, LXX τὰ σάγματα, Lat. stramenta.

And she said to her father, Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise up before thee; for the custom of women is upon me. And he searched, but found not the images.
35. rise] i.e. in honour to her father. For the custom of rising to do honour to age, see Leviticus 19:32.

And Jacob was wroth, and chode with Laban: and Jacob answered and said to Laban, What is my trespass? what is my sin, that thou hast so hotly pursued after me?
36. trespass … sin] i.e. (a) the particular outrage against the rights of kinship, and (b) moral offence generally. Jacob regards the charge of the theft of the teraphim as a mere pretext, devised by Laban in order to ransack his goods. For the word rendered “trespass,” “transgression,” “rebellion,” cf. Genesis 50:17; 1 Samuel 24:12; 1 Kings 12:19; 2 Kings 8:20.

Whereas thou hast searched all my stuff, what hast thou found of all thy household stuff? set it here before my brethren and thy brethren, that they may judge betwixt us both.
This twenty years have I been with thee; thy ewes and thy she goats have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flock have I not eaten.
38. This twenty years] Jacob’s indignant protest proclaims (1) his length of service, (2) his perfect honesty, (3) his uncomplaining endurance of hardship, in spite of capricious changes in his wage. And now that he has left Haran, it was only because of God’s mercy, and not through Laban’s kindness, that he did not go empty-handed.

That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee; I bare the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it, whether stolen by day, or stolen by night.
39. I brought not unto thee] Jacob allowed himself to be the loser by the animals that were killed by wild beasts. Instead of bringing the mangled remains so that their value might not be deducted, he cheerfully bore the full loss: see Exodus 22:12-13; Amos 3:12. Jacob had exceeded the standard of fairness which was required by custom: “I bare the loss of it,” i.e. “I used to make myself responsible for the loss.”

Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes.
40. drought … frost] The extremes of midday heat and midnight frost. For the variations of temperature, cf. Jeremiah 36:30.

Thus have I been twenty years in thy house; I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle: and thou hast changed my wages ten times.
41. ten times] Cf. Genesis 31:7.

Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely thou hadst sent me away now empty. God hath seen mine affliction and the labour of my hands, and rebuked thee yesternight.
42. the God of my father] Cf. Genesis 31:5.

the Fear of Isaac] Cf. Genesis 31:53. A remarkable phrase, denoting the personal God who was the object of Isaac’s worship. Cf. Isaiah 8:13, “Neither fear ye their fear. The Lord of Hosts … let him be your fear.” It clearly shews not that Isaac was regarded as a deity; but that He whom Isaac feared was the true God of Jacob.

sent me away empty] A regular phrase for destitution; cf. Job 22:9; Luke 1:53.

rebuked thee] Cf. Genesis 31:29.

And Laban answered and said unto Jacob, These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and these cattle are my cattle, and all that thou seest is mine: and what can I do this day unto these my daughters, or unto their children which they have born?
43. my daughters] Laban’s reply, consisting of the claim of complete parental control over Leah and Rachel and their children and their husband’s flocks, is no sort of reply to Jacob’s complaint.

Now therefore come thou, let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee.
44. a covenant] Cf. Genesis 26:28.

a witness] Heb. ‘ed. This word gives the keynote to the transaction, and introduces the play on the word Gilead in Genesis 31:47. But “a covenant” is not “a witness.” Surely some words have dropped out. Several commentators suggest: “And let us make a heap, and let it be for a witness.”

And Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar.
45. Jacob] The name “Jacob” is here almost certainly a gloss. We should read either “and he took a stone,” or “and Laban took a stone.” In Genesis 31:51 Laban says that he set up the pillar or maṣṣêbah. Laban erects the pillar; Jacob makes the heap of stones.

a pillar] Heb. maṣṣêbah. As Jacob had done at Bethel, Genesis 28:18.

And Jacob said unto his brethren, Gather stones; and they took stones, and made an heap: and they did eat there upon the heap.
46. his brethren] i.e. his followers and companions; see Genesis 31:23; Genesis 31:32.

an heap] Heb. gal. What we should now call a “cairn,” on the top of a mountain. Lat. tumulus.

And Laban called it Jegarsahadutha: but Jacob called it Galeed.
47. And Laban called it] This verse, which anticipates and does not agree with Genesis 31:48-49, must be a learned gloss.

Laban the Syrian (cf. Genesis 31:20, Genesis 28:5) gives an Aramaic name, Jacob the Hebrew gives a Hebrew name. In the region of Gilead, in later times, both languages were probably spoken1[25].

[25] “Pillars of testimony” occur to-day in groups at many places, especially where the traveller first catches sight of some sacred spot. Thereupon he sets stones one upon the other in the shape of a column, and says, “Oh, so and so (mentioning the name of the saint whose weli he sees), as I by this bear testimony to thee, so do thou bear testimony to me in the day of judgment” (Peters, Early Hebrew Story, p. 111f.).

And Laban said, This heap is a witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed;
48. Therefore was the name, &c.] A popular etymology thus accounted for the name “Gilead” by derivation from “Galeed.” Probably, some well-known “cairn” on the hill-frontier of Gilead was the reputed scene of the compact between Laban and Jacob. That border feuds were waged between Aramaeans and Israelites, and that the boundaries between the two nations were marked by cairns, is indicated in this story.

And Mizpah; for he said, The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.
49. Mizpah] That is, The watch-tower. Cf. Jdg 11:29, “Mizpeh of Gilead,” and Genesis 31:34, “Mizpah.” Probably a common name for a height. The mention of this name comes in very abruptly at this point, and may be a gloss. The Sam. reads maṣṣêbah, LXX καὶ ἡ ὅρασις = “the vision.” It has been suggested that the high point here indicated might be the Rammath-mizpeh of Joshua 13:25, or the Mizpah in Gilead of Jdg 11:11. A third name for “the heap of stones” is very awkward, and the grammar barely tolerable. The text has undergone some dislocation.

The Lord] LXX ὁ Θεός. Jehovah is the third party in the solemn contract: He is witness; He will uphold the right, and punish the violator of the bond; cf. Genesis 16:5.

between me and thee] The cairn on the hill is to be the witness of the covenant between two sets of people separated at a distance from one another, and tempted to take advantage of one another. The popular use of the word Mizpah, based on this verse, ignores the context, and, in particular, Genesis 31:50. God is here invoked, because of the mutual distrust of the two parties, to watch lest one or the other should violate the compact.

absent] Heb. hidden, i.e. “separated and out of sight.”

If thou shalt afflict my daughters, or if thou shalt take other wives beside my daughters, no man is with us; see, God is witness betwixt me and thee.
50. wives beside my daughters] So that Leah and Rachel may not be exposed to the risk of any indignity. “Afflict,” cf. “dealt hardly” (Genesis 16:6).

And Laban said to Jacob, Behold this heap, and behold this pillar, which I have cast betwixt me and thee;
51. heap … set] Jacob had caused the heap to be collected; Laban had erected the pillar: see note on Genesis 31:45. Two compacts are made: (1) Jacob will not ill-treat Laban’s daughters, Genesis 31:50; (2) neither Laban nor Jacob will pass the boundary heap of stones to do the other harm, Genesis 31:52. The heap of stones and the pillar are the witness of the agreement.

This heap be witness, and this pillar be witness, that I will not pass over this heap to thee, and that thou shalt not pass over this heap and this pillar unto me, for harm.
The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge betwixt us. And Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac.
53. The God of Abraham … Nahor] The verb “judge” is in the plural. See note on Genesis 20:13 for the rare use of the plural verb with “Elohim.” Laban speaks of the God of Abraham, i.e. of the Hebrews in Canaan, and of the God of Nahor, i.e. of the Hebrews in Haran, and as a Syrian may possibly have regarded them as distinct deities. The plural with Elohim is found in Genesis 20:13, Genesis 35:7.

the God of their father] R.V. marg. gods. These words are not found in the LXX and some Hebrew MSS., and are probably a gloss. If they are omitted, the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor were treated in the original form of the narrative as separate, not identical, deities.

the Fear of his father Isaac] See note on Genesis 31:42.

Then Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat bread: and they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the mount.
54. offered a sacrifice] Lit. “killed a sacrifice.” The killing of an animal for sacrifice was the occasion of a feast. The sacrifice consisted not only in an offering to the Deity, but also in the eating of portions of the sacrificial victim by both the contracting parties of the covenant; cf. Genesis 26:30.

eat bread] i.e. to take a meal. To partake of food together was the sign of restored friendship and trust between disputing parties.

And early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his daughters, and blessed them: and Laban departed, and returned unto his place.
55. sons and … daughters] Cf. Genesis 31:28; Genesis 31:43. His grandchildren as well as his two daughters.

unto his place] i.e. his home in Haran; cf. Genesis 18:33; Numbers 24:25.

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