Genesis 31:19
And Laban went to shear his sheep: and Rachel had stolen the images that were her father's.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(19) Laban went to shear his sheep.—The sheep-shearing was a joyous time, when the hard toil of the shearers was relieved by feasting ( 1Samuel 25:8 ). Laban’s flocks, apparently, were also at some distance from Haran, and his sons and men-servants would all be with him, busily occupied in the work. Apparently, too, Laban’s wealth was not seriously diminished, though it had not of late increased; and his repeated change of the hire proves that he was quite able to take care of himself. But why was not Jacob present, as he had chief charge of Laban’s flocks? Possibly, he was expected there, and was missed; but, more probably, as the result of the growing estrangement between them, caused by the too rapid increase of Jacob’s riches, Laban and his sons had gradually taken the management of their flocks into their own hands.

Images.—Heb., teraphim, called Laban’s gods in Genesis 31:30, and we find that their worship continued throughout the Old Testament history. Micah sets up teraphim, as well as a molten and a graven image, and an ephod (Judges 18:17). Though in 1Samuel 15:23, where the Authorised Version has idolatry, teraphim are spoken of in strong terms of condemnation, yet Michal possessed them, and placed them in David’s bed. We gather from this that they had a head shaped like that of a man, but, probably, a dwarf trunk, as she seems to have put more than one in the bed to represent David’s body (1Samuel 19:13). So, too, here Rachel hides them under the camel’s furniture (Genesis 31:34), which proves that they, in this case, were of no great size. In the history of the thorough reformation carried out by King Josiah we find the mention of teraphim among the things put away (2Kings 23:24). We learn, nevertheless, from Zechariah 10:2, that they were still used for divination; and from Hosea 3:4 that both pillars and teraphim had long been objects of ordinary superstition among the ten tribes. As Nebuchadnezzar divines by them (Ezekiel 21:21) they were possibly of Chaldean origin; and, probably, were not so much worshipped as used for consultation. Women seem to have been most given to their service, and probably regarded them as charms, and told fortunes by them; and here Rachel stole them upon the supposition that they would bring prosperity to her and her husband.

Genesis 31:19. Laban went to shear his sheep — That part of his flock which was in the hands of his sons, three days’ journey off. Now, 1st, It is certain it was lawful for Jacob to leave his service suddenly: it was not only justified by the particular instructions God gave him, but warranted by the fundamental law of self-preservation, which directs us, when we are in danger, to shift for our own safety, as far as we can do it without wronging our consciences. 2d, It was his prudence to steal away unawares to Laban, lest if Laban had known, he should have hindered him, or plundered him. 3d, It was honestly done to take no more than his own with him, the cattle of his getting. He took what Providence gave him, and would not take the repair of his damages into his own hands. Yet Rachel was not so honest as her husband; she stole her father’s images, and carried them away. The Hebrew calls them teraphim. Some think they were only little representations of the ancestors of the family in statue or picture, which Rachel had a particular fondness for, and was desirous to have with her, now she was going into another country. It should rather seem they were images for a religious use, penates, household gods, either worshipped, or consulted as oracles; and we are willing to hope that she took them away, not out of covetousness, much less for her own use, or out of any superstitions fear, lest Laban, by consulting his teraphim, might know which way they were gone; but with a design to convince her father of the folly of his regard to those as gods which could not secure themselves.31:1-21 The affairs of these families are related very minutely, while (what are called) the great events of states and kingdoms at that period, are not mentioned. The Bible teaches people the common duties of life, how to serve God, how to enjoy the blessings he bestows, and to do good in the various stations and duties of life. Selfish men consider themselves robbed of all that goes past them, and covetousness will even swallow up natural affection. Men's overvaluing worldly wealth is that error which is the root of covetousness, envy, and all evil. The men of the world stand in each other's way, and every one seems to be taking away from the rest; hence discontent, envy, and discord. But there are possessions that will suffice for all; happy they who seek them in the first place. In all our removals we should have respect to the command and promise of God. If He be with us, we need not fear. The perils which surround us are so many, that nothing else can really encourage our hearts. To remember favoured seasons of communion with God, is very refreshing when in difficulties; and we should often recollect our vows, that we fail not to fulfil them.His wives entirely accord with his view of their father's selfishness in dealing with his son-in-law, and approve of his intended departure. Jacob makes all the needful preparations for a hasty and secret flight. He avails himself of the occasion when Laban is at a distance probably of three or more days' journey, shearing his sheep. "Rachel stole the teraphim." It is not the business of Scripture to acquaint us with the kinds and characteristics of false worship. Hence, we know little of the teraphim, except that they were employed by those who professed to worship the true God. Rachel had a lingering attachment to these objects of her family's superstitious reverence, and secretly carried them away as relics of a home she was to visit no more, and as sources of safety to herself against the perils of her flight.18. he carried the cattle of his getting—that is, his own and nothing more. He did not indemnify himself for his many losses by carrying off any thing of Laban's, but was content with what Providence had given him. Some may think that due notice should have been given; but when a man feels himself in danger—the law of self-preservation prescribes the duty of immediate flight, if it can be done consistently with conscience.Quest. 1. What were those teraphim or images?

Answ. They were images made in the shape of men, 1 Samuel 19:13,16, which the Gentiles worshipped as subordinate gods, Genesis 31:30,32, to which they committed the protection of their families, 1 Samuel 19:13, which they used to consult about secret or future things, and from which they received answers about them, Ezekiel 21:21 Zechariah 10:2. Of these see more Judges 17:5 18:14,17, &c.; Hosea 3:4. And these idols Laban worshipped together with the true God.

Quest. 2. Why did Rachel steal them?

Answ. Partly, lest her father by consulting them should discover their flight, and the course which they took; and partly, because she seemed yet to retain a superstitious conceit of them, as may be gathered from Genesis 35:2. Others, because they were pretty and precious things, made of silver and gold, which she took as a part of what was due to her, both as his daughter, and for her husband’s service. Others, that she might remove so great an occasion of her father’s idolatry, and show him the vanity of such gods as might be stolen away. And Laban went to shear his sheep,.... Which were under the care of his sons, and were three days' distance from Jacob's flocks; this gave Jacob a fair opportunity to depart with his family and substance, since Laban and his sons were at such a distance, and their servants with them also:

and Rachel had stolen the images that were her father's; afterwards called gods, which he made use of in an idolatrous and superstitious manner, one way or other: they seem to be a kind of "penates", or household gods; in the Hebrew they are called "teraphim"; and which De Dieu thinks were the same with "seraphim" (z); and were images of angels, consulted on occasion, and placed in the house for the protection of it, and to increase the substance thereof: some take them to be plates of brass describing the hours of the day, a sort of sundials; or were such forms, that at certain times were made to speak, and show things to come: but they rather seem to be images of an human form, as say the Jewish writers, and as seems from 1 Samuel 19:13; and which it is supposed were made under certain constellations, and were a sort of talismans, and were consulted as oracles, and in high esteem with the Chaldeans and Syrians, a people given to astrology, and by which they made their divinations; See Gill on Hosea 3:4 and also See Gill on Zechariah 10:2; and therefore Rachel took them away, that her father might not consult them, and know which way Jacob fled, as Aben Ezra; but this looks as if she had an opinion of them, and that they had such a power of discovering persons and things that were attributed to them: and indeed some think she took them away from an affection and veneration for them, supposing she should not be able to meet with such in Canaan in Isaac's family; and what is observed in Genesis 35:2 seems to countenance this; but one would think she had been better instructed by Jacob during his twenty years' conversation with her; and besides, had she been tinctured with such sort of superstition and idolatry, she would never have used them so indecently, as to have sat upon them in the circumstances in which she was, Genesis 31:34; it is more to her credit and character to say with Jarchi, that she did this to take off her father from the idolatrous worship of them, and to convince him that they were no gods; since they could not inform him of the designs of Jacob, and of his flight, nor secure themselves from being carried away by her; unless it can be thought that she took them because of the metal of which they were made, gold or silver, being willing to have something of her father's goods as her portion, which she thought she had a right unto, or in recompence of her husband's service. Dr. Lightfoot (a) thinks she took them for a civil use, to preserve the memory of some of her ancestors, of which these were the pictures, and Laban had idolized; but whether pictures were so early is questionable.

(z) So Hyde, Hist. Relig. Ver. Pers. c. 20. p. 272. (a) Works, vol. 1. p. 696.

And Laban went to shear his sheep: and Rachel had stolen the {f} images that were her father's.

(f) For so the word here signifies, because Laban calls them gods, Ge 31:30.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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.Verse 19. - And Laban went - or, Now Laban had gone, probably to the other station, which was three days journey from Jacob's flocks (vide Genesis 30:36; and cf. Genesis 31:22) - to shear his sheep. In this work he would probably be detained several days, the time of shearing being commonly regarded as a festal season (cf. Genesis 38:12; 1 Samuel 25:4; 2 Samuel 13:23), at which friendly entertainments were given. Whether Jacob's absence from the festivities is to be explained by the dissension existing between him and Laban, which either caused him to be uninvited or led him to decline the invitation (Kurtz), or by the supposition that he had first gone and subsequently left the banquet (Lange), the fact that Laban was so engaged afforded Jacob the opportunity he desired for making his escape. And Rachel had stolen (or, "and Rachel stole," availing herself likewise of the opportunity presented by her father's absence) the images that were her father's. The teraphim, from an unused root, taraph, signifying to live comfortably, like the Sanscrit trip, Greek τρέφειν, Arabic tarafa (Gesenius, Furst, sub voces), appear to have been small human figures (cf. Genesis 31:34), though the image in 1 Samuel 19:13 must have been nearly life-size, or at least a full-sized bust, sometimes made of silver (Judges 17:4), though commonly constructed of wood (1 Samuel 19:13-16); they were worshipped as gods (εἰδωλα, LXX.; vide, Vulgate, cf. Genesis 31:30), consulted for oracles (Ezekiel 21:26; Zechariah 10:2), and believed to be the custodians and promoters of human happiness (Judges 18:24). Probably derived from the Aramaeans (Furst, Kurtz), or the Chaldeans (Ezekiel 21:21, Kalisch, Wordsworth), the worship of teraphim was subsequently denounced as idolatrous (1 Samuel 15:23; 2 Kings 13:24). Cf. with Rachel's act that ascribed to AEneas: -

"Effigies sacrae divum, Phrygiique Penates,
Quos mecum a Troja, mediisque ex ignibus urbis,"
Extuleram"


(Virg., 'AEn.,' 3. 148-150). Rachel's motive for abstracting her father's teraphim has been variously ascribed to a desire to prevent her father from discovering, by inquiring at his gods, the direction of their flight (Aben Ezra, Rosenmüller), to protect herself, in case, of being overtaken, by an appeal to her father s gods (Josephus), to draw her father from the practice of idolatry (Bazil, Gregory, Nazisnzen, Theodoret), to obtain children for herself through their assistance (Lengerke, Gerlach), to preserve a memorial of her ancestors, whose pictures these teraphim were (Lightfoot); but was probably due to avarice, if the images were made of precious metals (Pererius), or to a taint of superstition which still adhered to her otherwise religious nature (Chrysostom, Calvin, 'Speaker's Commentary ), causing her to look to these idols for protection (Kalisch, Murphy) or consultation (Wordsworth) on her journey. אביכם: for אביכן as in Genesis 32:16, etc. - "Ten times:" i.e., as often as possible, the ten as a round number expressing the idea of completeness. From the statement that Laban had changed his wages ten times, it is evident that when Laban observed, that among his sheep and goats, of one colour only, a large number of mottled young were born, he made repeated attempts to limit the original stipulation by changing the rule as to the colour of the young, and so diminishing Jacob's wages. But when Jacob passes over his own stratagem in silence, and represents all that he aimed at and secured by crafty means as the fruit of God's blessing, this differs no doubt from the account in Genesis 30. It is not a contradiction, however, pointing to a difference in the sources of the two chapters, but merely a difference founded upon actual fact, viz., the fact that Jacob did not tell the whole truth to his wives. Moreover self-help and divine help do not exclude one another. Hence his account of the dream, in which he saw that the rams that leaped upon the cattle were all of various colours, and heard the voice of the angel of God calling his attention to what had been seen, in the words, "I have seen all that Laban hath done to thee," may contain actual truth; and the dream may be regarded as a divine revelation, which was either sent to explain to him now, at the end of the sixth year, "that it was not his stratagem, but the providence of God which had prevented him from falling a victim to Laban's avarice, and had brought him such wealth" (Delitzsch); or, if the dream occurred at an earlier period, was meant to teach him, that "the help of God, without any such self-help, could procure him justice and safety in spite of Laban's selfish covetousness" (Kurtz). It is very difficult to decide between these two interpretations. As Jehovah's instructions to him to return were not given till the end of his period of service, and Jacob connects them so closely with the vision of the rams that they seem contemporaneous, Delitzsch's view appears to deserve the preference. But the עשׂה in Genesis 31:12, "all that Laban is doing to thee," does not exactly suit this meaning; and we should rather expect to find עשׂה used at the end of the time of service. The participle rather favours Kurtz's view, that Jacob had the vision of the rams and the explanation from the angel at the beginning of the last six years of service, but that in his communication to his wives, in which there was no necessity to preserve a strict continuity or distinction of time, he connected it with the divine instructions to return to his home, which he received at the end of his time of service. But if we decide in favour of this view, we have no further guarantee for the objective reality of the vision of the rams, since nothing is said about it in the historical account, and it is nowhere stated that the wealth obtained by Jacob's craftiness was the result of the divine blessing. The attempt so unmistakeably apparent in Jacob's whole conversation with his wives, to place his dealing with Laban in the most favourable light for himself, excites the suspicion, that the vision of which he spoke was nothing more than a natural dream, the materials being supplied by the three thoughts that were most frequently in his mind, by night as well as by day, viz., (1) his own schemes and their success; (2) the promise received at Bethel; (3) the wish to justify his actions to his own conscience; and that these were wrought up by an excited imagination into a visionary dream, of the divine origin of which Jacob himself may not have had the slightest doubt. - In Genesis 31:13 האל has the article in the construct state, contrary to the ordinary rule; cf. Ges. 110, 2b; Ewald, 290.
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