Genesis 30
Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die.

Joseph in Potiphar’s house and in prison. His sufferings on account of his virtue, and his apparent destruction.

CHAPTER 39:1–23

1And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard [life-guardsmen, executioners], an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmaelites, which had brought him down thither. 2And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. 3And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand. 4And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him; and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand. 5And it came to pass from the time that he had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the Lord was upon all that he had in the house and in the field. 6And he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand; and he knew not aught he had save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was a goodly person, and well-favored 7[see Gen 29:17]. And it came to pass, after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me. 8But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he 9hath committed all that he hath to my hand; There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back anything from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? 10And it came to pass as she spake to Joseph, day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her. 11And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within. 12And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out [of the house]. 13And it came to pass, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and was fled forth, 14That she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them, saying, See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us; he came in unto me to he with me, and I cried with a loud voice: 15And it came to pass, when he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me and fled, and got him out. 16And she laid up his garment by her, until his lord came home. 17And she spake unto him according to these words, saying, The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me: 18And it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice, and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled out. 19And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled. 20And Joseph’s master took him, and put him into the prison [stronghold]1 a place where the king’s prisoners [state-prisoners] were bound: and he was there in the prison. 21But the Lord was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it. 23The keeper of the prison looked not to anything that was under his hand, because the Lord was with him, and that which he did, the Lord made it to prosper.


1. The three chapters, 39–42, form a distinct section by themselves. Joseph in Egypt—in his misery and in his exaltation; first, himself apparently lost, afterwards a saviour of the world. Ch. 40 presents the transition from his humiliation to his exaltation.

2. In the section from Gen 39–42, Knobel recognizes the elements of the original text, mingled with the additions of the Jehovist. It is a matter of fact, that the elohistic relations predominate, but in decisive points Jehovah appears as the ruler of Joseph’s destiny.

3. If the preceding chapter might be regarded as a counterpart to ch.37, then the present chapter forms again a counterpart to the one before it. Both chapters agree in referring especially to sexual relations. In the former, Onan’s sin, whoredom, and incest, are spoken of; in the one before us, it is the temptation to adultery. In the former, however, Judah, on account of sexual sins, seems greatly involved in guilt, though it is to be considered that he intended to restrain the unchastity of his sons, that he upholds the levirate law, that he judges severely of the supposed adultery of one betrothed, and that he purposely and decidedly shuns incest. Nevertheless, he himself does not resist the allurement to unchastity, whilst Joseph persistently resists the temptation to adultery, and shines brilliantly as an ancient example of chastity. His first trial, when he was sold, was his suffering innocently in respect to crime, and yet not without some fault arising from his inconsiderateness. His second and more grievous trial was his suffering on account of his virtue and fear of God, and, therefore, especially typical was it in the history of the kingdom of God.

4. Our narrative may be divided into three parts: 1) Joseph’s good conduct and prosperity in Potiphar’s house (Gen 39:1–6); 2) Joseph’s temptation, constancy, and sufferings (Gen 39:6–20); 3) Joseph’s well-being in prison (Gen 39:21–23).


1. Joseph’s good behavior and prosperity in Potiphar’s house (Gen 39:1–6).—And Potiphar bought him (see Gen 37:36).—As captain of the “executioners,” he commanded the guard of the palace, or Pharaoh’s body-guard, who were to execute his death-sentences, and was named accordingly. Concerning this office among other ancient nations, see KNOBEL, p. 303. The name eunuch also denotes a courtier in general; but Knobel, without any ground, would regard Potiphar as really such; though these were frequently married.—And the Lord was with Joseph.—Here the name Jehovah certainly corresponds with the facts. Joseph was not only saved, but it is Jehovah who saves him for the purposes of his kingdom. His master soon recognizes in him the talent with which he undertakes and executes everything entrusted to him. As by Jacob’s entrance into Laban’s house, so by Joseph’s entrance into Potiphar’s, there comes a new prosperity, which strikes Potiphar as something remarkable. He ascribes it to Joseph as a blessing upon his piety, and to his God Jehovah, and raises Joseph to the position of his overseer. In this office he had, doubtless, the management of an extensive land-economy; for in this respect there was, for the military order, a rich provision. It was a good training for the management of the trust he afterwards received in respect to all Egypt. Upon this new influence of Joseph there follows a greater prosperity, and therefore Potiphar commits to him his whole house.—Save the bread which he did eat.SCHRÖDER: “There appears here that characteristic oriental indolence, on account of which a slave who has command of himself may easily attain to an honorable post of influence.” Save the bread, etc. “This,” according to Bohlen, “is an expression of the highest confidence; but the ceremonial Egyptian does not easily commit to a stranger anything that pertains to his food.” Besides, the Egyptians had their own laws concerning food, and did not eat with Hebrews.

2. Joseph’s temptations, consolations, and sufferings (Gen 39:6–20).—And Joseph was a goodly man.—His beauty occasioned his temptations.—His master’s wife cast her eyes upon him.—His temptations are long continued, beginning with lustful persuasions, and ending in a bold attack. Joseph, on the other hand, tries to awaken her conscience; he places the proposed sin in every possible light; it would be a disgraceful abuse of the confidence reposed in him by his master; it would be an outrage upon his rights as a husband; it would be adultery, a great crime in the sight of God. Again, he shuns every opportunity the woman would give him, and finally takes to flight on a pressing occasion which she employs, notwithstanding he is now to expect her deadly revenge. KNOBEL: “The ancients describe Egypt as the home of unchastity (MARTIAL, iv. 42, 4: nequitias tellus scit dare nulla magis), and speak of the great prevalence of marriage infidelity (HEROD, ii. 111; DIOD. SIC. i. 59), as well as of their great sensuality generally. For example, the history of Cleopatra, DIOD. Gen 51. 15.” For similar statements respecting the later and modern Egypt, see KEIL, p. 251, note.—To lie by her.—An euphemistic expression.—That she called unto the men.—Lust changes into hatred. She intends to revenge herself for his refusal. Besides, it is for her own safety; for though Joseph himself might not betray her, she might be betrayed by his garment that he had left behind. Her lying story is characteristic in every feature. Scornfully she calls her husband he (“he hath brought in,” etc.), and thereby betrays her hatred. Joseph she designates as “an Hebrew,” i. e., one of the nomadic people, who was unclean according to Egyptian views (Gen 43:32; 46:34). Both expressions show her anger. She reproaches her husband with having imperilled her virtue, but makes a show of it, by calling the pretended seductions of Joseph a wanton mockery, as though by her outcry she would put herself forth as the guardian of the virtue of the females of her house.—Unto me to mock me.—Her extreme cunning and impudence are proved by the fact that she makes use of Joseph’s garment as the corpus delicti, and that in pretty plain terms she almost reproaches Potiphar with having purposely endangered her chastity.—That his wrath was kindled.—It is to be noticed that it is not exactly said, against Joseph. He puts him into the tower, the state-prison, surrounded by a wall, and in which the prisoners of the king, or the state criminals, were kept. Gen 39:10. Delitzsch and Keil regard this punishment as mild; since, according to DIOD. SIC. i. 28, the Egyptian laws of marriage were severe. It must be remembered, however, that Potiphar decreed this penalty without any trial of the accused, and that his confinement seems to have been unlimited. At the same time, there is something in the opinion, expressed by many, that he himself did not fully believe his wife’s assertion, and intended again, in time, to reinstate Joseph. It may, therefore, have seemed to him most proper to pursue this course, in order to avoid the disgrace of his house, without sacrificing entirely this hitherto faithful servant. The prosperous position that Joseph soon held in the prison seems to intimate that Potiphar was punishing him gently for appearance sake.

3. Joseph’s well-being in the prison (Gen 39:21–23).—Favor in the sight of the keeper.—This was a subordinate officer of Potiphar; and “thus vanishes the difficulty presented by Tuch and Knobel, that Joseph is said to have had two masters, and that mention is made of two captains of the body-guard.” Delitzsch. The overseer of the prison also recognizes Joseph’s worth, and makes him a sort of sub-officer; though he does not, by that, cease to be a prisoner.


1. GERLACH: The important step in the development of the divine plan is now to be made: the house of Jacob was to remove from the land of the promise into a foreign country, as had been announced to Abraham many years before (Gen 15:13). Jacob’s numerous family could no longer remain among the Canaanites, without dispersion, loss of unity and independence, and troublesome conflicts with the inhabitants of the country. “Further on it is said: They were to become a people in the most cultivated country then known, and yet most distinctly separated from the inhabitants.”

2. Jehovah was with Joseph. The covenant God victoriously carries forward his decrees through all the need, sufferings, and ignominy of his people. Joseph, so to say, is now the support of the future development of the Old-Testament theocracy; and on the thread of his severely threatened life, as one above whose head hangs the sword of the heathen executioner, there is suspended, as far as the human eye can see, the destiny both of Israel and the world. God’s omnipotence may, and can, make its purposes dependent from such threads as Joseph in prison, Moses in the ark, David in the cave of Adullam. Providence is sure of the accomplishment of its object.

3. Joseph suffering innocently, yet confiding in God: a. a slave, yet still a free man; b. unfortunate, yet still a child of fortune: c. abandoned, yet still standing firm in the severest temptations; d. forlorn, yet still in the presence of God; e. an object of impending wrath, yet still preserved alive; f. a state-prisoner, and yet himself a prison-keeper; g. every way subdued, yet ever again superior to his condition. In this phase of his life, Joseph is akin to Paul (2 Cor. 6), with whom he has this in common, that, through the persecutions of his brethren, he is forced to carry the light of God’s kingdom into the heathen world,—a fact, it is true, that first appears, in the life of Joseph, in a typical form.

4. Joseph, as an example of chastity, stands here in the brightest light when compared with the conduct of Judah in the previous chapter. From this we see that the divine election of the Messianic tribe was not dependent upon the virtues of the Israelitish patriarchs. We should be mistaken, however, in concluding from this a groundless arbitrariness in the divine government. In the strong fulness of Judah’s nature there lies more that is undeveloped for the future, than in the immature spirituality and self-reliance of Joseph. It is a seal of the truth of Holy Scripture that it admits such seeming paradoxes as no mythology could have invented, as well as a seal of its grandeur that it could so boldly present such a patriarchal parallel to a people proud of its ancestry, whose principal tribe was Judah, and in which Judah and Ephraim were filled with jealousy toward each other.

5. Joseph’s victory shows how a man, and especially a young man, is to overcome temptation. The first requirement is: walk as in the all-seeing presence of God; the second: fight with the weapons of the word in the light of duty (taking the offensive, which the spirit of conversion assumes according to the measure of its strength); the third: avoid the occasions of sin; the fourth: firmness before all things, and, if it must be, flight with the loss of the dress, of the good name, and even of life itself.

6. The curse of adultery and its actual sentence in Joseph’s speech and conduct.

7. The accusation of the woman a picture of cabal, reflecting itself in all times, even the most modern. The first example of gross calumniation in the Sacred Scripture, coming from an adulterous woman, presenting a picture, the very opposite of Joseph’s virtue, as exhibiting the most impudent and revengeful traits of vindictive lying. Thus, also, was Christ calumniated, in a way that might be called the consummation of all calumny, the master-piece of the prince of accusers.

8. Potiphar’s wrath and mildness are indications that he had a presentiment of what the truth really was. It is also an example showing how the pride of the great easily inclines them to sacrifice to the honor of their house the right and happiness of their dependants.


See Doctrinal and Ethical. Joseph’s destiny according to the divine providence: 1. His misfortune in his fortune. As formerly the preference of his father, his variegated coat, and the splendid dreams, prepared for him misfortunes, so now his important function in Potiphar’s house, and his goodly person. 2. His fortune in his misfortune. He was to go to Egypt, assume the condition of a slave, enter prison, and all this in order to become a prophetic man, an interpreter of dreams, an overseer of estates, lord of Egypt, a deliverer of many from hunger, a cause of repentance to his brethren, and of salvation to the house of Jacob.—TAUBE: The promise of suffering, and the blessing of godliness: 1. Its use: “godliness is profitable unto all things; ” 2. its sufferings: “all that will live godly shall suffer persecution; ” 3. its blessing in its exercise: “exercise thyself unto godliness.”

Section First. (Gen 39:1–6). STARKE.: There is no better companion on a journey than God. Blessed are they who never forget to take this society with them wherever they go.—Bibl. Tub.: God’s blessing and grace are with the pious everywhere, even in their severest trials.—CRAMER: Where God is present with his grace, there he will be soon known through his word, and other tokens of his presence.—OSIANDER: Pious servants should be made happy in their service; they should be loved as children, and elevated to higher employments.—LANGE: A beautiful bodily form, and a disposition fundamentally enriched, both by grace and nature! how fitly do they correspond.—SCHRÖDER: In Egypt Jacob’s family had a rich support during the famine; there could it grow up to a great and united people; there it found the best school of human culture; there was the seat of the greatest worldly power, and, therefore, the best occasion in which to introduce those severe sufferings that were to awaken in Israel a longing after redemption, and a spirit of voluntary consecration to God (Hengstenberg).—God’s being with Joseph, however, is not a presence of special revelations, as with the patriarchs, but a presence of blessing and success in all things (Baumgarten).—Joseph happy, though a servant.—Among the implements of agriculture delineated on the Egyptian tombs, there is often to be seen an overseer keeping the accounts of the harvest. In a tomb at Kum el Ahmar there is to be seen the office of a household steward, with all its appurtenances.

Section Second. (Gen 39:7–20). STARKE: LUTHER: Thus far Satan had tempted Joseph on his left side, i. e., by manifold and severe adversities; now he tempts him on the right, by sensuality. This temptation is most severe and dangerous, especially to a young man. For Joseph lived now among the heathen, where such sins were frequent, and could, therefore, more easily excite a disposition in any way inclined to sensual pleasure. The more healthy one is in body, the more violent is this sickness of the soul (Sir. 14:14), The more dangerous temptations are, or the more difficult to be overcome, so much the more plausible and agreeable are they. Nothing is more alluring than the eyes. “And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.”

Gen 39:9. MUSCULUS: In all cases he who sins, sins against God,—even then when he is wronging his fellow-men. But he most especially sins against God who injures the forsaken, the miserable, the “little ones,” and those who are deficient in understanding. For God will protect them, since they cannot be wronged without the grossest wickedness.—AUGUSTINE: Imitentur adolescentes Joseph sanctum, pulchrum corpore, pulchriorem mente.—LANGE: Since by nature shame is implanted in women to a higher degree than in men (in addition to the fact, that in consenting and transgression she is exposed to more danger and shame), so much the more disgraceful is it when she so degenerates as not only to lay snares secretly for the other sex, but also impudently to importune them.—THE SAME: The fear of God is the best means of grace for avoiding sin and shame.—HALL: A pious heart would rather remain humbled in the dust then rise by sinful means.

Gen 39:12. He preferred to leave his garment behind him, rather than a good conscience.—LANGE: In a temptation to adultery and fornication, flight becomes the most pressing necessity.

Gen 39:18. CRAMER: The devil will be true to his nature; for as he is an unclean spirit, so also is he a liar.—HALL: Wickedness is ever artful in getting up false charges against the virtues and good works of others (Acts 16:20). We must be patient toward the diabolical slanders of the impious; for God finally comes and judges them.—Beware of the act itself; against the lie there may be found a remedy

Gen 39:19, 20. He who believes easily is easily deceived. Magistrates should neither be partial, hasty, nor too passionate.

SCHRÖDER: “Joseph was a goodly person.” With literal reference to Gen 29:17, Joseph was the reflected image of his mother. They in whose hearts the Holy Spirit dwells, are wont to have a countenance frank, upright, and joyful (Luther).—The love of Potiphar’s wife was far more dangerous to Joseph than the hatred of his brothers (Rambach).—Now a far worse servitude threatens him, namely, that of sin (Krummacher).—Joseph had a chaste heart, and, therefore, a modest tongue (Val. Herberger). Unchaste expressions a mark of unchaste thoughts. On the monuments may be seen Egyptian women who are so drunk with wine that they cannot stand. Of a restriction of wives, as customary afterwards in the East, and even in Greece, we find no trace.—Joseph lets his mantle go, but holds on to a good conscience. Joseph is again stripped of his garment, and again does it serve for the deception of others.—Sensual love changes suddenly into hatred (2 Sam. 13:15).—CALWER Handbuch: Such flight is more honorable than the most heroic deeds.

Section Third. (Gen 39:21–23). STARKE: OSIANDER: To a pious man there cannot happen a severer misfortune than the reputation of guilt, and of deserved punishment therefor, when he is innocent (Rom. 8:28).—CRAMER: God sympathises with those who suffer innocently (James 1:3). God bringeth his elect down to the grave, but bringeth them up again (1 Sam. 2:6). Whom God would revive, can no one stifle. Whom God favors, no misfortune can harm.

SCHRÖDER: Those who believe in God must suffer on account of virtue, truth, and goodness; not on account of sin and shame (Luther). Exaltation in humiliation, a sceptre in a prison, servant and Lord—even as Christ.—God’s eyes behold the prison, the fetters, and the most shameful death, as he beholds the fair and shining sun. In Joseph’s condition nothing is to be seen but death, the loss of his fair fame, and of all his virtues. Now comes Christ with his eyes of grace, and throws light into the grave. Joseph is to become a Lord, though he had seemingly entered into the prison of hell (Luther). Joseph’s way is now for a time in the darkness, but this is the very way through which God often leads his people. Thus Moses, David, Paul, Luther; so lived the Son of God to his thirtieth year in Nazareth. Nothing is more opposed to God than that impatience of the power of nature which would violently usurp his holy government.—STOLBERG justly commends “the inimitable simplicity of Joseph’s history, narrated in the most vivid manner, and bearing on its face the most unmistakable seal of truth.”


1[Gen 39:20.—בֵּית הַסֹּהַר. Literally, the round house, so called from its shape, which was different from the common Egyptian architecture—thus constructed, perhaps, as giving greater strength. Aben Ezra expresses the opinion that the word is Egyptian; but it occurs in Hebrew, as in Cant. 7:3 (סַהַר), where it evidently has the sense of roundness, and is so rendered in the ancient versions. This is confirmed by its near relationship to the more common סחר, to go round, from which the Syriac has its word ܒܩ ܫܫܖ̇ܬ ܐ for tower or castle. Although Joseph, for policy, used an interpreter when speaking with his brethren, yet there must have been, at this time, a great affinity between the Shemitic and the old Egyptian tongue. Very many of the words must have been the same in both languages. The LXX. have rendered it, ἐν ὀχυρώματι, in the stronghold; Vulg., simply in carcerem.—T. L.]

And Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, Am I in God's stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?

Jacob’s thought of returning home. New treaty with Laban. His closely calculated proposition (Prelude to the method of acquiring possession of the Egyptian vessels). Laban’s displeasure. God’s command to return

CHAPTER 30:25–31:3

25And it came to pass, when Rachel had borne Joseph, that Jacob said unto Laban, Send me away [let me go], that I may go unto mine own place, and to my country. 26Give me my wives and my children, for whom I have served thee, and let me go: for thou knowest my service which I have done thee. 27And Laban said unto him, I pray thee, if I have found favour in thine eyes, tarry; for I have learned by experience3 that the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake. 28And he said, [farther], Appoint me thy 29wages, and I will give it. And [But] he said unto him, Thou knowest how I have 30served thee, and how thy cattle was with me [what thy herds have become under me]. For it was little which thou hadst before I came, and it is now increased unto a multitude; and the Lord hath blessed thee, since my coming4 [after me]: and now when shall I provide for mine own house also? 31And he said, What shall I give thee? And Jacob said, Thou shalt not give me anything [anything peculiar], If thou wilt do this thing for me, I will again feed and keep thy flock [small cattle]: 32I will pass through all thy flock to-day, removing from thence all the speckled and spotted [dappled] cattle [lambs], and all the brown [dark-colored] cattle among the sheep, and the spotted and speckled among the goats: and of such shall be my hire. 33So shall my righteousness [rectitude] answer for me in time to come,5 when it shall come for my hire; before thy face: every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and brown among the sheep, that shall be counted stolen with me. 34And Laban said, Behold, I would it might be according to thy word. 35And he removed that day the he-goats that were ringstreaked [striped] and spotted, and all the she-goats that were speckled and spotted, and every one that had some white in it, and all the brown among the sheep, and gave them into the hands of his sons. 36And he set three days’ journey betwixt himself [the shepherds and flocks of Laban] and Jacob [the flocks of Jacob under his sons]: and Jacob fed the rest [the sifted] of Laban’s flocks.

37And Jacob took him rods of green poplar, [gum] and of the hazel [almond] and chestnut-tree [maple]6; and pilled white streaks in them, and made the white appear which 38 was in the rods. And he laid the rods which he had [striped] pilled before the flocks in the gutters in the watering-troughs7 when the flocks came [to which the flocks must come] to drink, that they should conceive when they came to drink. 39And the flocks conceived before the rods, and brought forth [threw, cast] ringstreaked, speckled and spotted. 40And Jacob did separate the lambs, and set the faces of the flocks toward the ringstraked, and all the brown in the flock of Laban; and he put his own flocks by themselves, and put them not unto Laban’s cattle. 41And it came to pass, whensoever the stronger cattle did conceive, that Jacob laid the rods before the eyes of the cattle in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods. 42But when the cattle were feeble, 43he put them not in: so the feebler were Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s. And the man increased exceedingly, and had much [small] cattle, and maid-servants, and menservants, and camels and asses.

 Gen 31:1And 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 [riches]8. 2And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, behold, it was 3not toward him as before9 [formerly]. And [Then] the Lord said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred [thy home]; and I will be with thee.


1. The term בִּגְלָל, Gen 30:27 (comp. Gen 12:13), shows that this section, according to Knobel, is Jehovistic.

2. In consequence of Laban’s deception, Jacob must serve fourteen years for his Rachel. According to Gen 31:41 he served him six years longer, agreeably to the terms of the contract that he had just now concluded with him.

3. The doubtful way in which he now secured his reward leads us to conjecture that he was conscious that he had been defrauded by Laban, and that he was dealing with a selfish man, whose selfishness and power, he thought, could only be countervailed by cunning. Nor is it to be denied that wisdom’s weapon is given to the feeble to protect himself against the harsh and cruel power of the strong. Our narrative comes under the same category with the surreptitious obtaining of the blessing of the first-born by Jacob, and the acquisition of the gold and silver vessels of the Egyptians by the Israelites. The prudence manifested in these cases is the same; but still there was a real deception in the first case (one deception, however, against another); in the present case it was simply an overreaching, while in the third they were only availing themselves of the situation of the Egyptians, i. e., their disposition. In all three cases, however, the artful, or at least wisely-calculated, project, was provoked by a great and gross wrong. Esau proposes to take back the birthright which he had sold to Jacob. Laban caused him to perform a service of fourteen years, and intends to make him still further a prey to his avarice. The Egyptians have indeed consumed the very strength of Israel by their bondage. And if the scale here turns against Jacob because he thus cunningly overreached his father-in-law, it is balanced by Laban’s pressing him again into his service, that he might misuse him anew; nor is the marvellous charm to be left out of view, which lay in his ancient nomadic science and art. Superior minds were never inclined to let their arts and sciences lie dormant.


1. Gen 30:25–34. The new contract.—When Rachel.—At Joseph’s birth [which therefore could not have occurred until the fifteenth year of his residence with Laban.—A. G.] a strong feeling comes over Jacob, which leads him to believe that he is to return home without having received a call from thence or a divine command here. It is apparent from what follows that he first of all wished to become independent of Laban, in order to provide for his own. He is, therefore, soon hampered again, since a fair prospect opened to him now and here. Laban’s character now comes into view in every utterance.—May I still grace, etc., lit., If I have found favor, etc. If this expression may be called an aposiopesis, we must still bear in mind that this was a standing form of expression even in the oath. Keil supplies “stay yet.” The optative form already expresses all that is possible. If נחשתי is, according to Delitzsch, a heathen expression, then the phraseology in Laban’s mouth appears more striking still, through the connection of this expression with Jehovah’s name.—Appoint me.—He not only recognizes, almost fawningly, Jacob’s worth to his house, but is even willing to yield unconditionally to his determination—a proof that he did not expect of Jacob too great a demand. But Jacob is not inclined to trust himself to his generosity, and hence his cunningly calculated though seemingly trifling demand. Laban’s consent to his demand, however, breathes in the very expression the joy of selfishness; and it is scarcely sufficient to translate: Behold, I would it might be according to thy word. But Jacob’s proposition seems to point to a very trifling reward, since the sheep in the East are nearly all white, while the goats are generally of a dark color or speckled. For he only demands of Laban’s herds those sheep that have dark spots or specks, or that are entirely black, and those only of the goats that were white-spotted or striped. But he does not only demand the speckled lambs brought forth hereafter, after the present number of such are set aside for Laban (Tuch, Baumg., Kurtz), but the present inspection is to form the first stock of his herds (Knobel, Delitzsch). [The words, “thou shalt not give me anything,” seem to indicate that Jacob had no stock from Laban to begin with, and did not intend to be dependent upon him for any part of his possessions. Those of this description which should appear among the flocks should be his hire. He would depend upon the divine providence and his own skill. He would be no more indebted to Laban than Abraham to the king of Sodom.—A. G.] Afterwards, also, the speckled ones brought forth among Laban’s herds are to be added to his, as is evident from his following arts. Michaelis and Bohlen miss the purport, but it lies in verse 33. For when he invites Laban to muster his herds in time to come, ביום מחר it surely does not mean literally the next day, as Delitzsch supposes, but in time to come (see Gesenius, מחר). As often as Laban came to Jacob’s herds in the future he must regard all the increase in speckled and ringstreaked lambs as Jacob’s property, but if he found a purely white sheep or an entirely black goat, then, and only then, he might regard it as stolen. (As to the sheep and goats of the East, see Bible Dictionaries, the Natural History of the Bible, and KNOBEL, p. 246.) Moreover, this transaction is not conducted wholly “in the conventional forms of oriental politeness, as in Gen 23, between Abraham and the Hittites” (Del.). Laban’s language is submissive, while that of Jacob is very frank and bold, as became his invigorated courage and the sense of the injustice which he had suffered.

2. Gen 30:35, 36. The separation of the herds.—And he removed.—It surely is not correct, as Rosenmüller, Maurer, Del. and Keil suppose, that Laban is here referred to; that Laban, “to be more certain,” had removed the speckled ones himself and put them under the care of his own sons. In this view everything becomes confused, and Bohlen justly remarks: “The reference here is to Jacob, because he intended to separate the animals (Gen 30:32), as certainly it was proper for the head servant to do, and because there is no mention of Laban’s sons until Gen 31:1, while Jacob’s older children were certainly able to take care of the sheep.” Reuben, at the close of this new term of six years, had probably reached his thirteenth year, Simeon his eleventh. But even if they had not reached these years, the expression he gave them, בּיד־בּניו, could mean: he formed a new family state, or herds, as a possession of his sons, although they were assisted in the management by the mothers, maids, and servants, since he himself had anew become Laban’s servant. Hence it is also possible (Gen 30:36) for him to make a distinction between himself as Laban’s servant, and Jacob as an independent owner, now represented by his sons. It is altogether improbable that Jacob would entrust his herds to Laban’s sons. But it is entirely incomprehensible that Jacob, with his herds, could have taken flight without Laban’s knowledge, and gained three days the start, unless his herds were under the care of his own sons. [This is of course well put and unanswerable on the supposition that the sheep and goats which were removed from the flocks ere Jacob’s stock to begin with, but it has no force if we regard these as Laban’s, and put therefore under the care of his own sons, while Jacob was left to manage the flocks from which the separated were taken.—A. G.]—Three days’ journey betwixt.—Lit., “a space of three days between.” Certainly days’ journeys here are those of the herds and are not to be estimated according to the journeys of men. Again, Jacob is ahead of Laban three days, and yet Laban can overtake him. We may conceive, therefore, of a distance of about twelve hours, or perhaps eighteen miles. By means of this separation Jacob not only gained Laban’s confidence but also his property.

3. Gen 30:37–43. Jacob’s management of Laban’s herds.—Took him rods.DE WETTE: Storax, almond-tree, maple. BUNSEN: “Gum-tree. The Alexandrians here translate, styrax-tree, but Hos. 4:13 poplars. If we look at the Arabic, in which our Hebrew word has been preserved, the explanation of styrax-tree is to be preferred. It is similar to the quince, grows in Syria, Arabia, and Asia Minor, reaches the height of about twelve feet, and furnishes, if incisions are made in the bark, a sweet, fragrant-smelling, and transparent gum, of a light-red color, called styrax. Almond-tree. This signification is uncertain, since the hazelnut-tree may also be referred to. Plane-tree. A splendid tree, frequent even in South Europe, having large boughs, extending to a great distance (hence the Greek name, Platane), and bearing some resemblance to the maple tree.” Jacob of course must select rods from such trees, whose dark external bark produced the greatest contrast with the white one below it. In this respect gum-tree might be better adapted than white poplars, almond-tree or chestnut better than hazelnut, and maple better than plane-tree. KEIL: Storax, chestnut, and maple trees, which all have below their, bark a white, dazzling wood. Thus he procured rods of different kinds and pilled white streaks in them.—And he set the rods.—Knobel thinks, he placed the staffs on the watering-troughs, but did not put them in the gutters. But this does not agree with the choice of the verb, nor the fact itself: the animals, by looking into the water for some time, were to receive, as it were, into themselves, the appearance of the rods lying near. They, in a technical sense, “were frightened” at them. The wells were surrounded with watering-troughs, used for the watering of the cattle.—And they conceived.—For the change of the forms here, see KEIL, p. 210.—And brought forth cattle.—“This crafty trick was based upon the common experience of the so-called fright of animals, especially of sheep, namely, that the representations of the senses during coition are stamped upon the form of the fœtus (see BOCH., Hieroz., i. 618, and FRIEDREICH upon the Bible, i. 37, etc.).” Keil. For details see KNOBEL, p. 247, and DELITZSCH, p. 472—And set the faces of the flock.—Jacob’s second artifice. The speckled animals, it is true, were removed, from time to time, from Laban’s herds, and added to Jacob’s flock, but in the meantime Jacob put the speckled animals in front of the others, so that Laban’s herds had always these spotted or variegated animals before them, and in this manner another impression was produced upon the she-goats and sheep. Bohlen opposes this second artifice, against Rosenmüller, Maurer, and others. The clause in question should be: he sent them to the speckled ones that already belonged to him (פני in the sense of versus). But the general term הַצֹּאן is against this. The separation of the new-born lambs and goats from the old herds could only be gradual.—The stronger cattle.—The third artifice. He so arranged the thing that the stronger cattle fell to him, the feebler to Laban. His first artifice, therefore, produced fully the desired effect. It was owing partly, perhaps, to his sense of equity toward Laban, and partly to his prudence, that he set these limits to his gain; but he still, however, takes the advantage, since he seeks to gain the stronger cattle for himself. BOHLEN: “Literally, the bound ones, firmly set, i. e., the strong, just as the covered ones, i. e., the feeble, languid, faint; for the transition is easy from the idea of binding, firmness, to that of strength, and from that of covering, to languishing, or faintness. Some of the old translators refer them to vernal and autumnal lambs (comp. PLIN. 8, 47, COLUMELLA, De re rust., 8, 3), because the sheep in Palestine and similar climates bear twice in a year (ARISTOT., Hist. Anim., 6, 18, 19; ‘Problems’, 10, 46; BOCHART, Hieroz., i. p. 512), and because those conceived in the Spring or Summer and born in the Autumn are stronger than those conceived in Autumn and born in Spring. But the text does not draw this precise distinction.” The Septuagint only distinguishes between ἐπίσημα and ἄσημα. Luther renders “late” and “early born.”—And the man increased.—With the rich increase in cattle, care was taken at the same time to secure an increase in men-servants and maid-servants, as well as camels and asses. Knobel finds a contradiction in the fact that this rich increase is here ascribed to Jacob’s artifice, whilst it is attributed to the divine blessing in Gen 31:9. But so much only is evident, that Jacob did not act against his conscience, but thought that he might anticipate and assist by human means the fulfilment of those visions in which the rewards of this kind were promised to him.—And he heard. The complete success that Jacob met with excited the envy and jealousy of Laban’s sons, whose existence is indicated first in the plural (Gen 29:27), but whose definite appearance here shows that the selfish disposition peculiar to this family was more fully developed in them than in Laban himself.—The words of Laban’s sons.—According to Delitzsch, they were quite small, not yet fourteen years of age—an assertion, however, which has no sufficient ground.

4. Gen 31:1–3. Jacob’s resolution to return home.—All that was our father’s.—They evidently exaggerate in their hatred, and even accus him of dishonesty by the use of the expression: of that which was our father’s. But Laban shares in the threatening disposition; his countenance had changed remarkably toward Jacob, a fact all the more striking, since he had formerly been extraordinarily friendly. Trouble and dangers similar to those at home now develop themselves here; then comes, at the critical juncture, Jehovah’s command: Return.


1. Jacob’s resolution to return home at his own risk, is to be explained from his excessive joy at Joseph’s birth, and from his longing for home and for deliverance from the oppression of Laban. Moreover, he seems to have considered Rachel’s son as the principal Messianic heir, and therefore must hasten to conduct him to the promised land, even at the peril of his life. Besides, he now feels that he must provide for his own house, and with Laban’s selfishness there is very little prospect of his attaining this in Laban’s house. These two circumstances show clearly why he allows himself to be retained by Laban (for he has no assurance of faith that he is now to return), and in the second place, the manner and means by which he turns the contract to his own advantage.

2. We here learn that Laban’s prosperity was not very great before Jacob’s arrival. The blessing first returns to the house with Jacob’s entrance. But this blessing seemed to become to Laban no blessing of faith. His conduct toward the son of his sister and his son-in-law, becomes more and more base. He seizes eagerly, therefore, the terms offered to him by Jacob, because they appear to him most favorable, since the sheep in the East are generally white, while the goats are black. His intention, therefore, is to defraud Jacob, while he is actually overreached by him. Besides, this avails only of the mere form; as to the thing itself, Jacob really had claims to a fair compensation.

3. Just as Jacob’s conduct at the surreptitious obtaining the birthright was preceded by Isaac’s intended cunning, and the injustice of Esau, so also, in many respects, here Laban’s injustice and artifice precedes Jacob’s project (Gen 31). In this light Jacob’s conduct is to be judged. Hence he afterwards views his real gain as a divine blessing, although he had to atone again for his selfishness and cunning, in the form of the gain, at least, by fears and danger. Moreover, we must still bring into view, as to Jacob’s and Laban’s bargain, the following points: 1. Jacob asks for his wages very modestly and frankly; he asks for his wives and children, as the fruit of his wives, and for his discharge. While Laban wishes to keep him for his own advantage. 2. Jacob speaks frankly, Laban flatters and fawns. 3. Jacob might now expect a paternal treatment and dowry on the part of Laban. Laban, on the contrary, prolongs his servile relation, and asks him to determine his reward, because he expected from Jacob’s modesty the announcement of very small wages. 4. In the proposition made by Jacob, he thought he had caught him.

4. The establishment of his own household, after being married fourteen years, shows that Jacob, in this respect, as well as in the conclusion of his marriage, awaited his time.

5. The so-called impressions of she goats and sheep, a very old observation, which the coöperation of subtle impressions, images, and even imaginations at the formation of the fœtus, and, indeed, the fœtus itself among animals confirms.—The attainment of varieties and new species among animals and plants is very ancient, and stands closely connected with civilization and the kingdom of God.

6. Jacob’s sagacity, his weapon against the strong. But as he stands over against God, he employed different means, especially prayer.

7. The want of candor in Laban’s household, corresponds with the selfishness of the household.

8. In the following chapter we find still further details respecting Jacob’s bargain. In the first place, the selfish Laban broke, in different ways, the firm bargain made with Jacob, in order to change it to his advantage (Gen 31:7). Secondly, Jacob’s morbid sense of justice had been so excited that he received explanation of the state of things in his herds even in his night-visions.


See the Doctrinal and Ethical paragraphs. The present section is, for the most part, fitted for religious, biographical, and psychological contemplations. It is to be treated carefully both with respect to Jacob’s censure as well as his praise.—Jacob’s resolutions to return home: 1. The first: why so vividly formed, but not accomplished; 2. the second: the cause of his assurance (the divine command). Moreover, perils equal to those threatening at home, were now surrounding him.—His longing for home during his service abroad.—The hardships of a severe servitude in Jacob’s life, as well as in the history of his descendants: when blessed?—Laban’s selfishness and Jacob’s sense of right at war with each other.—Prudence as a weapon in life’s batttle: 1. The authority to use this weapon when opposed to a harsh superiority or subtlety; 2. the mighty efficacy of this weapon; 3. the danger of this weapon.—Jacob’s prudence in its right and wrong aspects in our history: 1. The right lies in his just claims; 2. the wrong, in his want of candor, his dissimulation and his self-help.—His natural science, or knowledge of nature, combined with prudence, a great power in life.—The difficulties in the establishment of an household: 1. Their general causes; 2. how they are to be overcome.—Jacob’s prosperity abroad.—Jacob struggling with difficulties all his life long.

Section First, Gen 30:25–34. STARKE: (As to the different meanings of נחש, Gen 30:27. Some commentators hold that Laban had superstitiously consulted his teraphim, or idols.)—Bibl. Wirt.: It is customary with covetous people to deal selfishly with their neighbors.

Gen 30:30. By means of my foot. LUTHER: i. e., I had to hunt and run through thick and thin in order that you might be rich.

Gen 30:34. If Laban had been honest, he could have represented to Jacob, that he would be a great loser by this bargain. God even blesses impious masters on account of their pious servants (1 Tim. 5:8).—CALWER Handbuch: Jacob 91 years old.—Thus Laban’s covetousness and avarice is punished by the very bargain which he purposed to make for his own advantage.—We are not to apply the criterion of Christianity to Jacob’s conduct.—SCHRÖDER: Acts and course of life among strangers. As to Laban. Courtesy together with religion are made serviceable to the attainment of his ends.—Thus, also, in the future, there is only a more definite agreement of master and servant between Jacob and his father-in-law.—(The period of pregnancy with sheep lasts five months; they may therefore lamb twice during the year. Herds were the liveliest and strongest in autumn, after having enjoyed the good pasture during the summer, etc. On the contrary, herds are feeble after having just passed the winter.)

Section Second, Gen 30:35, 36. STARKE: A Christian is to look for pious men-servants and maid-servants.

Section Third, Gen 30:37–43. STARKE: Christian, be warned not to misuse this example to encourage the practice of cunning and deceit with your neighbor.—CRAMER: Wages that are earned, but kept back, cry to heaven; hence nature here serves Jacob (James 5:4).—HALL: God’s children, even in external things, have evident proofs that his grace over them is greater than over the godless.—SCHRÖDER: Luther and Calvin are inclined to excuse Jacob (Gen 31:12).

Section Fourth. Gen 31:1–3. STARKE: It is a very great reproach if acquaintances and relatives slander each other.—HALL: As the godless enjoy no peace with God, so also the pious enjoy no peace with godless men.—CRAMER: Sin in man is so poisonous that it glitters in the eye, and is sweet to the taste, and pleasant to all the members.—SCHRÖDER: Thus the Lord often serves his people more through the jealousy of the godless, than if he suffered them to grow feeble in prosperity.

Gen 30:3. LUTHER: It probably was an answer to Jacob’s prayer.—The divine command and promise compensates Jacob for the promised message of the mother. Thus his return receives the character of an act of faith (Baumgarten).


3Gen 30:27.—Lit., I have augured, נִחַשׁתִּי; Sept., οἰωνίςομαι; not that Laban was a serpent-worshipper, but that he used divination as the heathen; and thus drew his inferences and auguries.—A. G.

4Gen 30:30.—Lit., at my foot—A. G.

5Gen 30:33.—Lit., in day to-morrow—the future—at all times, when, etc. Lange renders “when thou shalt come upon or to my wages; i.e., to examine.—A. G.

6Gen 30:37.—Heb.,עַרמֹון, plane-tree; so Sept., Vulg. and Syriac—A.G.

7 וַיֵּחְמְנָת, an unusual archaic form for וַתֵּחַמְנְת. Keil.—A G.

8 CH. 31. Ver 31:2.—Lit., weight.—A G.

9Gen 30:2.—Lit., as yesterday, the day before.—A. G.

Lange, John Peter - Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical

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