It may seem very strange to regard the preceding chapter and the present one as still belonging to the "story of Isaac," as the heading Ge 25:19 suggests. But though Jacob is the active figure, Isaac still dominates this portion of the history of the chosen people: v. Ge 31:18 Jacob is going back to Isaac under whom he belongs; verse Ge 31:53 Jacob swears by Isaac's God or "fear." Jacob's "story" begins Ge 37:2. These headings ("history," or "story" -- toledôth, see Ge 2:4) are aptly chosen.
The chapter before us may be divided into three parts: a. the flight of Jacob, v. Ge 31:1-21; b. the interference of Laban, v. Ge 31:22-42; c. the treaty, v. Ge 31:43-54.
(a) The Flight of Jacob (v.1-21)
1, 2. And he heard the words of Laban's sons, who said: Jacob hath taken all that belonged to our father; and from that which was our father's hath he achieved all this abundance. And Jacob observed Laban's face, and it certainly was no longer as it had formerly been.
Jacob thrived far more abundantly than Laban. Apparently, Laban himself was doing far better than when Jacob first arrived. But Laban's sons have too much of the niggardly spirit of their father. When they observe that Jacob is growing wealthy, they vent their displeasure in grumbling remarks, which, perhaps, are not heard by Jacob directly but are reported by others. Jealousy leads the sons of Laban to overstate the case, almost absurdly: "he hath taken all that belonged to our father," as though Laban had been impoverished, and as though Jacob had been guilty of some form of theft. Another statement of theirs ran thus: "from that which was our father's hath he achieved all this abundance." Here kabhodh is better taken as "abundance" (B D B) or Masse (K. W.) rather than wealth, for the heads of cattle, numerous as they were, are under consideration.
In addition, though Laban is more adroit and refrains from saying what might be used against him, yet he has dark looks for Jacob in place of the hypocritical smiles that once wreathed his face. We render kithmol shilshom, "formerly," though literally it means: "yesterday (and) the third day." By synecdoche the special is used for the general (K. W.) and so the expression is little different from our "formerly." We take the liberty of rendering hinneh, ("behold,") "certainly," which points out as definitely as "behold." The expression me'asher must mean "from that which" (G. K.138e). Peney is not "attitude."
3. And Yahweh said to Jacob: Return to the land of thy fathers and to thy relationship, and I will be with thee.
Many times before this Jacob may have desired to return, especially since living together with Laban was becoming increasingly difficult. We have every reason to believe that, godly man that he was, Jacob had been submitting his difficulty to his God in prayer. Since he had been living under God's direct guidance ever since the time of the Bethel vision, Jacob would not presume to return unless God so directed. The substance of the Bethel promise (Ge 28:15) is here renewed. God indicates that now Jacob may feel free to return. Most appropriately He is here designated as Yahweh, the faithful Lord, who had kept all promises made to Jacob. After all the promises made to Abraham, Jacob well understood the necessity of returning to "the land" of his fathers.
4-6. So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah out into the field to his flock, and he said to them: I have been observing your father's face, for it is no longer toward me as it formerly was; but the God of my father hath been with me. And you for your part know that I served your father to the best of my ability.
The wives are to be apprised of Jacob's purpose to flee. The fact that Jacob sends for them to come "out into the field" -- hassadheh used adverbially (K. S.330 c) -- gives the first indication that Jacob is determined to flee secretly. This plan is not to be commended. If the separation from Laban was permissible and right, and God has even sanctioned it, then it should have been carried out openly as the honourable thing that it actually was. Fear of the consequences should have been dismissed, since divine approval was assured. Here, too, Jacob is seen putting undue confidence in purely human devices.
Rachel is mentioned first because she still ranked pre-eminent in Jacob's esteem. The wives are not only to be informed; their active co-operation is to be enlisted. It would seem as though Jacob had never fully spoken his mind to his wives on this subject. The patriarchal manner of life seems to have made such a step as Jacob here contemplated appear too much like rebellion to allow him even to discuss it with his wives prior to this time. Emancipation desires were not the order of the day then as now.
5. "I have been observing" (ro'eh, participle and first by way of emphasis) indicates that Jacob wishes to assure his wives that this is not an impression based on a glimpse or two of Laban's face. Laban's ill will has now already become a fixed attitude. The expression relative to the change in Laban's face involves in this case active and harmful enmity, because Jacob hastens to point out by way of contrast (we adversative) that God had definitely taken Jacob's part to guard him against the harm which Laban's attitude presaged or even may already have attempted. The expression, "God of my father," does not mean that He is not Jacob's God, but rather that He is giving proof of the faithfulness which the fathers experienced. Elohim is here used because Jacob is thinking of the power which the Creator displayed in overruling the things that Laban did to overreach his son-in-law.
6. Jacob, however, knows himself to have been quite undeserving of such treatment as he has been receiving at Laban's hands, and he knows how thoroughly his wives understand the justice of his cause: they have seen day for day how faithfully their husband was serving their father. Therefore 'atténah, first by way of emphasis -- "you for your part" or "you, at least."
7-9. But your father has deceived me and changed my wages ten times; but God did not allow him to do me harm. If he said thus: The speckled ones shall be your wage, then the entire flock bore speckled ones. But if he said: The striped ones shall be your wage, then the entire flock bore striped ones. So God has taken away your father's herd and given it to me.
Now we learn, what had not yet been revealed in chapter 30, that Laban had repeatedly altered and realtered the original agreement in an effort to fleece Jacob. Whereas at first it was merely stipulated that all that was unusual in colour should be Jacob's (Ge 30:32), Laban had changed these terms so that only one particular class of the off-colour sheep or goats should be Jacob's such as only "the speckled" (nequddim), i. e., those with smaller spots, or only "the striped ones" ('aquddim), always hoping that surely the man Jacob could not continue to be so particularly favoured. The statement "ten times" here stands as a round number signifying as much as: just as often as he could. Apparently, Jacob, secure in the confidence of divine favour, had acceded to each new request, exorbitant though it was. Jacob throughout ascribes his success to "God," Elohim who as Creator can well control His creation. Under these circumstances Dillmann should not have described Jacob as God's "favourite" (Schuetzling). For Laban was actually "deceiving" (hethel -- Hifil from talal) Jacob, for the original agreement, which was to have covered all relations between the two, was always being invalidated by Laban. Besides, without a doubt, Laban was trying every possible demand or combination of demands of which he was capable. Of course, in these later instances Jacob could not longer resort to devices mentioned in the previous chapter, for no device could be calculated to produce such nice differentiations in colouring as the new contracts made necessary. So, without a doubt, Jacob himself was led to ascribe all success he had to God's providence. On the other hand, it must have been very strange that Laban could not sense divine interference. Hethel used with be implies a despising of the object (K. S.212 f). Hecheliph is really iterative: "he has kept on changing" (K. S.367 h).
9. The absolute statement of this verse, is certainly to be taken as being only relatively correct: surely, Laban had not lost everything, nor had Jacob come into possession of all. But God certainly had taken away from the one and given to the other. The verb "take away" (natsal in the Hifil) bears an unusual shade of meaning here. It usually means "to deliver" and here practically implies that for a flock to come out from under the hand of Laban was the equivalent of a deliverance. In v.8 the yihyeh is singular, being influenced by the predicate noun rather than by the subject (K. S.350a). In v.9 the suffix on 'abhikhem is masculine representing the infrequent feminine (G. K.135 o; K. S.9).
10-13. And it happened at the time when the flock was hot in breeding that I lifted up my eyes and saw things in a dream, and, lo, rams that were leaping upon the goats were striped and speckled and spotted. And the angel of God said unto me in a dream, Jacob; and I said: Here I am. And he said unto me. Lift up now thine eyes and see: all the rams that are leaping upon the goats are striped, speckled and spotted, for I have taken note of all that Laban bath done to thee. I am the God of Bethel where thou didst anoint a pillar and didst vow a vow unto me. Up now, go forth from this land and return to the land of thy birth.
We must first dispose of the problem whether God actually inspired this dream and actually spoke in the dream to Jacob, or whether the dream was conjured up by Jacob's excited imagination or subconscious mind which had been busied rather intensively with the problem the dream reflects. Keil and Strack and others, without offering proof, assume the latter. They do not attribute deception to Jacob; they allow that he may have had such a dream but simply state, e. g., "it is certain that God did not show Jacob the rams in a dream" (Strack). However, such a dream of a man of God, if it were a subjective delusion and yet reported in the Scriptures, would be quite without analogy. In fact, in all other cases such men were sure that a divine revelation had come to them, and Jacob is no less sure than they. As for the question whether God will stoop to reveal such trivial, if not even unseemly, matters as the details of breeding, it must be remembered that such matters could hardly be offensive and trivial to a shepherd like Jacob. It is an injustice to the man Jacob to assume that he reported as a divine revelation a dream whose origin may have seemed doubtful to him and used the dream to influence his wives and to justify himself.
This dream, then, is not for the purpose of suggesting to Jacob what lambs and what kids he is to select the next time he bargains with Laban, for, as we just learned, Laban was the one who kept altering the terms of the agreement. This dream is rather a revelation given to Jacob at a particular breeding time to make him aware of the fact that even this matter was being regulated entirely by God's providence, and that Jacob could put full confidence in God to guard his best interests. Surely, what Jacob saw in the dream (v.10) was not necessarily what was happening in reality. Yet even here we must concede that God might so have regulated the matter that only "the striped, speckled and spotted" rams did the breeding. However, according to a wellknown biological law that would not guarantee offspring only of the colour of the rams. Therefore this part of the dream may have been suggestive, indicating to Jacob that God had the issues fully under control.
Berudhim ("spotted") seems to involve bigger spots than nequddim ("speckled") which seems to involve a being mottled. Therefore K. W., grossfleckig for the former.
11. The one who addresses Jacob is "the angel of God." Yet in verse Ge 31:13 this person identifies himself with God and so cannot have been a created angel but must have been divine. Here Ge 16:7-11 as well as Ge 22:11, 15 should again be compared, together with the comments there made. The fact that previously He was called "angel of Yahweh" but here "angel of God" makes no appreciable difference.
12. The Angel of God specially draws Jacob's attention to what he sees. Jacob is not to regard the thing seen as trivial but as indicative of the fact that God had "taken note of all that Laban had done" to him and was, of course, Himself taking measures to safeguard Jacob in what seemed like an unequal contest.
13. Very definitely God identifies Himself to Jacob as the one who formerly had appeared at Bethel and to whom Jacob had anointed a pillar (matstsebha) and vowed a vow. This is another way of saying that what He had promised then to do for Jacob is now actually being done. For assuredly, but for divine interference Jacob would have suffered irreparable loss. Strangely, ha'el, though construct state, has the article. Yet this is not so difficult if it be noted that the generic noun 'el, as it passes over into use as a proper noun, retains the article, so that the whole combination ha'el becomes the proper noun (cf. K. S.295 i; 303 a; G. K.127 f).
This dream, of course, did not need to be repeated every year when a new situation arose, for mutatis mutandis it indicated what God was doing. Very likely, what v.3 reports in summary is given in fuller detail in v.10-13. There is no need of assuming a series of dreams, as does Lange.
V.13b -- v. Ge 31:3. It is the climax of this dream revelation. The time for departure is at hand. This land of adoption must be forsaken. The land of birth is to be sought. Such a declaration as Jacob here reports must have deeply influenced Jacob's wives. It would not seem as though this divine vision had ever been told to them before. Jacob knew that sacred spiritual experiences were not to be discussed too freely. Perhaps, too, his wives were not yet spiritually ready for this information. Coming to them at this juncture, it may have been overwhelming in its impression.
14-16. And Rachel and Leah answered and said to him: Have we still any share or inheritance in our father's house? Have we not been accounted as foreigners by him? for he hath sold us and hath entirely used up the money that should have been ours. For all riches which God hath taken away from our father really belong to us and to our children. And now as for all that God bade thee, do it.
The two wives are of one mind and agree entirely with their husband. The construction indicates that Rachel took the lead and spoke first -- watta'an, singular, though a double subject follows; yet that alone is a common enough construction and used as an alternate for the plural verb (cf. K. S.349u). Yet Rachel is placed first, indicating that the initiation lay with her. The wives recognize that they no longer share the interests and the objectives of their paternal home. B D B under cheleq suggests quite aptly that the idea "obligation to the paternal home" is involved. Anteil (K. W.) could cover the case. Then, coming to more material concerns, their "inheritance" apparently need not be hoped for.
15. In fact, the father has treated his own children not as though they were his own flesh and blood but as though they were of as little concern to him as nokhriyyoth, "foreigners," i. e., those of an unsympathetic foreign group. "Strangers" (A. V.) is not quite exact. Proof of this unpaternal attitude lies, first, in the manner in which he disposed of his daughters: it was a case of sale (makhar -- "he sold"), and their mode of referring to it indicates that the daughters knew a better mode of giving in marriage to have been the custom even in their day. Seven (or fourteen) years of service constituted the price paid. But besides, whereas a less greedy father would have used the gift from his prospective sonin-law to provide a dowry for his daughters, Laban "entirely used it up" (Hebrew, "eaten up" -- 'akhal with absolute infinite -- "entirely") most likely by investing it directly in his flocks and herds so that it was completely absorbed. Consequently, kaspénu -- not "our money" but "the money that should have been ours," or perhaps, "the money he acquired through us" (K. C.). Yet our translation lies closer to the facts under discussion.
16. From one point of view the wives are correct when they assert that all the present wealth of their father belongs to them and to their children, because he apparently had not been wealthy before Jacob came who by his assiduous and skilful management increased his father-in-law's "riches" enormously. By all canons of right Jacob's family ought to have been adjudged as deserving of a good share of these riches. But the wives saw that their father was not minded to give them or their husband anything at all. Apparently, the long pent-up grievances find expression in these words. Ultimately, then, the wives arrive at the conclusion that the best thing Jacob can do is to obey God's command and depart. Their mode of arriving at this conclusion is not the most desirable: they finally conclude to consent to what God commands because their best material interests are not being served by the present arrangement. Jacob, no doubt, approached the problem on the higher plane: he was obeying the God of his fathers, who had made promises to Jacob previously and was now fulfilling these promises. So in Jacob's case we have fidelity to God; in the case of his wives a greater measure of interest in material advantage. For that reason, too, Jacob's wives refer to Him only as Elohim. There is no special reason for regarding the introductory ki as "so that," since the customary "for" is quite adequate, tying back, however, to the idea of considering his daughters as "foreigners."
17, 18. So Jacob proceeded to set his children and his wives upon camels, and he drove away all his cattle and all his substance which he had acquired, the cattle constituting his property which he had acquired in Paddan Aram, in order to go to Isaac, his father, to the land of Canaan.
The Hebrew "rose up" (A. V.) wayyaqom, is often used in the looser sense of addressing oneself to a task; therefore: "he proceeded" (Meek). With skilful and picturesque detail the father is shown getting his family under way for the flight, "he set them upon camels." The original has even a bit more of colour -- nasa' -- "he lifted up."
18. "He drove away" indicates not a leisurely departure but all possible haste, though, of course, flocks had to be driven carefully lest they suffer from overexertion and perish. In addition to the cattle there were other possessions of Jacob that he had acquired in Paddan-Aram or Mesopotamia. For Jacob had not been, and was not intending to be after his return, a nomad. By a repetition of miqneh, "cattle," this part of his possessions is reverted to as "constituting" the major part of "his property," qinyano, as K. W. well translates: der Viehbesitz, der sein Vermoegen bildete. The statement is rounded out by a double statement of the objective of his journey: on the one hand, he was going back "to Isaac, his father," under whose authority he felt he still, belonged, and "to the land of Canaan," which according to divine decree was ultimately destined to be the possession of his posterity. Such precise formal statements including all the major facts are wont to be made by Moses when he records a particularly momentous act. The very circumstantiality of its form makes one feel its importance -- a device, by the way, quite naturally employed for similar purposes to this day. Critics miss all these finer points of style, for the supposed authors that the critics imagine have wrought out parts of Genesis (E, J, P, D) are poor fellows with one-track minds, not one of whom has the least adaptability of style, but all of whom write in a stiff, stilted fashion after one pattern only. Critics ascribe most of v.18 to P.
19-21. But Laban had gone to shear his sheep; and Rachel stole the teraphim which belonged to her father. And Jacob tricked Laban, the Aramaean, by not telling him that he was fleeing. So he and all that were his fled. He proceeded, namely, and crossed the River and set his face in the direction of Mount Gilead.
As it just happened, the rather important task of sheepshearing was just engrossing Laban's attention. Among the ancients, at least of a later date, the event was quite a festivity (cf. Ge 38:12; 1Sa 25; 2Sa 13:23). Since Laban was at some distance from Jacob, flocks (Ge 30:36), and since all hands were kept quite busy for a few days, no time could have been more opportune. Because the father was away from home, Rachel had a chance to carry out a special project of her own: she stole her father's household gods, the ter'aphim. The plural may be a plural of excellence patterned after Elohim, and so only one image may have been involved. Whether these were larger, almost man-sized as 1Sa 19:13, 16 seems to suggest, or actually were only the small figurines that excavations in Palestine now yield matters little; both types may have prevailed. Apparently, judging by the parallel Hebrew root, they were regarded as promoting domestic prosperity, and so were a kind of gods of the hearth, Penates. Apparently, according to Zec 10:2, they were also used for purposes of divination. It seems hardly fair to assume that the Israelites carelessly carried these household divinities over from the time of these early Mesopotamian contacts and continued to use them almost uninterruptedly. When Michal happens to have such a figure handy (1Sa 19), that is not as yet proof that from Rachel's day to Michal's Israel had quite carelessly tolerated them. We should rather say that whenever Israel lapsed into idolatry, especially in Canaan, then the backsliders would also adapt themselves to the teraphim cult. Ho 3:4 by no means lists them as legitimate objects of worship.
But of some moment is the question: Why did Rachel steal this teraphim? To be rejected are such conjectures as merely to play her father a prank; or to take them for their intrinsic worth, supposing that they were gold or silver figurines; or to employ a drastic or almost fanatical mode of seeking to break her father's idolatry -- views current among Jewish commentators and early church fathers and to some extent to this day. More nearly correct might seem to be the opinion which suggests that she aimed to deprive her father of the blessings which might have been conferred by them. Most reasonable of all, though it does not exclude the last mentioned view, is the supposition that Rachel took them along for her own use, being herself somewhat given to superstitious or idolatrous practices. For though Ge 30:23, 24 suggest a measure of faith and of knowledge of the true God, even as Jehovah, yet it would seem that as a true daughter of her father she had been addicted to his religion and now had a kind of divided allegiance, trusting in Jehovah and not wanting to be deprived of the good luck teraphim might confer. In any case, since she took what did not belong to her, she is guilty of theft -- "she stole."
20. Jacob, skilled in the use of devices to further his own interest, spread the veil of secrecy over what he did: "he stole the heart of Laban." But since the heart is the centre of mental activity, this idiom signifies to "trick" or "deceive" (B D B), not yet, however, "outwit" (Meek). Laban is here called "the Aramaean" (ha'arami), which could also be translated "the Syrian" (A. V.). The reason for this apposition is puzzling. It hardly grows out of the Hebrew national consciousness which here proudly asserts itself. Perhaps the opinion advanced by Clericus still deserves most consideration. He believes Laban's nationality is mentioned because the Syrians were known from of old as the trickiest people; here one of this people in a kind of just retribution meets one trickier than himself. Yet this is not written to glorify trickery. The participle bore (a) ch expresses the idea that Jacob concealed that he was "making preparations for flight" (K. C.).
21. Here is a typical example of Hebrew narrative. First the summary statement: "Jacob fled"; then the details: "he proceeded (wayyaqom) and crossed (wayya'abhor) the River and set his face," etc. (wayyßsem). We have sought to express this relation by inserting a "namely" after the summary statement. The necessity of our interpretation becomes apparent also from the peculiar sequence, if all verbs are supposed to be strictly consecutive: he fled, he proceeded, he crossed, he set his face. Plainly, the last three give the details of "he fled." The article before nahar ("river") is the article of distinction, and so hannahar is the Euphrates. The point of crossing seems to have been the ancient ford at Thapsachus. Naturally, from this point the next objective had to be the mountain of Gilead or "Mount Gilead."
(b) The Interference of Laban (v.22-42)
22-24. And it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob had fled. So he took his kinsmen with him and pursued after him a seven days' journey and he overtook him in Mount Gilead. And God came unto Laban, the Aramaean, in a dream by night and said to him: Take care not to say anything to Jacob.
According to Ge 30:36 a three days' journey was set between Jacob and Laban. Though this may not have been permanent or even the constant distance between the two flocks, in this case it at least took three days till the message came to Laban.
23. Laban takes with him his 'ackchim, literally: "brethren," here most likely "kinsmen." Jacob, encumbered with his herds, loses his three days' advantage by the time seven days of pursuit are ended. There can be no question in Laban's mind whither Jacob is going. Besides, such a group as Jacob's train made must have left a broad trail in their going. Consequently, somewhere in Mount Gilead he practically comes up with his son-in-law and goes into camp, knowing that escape is out of the question for Jacob.
The distance covered by Jacob creates a problem. Some have computed that the distance involved is about 350 miles as the crow flies. This need not necessarily be assumed. We have accurate maps that represent it to be no more than about 275 miles to the fringes of Mount Gilead. Besides, in shifting his grazing ground Jacob may have so arranged things before he took his flight in hand as to gravitate some three days' journey to the south of Haran -- certainly not an impossibility. If only fifteen miles constituted an average day's journey, the total distance would be cut down to almost 230 miles. Now, certainly, Jacob will have pressed on faster than the average day's journey, perhaps even at the cost of the loss of a bit of cattle. The cooler part of the day and portions of the night may have been utilized in order to spare the cattle. Then, too, the boundaries of Gilead may originally have extended nearer to Damascus. Skinner's criticism that "the distance is much too great to be traversed in that time" is quite out of place. K. C. shows that "Gilead" is used for the country east of Jordan in general.
24. Apparently, during that last night God appears to Laban in a dream. Is he again called "the Aramaean" in reference to his ingrained trickery, which would have sought to inveigle Jacob into some agreement disadvantageous to himself? It almost seems so. The dream, employed especially for men on the lower spiritual level, is the medium of approach to Laban. God's injunction laid upon Laban is, "Take care (hishshamer -- nifal, here more reflexive, like watch yourself') not to say anything to Jacob." The unusual Hebrew idiom has it: "not to speak from good to bad." This is an expression designed to cover the entire scope of a concept, like "from the least to the greatest," or "root and branch." See K. S.92 b. Here "from good to bad" means "anything." Yet the statement involves an ellipsis. Laban is not forbidden even to speak with Jacob but to say anything to influence Jacob to return, or to say anything by way of bitter reproach. Luther stresses the latter by rendering: "speak only in a kindly fashion" -- nicht anders redest denn freundlich. The A. V. rendering "either good or bad" is literal but bears a connotation different from the Hebrew.
25-29. And Laban came up with Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent on the mountain, and Laban on his part pitched in Mount Gilead together with his kinsmen. Then Laban said to Jacob: Why didst thou undertake to deceive me and drive off my daughters as though they had been captured by the sword? Why didst thou flee secretly and deceive me and not inform me? I should have sent thee on thy way with joyful festivities and songs, with timbrel and harp. But thou didst not suffer me to kiss my grandchildren and my daughters, Now that was foolishly done. It lies within the power of my hand to do thee harm. But the God of thy fathers spoke to me last night and said, Take heed not to say anything to Jacob.
Above, v. Ge 31:23 merely reported that Laban had virtually caught up with Jacob. Now v.25 describes their actual meeting on the next morning: "Laban came up with Jacob." We learn besides that Jacob had actually pitched tent at this point, a thing that had often not been done as his caravan and drove progressed day for day. That Mount Gilead is meant by "on the mountain" is entirely clear from verse 23. In the case of Laban the specific statement that it was "Mount Gilead" where tents were pitched makes it entirely plain that both had pitched on the same mountain, though over against one another. The critical correction, which tries to put Jacob on Mount Mizpah, grows out of the desire to prove that two threads of narrative intertwine. Critics are continually, though often unwittingly, "doctoring up" the evidence.
26. Blustering and simulating righteous indignation, Laban demands to know why he was deceived thus: "what hast thou done and thou didst deceive me" -- "why didst thou undertake to deceive me?" He tries to present Jacob's course in the most unfavourable light possible: "why drive off my daughters as though they had been captured with the sword?" Laban is as much aware of the extent of his exaggeration as are all others who hear him. At the same time he himself knows best why Jacob fled secretly and without announcement. Shebhuyoth is plural feminine of the Kal passive participle. Chérebh, "by the sword," substitutes the genitive for the active agent with the passive (K. S.336 n).
27. The Hebrew idiom reverses the sequence in "flee secretly" by the construction: "make secret the fleeing," or "hide to flee." Says the smooth hypocrite: "I should have set thee on thy way with joyful festivities (Hebrew: "joy") and songs, with timbrel (toph, a kind of tambourine) and harp" (kinnor, perhaps originally an instrument more like a violin). All this he would never have done. Jacob interposes no defense for the present, knowing how empty the boast is. Then Laban plays the part of the outraged parent and grandparent. He was not able to kiss his banim, i. e., "sons," here grandchildren, and "daughters." For the present his bombastic harangue reaches a temporary stop in the summary statement: "now that was foolishly done."
29. Well remembering God's warning and not for a moment daring to carry out his threat, Laban nevertheless claims that he could do Jacob harm. He mentions no wrong that Jacob did. He merely boasts. But the overwhelming impression of God's warning here compels him to admit all that God had said and so explains why he utters all his threats as vain words -- a queer conclusion for one who thus far tried to play the part of a man grievously wronged. "Power" -- 'el, a form which has a full parallel in another el from the same root, ('alah, "to be strong".) and meaning God. It is useless to try to contend for the fact that 'el must always mean "God"; for in De 28:32; Mic 2:1; Pr 3:27; Ne 5:5 such certainly cannot be the case.
Laban throughout this section is a good illustration of the man who has fallen away from the true God, still knows of Him, feels impelled to heed His Word, but otherwise has put God on the same level with heathen deities, and lives a life such as a renegade might live.
30-32. So now thou hast indeed gone, for thou didst long very much after thy father's house. Why didst thou steal my gods? Jacob answered and said to Laban: Because I was afraid -- because I said -- that thou wouldest take thy daughters from me by force. With whomsoever thy gods be found, that one shall not live. In the presence of our kinsmen make a search for thyself what of thine I have and take it for thyself. For Jacob knew nothing of the fact that Rachel had stolen them.
The familiar versions (not so, however, the Septuagint) have made a subordination of clauses in this verse that is not so desirable and that erases the peculiar flavour of the thought. We should not read: "though thou wouldest needs be gone." But rather by way of summary: "thou hast indeed gone (verb plus infinitive absolute), for thou didst long very much after thy father's house" (again verb plus infinitive absolute). Now very abruptly in order to catch Jacob unawares: "Why didst thou steal my gods?"
31. Now Jacob gives an answer but not at once to the last question, because the reason for his secret flight has been demanded. Apparently he has resolved to use no subtleties. The truth of the matter actually is that he was "afraid." He even anticipated that Laban might use his power as patriarch of his tribe and take from Jacob by force the wives whom he had grown to love. Resuming the construction already once employed, Jacob begins: "Because I was afraid -- because I said -- that," etc. Apparently, Jacob is conveying the thought: I was afraid and had also said I was afraid. The deeper reason for departure, God's command, Jacob does not mention, apparently for the reason that Laban would not have believed that God appeared to Jacob. But all this Jacob disposes of quite briefly because he feels Laban was only blustering and certainly cared little about an explanation. Laban knew better than anyone else why Jacob had fled. But since Jacob's cause was just and since he had just been charged with theft, Jacob feels the necessity of answering the last question or charge. He is so sure that no one would have been guilty of such a deed that he boldly asserts that the thief shall die, should he be found. Such a punishment for such a crime may have been suggested by the prevalent attitude of the times reflected in the Code of Hammurabi -- a few centuries old by this time -- that they who stole the property of a god (or temple) should die. Yet, though in himself entirely certain of his ground, Jacob ought never to have made such an assertion. Seemingly Jacob feels this, for as he invites a search, he merely asks Laban to take whatever he thinks Jacob or his retinue have taken wrongfully; he does not again threaten the death of the idol thief. That nothing be covered up Jacob asks that the search be made "in the presence of our kinsmen" -- ('a(ch)chim -- "brothers"). Finally the necessary explanation that Jacob had never for a moment thought Rachel capable of such a deed.
The suffix on the last verb ("stolen them") suggests that at least a couple of teraphim may have been involved. In Ge 35:16, 18 Rachel's death is reported as occurring rather a short time after this event. It is hardly correct to call this death an event that was fulfilled as a result of Jacob's prediction, as the rabbis believed. We rather hold that Rachel's death so soon after this word was a merely accidental coincidence.
33-35. So Laban went into Jacob's tent and into Leah's (also into the tent of the two handmaidens) and found nothing; and he came forth from Leah's tent and went into the tent of Rachel. But Rachel had taken the teraphim and put them into the camel's litter and sat upon them. And Laban felt all over the tent and found nothing. And she said: Let it not vex my lord that I cannot rise up before thee; for the manner of women is upon me. So he searched and did not find the teraphim.
The search begins. First Jacob's tent is combed through -- the piel of chaphas v.35, being an intensive, suggests the thoroughness of the search. Next comes Leah's tent. The two handmaidens are inserted parenthetically for completeness' sake. Separate tents for the husband and the wives and the handmaidens apparently were the rule in those days. Disregarding the parenthesis, the writer goes on, working up to the climax of the search: he (Laban) came out of Leah's tent and entered Rachel's. Rachel is a match for her father in craftiness. She has taken the teraphim and put them into "the camel's litter," a capacious saddle with wicker basket attachments on either side. Some describe it as a palanquin. Apparently it was so constructed that even when it was removed from the camel it offered a convenient seat for travellers. Laban feels over everything in the tent. The litter is all that remains. Had Rachel raised her protestation or excuse before this time she would have roused suspicion. By waiting till the last critical moment she diverts attention from the fact that she may be sitting upon the teraphim. For who would care to trouble a menstruating woman suffering pain? Besides, it may actually have been true what she was asserting. Nothing appears here of the taboo that some tribes and some races associated with women in this condition, taboos which temporarily rendered such women untouchable. So Jacob appeared justified, for a painstaking search revealed no theft. We may well wonder what he would have done if Rachel's theft had come to light.
36, 37. So Jacob grew angry and stern with Laban; and Jacob answered and said to Laban: What am I guilty of? wherein have I sinned? that thou didst hotly pursue after me. For thou hast felt over all my goods. What hast thou found of all thy household goods? Set it here before my and thy kinsmen, and let them give the verdict over both of us.
The long pent-up emotions of years find expression in this eloquent defense of Jacob's. He is justifiably angry, he "strives" (ribh), i. e., settles the matter of controversy between them in a heated expostulation. First he protests his innocence, and apparently on good grounds: he has neither guilt nor sin in this case. Least of all has anything called for such a pursuit as this which might justly have been inaugurated against an evildoer (dalaq -- "to pursue hotly"). There was a high measure of indignity about Laban's treatment of Jacob throughout, also in the matter of feeling over all his goods. Jacob waxes bold and challenges Laban to set forth before all their kinsmen whatever of his own he may have found. The kinsmen can serve as arbiters or judges to render a public verdict, which must be all the more fair because it will be a jury composed of adherents of both parties. This challenge must have embarrassed even thick-skinned old Laban. Now for the rest of Jacob's self-defense.
38-42. Look here, for twenty years I have been with thee. Thy ewes and thy she-goats have not miscarried; the rams of thy flock I have not eaten. If anything would be torn, I did not bring it to thee; it was I who used to make good. Thou didst hold me responsible for that which was stolen by day as well as for that which was stolen by night. I was a man whom heat consumed by day and frost by night; and sleep would flee from my eyes. Look here now, for twenty years I have been doing service in thy house, fourteen years for thy daughters and six years in connection with thy cattle, and thou hast altered my pay ten times. If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and He whom Isaac reverenced, had not been for me, surely now thou wouldst have let me go empty-handed. But my misery and the toil of my hands, God saw it and reproved thee last night.
"These twenty years" (A. R. V.) or "this twenty years" (A. Y.) would require a different Hebrew construction, aside from the bad grammar of A. V. The initial zeh is an expression of impatience, which we have tried to cover by "look here." First, then, Jacob reminds Laban how during the past twenty years no losses were suffered by miscarriage -- a matter largely attributable to the careful oversight of the shepherd at the time of the birth of lambs and of goats. Even the occasional ram that custom allowed to the shepherd Jacob did not take for fear of being criticized later.
39. Sellin reminds us that a custom of the East provided that as long as a shepherd could lay before the owner the torn beast, the shepherd was not held chargeable, inasmuch as the torn beast counted as evidence that the shepherd had boldly driven off the predatory beast. Jacob was accorded no such consideration. He was held accountable. The 'achatténnah is durative -- "I used to make good." "Thou didst hold me responsible" in the Hebrew idiom reads thus: "thou didst seek it at my hand." The passive participle construct has an archaic case ending to mark it as used as a noun rather than as a verb genubhti (K. S.241a; 272 a; G. K.90 1); genitive construction for the adverbial (K. S.336 q).
40. The broken construction of the sentence bears testimony to its strength of feeling -- "I was one -- by day heat consumed me," etc. The more intense the heat by day in the near tropical regions, the more acute the cold. Out in the open Jacob's shepherd duties exposed him aplenty to both. Short rations of sleep were almost the rule besides.
41. The same expression of impatience as in verse 38 only here intensified by a kind of ethical dative (zeh -- li) "look here now." Be used before daughters is a kind of genitive of price; not so before "cattle," because his service was not being regarded as work by which he should acquire cattle. The cattle were rather acquired incidentally. In return for this rather generous period of service Jacob had been rewarded by tricky salary alterations.
42. Finally Jacob traces down the true source of his own prosperity and cheerfully confesses to his unbelieving father-in-law that God was the one to whom alone he owed all blessings. In calling God "the God of my father" Jacob is reminding Laban that while he (Jacob) has remained true to the ancestral religion of truth, Laban has departed from it. So for special emphasis Jacob also designates Him as the God of Abraham as well as the one "whom Isaac reverenced" (literally, "the fear of Isaac"). In true faith Jacob confesses God to be the Disposer of the affairs of men and the Judge of evildoers. At the same time Jacob charges Laban with having been ready, but for God's intervention, to send his son-inlaw away empty-handed (reqam). So little does Jacob give credence to the above protestations of love and concern (v. Ge 31:26-28). Jacob boldly closes with the assertion that God had finally taken a hand in the matter and reproved Laban.
(c) The Treaty (v.43-54)
43, 44. And Laban answered and said to Jacob: The daughters are my daughters and the children are my children and the cattle is my cattle and all that thou seest belongs to me; and, as for my daughters, what can I do to them this day or to their children which they have borne? And now come let us make a covenant, I and thou, and let it be for a witness between me and thee.
Laban skilfully avoids the issue, which centres on the question whether Jacob has ever treated him unfairly, and substitutes another, namely, whether there is any likelihood of his avenging himself on Jacob and his family. In a rather grandiose fashion he claims that all that Jacob has -- household and cattle -- is his own. The only use he makes of this strong claim is that, naturally, these being his own family, he would not harm them. It hardly seems that he has been "cut to the quick" by the justice of Jacob's defense. He is merely bluffing through a contention in which he was being worsted. But being a suspicious character, he fears that Jacob might eventually do what he apparently would have done under like circumstances, namely, after arriving home and having grown strong, he may come with an armed band to avenge all the wrongs of the past. To forestall this he suggests a "covenant." This covenant might serve to deter Jacob, of whose justice and fairness he is convinced, and who, Laban trusts, will keep a covenant inviolate.
45-47. And Jacob took a stone and raised it up as a pillar. And Jacob said to his kinsmen: Gather stones. And they gathered stones and made a heap and they ate there upon the heap; and Laban called it Jegar-sahadhutha, but Jacob called it Galed.
Because Laban suggested the making of the covenant, it would seem that he should have made the witnessing pillar and heap. So sure of this are some critics that they call the word "Jacob" at the beginning of v.45 a mistake. Historical evidence must be judged according to its face value not by subjective expectations. The objective facts indicate Jacob's personal readiness to preserve peace and harmony, showing that he even took the initiative in sealing a treaty that he might well have resented. Jacob himself raises a memorial stone or "pillar," a matstsebha, meaning, "a thing raised up," as in Ge 28:18.
46. Jacob goes a step farther: he summons his kinsmen to make the memorial more substantial by gathering stones. These were, perhaps, heaped around the one stone which stood up pillar-like. Such a heap is called gal. Here apparently the gal served as a kind of table upon which the covenant feast was eaten. For to the full sealing of a covenant belonged a solemn covenant feast.
Very strangely the critics, who are intent upon proving that two documents giving two recensions of the event are woven together, here hit upon the pillar, or monolith, and the heap or cairn, and claim these two as one of the things that prove their point. Instead of pointing to a double recension or to two authors this merely points to the fact that Jacob was ready to go the limit to keep peace and harmony, as he always had been doing. The critics' argument is a non sequitur. All the rest of their so-called proof is of the same sort and too flimsy to refute.
47. Here Moses inserts a notice to the effect that Laban and Jacob each gave a name to the cairn, and each man in his native tongue, that of Laban being Aramaic and that of Jacob Hebrew. Nothing indicates that this is a later insertion. Why might not Moses consider it a matter worthy of record that in Mesopotamia Aramaic prevailed; whereas in Canaan Hebrew, perhaps the ancient Canaanite language, was spoken? The exactness of his observation is established by this definite bit of historical information. The two names are not absolutely identical, as is usually claimed, though the difference is slight. Jegar-sakadhutha means "heap of testimony," gal'ed means "heap of witness" or witnessing heap. For "testimony" is an abstract noun, "witness" is a personal noun or name of a person.
We observe, therefore, that at the beginning of their history the nation Israel came of a stock that spoke Aramaic but abandoned the Aramaic for the Hebrew. After the Captivity the nation, strange to say, veered from Hebrew back to Aramaic.
48-53. And Laban said: This heap is a witness between me and thee this day. That is why he called its name Galed, and also Mizpah (Watch); for he said: May Yahweh watch between me and thee when one of us cannot see the other. If thou shouldest treat my daughters harshly, or if thou shouldest take other wives in addition to my daughters, with no man to check up on us, may God see it, as witness between me and thee. Laban also said to Jacob: See, this heap and this watch-station (Mizpah) which I have planted between me and thee: a witness is this heap and a witness is this pillar, that I will not go past this heap against thee, and that thou wilt not go past this heap against me, neither past this pillar to do any harm. The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor they shall judge between us: the gods of their fathers. And Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac.
Here the critics hold that the redactor, who wove the threads of E and J together, made a sorry job of his task. They are very confident that since the cairn of stones is called a "heap" and a "pillar" this difference in terminology quite fully substantiates that E and J here each used his own term. But when a third term mizpah, "watch," or "watch-station," enters upon the scene, describing the same cairn, then they decree that a textual or copyist's error alone can account for the third term and proceed to alter the text to conform to their previous conclusion -- very unscientific! But the true cue to the whole section is completely missed. And why, by the way, cannot one and the same writer have ingenuity enough to discern that one thing may be regarded from two, yea, even from three, points of view?
The whole matter involved in what seems a rather diffuse and verbose passage is very simple: Moses describes Laban as using so many and so varied terms because he actually used so many terms. Not to be trusted himself, not being a man of his word, Laban uses many words to cover up his untrustworthiness. Besides, as Luther already discerned, the undependable man is trying to make the dependable one appear as undependable by using many turns and expressions and so creating the impression that Jacob is a slippery character who has to be bound fast by a whole series of stipulations. At the same time Laban seeks by hard and sharp terms actually to terrify Jacob, the godly man, as though he were ungodly and needed to be threatened. We shall try to trace out briefly how this crafty fellow goes about his unholy work.
There is craft even in the opening remark, this heap is a witness between me and thee this day. Laban was not the one who made "the heap." That was Jacob's idea. Now Laban appropriates what Jacob made, as though the idea had been his (Laban's) own, originated for the purpose of binding a crafty opponent. That was the spirit in which Laban had given the name "Galed." Of course, there cannot be an inaccuracy here in the statement, as the literalist critics claim, saying: the writer makes Laban speak Hebrew instead of Aramaic. Any man not absorbed in finding fault, recognizes that the writer is going back quite naturally to the use of the Hebrew equivalent of "Jegar-sahadhutha."
49. In his craft Laban invents another idea that may be attached to the cairn: it may serve as a mizpah, "a watch" or "watch-station" or "sentry," standing aloft between these two when they cannot keep watch upon one another. Here again, of course, the idea implied is that Jacob is the one who bears watching. For that reason Laban employs the name of the true God "Yahweh." Whoever may be Laban's god, Laban does not require watching; but may Jacob's God watch over Jacob and keep him from harming Laban. "When one cannot see the other" really reads in the original "when we are hidden (not absent' A. V.) one from another." But the Hebrew plainly involves, as our translation indicates, when one cannot keep an eye on the other. It is unfortunate that this unkind word, full of suspicion, should in our day so often be used as a benediction at parting. This almost amounts to a wicked perversion of Scripture.
50. To cast a further shadow upon Jacob's character Laban conjures up what was in reality a highly improbable situation. Suppose Jacob should treat Laban's daughters harshly ('anah -- "afflict, oppress"), or should take other wives in addition to the ones he had. But Jacob had never given the least indication of being inclined to treat his wives harshly. Gentleness and goodness are characteristics of Jacob. Besides, as the account reads, Jacob had more wives already than he had ever desired. He apparently recognized the evils of bigamy sufficiently in his own home. Both these cases mentioned by Laban as possible are in themselves harsh and unjust slanders. The statement, "there being no man with us," does not refer to the present (Luther) but to a future eventuality and should therefore be taken in the sense, "with no man to check up on us." Very solemnly God is adjured to act as a witness in such a case and, of course, to act as avenger. For all the solemnity of the adjuration there is nothing good about this word. It is an effort to slander a good man and do it with the sanctions of apparent piety -- in other words, it is wicked hypocrisy.
51. Very solemnly Laban begins again, saying nothing new, but desirous of creating the impression that this dangerous character Jacob must be tied as firmly as possible. Only now he lays emphasis on the possibility of Jacob's coming back on a punitive expedition. It is true that Laban's bad conscience may actually have induced him to reckon with such a possibility. But in any case he merely suspects Jacob of being capable of such a deed because he himself would no doubt have avenged himself thus. In this case (v. Ge 31:51, 52) Laban refers to the cairn only as "heap" and as "pillar" (matstsebha), the latter expression involving the idea of a sacred pillar. Laban safeguards himself by all possible sanctions and calls upon Jacob's religious scruples. Incidentally, so as not to make the aspersions too direct and so defeat his own purpose, Laban also pledges himself not to "go past this heap" against Jacob "to do any harm" (Hebrew: "for evil").
53. In conclusion Laban offers his most solemn adjuration, stronger than v.50 b; for God is called upon not only to "witness" but to "judge." Besides, he is called by the solemn title "God of Abraham." In fact, another god is invoked, "the god of Nahor." If v. Ge 31:29, 42 are compared, it seems most likely that two different deities, are under consideration: the true God; and Nahor's, that is also Laban's idol. The plural of the verb "judge" (yishpetu) therefore points to two different gods. So the polytheist Laban speaks. The more gods to help bind the pact, the better it is sealed, thinks Laban. Without directly correcting Laban or his statement of the case, Jacob swears by the true God under the same name as that used v.42, the Fear (i. e., object of fear, or reverence) of his father Isaac. Had the renegade Laban perhaps meant to identify his own god with the true God of Abraham? And is Jacob's statement of His name an attempt to ward off such an identification? This is not impossible.
54. And Jacob offered a sacrifice upon the mountain and called upon his kinsmen to eat bread. So they ate bread and spent the night upon the mountain.
We view Jacob's sacrifice as one of thanksgiving that this last serious danger that threatened from Laban is removed. We cannot conceive of Jacob as joining with the idolater Laban in worship and sacrifice. Consequently, we hesitate to identify the "eating of bread" with the partaking of the sacrificial feast, unless the "kinsmen" here are to be regarded only as the men on Jacob's side, as 'a(ch)chim is used throughout the chapter. In that event the kinsmen are to be thought of as having the same mind as Jacob on questions of religious practices. But the summons to eat bread might also signalize that the transactions between Jacob and Laban are concluded. The events of the meeting between Jacob and Laban may well have consumed an entire day, and so the night has to be spent in the same place.
We cannot drop the chapter without indicating to what unwarranted extremes critical analysis has gone. Procksch assigns to J verses Ge 31:1,3,10,12,20-23,26,27,31,36,38-40, Ge 31:42,45,49-51,53,54. The rest, with the exception of a part of verse Ge 31:18, is ascribed to E. The tortuous reasoning by which this separation is supported is one feature against the analysis. The manifest desire to see two threads in a narrative marked by singleness of purpose constitutes a second count on which we reject the whole approach. Add to this Koenig's verdict, "the attempt to separate the successive strata rests very often on indecisive criteria."
We have nothing certain as to the location of the heap called "Galed" or "Mizpah" in Mount Gilead. "Mizpah" itself is a rather general term: there were many points of eminence in the land which could serve as "watch-stations." We personally do not believe that the Mizpah located in Jebel Ajlun is far enough to the north. We can only be sure of this that according to chapter 32 it must have lain to the north of the River Jabbok.
One may well question whether this chapter offers suitable matter for preaching. Certain negative matters loom up rather prominently -- Laban's treachery and duplicity; Rachel's theft, involving incipient idolatry at least on her father's part; Rachel's lie. Though such material could be used for illustrative purposes in sermons, yet it is not of a character to furnish a text or a theme. In the section v. Ge 31:1-16, v.12 is an essential part, yet offensive for public use. Again the portion v. Ge 31:22-32 consists mostly of the protestations of a hypocrite. Even if one should think v. Ge 31:36-42 suitable in a sense as the defense of a faithful workman, surely the evangelical pulpit needs more comprehensive themes. The concluding section v. Ge 31:43 ff. reports for the most part how a suspicious and utterly untrustworthy fellow seeks to safeguard himself by binding others through solemn contracts and covenants. All this should be taught with necessary omissions to the youth of the church, and such use will always have its value.