Genesis (Part 136)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis 31: 1-9

31 Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, “Jacob has taken all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has gained all this wealth.” And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before. Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.”

So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah into the field where his flock was and said to them, “I see that your father does not regard me with favor as he did before. But the God of my father has been with me. You know that I have served your father with all my strength, yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times. But God did not permit him to harm me. If he said, ‘The spotted shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore spotted; and if he said, ‘The striped shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore striped. Thus God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me. 


After twenty years, Jacob is told by The Lord to return to the land of his birth. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 31:1

And he—Jacob had now served twenty years with Laban, and must accordingly have been in his ninety-seventh or seventy-seventh year (vide Genesis 27:1)—heard the words of Laban’s sons,—who were not at this time only small youths about fourteen years of ago (Delitzsch), since they were capable of being entrusted with their father’s flocks (Genesis 30:35)—saying (probably in a conversation which had been over. heard by Jacob), Jacob hath taken away (by fraud is what they meant, an opinion in which Kalisch agrees; but it is not quite certain that Jacob was guilty of dishonesty in acting as he did) all that was our father’s;—this was a manifest exaggeration; sed hoe morbo laborant sordidi et nimium tenaces, ut sibi ereptum esse putent quicquid non ingurgitant (Calvin)—and of that which was our father’s hath he gotten (literally, made, in the sense of acquiring, as in Genesis 12:51 Samuel 14:48all this glory. כָּבוֹד (from כָּבַד, to be heavy, hence to be great in the sense of honored, and also to be abundant) signifies either glory, splendor, renown, δόξα (LXX.), as in Job 14:21; or, what seems the preferable meaning here, wealth, riches, facultates (Vulgate), as in Psalms 49:13Nahum 2:10. The two ideas appear to be combined in 2 Corinthians 4:17; βάρος δόξης (cf. Wordsworth, in loco).

taken = לָקַח lâqach, law-kakh’; a primitive root; to take (in the widest variety of applications):—accept, bring, buy, carry away, drawn, fetch, get, infold, × many, mingle, place, receive(-ing), reserve, seize, send for, take (away, -ing, up), use, win.

The note raises an age old debate as to whether Jacob was guilty of fraud and/or dishonesty. The previous chapter creates an impression that he is, however, this section of verses implies that perhaps Laban was guilty of his own tricks and schemes against Jacob. The failure to mention Laban’s schemes in the previous chapter does not necessarily imply that they did not occur. Conversely, we can also potentially read Chapter 31 and infer a dishonest Jacob.

Continuing with The Pulpit Commentaries at verse 2:

Genesis 31:2

And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, Behold, it (i.e. either Laban or his countenance) was not toward him (literally, with him) as before—literally, as yesterday and the day before. The evident change in Laban’s disposition, which had previously been friendly, was obviously employed by God to direct Jacob’s mind to the propriety of returning to the land of his inheritance; and the inclination thus started in his soul was further strengthened and confirmed by a revelation which probably soon after, if not the night following, was sent for his direction.

Jacob hears that Laban’s sons are unhappy and then he sees Laban is not happy with him anymore, either. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

Verse 3

(3) The Lord said unto Jacob.—This is probably the revelation, more exactly described in Genesis 31:10-1.31.13, as given to Jacob in a dream. It is there ascribed to Elohim, but here to Jehovah. The narrator’s purpose in this, probably, is to show that while Jacob regarded the providence that watched over him as the act of Elohim, it was really in His character of Jehovah, the covenant-God, that He thus guarded him. (See Note on Genesis 26:29.)

Thy kindred.—Heb., thy birthplace, as in Genesis 12:1Genesis 24:4Genesis 24:7, &c.

Verse 4

(4) Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah . . . —Rachel is placed first, as the chief wife. The field was probably the pasture where Laban’s flocks fed, as they were specially under Jacob’s charge; and there, in the open ground, the three would run no risk of having their conversation overheard. Jacob’s speech to his wives consists of three parts: first, he tells them of the change in Laban’s manner towards him, and his consequent fear of violence; he next justifies his own conduct towards their father, and accuses him of repeated injustice; finally, he announces to them that he had received the Divine command to return to Canaan. As regards the second point, Jacob had undoubtedly used stratagems to increase his wages, and of this his wives must have been well aware. On the other hand, we learn that Laban had openly violated the terms of the bargain; and, whereas all the parti-coloured kids and lambs were to belong to Jacob, no sooner did they increase beyond expectation, than Laban, first, would give him only the speckled, the most common kind, and finally, only the ring-straked, which were the most rare. Of course Jacob would keep all the sheep and goats which he had once made over to the charge of his sons; it would be the additions to them from Laban’s flocks which were thus diminished.

As regards the vision, it has been thought that Jacob has compressed two occurrences into one narrative; but for insufficient reasons. It was at the breeding-time (Genesis 31:10) that Jacob saw the vision, with its two-fold lesson: the first, that the multiplication of his wages had been God’s gift, and not the result of his own artifices; the second, that this bestowal of wealth was to enable him to return to Canaan. His wives heartily concurred in his purpose, but it was not till the time of sheep-shearing came (Genesis 31:19) that he effected his escape. But there is no difficulty in this delay. How large the household of Jacob had become we learn from the greatness of the present he selected for Esau (Genesis 32:13-1.32.15), and it could not be removed without preparation. The servants and camels must be gathered in from their trading expeditions, tents must be got ready, and camels’ furniture and other requisites obtained; finally, they could not start until the ewes were fit for their journey, and only at a time of year when there would be herbage for the cattle on the march. We find that when they reached the Jabbok, Jacob’s flocks and herds were “giving suck” (Genesis 33:13 in the Heb.); but it is not easy to calculate the interval between this and the time when they commenced their journey.

Jacob’s conversation with Laban’s daughters then continues. From The Pulpit Commenaries:

Genesis 31:5

And said unto them, I see your father’s countenance, that it is not toward me as before (vide supra)but the God of my father—literally, and the Elohim of my father, the term Elohim employed by Jacob not being due to “the vagueness of the religious knowledge” possessed by his wives (Hengstenberg), but to a desire on his own part either to distinguish the God of his father from the gods of the nations, or the idols which Laban worshipped (‘Speaker’s Commentary’), or perhaps, while using an expression exactly equivalent to Jehovah, to bring out a contrast between the Divine favor and that of Laban (Quarry)—hath been with me—literally, was with me; not the night before simply, but during the past six years, as he explains in Genesis 31:7.

Genesis 31:6

And ye know that with all my power I have served your father. The term Jacob here uses for power is derived from an unused onomatopoetic root, signifying to pant, and hence to exert one’s strength. If, therefore, the assertion now made to his wives was not an unblushing falsehood, Jacob could not have been the monster of craft and deception depicted by some (Kalisch); while, if it was, it must have required considerable effrontery to appeal to his wives’ knowledge for a confirmation of what they knew to be a deliberate untruth. The hypothesis that Jacob first acquired his great wealth by “consummate cunning,” and then piously “abused the authority of God in covering or justifying them” (Kalisch), presupposes on the part of Jacob a degree of wickedness inconceivable in one who had enjoyed the sublime theophany of Bethel.

Genesis 31:7

And your father hath deceived me,—הֵתֵל, the hiph. of תָּלַל, means to rob or plunder (Furst), or to cause to fall, as in the cognate languages, whence to deceive (Gesenius)—and changed my wages ten times;—i.e. many times, as in Numbers 14:22Job 19:3 (Rosenmüller, Bush, Kalisch, Lange); as often as possible, the number ten expressing the idea of completeness (Keil, Murphy)—but God (Elohim, Jacob purposing to say that he had been protected, not by human stratagem, but by Divine interposition) suffered him not to hurt me—literally, to do evil to me. The verb here construed with &#עִמָּד עִם is sometimes followed by עַל (1 Kings 17:20), and sometimes by בְּ (1 Chronicles 16:22).

The note above draws attention to the apparent dissonance between the idea that Jacob tricked Laban and the idea that Jacob was righteous. Chapter 30 appears to paint of picture of a Jacob who deceives while 31 presents a Jacob who was the victim of a cheating Laban. The note above takes the position that Jacob would not have appealed to his wives in this way if he was the deceiver – as they would well know the difference. Instead, Jacob appeals to their apparently pre-existing knowledge that Laban is the one committing deception.

The note above and Ellicott draw attention to Jacob’s claim that Laban cheated him ten times. From Ellicott:

(7) Ten times.—That is, a good many times.

It does not necessarily mean ten literal times. It is interpreted as an expression indicating “lots of times.”

Looking lastly at verse 8, with The Pulpit Commentaries, Jacob explains the manner of how Laban attempts to cheat him:

Genesis 31:8

If he (i.e. Laban) said thus, The speckled shall be thy wages;—by the original contract Jacob had been promised all the parti-colored animals (Genesis 30:32);” here it seems as if Laban, struck with the remarkable increase of these, took the earliest opportunity of so modifying the original stipulation as to limit Jacob’s portion to one sort only, viz. the speckled. Yet this dishonorable breach of faith on the part of Laban was of no avail; for, when the next lambing season came—then (it was discovered that) all the cattle bare speckled: and if he said thus (changing the sort of animals assigned to his son-in-law), The ringstraked shall be thy hire (the result was as before); then bare all the cattle ringstraked.

Genesis 31:9

Thus—literally, and (as the result of this)—God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me. In ascribing to God what he had himself effected by (so-called) fraud, this language of Jacob appears to some inexcusable (Kalisch); in passing over his own stratagem in silence Jacob has been charged with not telling the whole truth to his wives (Keil). A more charitable consideration of Jacob’s statement, however, discerns-in it an evidence of his piety, which recognized and gratefully acknowledged that not his own “consummate cunning, ‘but Jehovah’s watchful care had enabled him to outwit the dishonest craft of Laban (Rosenmüller, Ainsworth, Bush, Candlish, Murphy).

We know from the previous chapter that Jacob manipulates how the livestock – with the unique coloring – are being born. Here we get more information. Perhaps Jacob’s devices are in response to Laban’s unfair limitations, perhaps the unfair limitations imposed by Laban were brought about by the deception we just read about from Jacob.

Which of these are the reality seems to be a matter of faith at this point – though we will get divine commentary on this topic in the next section of verses.

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