Genesis (Part 137)

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

Genesis 31: 10-16

10 In the breeding season of the flock I lifted up my eyes and saw in a dream that the goats that mated with the flock were striped, spotted, and mottled. 11 Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am!’ 12 And he said, ‘Lift up your eyes and see, all the goats that mate with the flock are striped, spotted, and mottled, for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred.’” 14 Then Rachel and Leah answered and said to him, “Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house? 15 Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and he has indeed devoured our money. 16 All the wealth that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children. Now then, whatever God has said to you, do.”


In chapter 30, we read about the actions taken by Jacob. In chapter 31, Jacob tells us that Laban cheated him often. In this section, we read a divine comment on the face-off between Jacob and his father-in-law. Let’s look first though at verse 10 in The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 31:10

And it came to pus at the time that the cattle conceived (this obviously goes back to the commencement of the six years’ service), that I lifted up mine eyes, and saw in a dream, and, behold, the rams—עַתֻּדים, he-goats, from an unused root, to be ready, perhaps because ready and prompt for fighting (Gesenius, sub voce)which leaped (literally, going up) upon the cattle were ringstraked, speckled, and grisled. The grisled (beruddim, from barad, to scatter hail) were spotted animals, as if they had been sprinkled with hail, not a fifth sort in addition to the four already mentioned (Rosenmüller), but the same as the teluim of Genesis 30:35 (Kalisch). Wordsworth observes that the English term grisled, from the French word grele, hail, is a literal translation of the Hebrew. Gesenius connects with the Hebrew root the words πάρδος, pardus, leopard (so called from its spots), and the French broder, to embroider. The LXX. understand the עַתֻּדים to include both sheep and goats, and translate οἱ τράγοι καὶ οἱ κριοὶ ἀναβαίντες ἐπὶ τὰ πρόβατα καὶ τὰς αἰγας.

Verse 10 begins the third telling of how this six year period went. The first telling is in chapter 20, the second telling is from Jacob’s perspective to begin this chapter, and here in verse 10 we get a third version with quotes from “the angel of God.”

Continuing with The Pulpit Commentaries in verse 11:

Genesis 31:11

And the angel of God—literally, the angel (or Maleachof Elohim, i.e. of the God who was with me and protecting me, though himself continuing unseen—spake unto me in a dream, saying, Jacob: And I said, Here am I (vide Genesis 20:1Genesis 20:11).

The verbiage here is not the same as when we read “the Angel of the Lord.” In that instance, “the Lord” would have been the tetragrammaton name for God (“Yahweh.”)

dream = חֲלוֹם chălôwm, khal-ome’; or (shortened) חֲלֹם chălôm; from H2492; a dream:—dream(-er).

Verse 12 uses an odd word – mottled.

mottled/griseled = בָּרֹד bârôd, baw-rode’; from H1258; spotted (as if with hail):—grisled.

Ellicott’s Bible Commentary explains the meaning as follows:

Verse 12

(12) Grisled.—That is, covered with spots like hailstones, the word “grisled” being derived from the French grêle, hail. Others derive the word from gris, grisaille, grey.

The Pulpit Commentaries make a point of addressing the apparent confusion as to the timing of Jacob’s dream. The note below addresses a wide ranging view as to how one might interpret these verses. Many scholars have approached them in different ways. The angel’s message simultaneously appears to be addressing both the beginning and the end of the six year period.

Genesis 31:12

And he said, Lift up now thine eyes, and see, all the rams which leap upon the cattle are ringstraked, speckled, and grisled. Since all the parti-colored animals had already been removed (Genesis 30:35), this vision must have been intended to assure him that the flocks would produce speckled and spotted progeny all the same as if the ringstraked and grisled rams and he-goats had not been removed from their midst (cf. Kurtz, § 78). To insist upon a contradiction between this account of the increase of Jacob’s flocks and that mentioned in Genesis 30:37 is to forget that both may be true. Equally arbitrary does it seem to be to accuse Jacob of fraud in adopting the artifice of the pilled rods (Kalisch). Without resorting to the supposition that he acted under God’s guidance (Wordsworth), we may believe that the dream suggested the expedient referred to, in which some see Jacob’s unbelief and impatience (Kurtz, Gosman in Lange), and others a praiseworthy instance of self-help (Keil). For I have seen all that Laban doeth unto thee. If the preceding clause appears to imply that the vision was sent to Jacob at the beginning of the six years’ service, the present clause scents to point to the end of that period as the date of its occurrence; in which case it would require to be understood as a Divine intimation to Jacob that his immense wealth was not to be ascribed to the success of his own stratagem, but to the blessing of God (Delitzsch). The difficulty of harmonizing the two views has led to the suggestion that Jacob here mixes the accounts of two different visions accorded to him, at the commencement and at the close of the period of servitude (Nachmanides, Rosenmüller, Kurtz, (‘Speaker’s Commentary,’ Murphy, Candlish).

In verse 13, the angel tells Jacob who is speaking to him. From Ellicott:

Verse 13

(13) I am the God of Beth-el.—The angel of Elohim (Genesis 31:11) was the speaker, but the words were those of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13Hebrews 1:1). With this verse compare Genesis 28:13.

As the note says, an angel is speaking but the words are those of God. As a reminder, we should review the definition of angel in Hebrew:

מֲלְאָךְ mălʼâk, mal-awk’; from an unused root meaning to despatch as a deputy; a messenger; specifically, of God, i.e. an angel (also a prophet, priest or teacher):—ambassador, angel, king, messenger.

The job description of an angel is as a messenger for, or representative of, God. That said, it has always struck me as interesting that one of the possible interpretations for this word is “King.” Messengers or not, angels should not be considered without some authority.

In verse 14 through 16, we hear from Rachel and Leah. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 31:14-1.31.16

And Rachel and Leah (vide on Genesis 31:4answered and said unto him (Kalisch overdoes his attempt to blacken Jacob’s character and whitewash Laban’s when he says that Rachel and Leah were so entirely under their husband’s influence that they spoke about their father “with severity and boldness bordering on disrespect.” It rather seems to speak badly for Laban that his daughters eventually rose in protest against his heartless cruelty and insatiable greed), Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house? The interrogative particle indicates a spirited inquiry, to which a negative response is anticipated. Kalisch obviously regards it as preposterous that Rachel and Leah should have expected anything, since “married daughters in the East never had any such claim where there were sons.” But Laban had not treated Jacob’s wives even as daughters. Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us (however much they loved Jacob they could not but resent the mercenary meanness of Laban, by which they, the free-born daughters of a chieftain, had been sold as common serfs), and hath quits devoured also our money—literally, and hath eaten up, yes, even eating up, our money, the inf. abs; אָוֹל, after the finite verb, expressing the continuance (Keil) and intensity (Kalisch) of the action. For—כִּי is by some interpreters rendered but (Jarchi), so that (Keil), indeed (Kalisch), though there is no sufficient reason for departing from the usual meaning “for” (Rosenmüller)—all the riches which God hath taken from our father,—thus Rachel and Leah also recognize the hand of God (Elohim) in Jacob’s unusual prosperity—that is ours, and our children’s (Rachel and Leah mean to say that what Jacob had acquired by his six years of service with their father was no more than would have naturally belonged to him had they obtained their portions at the first): now then, Whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do. It is clear that, equally with himself, they were prepared for breaking off connection with their father Laban.

Ellicott also theorizes about the apparent rift between Laban and his daughters:

(15) He hath sold us.—There is a marked asperity towards their father in the answer of Jacob’s wives, and not only the petted Rachel but the neglected Leah joins in it. Now, though his sale of them to Jacob had been more open than Oriental good manners usually allowed, and though he seems to have acted meanly in giving no portion with them, yet these were old sores, long since healed and forgiven. Laban must have been stingy, grasping, and over-reaching in recent times, to have kept the memory of old wrongs so fresh in the minds of his daughters.

Prof. Rabbi Herbert Basser writes at article at titled, “Shakespeare Plays on the Questionable Source of Jacob’s Wealth.” It’s an interesting article which discusses the competing narrative explanations for how Jacob becomes wealthy at Laban’s expense, as well as the scholarly attempts to blend these explanations. The article also shares how Shakespeare used this story as well. I will include some excerpts below but I encourage reading the entire article at the link.

Over the many years the Torah has been interpreted, commentators have offered a number of approaches to make the two explanations work with each other.

Inspired to act by the vision (R. Bahya [Behai] ben Asher ben Halawa) – “Because of this dream Jacob came to perform the deed, acting in accord with knowledge of natural science by manipulating the sticks – not to deceive Laban but to protect himself from Laban’s deceitful practices” (gloss on Gen 30:38).[3]

Divine Providence all along (R. Avraham ibn Ezra) – Jacob thought his plan was working, but later God showed him that it was really divine providence (gloss on Gen 31:9).[4]

God needed to combat Laban’s trickery (Jan Fokkelman) – Originally, Jacob’s plan was working, but since Laban kept changing the deal, God needed to get involved.[5]

The stick ritual was never meant to replace God (Beno Jacob) – Jacob’s reliance on the sticks was just a ritual of superstition that any shepherd would do “just in case;” he didn’t really think it could combat Laban’s trickery. Thus, God was always necessary (gloss on Gen 30:37-42b).[6]

There was no revelation (Arnold Ehrlich) – Jacob was lying about the angel’s revelation because he couldn’t trust his wives with the truth, i.e., that he did, in fact, trick their father (Mikra Ke-Peshutto, Gen 31:5).[7]

Shakespeare Plays on the Questionable Source of Jacob's Wealth
Illustration by Sir James Dromgole Linton (1840– 1916) London)

Shakespeare as a Parshan

William Shakespeare was certainly not a critical Bible scholar, but the biblical references peppered throughout his plays reveals his mastery of biblical texts.[10] Shakespeare uses the biblical text we have been examining in the dialogue between Shylock and Antonio in Act 1 scene 3 in The Merchant of Venice. As Harvard University Professor (Comparative Literature) Marc Shell pointed out,[11] Shakespeare is not merely quoting or alluding to Bible, but he is interpreting it. Furthermore, as noted by Yale University Professor Leslie Brisman, Shakespeare seems to be working off of the very narrative tension described above, and, in his own fashion, offering his own reading of the text.[12]

Background on Shylock and Antonio

I begin with a brief sketch of the two characters in this dialogue within the overall context ofThe Merchant of Venice:

Antonio – The protagonist is a pious Christian named Antonio. He is a successful businessman who lends money to friends without interest, as commanded by his faith. At one point a friend of his, Bassanio, has need of money, and all of Antonio’s liquid capital is tied up in his ships. He therefore agrees to act as a guarantor or bond for his friend with the Jewish moneylender, Shylock, whom Antonio despises and has even spit at in the past.

Shylock – Shylock is a Jewish money lender who lends at high interest. He has been insulted by Antonio and is stunned that he would turn to him for money, even if it is only on behalf of a friend. Shylock wishes to take advantage of the situation, not for profit but for revenge, and famously declares that the bond will be a pound of Antonio’s flesh, if neither he nor Bassanio pay back the loan in three months.

There are not universally accepted answers for the questioned raised by the narratives surrounding Jacob’s last six years working for Laban. Nevertheless, though, the text moves forward to the parting of ways between Jacob and his father-in-law.

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