Genesis (Part 139)

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

Genesis 31: 25-35

25 And Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsmen pitched tents in the hill country of Gilead. 26 And Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done, that you have tricked me and driven away my daughters like captives of the sword? 27 Why did you flee secretly and trick me, and did not tell me, so that I might have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre? 28 And why did you not permit me to kiss my sons and my daughters farewell? Now you have done foolishly. 29 It is in my power to do you harm. But the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’ 30 And now you have gone away because you longed greatly for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods?” 31 Jacob answered and said to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force. 32 Anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live. In the presence of our kinsmen point out what I have that is yours, and take it.” Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them.

33 So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two female servants, but he did not find them. And he went out of Leah’s tent and entered Rachel’s. 34 Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them in the camel’s saddle and sat on them. Laban felt all about the tent, but did not find them. 35 And she said to her father, “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the way of women is upon me.” So he searched but did not find the household gods.


So everyone meets up again in the hill country of Gilead. This is the first mention of Gilead in Genesis. Where is it?

Gilead or Gilad (/ˈɡɪliəd/Hebrew: גִּלְעָד‎ GīləʿāḏArabic: جلعاد‎, Ǧalʻād, Jalaad) is the ancient, historic, biblical name of the mountainous northern part of the region of Transjordan. The region is bounded in the west by the Jordan River, in the north by the deep ravine of the river Yarmouk and the region of Bashan, and in the southwest by what were known during antiquity as the “plains of Moab”, with no definite boundary to the east. In some cases, “Gilead” is used the bible to refer to all the region east of the Jordan River.

Gilead is situated in modern-day Jordan, corresponding roughly to the IrbidAjlounJerash and Balqa Governorates.

What happens when Laban speaks to Jacob? From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 31:26-1.31.30

And Laban (assuming a tone of injured innocence) said to Jacob, What hast thou done, that thou hast stolen away unawares to me,—literally, and (meaning, in that) thou hast stolen my heart (vide supra, Genesis 31:20; and cf. Genesis 31:27)—and carried away (vide Genesis 31:18) my daughters, as captives taken with the sword? Literally, as captives of the sword, i.einvitis parentibus (Rosenmüller); language which, if not hypocritical on Laban’s part, was certainly hyperbolical, since he had already evinced the strength of his parental affection by selling his daughters to Jacob; and besides, so far as it concerned either Jacob or his wives, it was quite untrue, Rachel and Leah having voluntarily accompanied their husband in his flight. Wherefore didst thou floe away secretly,—literally, wherefore didst thou hide thyself to flee away; חָבַא (niph.), with an inf. following, corresponding to the similar construction in Greek of λανθάνειν with a part, and being correctly rendered in English by an adverb—and steal away from me (literally, and steal me, ut supra); and didst not tell me, that I might (literally, and I would) have sent thee away with mirth, and with songs,—in Oriental countries those about to make a long journey are still sent away cantionibus et musicorum instrumentorum concentu (Rosenmüller)—with tabret,—the toph was a drum or timbrel, consisting of a wooden circle covered with membrane, and furnished with brass bells (like the modern tambourine), which Oriental women beat when dancing (cf. Exodus 15:20Judges 11:34Jeremiah 31:4)—and with harp! For a description of the kinnor see Genesis 4:21And hast not suffered me to kiss my sons (i.e. the children of Leah and Rachel) and my daughters! It is perhaps judging Laban too severely to pronounce this complete hypocrisy and cant (Alford, Bush, Candlish, Gerlach), but equally wide of the truth is it to see in Laban’s conduct nothing but generosity of feeling (Kalisch); probably there was a mixture of both paternal affection and crafty dissimulation (Delitzsch). Thou hast now done foolishly in so doing. The charge of folly in Old Testament Scriptures commonly carries with it an imputation of wrong-doing (cf. 1 Samuel 13:132 Samuel 14:10). It is in the power of my hand—so the phrase יָדִי יֶשׁ־לְאֵל (cf. Deuteronomy 28:32Nehemiah 5:5Micah 2:1) is rendered by competent authorities (Gesenius, Furst, Rosenmüller, Kalisch, Murphy, et alii), with which agree laxly, ἡ χειρ μου (LXX.), and valet manus men (Vulgate), though the translation “My hand is for God,” i.e. my hand serves me as God (cf. Job 12:6Hebrews 1:11), is by some preferred (Keil, Knobel, Jacobus)—to do you hurt: but the God of your father—the use of this expression can be rightly regarded neither as a proof of Elohistic authorship (Tuch, Bleek, Colenso, Davidson) nor as a sign of Laban’s spiritual degeneracy (Hengstenberg, Wordsworth), since it is practically equivalent to Jehovah (vide Genesis 28:13), but is probably to be viewed as a play upon the sound and sense of the preceding clause, as thus:—”It is in the El of my hand to do you evil, but the Elohim of your father spake to me.” Another instance of this play upon the sound and sense is to be found in Genesis 4:19Genesis 4:20—”Rachel stole the teraphim that were her father’s; and Jacob stole the heart of Laban the Syrian”—spake unto me yester night, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob—literally, guard or keep thee for thyself (the pleon, pron. being added ut supra, Genesis 4:24from speaking with Jacob—either good or bad (vide on Genesis 4:24). And now, though thou wouldest needs be gone (literally, going thou didst go—thou hast indeed gone), because thou sore longedst after thy father’s house (literally, because desiring thou didst desire. The verb כָּסַף, to be pale (whence כֶּסֶף, silver, so called from its pale color), expresses the idea of pining away and languishing through strong inward longing), yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods? Laban had probably gone to consult his teraphim and so discovered their loss. Augustine calls attention to this as the first Scripture reference to heathen gods, and Calvin probably supplies the right explanation of the sense in which they were so styled by Laban, non quia deitatem illie putaret esse inclusam, sed quia in honorem deorum imagines illas colebat; vel potius quod Deo sacra facturus, vertebat se ad illas imagines (of. Exodus 32:41 Kings 12:28). “This complaint of Laban, that his “gods were stolen, showeth the vanity of such idolatry” (Ainsworth). Cf. Judges 6:31Judges 16:24Jeremiah 10:5Jeremiah 10:11Jeremiah 10:15.

There are a few points from this note that I like in particular.

  • It describes Laban’stone as one of “injured innocence” and also describes it as false.
  • “It is in the El of my hand to do you evil, but the Elohim of your father spake to me.”
  • “This complaint of Laban, that his “gods were stolen, showeth the vanity of such idolatry” (Ainsworth).

Ellicott’s Bible Commentary also makes note of the way verse 29 is phrased:

(29) It is in the power of my hand.—This is the rendering here of all the versions, and is confirmed by Deuteronomy 28:32Nehemiah 5:5Micah 2:1; but Keil and Knobel wish to translate, “My hand is for God.” This comes to the same thing in an impious way, as the sense would be,” My hand is an El, a god, for me,” and enables me to do what I will.

The speech of Laban is half true and half false. He would have wished not to part with Jacob at all, but to have recovered from him as much as he could of his property. But if he was to go, he would have liked outward appearances maintained; and, probably, he had an affection for his daughters and their children, though not so strong as to counterbalance his selfishness. His character, like that of all men, is a mixture of good and evil.

Jacob answers in verse 31, continuing with Ellicott:

(31, 32) Jacob answered.—Jacob gives the true reason for his flight; after which, indignant at the charge of theft, he returns, in his anger, as rash an answer about the teraphim as Joseph’s brethren subsequently did about the stolen cup (Genesis 44:9).

Let him not live.—The Rabbins regard this as a prophecy, fulfilled in Rachel’s premature death. Its more simple meaning is, I yield him up to thee even to be put to death.

This is really fascinating (and a bit of a spoiler.)

Continuing on with the search, from The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 31:33

And Laban went into Jacob’s taut, and into Leah’s tent, and into the two maid-servants’ tents;—the clause affords an interesting glimpse into the manners of the times, showing that not only husbands and wives, but also wives among themselves, possessed separate establishments)—but he found them not. Then went he out of Leah’s tent (he probably commenced with Jacob’s and those of the hand-maids, and afterwards passed into Leah’s), and entered into Rachel’s tent—last, because she was the favorite. Cf. Genesis 33:2, in which a similar partiality towards Rachel is exhibited by Jacob.

Genesis 31:34

Now Rachel had taken the images (teraphim), and put them in the camel’s furniture,—the camel’s furniture was not stramenta cameli (Vulgate), “the camel’s straw” (Luther), but the camel’s saddle (LXX; Onkelos, Syriac, Calvin, Rosenmüller, Keil, and others), here called כּר, from כָּרַר, an unused root signifying either to go round in a circle, hence to run (Gesenius), or to be firmly wound together, hence to be puffed up as a bolster (Furst). The woman’s riding-saddle was commonly made of wicker-work and had the appearance of a basket or cradle. It was usually covered with carpet, and protected against wind, rain, and sun by means of a canopy and curtains, while light was admitted by openings in the side (cf. Gesenius, sub voce; Kalisch in loco). “That which is now customary among the Arabs consists of a large closed basket-work, with a place for sitting and reclining, and a window at the side; one of this kind hangs on each side of the camel” (Gerlach)—and sat upon them. “To us the picture of Rachel seated upon the camel furniture is true to life, for we have often seen its counterpart. The saddle-bags and cushions which were to be set upon the camel lay piled on the floor, while she sat upon them. And Laban searched—the word means to feel out or explore with the hands (cf. Genesis 27:12Job 12:25)—all the tent, but found them not.

The note here gives a lengthy description of what camel saddles likely looked like at this time. Rachel gives an excuse for why she cannot comply with Laban’s searching and he believes her enough that he chooses not to complete the search:

Genesis 31:35

And she said to her father,—”covering theft by subtlety and untruth” (Kalisch), and thus proving herself a time daughter of Laban, as well as showing with how much imperfection her religious character was tainted—Let it not displease my lord—literally, let it not burn with anger (יִחַר, from חָרָה, to glow, to burn) in the eyes of my lord (Adoni)—that I cannot rise up before thee;—Oriental politeness required children to rise up in the presence of their parents (vide Le Genesis 19:32; and cf. 1 Kings 2:19). Hence Rachel’s apology was not unnecessary—for the custom of women—(literally, the way of women; a periphrasis for menstruation (cf. Genesis 18:11) which, under the law, required females, as ceremonially unclean, to be put apart (Le Genesis 15:19). That, prior to the law, this particular statute concerning women was in force among the Aramaeans appears from the present instance; and that it was not exclusively Jewish, but shared in by other nations of antiquity, is the opinion of the best authorities. Roberts mentions that under similar circumstances with Rachel no one in India goes to the temple or any religious ceremony—is upon me. It is just possible Rachel may have been speaking the exact truth, though the probability is she was guilty of fabrication. And he searched (everywhere except among the camel’s furniture, partly from fear of defilement, but chiefly as regarding it impossible that Rachel in her then state would sit upon his gods), but found not the images (teraphim). The three times repeated phrase “he found not,” emphasizes the completeness, of Lahan’s deception.

We will look more closely at Rachel’s character later in Genesis. However, the picture with which we are presented is least positive as among all of the wives of the patriarchs – with this story in particular standing out. That said, the same decline in righteousness seems also be to be from Abraham through Jacob.

Professor Erin D. Darby writes an article on teraphim in the Old Testament, titled Rachel’s Teraphim: A Critique of the Northern Kingdom, which is worth a read. I have included some excerpts below.

Teraphim in this story are Laban’s household gods, which Rachel apparently wants for herself. Rashi (R. Solomon Yitzhaki, ca. 1040–1105) was so bothered by this possibility that he comments להפריש את אביה מעבודה זרה נתכוונה “her intention was to separate her father from idolatry” (Gen 31:19). Yet, as Abraham ibn Ezra (1089–1167) comments, ואילו היה כן, למה הוליכה אותם עמה, ולא טמנתם בדרך “if this were the case, why did she take them with her instead of burying them on the way?” (Gen 31:19). The text never has Rachel dispose of them, and the simple implication is that she kept them.

Another biblical character who keeps teraphim in her home is Michal, daughter of Saul, who uses them to help David escape her father’s men when they come to capture him:


Although not specifically called gods, they are clearly domestic items.[2] These two stories thus present teraphim as part of domestic cult—i.e., not part of the cult found in communal worship sites.