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Chapter 31

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ch. 31:1-21    ch. 31:22-55

Jacob Flees From Laban (ch. 31:1 - 21)             


In verse 1 we begin to see that Jacob's welcome is now wearing thin with Laban.  Laban's sons are saying that Jacob is steeling their father's wealth, and they were partly right as we saw in the last chapter.  Jacob was not acting as the man of Yahweh that he should have been. Still God was blessing him, but this was not due to any goodness on Jacob's part, but was due to the promises God made to Abraham in the Abrahamic Covenant.


Verse 2 states that Laban's attitude towards Jacob had changed as well.  Simply put, things were no longer happy in the household of Laban, and Jacob was the source of the problem, and for the most part, this was rightly so.


In verse 3 God spoke to Jacob.  He told Jacob to return home to the land of his father.  He had now been away for twenty years.  He worked fourteen years for his two wives and an additional six years.  Some people even suggest that these twenty years were somewhat of an exile for Jacob because of him steeling Esau's birthright.  I would not be surprised if this thinking is right.  Jacob was a deceiver.  He also went about the will of the Lord in a very humanistic and deceptive way. 


It is certain that God wanted Jacob to receive Isaac's blessing and the birthright. There is no doubt about that.  It was just the way in which he and Rebekah went about to get it.  It was very humanistic.  It was wrong.  That is often the case.  We often know God's will but we try to implement His will with our ways.  That only makes things worse and slows down the will of God.  So when people say these twenty years were an exile for Jacob, they may be right. I often wonder if parts of the church today are in a similar exile. 


So God told Jacob to return home.  He also said that He would be with him.  God would be with Jacob the deceiver.  Once again, that's not because of any goodness that Jacob had.  It was only because God would be true to His word spoken to Abraham. 


As God told Jacob to return home, I believe He is saying the same today to many Christians.  We've become very humanistic in our ways, and that needs to change.


In verses 4 through 9 Jacob calls Leah and Rebekah out into the fields where the sheep were grazing, so they could have a family meeting.  He told them that their father Laban and him were having serious problems and so God told him to return to his homeland.  I'm sure Leah and Rebekah knew that things were getting bad between Jacob and Laban. 


Jacob said that he worked hard for Laban, even though Laban had changed his wages ten times.  If you remember, Jacob didn't want a wage from Laban.  All that he asked for were the spotted and darkened cattle.  I guess he changed his mind.  Jacob paints a better picture of himself here than maybe he should have.  He says that it was God who had blessed him and increased his flock while decreasing Laban's flock.  Verse 9 actually says that God took Laban's flock and gave them to him.  Yet to be honest, many of Laban's flock were gotten by Jacob deceptively.  I'm not sure you can say that is God's blessing.


Jacob gives his reasoning for his assertion in verses 10 through 12.  He had a dream. If I understand the dream properly, some of Laban's male flock were mating with Jacob's female flock.  The resulting babies would then be Jacob's.  God apparently told Jacob that He was causing this to happen because of the way Laban was treating him.


This is what is happening here.  Jacob was using deceptive ways to increase his flocks behind Laban's back.  He was encouraging Laban's healthy male sheep to mate with his speckled and spotted sheep in order for him to have the baby sheep and increase his flock.  Laban's sheep were white, and Jacob's sheep were speckled, so you would think the resulting babies would either be white or specked.  That was not the case.  They were all specked, and it was God who caused this to happen.  So, even though Jacob was being dishonest, God blessed him in his dishonesty.   


We've seen God blessing Abraham, Isaac, and now Jacob all along, even when they weren't living as they should.  The reason why God blessed these men, as I've stated before, was because that is what He promised Abraham.  It is His choice, His faithfulness that brought about the blessings, not the faithfulness of these men.  The same applies to Israel today.  God is still faithful to Israel because His plans for Israel have not changed.   His promise to Abraham has never been revoked. For this reason for example, I believe Israel's victorious battle in 1967 came about with God's help.  This would be just one example.  God is behind the affairs of Israel today, even though she is not living for Him.      


So who was really in creasing Jacob's flock.  Was it God, or was it Jacob and his deceptive practices?  Well, it might have been a combination of both.  We should conclude that the dream Jacob had was from God, so there was a measure of God's blessing in Jacob's flock.  Still, we can't discount some of the deceptive means Jacob used when working in the fields.


This makes me think about the Abrahamic Covenant and God blessing Israel.  God will bless Israel , even if she is not walking in the ways of God, as she isn't today.  The restoration of Israel does not depend on her faithfulness.  It depends on God's faithfulness to His word, and especially what He spoke to Abraham.   


In verse 13 God reminds Jacob who He is.  He was the God who spoke to him in a dream at Bethel, when he laid his head on a stone and then turned that stone into a memorial of the occasion. Stones in those days would often be used to build some kind of memorial. We often see God reminding those who He is when He speaks to them.  You'd wonder if men like Jacob would need such a reminder, but hearing from God in such a way is probably unsettling to humans, thus the need for the reminder. 

In verses 14 through 16 we see Leah' and Rachel's response to Jacob.  They certainly were not on their father's side.  They told Jacob to do whatever God has told you to do.  We finally see Leah and Rachel agree on something.  They've always been fighting sisters but in this case, they are in total agreement.


The sisters did express some reservations they had against their father.  They asked in verse 14 if they had any share in the inheritance of their father.  Basically they were asking if  their father had anything of any value left to give them.  The implication was that Laban had nothing to leave them as an inheritance.   


One reason why Leah and Rachel brings up the point of in heritance is because in those days when a man wants to marry a girl, he gives her father a dowry in turn for the girl in marriage  This isn't a purchase price for the girl.  The girls weren't on sale.  This was a dowry that was meant to be held in trust in case the husband dies.  It appears that Laban spent this dowry, leaving nothing for the girls if Jacob dies.  That's why they felt that they were sold, not given in marriage.   


In verse 15 they asked, "does he (Laban) not regard us as foreigners?"  It is clear by this statement that not only was the relationship between Jacob and Laban strained, but the relationship between the daughters and their father was strained as well.  They felt like foreigners to their dad, and their dad probably treated them as foreigners. 


Leah and Rachel used the term "sold off", as in Laban sold them off.  That was the custom of the day.  The father would give the daughter away for a price.  That was just the way things were back then, and for the most part, women accepted this.  Yet because of the mentality of Laban, the girls felt this was more than a cultural thing.  They really did feel sold off.   Their impression of their father, at least at this time, was that he was a selfish man, only looking out for himself.  This might well have been so.


In verses 17 and 18 Jacob packs all of his family, possessions, and livestock up and heads for Canaan.


In verse 19  we see that Rachel was not the most righteous person either.  When her father was away, she went in and stole his "gods" as the NIV puts it.  In those days, the father of the family had these little statues that were gods to them, or at least symbolized gods to them.  They weren't usually very large in size, although in later centuries they did get bigger.  Some were actually life size.  These idols were also meant to be somewhat of a status symbol and would normally be passed down to the next generation in the inheritance.   These little statures were extremely important to its owner, and important also to the family members who would inherit these gods.  You might say that they were family gods.    


We saw earlier that the girls despised their father.  They thought they would not get any inheritance, so it appears to me that Rachel did this out of spite.  If she wasn't going to get anything from her father, she'd steel the thing that meant most to him and that was his gods.  It's a little ironic and funny to me that one can steel someone's god, but when a god isn't real, just a piece of stone or wood, their easily stolen.  


I wonder if Rachel was simply steeling these gods out of spite, to get back at her father.  Or, I wonder if she wanted these gods as something she felt that she should inherit but probably wouldn't.  Then I wonder if Rachel herself wasn't one of these polytheistic god worshippers as well.     


Verse 20 tells us that Jacob deceived Laban by not telling Laban that he was running away.  So both Rachel and Jacob are acting ungodly here.  Jacob would have had reason to not tell Laban he was leaving.  We don't know what Laban and his sons would do to Jacob.  The time for talking was over.  Jacob should just leave as soon as possible and get a few miles ahead of Laban in case he came after him, which in fact Laban did.


Verse 21 simply states that Jacob and those with him crossed a river and headed towards Gilead.


Laban Pursues Jacob (ch. 31:22 55)  


Verse 22 tells us that three days after Jacob fled, Laban found out that he was gone.  Some people see this as being prophetic, that is, the three days.   They see Jesus' death and resurrection here, but I think that is stretching things.  I do believe in prophetic symbolism in the Old Testament, but sometimes some people go overboard and make Scripture say something it doesn't.


Verse 23 says that it took Laban 7 days to catch up with Jacob.  Both the number three and the number seven in this verse are often used numbers in the Bible.  Once again, some people see prophecy here, but I don't.   Liberal scholars would say this is just a story, a product of the writer, not a true event.  That is why you see the numbers three and seven here, and elsewhere.  I believe God is in charge of history.  If He so decides to intervene and cause Laban to take seven days to catch up to Jacob, He can do that.


In verse 24 we see that God appeared to Laban in a dream.  Now Laban was not one who feared God, the God of Jacob.  I believe that he might well have believed in the existence of Jacob's God, but to him, he was just one of many gods.  Everyone had gods back then.  Jacob would have his, and Laban would have his.  Most people were polytheistic.


God does then speak to non-believers at times, as He did here.  He told Laban not to say anything to Jacob, whether good or bad.  This implies that Laban should not harm Jacob, which he probably wanted to. 


In verses 25 to 30 we see how upset Laban was.  In verse 26 he compared Jacob taking his family to carrying off captives as in a war, but that wasn't so.  Everyone went willingly.  Laban might not have been able to understand that his daughters wanted to leave because things were getting too tense for them and that they had lost respect for him.


Laban continued to say that he could have provided a nice send off for them.  He could have had a chance to kiss his grandchildren.   I'm sure he would have wanted to kiss his grandchildren good-bye, but the grand send off, I'm not sure about that.  Personally I think that Laban might well have tried to either kill Jacob or kidnap his own daughters.


In verse 29 Laban tells Jacob that he had the power to kill him, but God told him not to say anything, either good or bad to Jacob.  So I'm sure he wanted to kill Jacob, but he didn't.  


In verse 30 Laban accused Jacob of steeling is gods.  Of course Jacob did not steel these statues.  He didn't even know anything about them being stolen.  Rachel was the one who stole her father's gods.  Remember, the heads of families back then had these little statues that were symbols of the gods they believed in.  Some even thought the statures were gods.


In verse 31 we see Jacob's fear.  As I mentioned above, he was afraid that Laban would kidnap his own daughters and hide them from Jacob so he could not take them away.  I'm sure that Laban would have done just that. 


In verses 32 and 33 Jacob tells Laban to go and look for the gods among those traveling with him.  Jacob said that the one who stole them, would die.  Of course Jacob didn't believe that the gods were in his party's company, so that would be why he made such a drastic statement. 


We see in verses 33 and 34 that Laban searched all of the tents, from Jacob's, to Leah and Rachel's, and to their servant's tents.  He found nothing because Rachel had him the gods in her camel's saddle that she was sitting on. 


I find verse 35 comical.  The custom would have been for Rachel to get off her donkey and in respect bow to Laban, but she didn't.  She didn't want to get off the camel.  She lied and told her father, who she called lord out of respect, that she was in the midst of her period and therefore could not get off her donkey.  Rachel was not only deceptive, like Jacob, but she had no problem telling a lie.  This only goes to show human nature.  One can lie in the midst of making a respectful statement.


Now in verses 36 and 37 Jacob expresses his anger at Laban.  He could not find the idols and so Jacob says, come stand before your relatives with what you have found.  Let them judge what should be done in this situation.  But Laban found nothing. The judgment would be against him.


Verse 38 tells us specifically that Jacob had been with Laban for twenty years at this point.  That's a long wait.  Remember one of the reasons why Jacob left was in order to give Esau time to cool down from his anger. 


Jacob also began to relate to Laban the good things that he had done for him over the years.  Of course, Jacob wasn't a fully honest employee.  He didn't mention the dishonest things he had done.


In verses 40 to 41 Jacob continues to speak about his side of the story, and all the hard work he did for Laban, both day and night.  I'm sure Jacob worked hard, but I'm not sure he was totally honest in his work, or even in what he is presently telling Laban.


In verse 42 Jacob told Laban that the God of Abraham rebuked Laban.  This is in reference to God telling Laban not to speak anything, either good or bad to Jacob.  Also in verse 42 Jacob speaks of the "Fear of Isaac".  This is in reference to the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac being with Jacob.  If not for this, he would have left empty handed.  Jacob is recognizing the fact that it was God the provided for him all those years, and part of the provision was his two wives, along with all of his possessions that he left with. 


I'm not sure why the NIV capitalizes the word "Fear".  The KJV doesn't.  The Hebrew word translated as fear in this verse is not the most common word that is usually translated as fear.  In my thinking, the NIV translators must have associated the Fear of Isaac, with the Fear of God.   For this reason they might have capitalized the word "Fear".   Whatever the case, Jacob is saying that he believes that God has helped him get to where he presently is.


Laban's response in verses 42 and 43 suggest that there is nothing he can now do about the situation, even though he claims the cattle, Jacob's wives and children are his.  Of course, Jacob's wives are his daughters, and Jacob's children are his grandchildren, but first and foremost, they all belong to Jacob.  And concerning the cattle, they are rightly Jacob's at this point, although some of them might have been gotten with deception by Jacob. 


In verse 43 Laban just acknowledges that there is nothing he can do at this point.  So in verse 44 Laban wants to make a covenant with Jacob.          


Jacob agreed to the covenant.  So he and his people piled some stones in a pile and ate a meal.  The meal would have been the traditional covenant meal that was often ate when two parties made a covenant.  The stones would be a memorial to the occasion, almost like an altar.  Remember Jacob made a memorial out of the stone he rested his head on when he had the dream of the angels ascending and descending up and down the ladder.  Verse 48 confirms the point that the pile of stones would be a memorial by saying it was a witnesses to what the two men would agree to that day. 


In verse 49 Laban says, "may God watch over us while we are away from each other'.  I think he is suggesting that he maybe doesn't quite fully trust Jacob, so it is going to have to be the Lord who makes sure this covenant gets kept. 


As with many of the covenants we see in the Old Testament, we don't know the full details of the covenant.  But verse 50 does give us a clue what was on Laban's mind for his side of the covenant.  He was concerned about his daughters, and probably rightly so.  He was their father, even though Leah and Rachel had lost faith in him.  He did not want Jacob to marry any other women.  He said that God would watch over Jacob to make sure that would not happen.  This implies that if Jacob did marry other women, he would be in trouble with God, although, I'm not sure Laban could make that claim.  He was not a full-fledged believer in the God of Jacob.  He was polytheistic, and he believed in his home-made idols, that he still didn't presently have since Rachel was still probably sitting on them, or else she had gotten off her donkey and Laban had given up on finding the idols amongst Jacob's possessions. Since Laban was polytheistic, he most likely believed in the God of Abraham, but the God of Abraham would have simply been one of many gods to him, although, He might have been the most important God.  Still, this was wrong.  That's why in the Ten Commandments God tells us to have no other gods.


In verses 51 and 52 we see another part of the covenant.  The pile of stones that the two men set up as a memorial would actually be a dividing line.  The two men would not cross over the line.  One side is for Jacob and one for Laban.  It doesn't say it here, but we know that Jacob's side would be the west side, and Laban's side would be the east side. 


It seems to me that this covenant is more about Laban's concerns than Jacobs.  What we see are Laban's concerns.  So Laban says, "may the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us."   We know who the God of Abraham is.  I don't really believe we know who the God of Nahor is.  Nahor was Abraham's brother, Laban's grandfather.  I don't believe that Nahor was a theist, a believer in Yahweh, unless he had converted to Yahweh.  We have no account thought of such a conversion.  There is a good chance that Nahor believed in the God of Abraham, but he was just one of many gods he believed in.  The Hebrew word "Elohim" is used here for both the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor.  So do these two men have the same God?  I can't say for sure.  One things is clear, Laban is just trying to cover all the bases. He tells Jacob that God will judge between the two of them.  If either of them breaks the covenant, they will have to answer to God.  Once again, I really don't think that Laban trusts Jacob.


The last part of verse 53 says that Jacob took the oath, and he took it in the name of "the Fear of Isaac."  I believe this is just another way of saying fear of God, but it is personalized in the memory of Jacob's father.   I believe he could have easily said, "in the fear of the God of Isaac".  We've seen over and over again the words, "the God of Abraham".   The words "in the Fear of Isaac" means, "in the fear of the God of Isaac".  Isaac was Jacob's father, so it would mean more to Jacob if he took the oath in the name of the God of Isaac his father instead of in the name of the God of Abraham, his grandfather.


So far we've seen the pile of stones as a covenant memorial.  We've seen the meal.  We see the meal again in verse 54.  The meal was eaten after there was a sacrifice, and that would be an animal sacrifice. Part of any covenant back then included an animal or animals being killed.  The animals were often cut in pieces and would be laid on the ground.  The two parties involved in the covenant would walk between the pieces of the animal on the ground, just like God walked between the pieces of animals in Genesis 15 when God put Abraham to sleep.  


They all spent the night together and as it says in verse 55, Laban left for home the next day after kissing his daughters and grandchildren.  Jacob would have continued on his journey home.


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