Bible Commentary

Genesis 31

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

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(Read all of Genesis 31)

Verse 1

[1] And he heard the words of Laban's sons, saying, Jacob hath taken away all that was our father's; and of that which was our father's hath he gotten all this glory.

It should seem they said it in Jacob's hearing. The last chapter began with Rachel's envying Leah; this begins with Laban's sons envying Jacob.

He has gotten all his glory — And what was this glory? It was a parcel of brown sheep and speckled goats, and some camels and asses.

Jacob has taken away all that was our fathers — Not all, sure; what was become of those cattle which were committed to the custody of Laban's sons, and sent three days journey off?

Verse 3

[3] And the LORD said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee.

The Lord said unto Jacob, Return and I will be with thee — though Jacob had met with very hard usage, yet he would not quit his place 'till God bid him. He came thither by orders from heaven, and there he would slay 'till he was ordered back. The direction he had from heaven is more fully related in the account he gives of it to his wives, where he tells them of the dream he had about the cattle, and the wonderful increase of those of his colour; and how the angel of God in that dream instructed him that it was not by chance, nor by his own policy, that he obtained that great advantage but by the providence of God, who had taken notice of the hardships Laban had put upon him, and in performance of his promise.

Verse 4

[4] And Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field unto his flock,

And Jacob sent for Rachel and Leah to the field — That he might discourse with them more privately.

Verse 9

[9] Thus God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me.

God hath taken away the cattle of your father and given them to me — Thus the righteous God paid Jacob for his hard service out of Laban's estate; as afterwards he paid the seed of Jacob for their service of the Egyptians with their spoils.

Verse 16

[16] For all the riches which God hath taken from our father, that is ours, and our children's: now then, whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do.

Whereas Jacob looked upon the wealth which God had passed over from Laban to him as his wages, they look upon it as their portions; so that both ways God forced Laban to pay his debts, both to his servant and to his daughters.

Verse 19

[19] And Laban went to shear his sheep: and Rachel had stolen the images that were her father's.

Laban went to shear his sheep — That part of his flock which was in the hands of his sons, three days journey off. Now, (1.) It is certain it was lawful for Jacob to leave his service suddenly: it was not only justified by the particular instructions God gave him, but warranted by the fundamental law of self-preservation which directs us, when we are in danger, to shift for our own safety, as far as we can do it without wronging our consciences. (2.) It was his prudence to steal away unawares to Laban, lest if Laban had known, he should have hindered him, or plundered him. (3.) It was honestly done to take no more than his own with him, the cattle of his getting. He took what providence gave him, and would not take the repair of his damages into his own hands. Yet Rachel was not so honest as her husband; she stole her father's images, and carried them away. The Hebrew calls them Teraphim. Some think they were only little representations of the ancestors of the family in statue or picture, which Rachel had a particular fondness for, and was desirous to have with her now she was going into another country. It should rather seem they were images for a religious use, penates, household gods, either worshipped, or consulted as oracles; and we are willing to hope, that she took them away, not out of covetousness much less for her own use, or out of any superstitious fear lest Laban, by consulting his teraphim, might know which way they were gone; (Jacob no doubt dwelt with his wives as a man of knowledge, and they were better taught than so) but with a design to convince her father of the folly of his regard to those as gods which could not secure themselves.

Verse 23

[23] And he took his brethren with him, and pursued after him seven days' journey; and they overtook him in the mount Gilead.

He took his brethren — That is, his relations, and pursues Jacob to bring him back into bondage, or, to strip him of what he had.

Verse 24

[24] And God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said unto him, Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.

Speak not, either good or bad — That is, say nothing against his going on with his journey, for the thing proceedeth from the Lord. The same Hebraism we have, Genesis 24:50. The safety of good men is very much owing to the hold God has of the consciences of bad men, and the access he has to them.

Verse 27

[27] Wherefore didst thou flee away secretly, and steal away from me; and didst not tell me, that I might have sent thee away with mirth, and with songs, with tabret, and with harp?

I might have sent thee away with mirth and with songs, with tabret and with harp - Not as Rebekah was sent away out of the same family above one hundred and twenty years before, with prayers and blessings, but with sport and merriment; which was a sign that religion was much decayed in the family.

Verse 29

[29] It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt: but the God of your father spake unto me yesternight, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.

It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt — He supposeth that he had both right on his side, and strength on his side, either to revenge the wrong, or recover the right. Yet he owns himself under the restraint of God's power; he durst not injure one of whom he saw to be the particular care of heaven.

Verse 30

[30] And now, though thou wouldest needs be gone, because thou sore longedst after thy father's house, yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods?

Wherefore hast thou stolen my gods? — Foolish man! to call those his gods that could be stolen! Could he expect protection from them that could neither resist nor discover their invaders? Happy are they who have the Lord for their God. Enemies may steal our goods, but not our God.

Verse 31

[31] And Jacob answered and said to Laban, Because I was afraid: for I said, Peradventure thou wouldest take by force thy daughters from me.

Jacob clears himself by giving the true reason why he went away unknown to Laban; he feared lest Laban would by force take away his daughters and so oblige him to continue in his service. As to the charge of stealing Laban's gods, he pleads not guilty. He not only did not take them himself, but he did not know that they were taken.

Verse 42

[42] Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely thou hadst sent me away now empty. God hath seen mine affliction and the labour of my hands, and rebuked thee yesternight.

Jacob speaks of God as the God of his father, intimating that he thought himself unworthy to be thus regarded, but was beloved for his father's sake. He calls him the God of Abraham and the fear of Isaac: for Abraham was dead, and gone to that world where there is no fear; but Isaac was yet alive, sanctifying the Lord in his heart as his fear and his dread.

Verse 43

[43] And Laban answered and said unto Jacob, These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and these cattle are my cattle, and all that thou seest is mine: and what can I do this day unto these my daughters, or unto their children which they have born?

All his mine — That is, came by me.

Verse 44

[44] Now therefore come thou, let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee.

Let us make a covenant — It was made and ratified with great solemnity, according to the usages of those times. 1. A pillar was erected, and a heap of stones raised, to perpetuate the memory of the thing, writing being then not known. 2. A sacrifice was offered, a sacrifice of peace-offerings. 3. They did eat bread together, jointly partaking of the feast upon the sacrifice. This was in token of a hearty reconciliation. Covenants of friendship were anciently ratified by the parties eating and drinking together. 4. They solemnity appealed to God concerning their sincerity herein; (1.) As a witness, Genesis 31:49.

The Lord watch between me and thee — That is, the Lord take cognizance of every thing that shall be done on either side in violation of this league. (2.) As a judge, The God of Abraham, from whom Jacob was descended, and The God of Nahor, from whom Laban was descended, the God of their father, the common ancestor from whom they were both descended, judge betwixt us. God's relation to them is thus expressed, to intimate that they worshipped one and the same God, upon which consideration there ought to be no enmity betwixt them. Those that have one God should have one heart: God is judge between contending parties, and he will judge righteously, whoever doth wrong it is at their peril. 5. They gave a new name to the place, Genesis 31:47,48. Laban called it in Syriac, and Jacob in Hebrew, The heap of witness. And Genesis 31:49, it was called Mizpah, a watch-tower. Posterity being included in the league, care was taken that thus the memory of it should be preserved. The name Jacob gave this heap stuck by it, Galeed, not the name Laban gave it.

Verse 54

[54] Then Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat bread: and they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the mount.

And Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac — The God whom his father Isaac feared, who had never served other gods, as Abraham and Nahor had done.

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