Genesis 31:3-32:2 “Jacob’s Turning Point” Part 1

Posted on November 19, 2011. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bryan E. Walker

Read Genesis 31:3-32:2

            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. 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. Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am!’ 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. 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.’” Then Rachel and Leah answered and said to him, “Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house? Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and he has indeed devoured our money. 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.”

            So Jacob arose and set his sons and his wives on camels. He drove away all his livestock, all his property that he had gained, the livestock in his possession that he had acquired in Paddan-aram, to go to thelandofCanaanto his father Isaac. Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father’s household gods. And Jacob tricked Laban the Aramean, by not telling him that he intended to flee. He fled with all that he had and arose and crossed theEuphrates, and set his face toward the hill country ofGilead.

            When it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob had fled, he took his kinsmen with him and pursued him for seven days and followed close after him into the hill country ofGilead. But God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream by night and said to him, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.”

            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 ofGilead. And Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done, that you have tricked me and driven away my daughters like captives of the sword? 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? And why did you not permit me to kiss my sons and my daughters farewell? Now you have done foolishly. 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.’ And now you have gone away because you longed greatly for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods?” Jacob answered and said to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force. 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….

(Genesis 31:1-32 ESV)


Introduction: Today we come to what may be the turning point in Jacob’s life. Here we come across the story of when, where, why, and how Jacob responds to the command of the LORD and begins to head home after his 20 year exile. At the same time we see some positive developments in Jacob’s character and spiritual life and some cooperation between Rachel and Leah. He has been blessed by God with a large family and wealth, so it is time to retrace his grandfather Abraham’s steps fromHaran toCanaan.

Today we will look at the big picture of this long chapter and do the hard work of literary analysis which is a fancy way of saying, Discovering what is in the text. If we get through this part we will then begin our verse by verse exposition.

The Main Idea of ch.31 is that God proves He is with Jacob, protecting him, as He leads Jacob home with his large family and great wealth. The promise God made to him in 28:14-15 is being fulfilled. Coming out of oppression and poverty into the inheritance God had promised would be an excellent preaching point for Moses and his people.

Literary Analysis


Moses’ formal outline using the toledoths

  1. a.      Prologue, 1:1-2:3
  2. b.      The Generations of the Heavens and the Earth 2:3-4:26
  3. c.       The Generations of Adam 5:1-6:8
  4. d.      The Generations of Noah 6:9-9:29
  5. e.      The Generations of the Sons of Noah 10:1-11:9
  6. f.        The Generations of Shem 11:10-26
  7. g.      The Generations of Terah 11:27-25:11
  8. h.      The Generations of Ishmael 25:12-18
  9. i.        The Generations of Isaac 25:19-35:29 ***
  10. j.        The Generations of Esau 36:1-37:1
  11. k.      The Generations of Jacob 37:2-50:26


This Chiastic structure, slightly modified by me, comes from Waltke, p.352, 385.

A-Births and genealogy 25:19-24

  B-Digression: Rebekah in Foreign Palace, Foreigners 26:1-33

    C-Jacob steals Esau’s blessing 26:34-28:9

      D-Jacob receives the blessing but is in exile 28:10-32:32

        1-Encounter with God at Bethel28:10-22

          2-Conflict with Laban inHaran29:1-30

            3-Birth of the 12 Tribes 29:31-30:24 (Moses’ main point!)

          2’-Jacob prospers but flees Laban 30:25-31:55 (We are here!)

        1’-Encounters with God 32:1-32

    C’-Reconciliation with Esau 33:1-17

  B’-Digression: Dinah in Foreign Palace, Foreigners 33:18-34:31

A’-Births and Deaths 35:1-29

Plot: This unit begins with the LORD telling Jacob it was time to go, whereas in the previous unit, it was Jacob’s idea to leave. In this chapter the tension that has existed between Jacob and Laban since ch.29:25 (when Jacob woke with Leah in his bed instead of Rachel) comes to a head and violence is narrowly averted. We see Rachel and Leah included together in the decision to leave and they side with their husband against their father. We discover that the breeding plan Jacob used (but NOT the part with the striped stakes) was given by God to prosper him and take away from Laban. Jacob and his family flee Laban who subsequently chases him for seven days. The confrontation between Laban and Jacob has three elements: 1) the personal, 2) the religious, and, 3) the legal. It is resolved when Laban does not find the stolen idols and they erect a “heap” of stones in a non-aggression pact.

Geography: The LORD tells Jacob to “Return to the land of your fathers” so he flees the Paddan-aram area, crossing over theEuphratesRiver, and heads towardGilead. Laban catches up to him in the hills ofGilead, east of theJordan, north of the Jabbok, SE of theSea of Galilee. Jacob got a three day head start and Laban pursued for seven days, thus Jacob was ten days of travel away fromHaran. With all of his flocks and herds, wives and children, making twenty miles a day would be extremely fast.

Characters: We see a lot of progress with Jacob as he gives an extended praise to the LORD as he reveals the dream about goat breeding. Jacob also seems to treat both his wives with respect in this episode, consulting with Rachel and Leah in vv. 4-16. Likewise we see teamwork and agreement with the two sisters. Rachel, however, is shown to be just as devious as her father and husband in stealing and hiding Laban’s gods. Her motives are unclear. Laban is seen to be violent here (v.29), his violence only stopped by the dream from God. Laban’s controlling and raging nature are seen as he searches for his idols and claims in v.43 that the women, children and flocks actually belong to him. Jacob’s response to Laban is finally a manly and godly response, though he does rashly pledge to kill whoever had stolen the idols. This rash pledge is perhaps matched by Rachel’s untimely death in ch.35. God is shown to be merciful to Jacob in keeping his covenant to “be with him” (28:15), protecting him from Laban and his men.

Key Words: served (vv.6,41 ); wages (p.7,8, ) links the present unit with the two prior units; return to the land (vv.3, 13, ). “Taken-steal” vs,9, 16, 19, tricked v.20 and 26-27, steal v.30, 32, 39 (2x). Notice all the words about wealth- v.14 portion, inheritance; v.15 he has sold us, devoured our money; v.16 wealth. Household gods (vv.19, 30, 32, 34, 35). Heap, stone and pillar (vv.45- links to ch.29, v.46, 48, 51, 52 (3x)). “The Fear of his father Isaac” as a name for God, v.53.

Structure: There are good arguments for the chapter consisting of 31:1-55, or 31:2-55, or 31:2-32:1. 31:3-32:2 should also be considered among the various ways of structuring the passage. In 31:1-3 you have a transitional passage that can go with the previous unit or with this unit, and it can be divided between the two units. While 31:1-2 provide the impetus for Jacob to leave, I believe those verse go better with the previous unit which shows Jacob attempting to leave without the Lord’s command. With 31:3 you get the Lord finally telling him to go and so the story continues dealing with Jacob’s flight. 31:3, with the Lord speaking to Jacob, is matched at the end of the unit in 32:1-2 with “Jacob went on his way” and “the angels of God met him”. This gives the unit a beginning with the Lord telling him to go, an ending with him going on his way, a command from the Lord to leave and an encounter with the angels of God. Furthermore, with 32:2 mentioning angels –malakim- of God, 32:3 has Jacob sending “messengers” –malakim- before him. Thus, the first unit closes with messengers-angles and the following unit begins with messengers. This closely matches Wenham’s outline except that he begins the unit at 31:2.

A very good argument against this outline is made by Waltke who shows a parallel structure in 32-33:17 as follows (p.437): A-Angels of God meet Jacob at ‘Two Camps’ (32:1-2); B- Jacob prepares to meet Esau in ‘Two Camps’ (32:3-21); A’- Angel of God meets Jacob at Peniel (32:22-32); B’- Jacob meets Esau (33:1-17). However, we have already seen many instances in Moses’ book where there are overlapping structures, parallelisms and chiasmus structures within other parallelisms and chiasms. The structures are so interwoven yet distinct that it lends itself to proving that one great author wrote this complex, beautiful book.

The outline I will be using is: 1) The LORD’s Command To Return, v.31:3; 2) Jacob and His Wives Discuss Leaving, vv.4-16; 3) Jacob’s Flight and Laban’s Pursuit, vv.17-24; 4) Confrontation Between Jacob and Laban, vv.25-42; 5) A Covenant Between Jacob and Laban, vv.43-54; 6) Laban and Jacob Go Their Separate Ways, 31:55-32:2.



  1. I.                   The LORD’s Command To Return, 31:3
    1. A.      Following the LORD’s Leading
      1. 1.       Jacob’s desire to leave, 30:25-26; 31:1-2 Last week we discussed Jacob’s desire to return home. After Rachel finally had Joseph, and he had worked off his 14 year obligation to Laban, Jacob was ready to leave Paddan-aram and return toCanaan. It is made plain in chapters 29-31 that Laban was an unethical man and so Jacob was ready to quit. But nowhere in ch. 30 do we see the LORD telling him to leave. If Jacob had left 6 years earlier, when his obligation was up, he would have left poor and destitute. God held him there in order to bless Jacob and fulfill the promise he had made to him. Jacob’s frustration with a difficult boss was leading him to make an untimely decision which would have been against God’s will. Now, six years later, he realizes that Laban’s sons are against him and that Laban no longer regards him with favor.
      2. 2.       Application- most of us have likely faced a time in our lives when, like the Southwest Airlines commercial says, we “Want to get away?” One of the most agonizing decisions we face is the hard question of staying and toughing it out or quitting, leaving. Then there is the second guessing you do after you make your decision! Seeking to follow the Lord’s will is often very difficult. The best I can tell you is that if you are sincerely following the Lord, are faithfully in the Word, are praying about it, and seeking godly counsel, you can act in faith according to the desires of your heart because the Lord’s will is most often like a ranch where you have the freedom under grace to move about freely on the Lord’s ranch. Sometimes, the Lord provides you with the “yellow brick road” and it is quite obvious what the Lord wants you to do. But paint by the numbers is not how most of life works out. You have to act prudently, in faith, without a big neon sign in the heavens telling you where to go, when to leave, what to do. Here, Jacob wanted to go, but Laban induced him to stay for 6 more years; and God blessed him. But now it is clearly the LORD telling him to return to the land of your fathers in vs.3.
      3. 3.       Look at 28:1-5 to see that Jacob’s father, Isaac, had blessed him and prophesied over him…and it has come to pass.
      4. 4.       Return- In ch.28:15 the LORD had promised, “For I…will bring you back to this land.” The LORD is now commanding Jacob to take the steps to come home.
      5. 5.       Return to the land of your fathers- Waltke, p.424, “The Lord’s command to Jacob to depart foreshadows the Exodus.”
      6. 6.       to the land of your fathers- back in ch.24 Abraham had made his servant swear to “go to my country and to my kindred”,Haran, to get a wife for Isaac. Now, because of the Lord’s faithfulness in keeping his promises, that land of your fathers for Jacob isCanaan. Jacob is retrace the steps that Abraham and Sarah took, and that his mother Rebekah took.
      7. 7.       and to your kindred- Gen.12:1 the Lord tells Abraham to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Abraham was to leave what was familiar, and his family, and go into the unknown, but Jacob is called to return to that which was familiar and to his family.
      8. 8.       I will be with you- again, the Lord is reiterating the promise given to Jacob in 28:14-15.
      9. 9.       Application- to where or to what is the Lord calling you? Do you have a sense of the Lord’s calling on your life? In your personal spiritual life, have you answered the call to salvation? Have you repented of sin and trusted in Jesus alone for salvation? Do you acknowledge the call of God in your life for holiness and for fruit? To grow in Grace? Has the Lord called you this church? What is God’s calling to you in your family life? Or work life? Do you have a sense of being a missionary here? Or is the Lord perhaps calling you to serve as a missionary somewhere else?


Boice, James Montomery. Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, Volume 2, Genesis 12:1-36:43. Zondervan:Grand Rapids, MI. 1985 (pp.318-323).

Calvin, John. Genesis, in the Geneva Series of Commentaries, translated and edited by John King, two volumes in one. Banner of Truth Trust:Carlisle,PA 1847 (originally published in Latin 1554). Vol.2, pages 157-186.

Duguid, Iain M. Living In The Grip Of Relentless Grace: The Gospel In The Lives Of Isaac & Jacob. P&R Publishing:Phillipsburg, NJ 2002 (pp.93-105).

Hamilton, Victor P. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, The Book of Genesis Chapters 18-50. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company:Grand Rapids,MI 1995 (pp.285-318).

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works Volume 6 Lectures on Genesis Chapters 31-37, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan. Concordia Publishing House:St. Louis,Missouri 1970 (originally published 1541-42), pp.3-86.

Mathews, Kenneth A. The New American Commentary, Volume 1B, Genesis 11:27-50:26. Broadman & Holman Publishers:Nashville, TN. 2005. (pp.503-549).

Ross, Allen P. Creation & Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis. Baker Academic:Grand Rapids,MI 1998 (pp.524-542.)

Sailhamer, John H. “Genesis” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 2, edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Zondervan Publishing House:Grand Rapids, MI.1990, (pp.203-208).

Waltke, Bruce K. Genesis: A Commentary. Zondervan:Grand Rapids,MI 2001 (pp.421-441.)

Wenham, Gordon J. Word Biblical Commentary Volume 2, Genesis 16-50. Word Books, Publisher:Dallas,TX 1994 (pp.260-283.)



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2 Responses to “Genesis 31:3-32:2 “Jacob’s Turning Point” Part 1”

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I have always wondered why so many years were spent working for Laban. What was the significance of enduring someone so dishonest?

It seems to me that the Lord allowed Jacob to work hard underneath Laban in order to bless Jacob with great wealth. As this text shows, Jacob also grew in godliness during those difficult years. The application for us is that when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances, when we are trusting in Jesus, he will use those difficult circumstances for His glory and our sanctification.

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