Genesis 31:3-32:2 “Jacob’s Turning Point, part 2”
December 11, 2011 Bryan E. Walker
Read Genesis 31:1-32:2
Introduction: The main ideas are God keeping his covenant with Jacob to protect him, and Jacob’s obedience to the Lord’s leading.
I. The LORD’s Command To Return, 31:3
A. Following the LORD’s Leading- A combination of the change in Jacob’s circumstances, the leading of the Lord, and the agreement of his wives led to his decision to leave.
B. God’s Plan Supersedes Our Plans
1. If God’s blessings had not led to Laban’s being unhappy with Jacob, would Jacob have been inclined to go back home? Ross writes, p.529, “One wonders how easily Jacob could have been dislodged from this prosperous life if there had not been the growing resentment.” God had a plan for the Redemption of mankind and the descendants of Abraham were a key part of his plan. The covenant with Abraham included descendants, land and blessings. Jacob now had the descendants, the blessings of wealth, but he was not in the Promised Land. God’s plan required him to return to the Land of Promise.
2. Apply: We need a glimpse of God’s plan of Redemption and how we fit into that plan and view our life decisions in the light of the Gospel. Too often we focus just on our perceived needs or our wants, and fail to consider what God may be doing and how he wants to use us for his glory and to be a blessing to others.
3. Waltke writes, p.435, “God’s providence even orchestrates negative human emotions and actions to achieve his own sovereign purposes. As the jealousy of Jacob’s wives led to the birth of the tribes of Israel, so the jealousy of Laban and his sons leads to Jacob’s return to the land of his fathers.”
II. Jacob and His Wives Discuss Leaving, vv.4-16
A. God’s Blessing and Jacob’s Integrity, vss. 4-9
1. “So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah…” Notice the quick obedience following the Lord’s call in vs. 3. 1Sam.15:22 “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.”
2. Jesus said in John 14:21 “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.”
3. Rachel and Leah- Waltke writes, p.424 “The order, giving priority to the loved wife, suggests that Jacob is now in charge of his home. In the childbearing scene, he was a pawn being brokered by his competing wives. Here his full speech demonstrates that he has finally taken spiritual leadership.”
4. into the field where his flock was- this could actually be several miles, even a day or two journey, from the home in Haran. This would, in effect, give them a little bit of head start as they flee Laban.
5. This speech by Jacob is his first public proclamation of his faith of which we have a record. Notice the frequency of the word “father” and the contrast between “your father” and “the God of my father”.
6. your father does not regard me with favor…But the God of my father has been with me. Laban’s countenance was not with Jacob but God was with him. Jacob’s speech continuously contrasts Laban’s actions toward him with God’s actions: 31:5 Laban is against him but God is with him; 31:7 your father cheated me but God did not permit him to harm me; Laban changed his wages 10x but God took away the livestock of your father.
7. You know that I have served your father with all my strength- this is remarkable considering all the negative character traits we have seen in Jacob’s story so far. The growth of Laban’s flocks and herds under Jacob’s care, and now Jacob’s own flocks and herds, testifies that Jacob spoke the truth. (Also see vss.38ff where he testifies of his hard work before Laban and Laban does not dispute him).
8. Apply- Col.3:22-25 and see Matt.6:41 “if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”
9. vs.7 your father has cheated me and changed my wages 10 times. Literally, “made a fool of me”. 10 times may be literal or maybe using the number of completeness symbolically. The idea here is that Jacob had just cause to leave Laban. While we are to be patient with others and exercise forbearance, we are free to flee when we are taken advantage of; we do not have to just stay there and take it all the time.
10. God did not permit him to harm me.– God’s Providence sometimes protects believers from harm others would do. This is a major theme of this passage (see vs. 24, 29).
11. Apply: BUT, is this the norm? Does God’s Providence usually protect Believers or usually allow us to suffer along with everyone else?
12. Vs.9- God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me.- This is legal terminology for the transfer of property.
B. Vss.10-13 God Reminds and Calls
1. Here it is explained that the success of Jacob’s breeding scheme was really the Lord’s doing, not his ruse with the striped sticks.
2. I have seen all that Laban is doing to you.- God sees the actions of the unjust; no one’s sins are hidden from God and he keeps a special eye on his children.
3. I am the God of Bethel- the LORD reminds Jacob of who He is and of the covenant he made with him at Bethel.
4. arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred. Three imperatives- arise, go out, return. We can take this and preach for a while. Arise- out of your comfort zone in that far off land that is not your true home. Go out- leave those entangling alliances that are hindering your mission. Return- to the God of your fathers and his plan for you life.
C. Vss.14-16 Rachel and Leah Choose Jacob Over Their Father
1. Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house? Apparently Laban had consumed the dowry or inheritance of his daughters. They knew that their father was unjust and miserly and had cheated their husband.
2. Are we not regarded as foreigners? Yet notice how Laban sings a different tune in vss.27-28, 43.
3. All the wealth that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children- the word used for “taken away” is a strong word meaning plundered, pointing to Exodus 12:36.
4. Whatever God has said to you, do.– Jacob’s wives show a remarkable degree of unity here as they support their husband against their father. This is a turning point for them as well, and shows their faith in God. Like Rebekah before them, they are choosing to leave Laban and idolatry for the Promised Land and exclusive YHWH worship. (We’ll discuss Rachel and the idols later). Here is a picture of wives trusting in their husband’s godly, spiritual leadership.
III. Jacob’s Flight and Laban’s Pursuit, vv.17-24
A. Vss.17-21 Jacob Heads South
1. So Jacob arose…to go to the land of Canaan- The emphasis here is on the quickness, the urgency and haste of his action after reaching the turning point. There was no delay. This implies suspicion of danger- if he had deliberated with Laban it would not have gone well. This is a middle of the night kind of escape.
2. He drove away all his livestock- he is taking all of his accumulated livestock: sheep, goats, cattle, camels. This would necessarily slow him down, but in 19a we see that Laban (and presumably his sons and hired men) were away shearing the sheep. They could have been a couple of days away in the opposite direction. If Laban was a couple of days east of Haran shearing sheep, and Jacob was a couple of days west of Haran, and it took 3 days before Laban knew of Jacob’s departure, this would account for the seven days to catch up to Jacob in Gilead.
3. Laban had gone to shear his sheep- This would normally happen around April-May (Mathews, p.517) and would usually include the whole family and lots of hired hands. It is indicative of the strained family relations that Jacob and his family were not present with Laban and his family at this occasion.
4. Rachel stole her father’s household gods- there is a wordplay in Hebrew between “Rachel stole” in vs.19 and “Jacob tricked Laban” in v.20 which in Heb. reads “Jacob stole the heart of Laban”
5. Why did Rachel steal the teraphim? There are two main answers but they could be combined. First, she could simply be getting even with her father by stealing something that would be valuable (gold, silver) to make up for her lost dowry. Or, second, she could still be partly pagan because later Jacob does require those with him to put away all false gods (35:2-4). The fact that in vv.33-35 Rachel has the idols hidden in the camel saddle upon which she is sitting while explaining to Laban that she is menstruating could indicate that she had only pecuniary motives since she is defiling the idols. But, she also could be lying to her father, thus remaining pagan.
6. The symbolism of Rachel stealing Laban’s gods while Jacob is trusting in the one true God is rich. Jacob’s God enriches and protects Jacob, leading him back home while Laban is frustrated every step of the way and his gods are useless…except as a dowry for Rachel. Here is a novel crime- godnapping!
7. In Moses’ structure of Genesis, these household gods stolen by Rachel somewhat parallel the gold cup used for divination “stolen” by Joseph’s brothers in ch.44. Laban admits to divination in 30:27, and the household gods can be used in that way.
8. Laban the Aramean- Moses distinguishes between the racial stock of Laban the Aramean and Jacob, even though Laban is his uncle through his mother, Rebekah, and is his grandfather’s (Abraham) great nephew. There is now a difference between the descendants of Abraham and their kinsmen from Paddan-aram that is likely more linguistic and cultural/religious than racial.
9. He intended to flee- the use of the word for “flee” links back to Jacob fleeing his brother Esau in 27:43 and even Hagar’s running away in 16:6-8, and points forward to Moses’ fleeing Egypt in Ex.2:15.
B. Vss.22-24 The Chase Is On
1. It was told Laban on the third day- their camps were possibly in opposite directions coming out of Haran and so it took 3 days for the news of Jacob’s flight to reach him.
2. He took his kinsmen with him and pursued him- this is military language; Laban clearly has vengeance on his mind. This points forward to Israel fleeing Egypt and being pursued by Pharaoh and the army.
3. “third day…seven days”- these could be literal or they could symbolize a short period of time followed by a longer period of time. The difficulty is the distance from Haran to Gilead is about 400 miles and Jacob is fleeing with all of his flocks and herds and children, etc. 20 miles a day under those conditions would be brutal and likely kill of the flocks and herds. (See Mathews, p.522).
4. God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream by night- Jacob and now Laban have dreams from God…pointing forward to Joseph’s dreams and back to Abimelech’s dream to not harm Abraham in 20:3-7. Laban points back to this dream as the reason he does no harm to Jacob in v.29- thus revealing his intent to do harm!
5. Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad- and yet Laban goes into one of the longest rants in Genesis. The “good or bad” is a figure of speech that likely means do not exceed your authority, take it easy. Laban does make several accusations and protestations…but he does no harm to Jacob. Wenham, p.274, translates it this way “Take care, lest you contradict Jacob in any way” and explains, “Despite this very stern divine warning, the following diatribe is one of the fiercest and longest in Genesis.”
6. This direct intervention by God likely saved Jacob’s life. Why doesn’t the Lord directly intervene all the time to save other believers? Salvation is wholly of God.
- God’s Providence sometimes includes Justice for the persecuted/oppressed believer. Jacob righteously plundered Laban.
- God’s Providence sometimes uses people’s sinful, negative reactions to bring about good for His people.
- God will provide guidance to those whose trust is in Him, those inside the Covenant.
- Much in this story hearkens back to Abraham and Isaac’s stories, and much points forward to what Israel will face. It also points to our Christian walk today, 1Cor.10:1-14.
- We see Jacob as the man of faith now, in this major turning point as he is not motivated by fear, but from a desire to obey God’s command in faith.
IV. Confrontation Between Jacob and Laban, vv.25-42
V. A Covenant Between Jacob and Laban, vv.43-54
VI. Laban and Jacob Go Their Separate Ways, 31:55-32:2
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.)