Genesis 31:3-32:2 Jacob’s Turning Point, Part 3

Posted on January 29, 2012. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bryan E. Walker


Read Gen. 31:25-32:2

            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.

            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. 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. 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.

            Then Jacob became angry and berated Laban. Jacob said to Laban, “What is my offense? What is my sin, that you have hotly pursued me? For you have felt through all my goods; what have you found of all your household goods? Set it here before my kinsmen and your kinsmen, that they may decide between us two. These twenty years I have been with you. Your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, and I have not eaten the rams of your flocks. What was torn by wild beasts I did not bring to you. I bore the loss of it myself. From my hand you required it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. There I was: by day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes. These twenty years I have been in your house. I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times. If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands and rebuked you last night.”

            Then Laban answered and said to Jacob, “The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day for these my daughters or for their children whom they have borne? Come now, let us make a covenant, you and I. And let it be a witness between you and me.” So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. And Jacob said to his kinsmen, “Gather stones.” And they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there by the heap. Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed. Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” Therefore he named it Galeed, and Mizpah, for he said, “The LORD watch between you and me, when we are out of one another’s sight. If you oppress my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no one is with us, see, God is witness between you and me.”

            Then Laban said to Jacob, “See this heap and the pillar, which I have set between you and me. This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm. The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.” So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac, and Jacob offered a sacrifice in the hill country and called his kinsmen to eat bread. They ate bread and spent the night in the hill country.

             Early in the morning Laban arose and kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then Laban departed and returned home.


            32:1 Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them he said, “This is God’s camp!” So he called the name of that place Mahanaim.

(Genesis 31:25-55 ESV)


Introduction: In this morning’s study we will look at the 4th part of this text, the confrontation between Jacob and Laban. Here we will see the charges that Laban brought against Jacob, and how Jacob answers those charges. In the early part of this chapter we saw Jacob’s faith grow as he discussed with his wives how God had been working in his life which was the first time Jacob is recorded as proclaiming praise to God to others. In this part of the chapter Jacob also testifies of God’s protection to Laban and his men. There are some interesting ethical issues in this text which we shall discuss and some questions that we will find about both Jacob and Rachel’s behaviour.

The main idea, the gospel point, which I want us to come away from this text with is that God acts to preserve those who trust in him. The doctrine of assurance is demonstrated in this text and without assurance, the doctrines of grace fall apart.


  1. I.                   The LORD’s Command To Return, 31:3
  2. II.                Jacob and His Wives Discuss Leaving, vv.4-16
  3. III.             Jacob’s Flight and Laban’s Pursuit, vv.17-24


  1. IV.              Confrontation Between Jacob and Laban, vv.25-42


  1. A.      Vss.25-30 Laban’s Accusations
    1. 1.       Vs.25- And Laban overtook Jacob. Although Jacob had at least a 3 day head start on Laban, Jacob and company were traveling with flocks, herds and a large family while Laban pursued with just his kinsmen, presumably trained and armed men from his household servants and family. The language used in vs.23 “pursued” is military language and is the same word as used in14:14 when Abram went in pursuit of those who had raidedSodom and takenLot hostage.
    2. 2.       Now Jacob had pitched his tent- “pitched” Moses does not use the normal word for pitching a tent, nata, like he uses elsewhere in Genesis (12:8; 26:25; 33:19; 35:21), instead, he uses taqa which “denotes the pounding or thrusting of an object into something and often connotes hostility (Waltke, p.428)”.Hamilton writes (pp. 299-300), “In some places the verb means ‘thrust, drive (a weapon into a person)” and cites Judges 3:21;4:21 and 2 Sam.18:14. This would seem to imply that Jacob knows that Laban is in hot pursuit and has caught him and it perhaps shows Jacob’s wrath. Moses is skillfully using language to set the stage for the climax of the Jacob v. Laban conflict.
    3. 3.       the hill country of Gilead- Gilead means rugged; this is the region east of theJordan River and in between theSea of Galilee and theDead Sea. In Jacob’s time it was a lush, forested area with lots of fertile grazing land as well. WhenIsrael conqueredCanaan theland ofGilead was divided amongst the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh.
    4. 4.       Vs.26 And Laban said to Jacob, ‘What have you done?’- this recalls Jacob’s words to Laban in 29:25 on the morning after his wedding when Jacob awoke to find Leah in bed with him. This phrase was also used by God towards Cain in4:10 and by Abimelech of Abraham in 20:9. It is also used by every mother of 3 year olds. Laban is the one deceived now, reaping what he has sown! This begins the accusation by Laban of Jacob the crime of taking his daughters captive. He has been Jacob’s benefactor and is now loudly complaining of being deceived.
    5. 5.       you have tricked me and driven away my daughters like captives… tricked/deceived is a recurring important word/idea in the Jacob-Laban story, twice in this story (v.20). The word used here is literally, “stole my heart” and is used to play against Rachel’s stealing of the household gods. The idea of deception, though not this particular word, is a part of the entire Jacob story going back to 27:36 as Esau complains bitterly that his brother has “cheated” him twice. He refers to Leah and Rachel as “his daughters” not as Jacob’s wives, and accuses Jacob of taking them by force, against their will. But we know that the daughters of Laban willingly chose to side with their husband against their father and here in this dispute they do not respond to their father’s false claim.
    6. 6.       It is curious that Laban does not charge Jacob with theft of his flocks and herds, perhaps indicating that that would be over the top even for a rascal like Laban.
    7. 7.       Vss.27-28 Why did you flee secretly and trick me…so that I might have sent you away with mirth and songs… this reeks of hypocrisy.
    8. 8.       Vs.29 It is in my power to do you harm. But the God of your father spoke… the “you” is plural, thus implying that Laban was intending harm not just to Jacob. Perhaps, despite his protest about Jacob taking his daughters as captives, he knows in his heart that they willingly, gladly even, left him, and this angered him so that he intended on harming all of them or at least taking his daughters back by force. Despite his so-called power to do them harm, he knows he cannot because of what God had said to him. The violent, powerful man, is still underneath God’s sovereignty and power. Laban does give way to the command of the LORD, but this does not indicate faith as his actions were rooted in fear. Laban does accurately quote the word from the LORD.
    9. 9.       Apply- While certainly God does not speak audibly to every evil person who may be seeking to harm a Christian, we can absolutely live in the presence of evil because we know that God is in control and can use any evil thing that befalls us for his glory, our growing in grace, and the spread of his kingdom, Romans 8:28. Sometimes God intervenes and stops evil from happening to us, and sometimes he allows us to suffer. There is a real sense in Jacob’s flight of fleeing persecution because the LORD had used Laban’s flock to increase Jacob’s, at Laban’s expense. When the lost world sees Christians prospering and proclaiming their faith the world will not remain silent. Some few will repent and believe; others will curse or persecute the Believers.
    10. 10.   you longed greatly for your father’s house- Laban acknowledges Jacob’s legitimate desire to go home, he is protesting how Jacob left; the sense of the story is, however, that escaping in the middle of the night and fleeing was the only way that Jacob could have gotten his family out.
    11. 11.   why did you steal my gods?– Laban has accused Jacob of tricking/deceiving him and taking his daughters captive and now he is accusing Jacob of stealing his household gods.Hamilton writes (p.301) “Laban respected Jacob’s God, but Jacob has not respected Laban’s gods.” We know what Jacob does not know- Rachel is the godnapper.
    12. B.      Vss.31-32 Jacob’s Response
      1. 1.       Vs.31 I was afraid, for I thought you would take your daughters from me by force. This answers Laban’s question in v.27 “Why did you flee secretly?” and literally means Jacob thought Laban would “rob” him of his wives. Was Jacob overreacting? His wives obviously had a sense of urgency and agreed with their husband to flee. Laban’s current threatening actions also suggest that Jacob was correct. This belief of Jacob’s was not part of his argument before his wives in vss.1-16.
      2. 2.       Was Jacob’s flight an act of obedience in faith or an act of fear and lack of faith? Is it ok to be afraid at times, and to act on it? Discuss a time in your life when you were afraid of something and based a decision on that fear. Does fear automatically cancel out faith? Should Jacob have approached Laban in faith and told him about God’s message sending him back home? Maybe we do not know the rest of the story. Perhaps Jacob knew of Laban’s violent streak and had genuine concerns for the safety of his family or himself. Psalm 23 is a good “fear/trust” passage.
      3. 3.       Warren Wiersbe (p.47) writes, “But instead of facing Laban honestly and trusting the Lord to keep His promises and work things out, Jacob fled with his family like a criminal escapting justice. This was an act of fear and unbelief, not an act of faith…It isn’t enough to know and do the will of God; we must also do His will in the way He wants it done, the way that will glorify Him the most.”
      4. 4.       Vs.32 Anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live. Jacob’s rash answer imperils the Covenant for if Rachel is found out Benjamin would not be born. This threat of death is strangely fulfilled as Rachel dies in childbirth with Benjamin in 35:16-18. Desecrating a temple or someone’s gods could result in execution going back to Hammurabi’s Code.
      5. 5.       This sentence is much like the one Joseph’s brothers would utter in 44:9 “Whichever of your servants is found with it (Joseph’s divination cup) shall die.”
      6. 6.       Another person later on in Scripture made a similar rash vow and had to execute his daughter. See Judges 11:29-40 and the story of Jephthah and his daughter.
      7. 7.       Application- Matt.5:34-37 “But I say to you, do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God 35 or by the earth, for it his footstool, …Let what you say be simply Yes or No; anything more than this comes from evil.”
      8. C.      Vss.33-35 Laban’s Search and Rachel’s Deceit
        1. 1.       Vs.33 “So Laban went into Jacob’s tent…Leah’s tent…” Moses is building the drama by dragging this out for maximum effect.
        2. 2.       Laban felt all about the tent, but did not find them- like blind Isaac, he was using his sense of touch but being deceived.
        3. 3.       Vss.34-35 Now Rachel…sat on them….Let not my lord be angry…the way of women is upon me. There is a huge contrast being drawn between Jacob’s God and Laban’s gods. Jacob’s God can threaten Laban and insure that he does not harm Jacob but Laban’s gods must hide in a camel saddle while a menstruating woman sits on them, thus desecrating them. Isa.46:1-2, 3-13. See also Lev.15:19-33.
        4. 4.        Rachel is like her husband in that we see the younger child deceiver the father. Wiersbe says that Rachel was pretending (p.48).
        5. 5.       Was Rachel still clinging to false gods or did she take them for the value of the gold and silver and to get back at her father? We know that others in Jacob’s band had idols 35:2.
      9. D.      Vss.36-42 Jacob’s Accusations
        1. 1.       Vss.36-37 Jacob became angry and berated Laban- the word for berated, took to task, means quarreled with or disputed with. They had a fuss. The word is used previously in 13:7-8 to describe the fuss betweenLot’s and Abram’s herdsmen and in 26:20 over the ownership of wells between Isaac and the herdsmen of Gerar.
        2. 2.       The word rib, “berate”, is a legal term from the ancient courts. The story uses military language and now legal terms. We see Jacob appealing to Laban to present the evidence before “my kinsmen and your kinsmen”. But there is no evidence; where is CSI when you need them?
        3. 3.       “that they may decide between us two.” More legal language from the ancient world.
        4. 4.       Vs.38-41 Jacob goes into detail about how righteous he was in his dealings with Laban as he worked hard for Laban’s flocks and herds. I bore the loss if animals died due to predators which goes beyond the law’s requirement (Ex.22:10-13).
        5. 5.       I served you fourteen years for your two daughters- he does not bring up the bait and switch that Laban did with his daughters on Jacob’s wedding night. This is another sign that his family situation is improved.
        6. 6.       the Fear of Isaac- could be translated, according to Waltke (p.432) as “the Awesome One of Isaac” that is, the One of Isaac who inspires dread”, or asHamilton (p.308) “The Dreaded One of Isaac.” Mathews says the name is meant to inspire fear in others (p.530).
        7. 7.       Prov.1:7 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” Fearing God is no longer in fashion. To be a God-fearing man is out of date…or is it? In what way should we fear God? Have we lost that sense of dread of God?
        8. 8.       Vss.40-41 summarizes his complaint about his wages. The later laws of Moses specify that a slave should only work for 6 years in Exodus 21:2-6; Deut. 15:12,18; Jer.34:14. Jacob had worked 20 years. But in the Exodus passage it also states that if the master gives the slave a wife, when the slave leaves after 6 years, the wife and kids stay with the master. Mathews does not bring this up when he refers to this passage (p.529). Jacob says that Laban would have sent him away empty-handed if God had not intervened on his behalf, thus making the charge of withholding wages, a serious charge (Lev.19:13 “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning.” Mal 3:5 “I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of Hosts.”
        9. 9.       While this passage does not have a direct teaching on how pay wages to employees it does bring the issue up. The Bible has a lot to say about work, money and ethics in the workplace. Much of our political discourse today revolves around those kinds of issues and we, the Church, need to be able to have those kinds of conversations from a biblical worldview.
        10. 10.   Where is the gospel in this part of the story? In the discussion about the stolen idols it would seem that Jacob missed an opportunity to contrast the LORD with the false idols. Jacob does, however, give praise to God and testified of His divine protection in vs.42. In our study of this chapter we have seen Jacob testify of God’s grace to his wives and now he testifies openly to Laban and his men. This testimony may be tarnished by his possibly unwarranted deception of Laban. Duguid (98) writes, “But if it was God’s time to leave, the manner of leaving was pure Jacob.” In the bigger picture what we see here is the LORD preserving Jacob for His purposes despite many mistakes. The LORD’s promise to Jacob, the gospel promise, will be honored as he protects Jacob from Laban’s wrath and schemes to cheat him. God did bless Jacob and take from Laban. When we trust in Christ for salvation we can continue on in faith because God will keep his word for us and preserve us from the Evil One and sometimes evil people who wish us harm. Thus I see a hint of the doctrine of Assurance in this story. Without the doctrine of Assurance, we could not have a gospel of grace for we would live in constant fear of losing our salvation and we would revert to a gospel of works, which no good news at all.
        11. 11.   The ethical issues brought up in these events can be used to spur Believers on to further discipleship by working in our jobs/careers for the glory of God and by making sure that we take proper care of our employees/clients. This serves a gospel purpose by providing us with a godly testimony before our co-workers, employers, employees and clients so that we can, when appropriate, share a verbal witness much as Jacob did.
        12. 12.   For the people of Israel in Moses’ day the story dramatically shows the close call that Jacob experienced and would speak to some of the difficult situation thatIsrael has been facing in their flight fromEgypt and journey to the Promised Land. God’s word is trustworthy, his covenant is sure, he delivered Jacob so He will deliver them.



  1. V.                 A Covenant Between Jacob and Laban, vv.43-54



VI.       Laban and Jacob Go Their Separate Ways, 31:55-32:2


Conclusion: Next week we will try to cover the final two sections of this long chapter.


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).

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.)

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.)

Wiersbe, Warren W. Be Authentic. Chariot Victor Publishing:Colorado Springs, CO.1997 (pp.46-51).





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