Genesis 31:3-32:2 “Jacob’s Turning Point, Part 4”

Posted on February 5, 2012. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Bryan E. Walker


Read Gen. 31:43-32:2 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.

            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 31:43-55 ESV) (Genesis 32:1-2 ESV)


Introduction: In this lesson we draw to a close Jacob’s sojourn of servitude in PaddanAram, the ancestral homeland of Abraham. We will look at the covenant-treaty between Laban and Jacob and see how the Lord ensured that Jacob would come out on top. Moses shows us, andIsrael in his day, that God watches over those whom he has called and entered into a covenant relationship with. This would certainly encourage the people ofIsrael and it points forward to us and the trust we can have in Christ who promises to never leave us.


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


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


  1. A.      Laban Concedes and Proposes a Covenant, vv. 43-44
    1. 1.       Vs. 43 Then Laban answered- Laban does not answer Jacob’s charges of mistreatment and totally ignores the facts presented by Jacob while stubbornly and vainly claims Jacob’s wives, children, and flocks as his own. Waltke writes (p.432), “He is a pretender, like the king ofSodom, claiming goods to which he has no title (14:21). His pretense is as empty as Satan’s boast that all the kingdoms of this world are his.”
    2. 2.       Apply: Jacob, though in all likelihood outnumbered, does not cave in to Laban’s arrogant claims; he continues to trust in the LORD. It seems to me that Christians all too often cave in to the arguments of the world and cede territory to the forces of evil. We frequently confuse meekness with weakness. This is not to say that we should be arrogant and seek political power for its own sake, but neither should we just surrender to the arguments and power of the spirit of this age and hide behind the gospel in order to stay out of the mess that is politics. Jacob was in the right, he was doing God’s will and he did not surrender or compromise here. We need to learn the skills of argumentation and use Scripture, history, logic and evidence against the atheists, leftists, and statists who are seeking to force us to keep our faith private. A case in point is this past week’s dust-up between the Susan G. Komen foundation and Planned Parenthood. The Komen foundation is not a Christian organization as far as I know, but they attempted to take a stand by defunding Planned Parenthood because of the big investigation into all kinds of illegal things going on with PP, including giving abortions to minors illegally and not reporting sexual abuse or incest of minors. The pressure of the baby killing lobby got too much and the Komen crowd caved in. The Church lost the debate on abortion/baby killing 40 years ago. To overcome this gross national sin will take nothing short of a massive Reformation/Revival and a grinding, unrelenting battle in the political/cultural realm. This is a battle that we cannot quit or compromise on. We must realize that, like Laban, our opponents do not have any sound arguments. None. Nada, Zip. Clearly there are times for us to be silent and turn the other cheek, for Jacob, on his mission from God, knew this was no time to surrender.
    3. 3.       But what can I do this day- Laban admits the LORD has the upper hand and he is in fact powerless to harm Jacob and take back his daughters, grandchildren and flocks. He still does not admit that his daughters have, in fact, sided against him and with their husband, Jacob, and Jacob’s God. God wins!
    4. 4.       Come now, let us make a covenant- defeated, Laban now initiates a covenant which reveals he knows Jacob’s God has the upper hand as he seeks protection from Jacob! Laban first proposes the covenant/treaty, he first names the stones in vs. 47 and he first names the place in vs. 49. This covenant seems to be for Laban’s advantage, not Jacob’s (but neither does it harm Jacob at all).
    5. 5.       This is similar to the situation of the king of Sodom before Abraham, or Abimelech and the Philistines before Abraham and Isaac in 21:22-33 and 26:26-31. Jacob is the victor and his opponents want to settle terms with him.
    6. 6.       This points us forward to Jesus as the ultimate Jacob-Victor before whom all will bow and confess him to be LORD of lords and KING of kings, Phil.2:9-11.
    7. 7.       Waltke writes, (p.433), “Laban acknowledges Jacob’s right to independent status, a recognized family of equal standing with other tribes. By proposing the pact, he concedes that he has lost the lawsuit….God has vindicated Jacob, so, having nothing to fear, Jacob has no need of a pact. By contrast, Laban, now the inferior, has been plundered and feels threatened by the Fear of Isaac….”
    8. 8.       Notice that every aspect of the treaty occurs in pairs- two parties, Jacob and Laban; two witnesses- the treaty itself in vs.44 and the stone monuments in vss.45-48. There are in fact two stone monuments, a heap and a pillar, vss.51-52. There are two names for the stone heaps, Laban’s is Aramaic and Jacob’s in Canaanite-Hebrew, vs.47. There are two meals, vs. 46 and again in 54. Two treaty provisions, one to protect Laban’s daughters and the other setting the boundary between the two tribes.
    9. B.      Jacob Sets Up a Pillar, vv.45-47
      1. 1.       Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar- the other time Jacob set up a pillar is in 28:18-19, when God had initially given him the covenant-promise. Now he is experiencing the blessings of God keeping His Word as he is released from his time of servitude under Laban and is free to return home.
      2. 2.       What are the pillars in your life that show the big changes, the times when God has moved in a mighty manner? I think that for the Christian, our baptism ought to serve as a pillar marking out God’s saving grace to us. Graduation from High School and/or college perhaps. Marriage certainly for those who are married. Can you relate the story of God’s grace in your life to others using your ‘pillars’?
      3. 3.       vs.46 And Jacob said to his kinsmen…And they took stones and made a heap- kinsmen- Waltke says it likely means both the families of Jacob and Laban but Wenham says it is probably only Jacob’s. The stone heap or cairn, is mentioned 8 times in vv.46-52. Why a pillar and heap/cairn both? Wenham writes, p.279f, “Duplication and repetition of symbols, gestures, and words always indicate that something is regarded as most important….The OT insists that two witnesses are needed for conviction (Deut.19:15). It is characteristic of ancient legal texts to summon a multitude of witnesses, sun, moon, and gods, to witness treaties. So it Is not inappropriate for Jacob to want more than one witness of this important treaty. Laban was, after all, a somewhat unreliable partner.”
      4. 4.       Keil&Delitzsch (p.192) says that the heap formed a table for the covenant meal.
      5. 5.       and they ate there- Waltke thinks there are two meals, here, and in 54, but Wenham thinks there is only one (p.280). A meal would be a normal part of a covenant symbolizing peace between the two parties. While this passage does not point forward to the Passover or the Lord’s Supper directly, it does place the Passover meal in a broader context of covenant meals in theMiddle East.
      6. 6.       When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we are participating in an ancient custom of eating together with those whom we were formerly at odds with, in our case God. But he has redeemed us and purchased our peace with the blood of Jesus, His Son. The work of Jesus on the cross and the empty tomb of his resurrection point to Jesus as our Pillar and Heap.
      7. 7.       Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed. The interesting thing here is that Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, had come from the same land as Laban, his nephew, and thus likely spoke the same Aramaic language. But now Jacob, the third generation, was speaking Hebrew and using a Canaanite word, Galeed, here. Both words mean something like “Witness-heap”.  Waltke writes, p.433, “By using the language ofCanaan, rather thanAram, Jacob decisively identifies himself with the sworn land. Jacob and Laban are distinct peoples, each speaking his own language.”
      8. C.      Laban Makes a Covenant with Jacob, vv.48-53a
        1. 1.       vs.49 Mizpah– means watch pillar, watch tower (no, not the Jehovah’s Witness variety), watch-post, may the LORD keep watch between us.
        2. 2.       vs.49-50 The LORD watch between you and me…If you oppress my daughters…God is witness. If the treaty was violated then God would enforce it. Here is another argumentation technique from those who oppose Christ. Accuse the Christian of what you are guilty of. This is standard technique by liberals against conservatives. The irony is rich as Laban warns Jacob against oppressing his daughters. The irony gets even better as Laban adds, “Or if you take wives besides my daughters”. It was Laban’s trickery that made Jacob a bigamist in the first place.
        3. 3.       God is witness– God does protect the rights of the oppressed, defenseless and women (Gen.16:7-14; 21:8-21; Ex.22:22-24.)
        4. 4.       See this heap and the pillar, which I have set– Hamilton, p.315, says this is likely Laban claiming, again, something that is the result of Jacob’s labor- the heap and the pillar.
        5. 5.       the heap and the pillar serve as territorial boundaries for Laban’s protection.
        6. 6.       The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor…judge between us- Wenham informs us on pp.280-281 that Laban uses a plural verb in reference to the God(s) of Abraham and Nahor which indicates he is referring to two distinct gods, whereas in Jacob’s oath in 53 b he swears by just “the Fear of Isaac”, one God. Waltke also sees this as two gods as does Delitzsch (p.192).
      9. D.      Jacob Agrees to the Covenant, vv.53b-54
        1. 1.       So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac- despite whatever gods Laban was referring to, Jacob relies on the One True God. The Fear of Isaac as a name for God means the awesome one, the one who invokes fear from those not trusting in Him.
        2. 2.       and Jacob offered a sacrifice- the sequence is erecting the markers, agreeing to the terms of the covenant with an oath, sacrificing an animal(s), having a meal together (see 26:31; Ex.24:9-11; 34:13-16.) This shows that Jacob is the one offering sacrifice and inviting Laban’s party to eat; Jacob is the host, the senior party to the covenant.



  1. VI.              Laban and Jacob Go Their Separate Ways, 31:55-32:2
    1. A.      Laban Returns Home, v.55
      1. 1.       Early in the morning- echoes 28:18, the other big event in Jacob’s life as he leftBethel. Mathews writes, p.536, “It was the memory of that revelation (at Bethel) that led to Jacob’s departure from Paddan Aram and the tension with Laban that ensued….The peaceful arrangement with Laban showed the faithfulness of God, who protected Jacob and returned him to the land without loss…The substance of the parting blessing probably paralleled what Laban extended toward his departing sister, Rebekah, a generation earlier (24:60).”
      2. 2.       Laban arose and kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them- finally, we see the hard heart of Laban melt and he bids his daughters and grandchildren farewell with affection.  Wenham writes, p.281, “Reconciliation is followed by peace. The angry chase ended in a covenant guaranteeing respect for each other’s family and territory in the future. Now there is an amicable parting with the traditional kissing and blessing, and Laban returns home.”


  1. B.      Jacob Went on His Way and Meets the Angels of God, 32:1-2
    1. 1.       Most commentators assign these two verses to the following passage in ch.32, and indeed they can very well be discussed there, but I will side with Wenham on this one and link them with ch.31 (p.281).
    2. 2.       Jacob went on his way- nicely closes what the LORD began in 31:3 “Return to the land of your fathers…” but so did Laban’s leaving in v.55 “Then Laban departed and returned home.”
    3. 3.       And the angels of God met him- this now makes the encounter a bookend to the experience at Bethel and the stairway from heaven with the angels ascending and descending on it in 28:10-22. It also previews what will happen in ch.32 as he prepares to meet Esau and spends the night in the octagon wrestling with God.
    4. 4.       The entire experience in Paddan Aram began with a covenant with the LORD at Bethel and a promise to be with Jacob and to bless him, and finally to bring him back home. Now, at Mahanaim, he has another reassuring vision of angels. Angels at his departure from Canaan, and angels at his return.
    5. 5.       So he called the name of that place Mahanaim- Mahanaim means two camps and is military in style. There is no accompanying  revelation so we are a left a bit in the dark about the significance of this to Jacob. It could mean that he saw two camps of angels, thus assuring him of God’s protection.

Conclusion: The gospel points in the story of Jacob’s covenant with Laban continue the theme of God’s provision and protection for those whose trust is in Him. The covenant, sacrifice and meal provide a bit of the cultural background for the Passover and hence, the Lord’s Supper.

Next week we begin chapter 32 and Jacob’s fear as he thinks of encountering his brother Esau again.


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.)





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