Thursday, September 19, 2019

Genesis 31 - Jacob's Flight

This article is part of a series of articles that resulted from my time preaching through the book of Genesis. The commentary on the passage is my own, resulting from hours of research and exegetical study. It is my intent to draw a biblical theology chapter by chapter through the book of Genesis that places the events of the narratives into the broad picture of the entire Bible, demonstrating the progressiveness of theology and the sufficiency of every Word of Scripture. It is my prayer that these articles are helpful to those seeking a better understanding of the book of Genesis and of the Bible as a whole. The sermon series and other resources can be found at

The LORD, the creator of heaven and earth, chose the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob out of all the families and nations of the earth. He blessed them with His covenant, promising them the land of Canaan as an eternal inheritance, multitudes of descendants to live in it, and kings to rule over it. Jacob had fled the land of Canaan to escape the wrath of his brother Esau, and he spent many years in Paddan-Aram working for his uncle. During this time, Jacob’s family had grown to eleven sons, and God had blessed him with great prosperity. But the covenant family could not remain outside the Promised Land, lest the sons spread out in Haran and never returned to Canaan. So God called them back to the land of Promise.

1 Now Jacob heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, “Jacob has taken away all that was our father’s, and from what belonged to our father he has made all this wealth.” 2 Jacob saw the attitude of Laban, and behold, it was not friendly toward him as formerly. 3 Then the LORD said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”

Thus, it was doubly confirmed to Jacob that it was finally time to return to Canaan and rejoin his father and brother. God spoke for the first time since Jacob left the Promised Land and confirmed that He was with him. Now we see how all that Jacob went through was to cause him to grow to trust God and walk according to His will. For the first time, Jacob gives glory to God as he recounts events to his wives:

4 So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to his flock in the field, 5 and said to them, “I see your father’s attitude, that it is not friendly toward me as formerly, but the God of my father has been with me. 6 You know that I have served your father with all my strength. 7 Yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times; however, God did not allow him to hurt me. 8 If he spoke thus, ‘The speckled shall be your wages,’ then all the flock brought forth speckled; and if he spoke thus, ‘The striped shall be your wages,’ then all the flock brought forth striped.

As was evident in the last chapter, Laban had changed Jacob’s wages—several times, in fact. Through this, Jacob learned to trust God, who never changes, instead of men, who do change. Jacob had served Laban to the best of his ability, and God had rewarded and protected him from his devious uncle.

9 Thus God has taken away your father’s livestock and given them to me. 10 And it came about at the time when the flock were mating that I lifted up my eyes and saw in a dream, and behold, the male goats which were mating were striped, speckled, and mottled. 11 Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am.’ 12 He said, ‘Lift up now your eyes and see that all the male goats which are mating are striped, speckled, and mottled; for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar, where you made a vow to Me; now arise, leave this land, and return to the land of your birth.’”

God had sent His angel to assure Jacob that He had seen Jacob’s affliction. During all the years that he was in Paddan-Aram, Jacob must have wondered if God indeed was with him to care for him. Now he understood that even when He is silent, God is there. So God called Jacob back to the Promised Land.

14 Rachel and Leah said to him, “Do we still have any portion or inheritance in our father’s house? 15 Are we not reckoned by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and has also entirely consumed our purchase price. 16 Surely all the wealth which God has taken away from our father belongs to us and our children; now then, do whatever God has said to you.”

Laban’s daughters had been sold to Jacob for fourteen years of labor. Yet they never saw any of the fruits of that labor, for Laban had spent it entirely. So they were ready to leave with Jacob.

17 Then Jacob arose and put his children and his wives upon camels; 18 and he drove away all his livestock and all his property which he had gathered, his acquired livestock which he had gathered in Paddan-aram, to go to the land of Canaan to his father Isaac. 19 When Laban had gone to shear his flock, then Rachel stole the household idols that were her father’s. 20 And Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him that he was fleeing. 21 So he fled with all that he had; and he arose and crossed the Euphrates River, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead.

Though Jacob was learning to trust God, he still acted deceitfully toward Laban. Also, Rachel, though she had begun to see that the LORD had answered her prayers for children, stole the household gods out of Laban’s house. Even at this point, the covenant family had much to learn about God and how they were to live before Him. Jacob and his household set out and headed west as quickly as they could, but they had flocks and children who slowed the pace. So even with their large lead, they must have constantly been looking over their shoulders.

22 When it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob had fled, 23 then he took his kinsmen with him and pursued him a distance of seven days’ journey, and he overtook him in the hill country of Gilead. 24 God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream of the night and said to him, “Be careful that you do not speak to Jacob either good or bad.”

Just as God had appeared to Abimelech to warn him about harming Abraham, so God appeared to Laban. On the tenth day,

25 Laban caught up with Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsmen camped in the hill country of Gilead. 26 Then Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done by deceiving me and carrying away my daughters like captives of the sword? 27 Why did you flee secretly and deceive me, and did not tell me so that I might have sent you away with joy and with songs, with timbrel and with lyre; 28 and did not allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters? Now you have done foolishly. 29 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 speak either good or bad to Jacob.’ 30 Now you have indeed gone away because you longed greatly for your father’s house; but why did you steal my gods?”

Laban lamented that he had lost the chance to send away his family with a great celebration. He implied that he would have harmed Jacob, but God had told him not to hurt Jacob. Ironically, he had to inquire of Jacob about his own gods, for they could not even protect themselves from capture.

31 Then Jacob replied to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force. 32 The one with whom you find your gods shall not live; in the presence of our kinsmen point out what is yours among my belongings and take it for yourself.” For Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them.

33 So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two maids, but he did not find them. Then he went out of Leah’s tent and entered Rachel’s tent. 34 Now Rachel had taken the household idols and put them in the camel’s saddle, and she sat on them. And Laban felt through all the tent but did not find them. 35 She said to her father, “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women is upon me.” So he searched but did not find the household idols.

After the dramatic search, Jacob used the opportunity to turn the tables on Laban, finally speaking up for himself.

36 Then Jacob became angry and contended with Laban; and Jacob said to Laban, “What is my transgression? What is my sin that you have hotly pursued me? 37 Though 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. 38 These twenty years I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten the rams of your flocks. 39 That which was torn of beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it myself. You required it of my hand whether stolen by day or stolen by night. 40 Thus I was: by day the heat consumed me and the frost by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes. 41 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 changed my wages ten times. 42 If the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had not been for me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the toil of my hands, so He rendered judgment last night.”

Jacob’s point is that he had been faithful in his service toward Laban, neither taking what was not his nor asking for reimbursement over any loss. If Jacob was indeed blameless, then Laban needed to explain himself. Jacob probably thought that Laban was making up the theft of his gods in order to have a reason to pursue him and called him out for such behavior when his search failed to produce evidence of the accusations.

43 Then Laban replied to Jacob, “The daughters are my daughters, and the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day to these my daughters or to their children whom they have borne? 44 So now come, let us make a covenant, you and I, and let it be a witness between you and me.”

Laban shrugged off Jacob’s demand. He claimed ownership of everything that Jacob owned, including his wives, children, and flocks. Even though Jacob had paid for all of these through hard labor, Laban still considered them his own.

45 Then Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46 Jacob said to his kinsmen, “Gather stones.” So they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there by the heap. 47 Now Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed. 48 Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me this day.” Therefore it was named Galeed, 49 and Mizpah, for he said, “May the LORD watch between you and me when we are absent one from the other. 50 If you mistreat my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no man is with us, see, God is witness between you and me.” 51 Laban said to Jacob, “Behold this heap and behold the pillar which I have set between you and me. 52 This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass by this heap to you for harm, and you will not pass by this heap and this pillar to me, for harm. 53 The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.”

The pile of rocks served as a witness between Jacob and Laban, and was therefore called ‘witness pile’ in two languages. Neither would pass those rocks with harmful intent toward the other. Most likely, the last verse should be translated as ‘The God of Abraham and the gods of Nahor, the gods of their father.’ Either way, Jacob swore by Yahweh and Him alone:

So Jacob swore by the fear of his father Isaac. 54 Then Jacob offered a sacrifice on the mountain, and called his kinsmen to the meal; and they ate the meal and spent the night on the mountain. 55 Early in the morning Laban arose, and kissed his sons and his daughters and blessed them. Then Laban departed and returned to his place.

Thus God protected Jacob from Laban when Laban would have done harm to him.


God always protects His own in order to bring about all that He promised. His purposes are never thwarted. His Word is never nullified. His promises never change. His people can trust in Him forever, knowing that everything He says is true.

When the time was right, God sent His Son, born of a virgin from the people of Israel, to propitiate the sins of all the nations. Whoever calls on the Lord Jesus Christ will be forgiven sin, because Jesus took the punishment of all the sins of those who call on Him. Those who believe will never face the condemnation, but will have eternal life in the Kingdom of God which He promised to Abraham. Jesus, His Son, will reign forever in peace and righteousness over that kingdom.

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