Genesis 31:1-3 – The sons of Laban became more and more vexed that Jacob continued to prosper. What was thought to be a shrewd deal on their father’s part was now becoming a disaster in their eyes. Their flocks were not reproducing as well now that Jacob was not in charge, and Jacob’s were multiplying. They blamed their losses on Jacob accusing him of stealing. Laban was angry because he was not flourishing as before. He too felt he was being cheated, but Jacob was doing nothing wrong or unethical. The face of Laban changed when he was in the presence of Jacob. Jacob became aware of this growing bitterness against him and he felt compelled to leave but how could he break his contract with Laban, he didn’t want to be the first to break it. It seems obvious that this tension drove Jacob to the Lord in prayer and God speaks to Jacob in a dream telling him that it is time to return to the land of promise and begin to establish the nation that would be named for him. The promise of (Gen 28:15) is renewed here.
Genesis 31:4-6 – In obedience Jacob prepared to leave, but he first must explain to his wives, Rachel and Leah the daughters of Laban, what he intends to do, and why. His plan was to leave secretly. This is not the way of a man who is full faith, but humanly speaking it made good sense. Laban and his sons probably would not have let him leave with all of those cattle, since they believed that Jacob had stolen them. Leaving Laban was the right thing to do, and God had told him to go, so Jacob should leave Laban in an open and forthright way. God promised to protect Jacob so he had no reason to fear the response of Laban and his sons. Jacob’s wives, who met secretly with him in the field, agreed with Jacob that his plan was best. Whether they were convinced that this was God’s leading or merely the only way to insure receiving any inheritance for them and their children (V. 16) is hard to know. In V 5 he comments “I see” in the Hebrew the nuance is that he observed over a period of time. What he had seen was a relationship that was growing more and more hostile. Jacob recognizes that if God were not protecting him he would already be in serious trouble.
Genesis 31:7-9 – Jacob prepares to leave secretly to avoid a confrontation with Laban and his son’s In V 7 we learn that in the years that had passed Laban repeatedly changed his agreement with Jacob in an effort to fleece Jacob. God however continued to bless Jacob by altering the color, spotting or striping to always favor the new arrangement that Laban would insist on. This must have been hilarious to anyone who was aware of these machinations by Laban to hoodwink Jacob. Every time Laban thought he had the advantage God would rearrange the outcome. You would have thought that eventually Laban would have caught on that God was with Jacob, but it doesn’t appear so. Jacob tells his wives that their father had changed the agreement ten different times. It is remarkable that Jacob agreed to each change, demonstrating how confident Jacob was of God’s blessing. This also means that Jacob ceased trying to altar the offspring with the colored rods in the water; he had to leave the outcome with God. The result was that God continued to give the majority of the offspring of Laban’s flocks to Jacob.
Genesis 31:10-13 Jacob tells his wives that God revealed to him in a dream that the reason the offspring of his cattle would be spotted, stripped or speckled was the result of God’s intervention. When the herd given to Jacob began to mate the Lord made sure either personally or through his angels that only the animals that would bless Jacob would reproduce. The animal’s appearance was solid in color, but the Lord saw the gene pool. Those who had spotted stripped and speckled genes would be the ones who would reproduce. The reason for this action on the part of the Lord was that God saw what Laban was trying to do to Jacob. Jacob then shares with his wives that the Angel of God who appeared to Him in Bethel is fulfilling His promise to bless Jacob and protect him and is now calling him to return to the Promised Land.
Genesis 31:14-16 – Jacob had to have been relieved to know his wives would go with him. They knew that their life was with Jacob and that their father’s estate would not be given to them but to their brothers. They had seen their husband’s behavior compared to their father’s and understood why God blessed Jacob and not their father. The words of Rachel and Leah reveal that they resented the way their father treated them, saying that they were “sold” to Jacob for his services. Moreover, they saw that their father had not been a good steward of money, because he already consumed the profit that Jacob brought him during his 14 years of service in “payment” of the dowry for his wives. Evidently the tradition was that when a dowry was received it was later given as a legacy to the daughter at the death of her father or in the case of divorce. Laban made it clear to Rachel and Leah that he was not going to give them anything. Rachel and Leah felt that God had vindicated them by taking what had belonged to them in Laban’s trust and now had given it to their husband Jacob.
Genesis 31:17-18 – While Laban was away shearing his sheep Jacob made preparations to depart. Sheep shearing time was traditionally a festive time in those days. Selling fleece was big business and large sums of money and goods were exchanged. Large quantities of food and wine were consumed, and a carnival atmosphere surrounded the event (cf. Gen 38). This was an ideal time to leave. Jacob gathered his flocks that were his wages and forming a large caravan with his many servants took off for the Promised Land to return to his father Isaac.
Genesis 31:19-21 – While the preparations are being made, we learn that Rachel slipped into Laban’s tent and stole his “household idols” the KJV and the Hebrew use the word “teraphim”. Teraphim were figurines, constructed of wood, clay or metal. There are various ways that these idols were understood, some believed that they would bring happiness, in most cases they were worshiped as gods and consulted as mediums (Ezek. 21:21; Zech. 10:2). The significance of the teraphim to Rachel and her family is unclear. They may have been used for divination, protection, as a claim to inheritance, or may have simply represented loyalty and devotion to the family. Jacob, whose relationship with the Lord was more advanced than that of his wives, later removed them (35:24). Why did Rachel take these idols? Probably because she believed that by having them it would be compensation for what her father did to her by substituting Leah on her wedding night, or that by not having them Laban would be judged. If her reason was the former than she was like many believers today who try to keep one foot in the world and the other in the kingdom of God. If it were the latter than it would be an indication that she believed that these idols were a god, or good luck charms. In either case they demonstrate a failure to understand the Lord’s mind concerning idolatry. It is possible that she stole them because of their association with inheritance rights, and by having them she could defend Jacob’s claim of the flocks as a rightful legacy, or to insure her rights at the death of her father. Jacob took off not knowing that Rachel had done this. He probably had a 90-mile head start. A day’s journey is about 30 miles, and Jacob was a three days journey from Laban and his flocks. Add to that distance whatever time it took for Laban to learn that Jacob and his family had left. Jacob, slowed by the pace of the flocks, needed as much distance as possible.
Genesis 31:22-24 – Three days later word reaches Laban and his sons who were in the midst of sheep shearing. They were probably furious at this news, but they likely couldn’t leave and pursue immediately. Jacob no doubt knew this and used it to gain another day’s distance. Laban and his son’s covered 300 miles in a week. Their intent was to not allow Jacob to take what they believed were their flocks. Whatever means would be necessary was in their plans to return what they believed was their property, even if it meant killing Jacob. They overtook Jacob in the Mountains of Gilead which is in Jordan today overlooking the current West Bank. They camped in sight of Jacob and his flocks so that they would be rested for the confrontation that would ensue the next morning. While they were sleeping God came to Laban in a dream warning him not to say or do anything to Jacob that was good or bad. In essence he was told that he should not insult or harm Jacob in any way or to entice him to return to Haran. While there is no evidence that Laban had any sort of a relationship with the Lord, he knew enough to obey the One who spoke to him in his dream.
Genesis 31:25-30 – In the morning Laban overtakes Jacob before he breaks camp to leave. The atmosphere must have been very tense. Laban must have been seething especially since he was constrained from doing what he would like to do with Jacob. His first words are the height of hypocrisy rebuking Jacob for leaving without allowing him to throw him a party and to kiss his beloved daughters and grandchildren goodbye. No doubt Jacob and his wives knew that he was lying. His real intentions are revealed when he says that it was within his power to do Jacob harm, but then confessed to the truth that it was because God warned him in a dream that he did not do anything. He then changes the subject in an attempt to justify his actions and veiled threat by asking why Jacob took his household gods? Jacob responds first with his reason for leaving in haste and secrecy. He tells Laban before all who were listening that he fled because he thought that he would prevent him from leaving with his daughters. Jacob knew the attitude of Laban and his sons toward him and he rightly believed that they were capable of violence if things did not go their way. Jacob then responds concerning the stolen gods that anyone who did this would be punished according to the laws of the land, which was death. He then tells Laban that if he finds anything that belongs to him to take it.
Genesis 31:33-42 – Laban searches but finds nothing. His last examination takes place in Rachel’s tent who hid them under her camel saddle on which she sat. Using the excuse of her monthly period she is able to keep them concealed. Rachel acted foolishly but God did not reveal her sin for the sake of Jacob. When nothing is found Jacob loses his temper and pours forth with his perspective on how Laban has treated him. He asks him what made him pursue him with such intent, since he had done Laban no harm but only good. Before his son’s and his servants Laban remained quiet as Jacob reviewed their history. He reminded Laban that he served him faithfully for 20 years, 14 for the privilege of marrying his daughters, not mentioning how he had been forced to marry Leah and then serve 7 years for her (Leah was probably present). 6 years were served for cattle that came from God’s blessing, and not paid for by Laban. None of Laban’s animals miscarried because of the good care of Jacob, nor had Jacob used any of Laban’s flocks for food which was the right of shepherds. When wild animals attacked and killed some of the flocks Jacob bore the loss himself rather than showing them to Laban replacing the animals from his own flocks. In cold and extreme heat Jacob faithfully cared for Laban’s flocks. He reminds all present how Laban changed his wages ten different times hoping to reduce the amount of sheep that would come to Jacob and trying to keep the gains for himself. Jacob shared what was surely true that Laban would have sent him away empty and maybe even have killed him if it were not for God’s protection of him and his family.
Genesis 31:43-53– Laban’s reply once again reveals his heart and his mind concerning Jacob, his wives, and his property. He considers it all his, and to suggest that Jacob should be grateful. Laban is unwilling in any way to admit guilt or wrong. Changing the subject once again Laban proposes a peace treaty. This proposal is probably in response to his dream the night before. Jacob and his men gather stones as a testimony. Laban according to his custom called it a witness to this non-aggression treaty being made. Laban was implying that it was Jacob who was not to be trusted when he made certain conditions. Jacob must not mistreat his daughters or take other wives, even though there was no reason for this condition except to put suspicion on Jacob. He also puts the condition on Jacob that he should not come back to harm Laban in any way, again there was no evidence of any kind that Jacob would do such a thing. In return Laban promises not to come into the land of Canaan to do Jacob any harm. God warned him against harming Jacob, so why not put it into the covenant and appear to look good. Laban calls the heap Mizpah which means tower and denoting a boundary between the two. Then he invokes the name of the Lord on Jacob and has the chutzpa in V 51 to claim that he built this tower. Ironically today many invoke these words as a blessing when in reality they were anything but. Jacob’s words were short and to the point, he swore by the God of his father Isaac.
Genesis 31:54-55 – Laban returned to his camp on the other side of the mountains of Gilead and Jacob then offered a sacrifice to the Lord. Jacob gave thanks to God who protected Him and fought on His behalf. Laban returns in the morning to say goodbye and trying to make the best of a bad situation in the eyes of his son, daughters and grandchildren. After this he departs. Laban is a man like many today who have a form of religion but do not posses it. They want what is theirs and what is not theirs for themselves and cloak their actions with religious piety.