June 17, 2015

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

 

PART: III HISTORY OF ISAAC AND JACOB (Gen. 25:19-36:43)

 

Topic #D:  JACOB'S RETURN TO CANAAN. (Gen. 31:1-33:17)                

 

 


Lesson III.D.4: A Covenant Made and a Monument Erected. (Gen. 31:43-32:2)


 

Genesis 31:43-32:2 (KJV)

 

Genesis 31:43-31:55

43 And Laban answered and said unto Jacob, These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and these cattle are my cattle, and all that thou seest is mine: and what can I do this day unto these my daughters, or unto their children which they have born?

44 Now therefore come thou, let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee.

45 And Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar.

46 And Jacob said unto his brethren, Gather stones; and they took stones, and made an heap: and they did eat there upon the heap.

47 And Laban called it Jegarsahadutha: but Jacob called it Galeed.

48 And Laban said, This heap is a witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed;

49 And Mizpah; for he said, The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.

50 If thou shalt afflict my daughters, or if thou shalt take other wives beside my daughters, no man is with us; see, God is witness betwixt me and thee.

51 And Laban said to Jacob, Behold this heap, and behold this pillar, which I have cast betwixt me and thee:

52 This heap be witness, and this pillar be witness, that I will not pass over this heap to thee, and that thou shalt not pass over this heap and this pillar unto me, for harm.

53 The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge betwixt us. And Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac.

54 Then Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat bread: and they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the mount.

55 And early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his daughters, and blessed them: and Laban departed, and returned unto his place.

 

Genesis 32:1-2

1 And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.

2 And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God's host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim.

 


Commentary

 

 

GENESIS 31:43-31:55

43 And Laban answered and said unto Jacob, These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and these cattle are my cattle, and all that thou seest is mine: and what can I do this day unto these my daughters, or unto their children which they have born?

 

“Laban” scolded Jacob for not allowing him to say farewell to his daughters, but hehad nothing to say that would contradict Jacob’s charges (36-42).  He could neither justify himself nor condemn Jacob, but he was convicted, by his own conscience, of the wrong he had done him; and therefore he doesn’t want to hear any more about the matter.  He knew only too well how much he really owed to “Jacob” but he had no intention of admitting he was in the wrong or asking Jacob’s forgiveness, as he ought to have done..  Instead, he waved his hand toward the shocked witnesses of the furious quarrel, toward Rachel and Leah, toward the “children,” and the nearby flocks and herds.  “All that thou seest is mine!” was all he could say.  But if Jacob had been a slave, this would have been true in that day, but Jacob claimed to be a true son-in-law.  Some scholars have concluded that he may have been adopted by Laban, in which case there would be no question about property ownership.

 

 

44 Now therefore come thou, let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee.

 

God’s warning in the dream and Jacob’s forceful defense told Laban that he was beaten, but the old deceiver put on a brave front just the same and tried to make everybody think he was a peacemaker.  Like the old hypocrite he was, he proposed that he and Jacob should make a covenant.

 

 

45 And Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar.

46 And Jacob said unto his brethren, Gather stones; and they took stones, and made an heap: and they did eat there upon the heap.

 

The father-in-law was now willing to forget legal niceties in favor of a covenant (v.44).  Jacobresponded to Laban’s offer at once, setting up a “pillar” and calling on all present to join him in building a permanent memorial to the treaty about to be made; writing at that time was not known or used very little.  This memorial may have been in the form of a “heap” of “stones” that functioned both as a table for the meal and as a memorial to the event.  The external details of the covenant making were all according to practices current in that day—the tall upright “stone” (v.45), the raised pile of smaller “stones” (v.46) stacked in a circle around it on which a meal was eaten[1], and the vows or oaths taken there.  Standing “stones” sometimes marked supposed dwelling places of the gods (28:17-18[2]) or graves (2 Samuel 18:17[3]).  In this case, it seals a treaty.  Actually, their “agreement” wasn’t a declaration of peace; it was only a truce that could be broken if either party violated the terms.  This incident is of particular interest because it reveals what an out-and-out hypocrite Laban was and what a spiritual man “Jacob” had become since his recent meeting with God.

 

It is impossible to identify the site of the marker.  All that can be said is that it is located somewhere in the hill country of Gilead, between the Syro-Arabian desert and the river Jabbok, the next place mentioned in this account of Jacob’s journey.

 

 

 


[1] Eating a meal together is an Eastern custom when creating a binding agreement (26:26-33).

[2] (Genesis 28:17-18, NIV) “And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it.”

[3] (2 Samuel 18:17, NIV) “And they took Absalom, and cast him into a great pit in the wood, and laid a very great heap of stones upon him: and all Israel fled every one to his tent.”

 

 

47 And Laban called it Jegarsahadutha: but Jacob called it Galeed.

48 And Laban said, This heap is a witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed;

49 And Mizpah; for he said, The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.

50 If thou shalt afflict my daughters, or if thou shalt take other wives beside my daughters, no man is with us; see, God is witness betwixt me and thee.

51 And Laban said to Jacob, Behold this heap, and behold this pillar, which I have cast betwixt me and thee:

52 This heap be witness, and this pillar be witness, that I will not pass over this heap to thee, and that thou shalt not pass over this heap and this pillar unto me, for harm.

53 The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge betwixt us. And Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac.

 

It seems that two names, each in a different language, are given to this place of agreement; “Jacob called it Galeed” (Hebrew) meaning “witness heap.” It is the title from which the name Gilead came.  Laban gave the place the second name “Jegarsahadutha” (Aramaic) meaning the “witness” or “watch-tower.” It calls to mind that both of these men said the Lord would be the watchman between them. Both names signify what had taken place between “Jacob” and “Laban.” 

 

The oath (vs. 46-53) demonstrated that, to “Laban,” the “pillar” was a boundary, a guarantee for the future, nothing more.  It meant that “Jacob” would not treat Rachel and Leah badly now that her father would no longer be present to protect them.  It was an unwarranted insult.  “Laban” had no grounds for any such thoughts.  “Jacob” had always passionately loved Rachel and had always treated Leah with courtesy.  The “pillar” meant that “Jacob” would take no more “wives”—again, “Jacob” had never wanted more “wives”; the only wife he had ever desired was Rachel.  It was Laban’s fault that he had Leah and the others, not his.  To “Laban,” the “pillar” meant that he would not cross that boundary mark to annoy “Jacob.”  That was the oath.

 

 “Laban” said, “This heap is a witness” and called it by the Hebrew name “Mizpah!” meaning “watch-tower.” Then, calling on Jacob’s God, as though “Jacob” was the one needing to be watched, he cried, “The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.” That was not meant as the lovely sentiment it is sometimes taken to be; it was meant as a warning to “Jacob.” Laban has two deities in mind, as the Hebrew plural verb translated “judge” indicates.  “Jacob” worships the God of his fathers; Laban swears by the pagan god his fathers worshipped. To “Laban,” then, the “pillar” was a boundary, a guarantee for the future, a guarantee that threw all the burden and humiliation of the past on Jacob.  The Lord was to see to it that Jacob would not move north of that boundary marker nor Laban south of it to harm each other (v.52).  Being the stronger party, Laban did lay down several limitations for Jacob in the future.  Did you recognize the statement in verse 49—it has become a benediction among Christians.

 

The sense of the last part of verse 50 is, “Although no man is with us, remember God is witness between you and me” (RSV).  Both of them took an oath, Laban in the name of “the god of Abraham, and the God of Nahor” (v.53).  Jacob took his in the name of the “Fear of his father Isaac” (RSV), which undoubtedly meant the God worshipped and feared by Isaac.  Laban didn’t see the God of Abraham and Isaac as a gracious Lord who had brought them together but as a heavenly Judge who would keep them both from harming each other.  In spite of their oaths, Jacob and Laban didn’t trust each other, so they had to trust the Lord to keep them from harming each other.  “Mizpah” (v. 49) was a monument to suspicion and fear, not to love and trust.

 

 

54 Then Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat bread: and they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the mount.

55 And early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his daughters, and blessed them: and Laban departed, and returned unto his place.

 

Connected with that pillar, was not only the oath, there was the offering.  The offering demonstrated that, to “Jacob,” the pillar was not a boundary but a blessing; it was good-bye to the past rather than a guarantee for the future.  “Then Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat bread [probably meat from the sacrificed animal] . . .  And early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his daughters, and blessed them; and Laban departed and returned unto his place.” He did not embrace Jacob but, with an aching heart for his lost “daughters,” he embraced them and his grandchildren, gave them a divine blessing and “returned unto his place.” Back he went to Padan-aram, back to the darkness of paganism, back to nurse his grievances.  Thus he passed out of Jacob’s life and out of God’s book. This is the last time Laban is mentioned in the Bible.  A long and difficult chapter in Jacob’s life came to a close, a chapter in which God was with him from beginning to the end (vv.  5, 24, 29, 42).

 

“Laban” had been an unpredictable man.  On the one hand he had shown hospitality to Abraham’s servant (24:31) and then to “Jacob.”  Outwardly he gave the appearance of kindliness until the final argument with Jacob.  On the other hand, he cleverly took advantage of Jacob’s ignorance of local law and did his best to exploit “his daughters” and “Jacob” to his own advantage.  Ironically, he finally lost his daughters, his best shepherd, his grandchildren, and much of his flocks.  After the covenant at Galeed, he was never to see them again. He gave the appearance of being pious but in fact placed no value on righteous living.

 

 

 

GENESIS 32:1-2

1 And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.

2 And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God's host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim.

 

“Jacob” had learned the great lesson of salvation at Bethel, twenty years before; now, at the Jabbok, he had to learn the equally great lesson of sanctification.  What happened at Bethel took care of his beliefs; what happened at the Jabbok took care of his behavior.  Obviously the two events are related.  What took place at Bethel on Jacob’s way out of the land now took place at Mahanaim on his way back into the land.  His glimpse of the “angels of God” assured him once again of divine protection accompanying him.  And the angels welcomed him on his return to the land of promise. This reassurance came at a time when Jacob sorely needed it.  There was a great crisis in his life when he became a saved man; there was an equally great crisis in his life when he became, in a practical sense, a sanctified man.  Positionally, of course, salvation and sanctification are inseparable acts of God in the soul’s experience; realistically, many of us do not enter into the truth of sanctification at the time of our conversion.

 

But since the time God met him at Padan-aram and told him to return to Canaan, Jacob had been obedient, and had experienced times of help and guidance.  He had come a long way.  Notice now what “Jacob” saw.  “And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.” Jacob had had his unseen “angel” escort all the way—it was fortunate for Laban that he did not tamper with Jacob—but now he saw the “angels” for the first time, and he recognizes God’s hand in this.  He learned that his deliverance from Laban was not the result of his own cleverness and courage, but the result of active divine intervention in his affairs.

 

We have noted what “Jacob saw,” and now let’s hear what Jacob said.  “And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God's host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim.  The name means “the new host.” There was the visible host, Jacob and his sons and his servants, and there was the invisible host, the martialed “angels of God” marching silently, unseen, but tremendously powerful side by side with him.  This visitation by “angels of God” awakened him once again and in a measure prepared him for the crisis which was to come.  The same “angel” host marches with all of God’s children as they seek to walk humbly with their God.  The invisible host of angels surrounded Jacob’s camp to protect him and his family.  Jacob’s vision was a confirmation to him from God.  He was in God’s will.

 

How often we meet this mention of “angels” in the story of Jacob’s life!  Angels on the ladder in the vision at Bethel; the dream of an angel that told him to leave the country of Laban; angels now before him on his way home; the memory of an angel there with him as he approached his death—he laid his hands upon the sons of Joseph, and said, “The Angel which redeemed me from all evil bless the lads” (48:16).  It is surprising how often we find the name of this imperfect man associated with “angels” but the one great characteristic which gradually refined him was his desire—which from the beginning he possessed—for more knowledge of God.  May it be therefore that “the angels of God” come, even though they may be invisible, to every saved man who has that same desire for more knowledge of God?

 


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