May 9, 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.1: His Departure from Padanaram. (Gen. 31:1-21)                                                           

 

 

 

Genesis 31:1-21 (KJV)

 

1 And he heard the words of Laban's sons, saying, Jacob hath taken away all that was our father's; and of that which was our father's hath he gotten all this glory.

And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, behold, it was not toward him as before.

And the Lord said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee.

And Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field unto his flock,

And said unto them, I see your father's countenance, that it is not toward me as before; but the God of my father hath been with me.

And ye know that with all my power I have served your father.

And your father hath deceived me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me.

If he said thus, The speckled shall be thy wages; then all the cattle bare speckled: and if he said thus, The ringstraked shall be thy hire; then bare all the cattle ringstraked.

Thus God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me.

10 And it came to pass at the time that the cattle conceived, that I lifted up mine eyes, and saw in a dream, and, behold, the rams which leaped upon the cattle were ringstraked, speckled, and grisled.

11 And the angel of God spake unto me in a dream, saying, Jacob: And I said, Here am I.

12 And he said, Lift up now thine eyes, and see, all the rams which leap upon the cattle are ringstraked, speckled, and grisled: for I have seen all that Laban doeth unto thee.

13 I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred.

14 And Rachel and Leah answered and said unto him, Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father's house?

15 Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath quite devoured also our money.

16 For all the riches which God hath taken from our father, that is ours, and our children's: now then, whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do.

17 Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon camels;

18 And he carried away all his cattle, and all his goods which he had gotten, the cattle of his getting, which he had gotten in Padanaram, for to go to Isaac his father in the land of Canaan.

19 And Laban went to shear his sheep: and Rachel had stolen the images that were her father's.

20 And Jacob stole away unawares to Laban the Syrian, in that he told him not that he fled.

21 So he fled with all that he had; and he rose up, and passed over the river, and set his face toward the mount Gilead.

 

 

 

Introduction to Verses 1-21

 

At Padan-aram Jacob founded both his family and his fortunes; there he became rich in children and in material things.  But his true home was not on the Euphrates but in Canaan, the Promised Land.  Jacob had been away from home 20 years, and it was time he returned to his roots.  His father Isaac and his brother Esau were still alive, and Jacob had some “unfinished business” to settle with both of them.  All the blessings of God for his soul were in Canaan, not in Mesopotamia.  God could not allow him to settle forever in the very land from which, years before, He had called Abraham.  So, in His wisdom, God allowed things to turn sour on Jacob.  He was about to arrest him and send him back to Canaan.

 

The Lord knows that the influence of Laban’s household is not good for Jacob and his growing family.  The boys are going to be heads of the twelve tribes of Israel, and God is anxious to get them out from that environment and back into Abraham’s country, the country which He had promised to Abraham.

 

This passage has to do with two men; one is a very sinful man in many ways (Laban), and the other is a man whom God would not give up (Jacob).  You and I can take courage from this.  The Lord will never get us up as long as we keep coming back to Him.  He will always receive us.  If he will take a fellow like Jacob and a fellow like I am, he will take you, my friend.

 

You will recall that Jacob has had a pretty sad ordeal of 20 years with Uncle Laban.  Uncle Laban has really given him a course in the college of hard knocks, and poor Jacob is beginning to whence because of all the pressure he has been under.  However, since the new deal which he had made with Laban regarding cattle breeding, Jacob is now getting more than Uncle Laban is getting.  Uncle Laban doesn’t like it, nor do his sons like it.

 

It is a testimony to the blessing of God that Jacob prospered with Laban and that Jacob returned unharmed to his homeland.  This proof of divine protection and prosperity should help lead God’s people to live by faith. 

 

 

 

 

Commentary

 

Preface to Verses 1-16

 

Jacob was challenged again and again concerning things that had crept into his life, things needing to be dealt with and put away or put right.  In chapter 31 we are going to examine the first of four great challenges Jacob now had to face, the challenge of old goals.  So far Jacob had been motivated by two goals—to marry Rachel and to get rich. He had achieved both but neither was adequate, for neither marriage nor money can fulfill the deepest needs of a person’s life.  The Lord therefore placed a very ugly fly in Jacob’s appointment.

 

 

 

1 And he heard the words of Laban's sons, saying, Jacob hath taken away all that was our father's; and of that which was our father's hath he gotten all this glory.

And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, behold, it was not toward him as before.

 

Jacob’s success with the flocks had given occasion for Laban’s sons (1) to make malicious remarks about Jacob’s honesty.  They refused to recognize his skill as a breeder or God’s providence in Jacob’s life.  Worst of all, Laban believed his sons overlooked his own dishonesty, and became hostile toward Jacob, and that their hostility was rooted in jealousy over Jacob’s accomplishments.  Observe, how greatly they magnify Jacob’s prosperity, “Jacob hath taken away all that was our father's; and of that which was our father's hath he gotten all this glory.” Laban also envied Jacob’s skills, so much so that his face had become a mask of scowls instead of being wreathed in smiles as before when Jacob had worked exclusively for him.  Jacob had kept strictly to the agreement he had with Laban and had prospered legitimately, but jealousy is never reasonable.  Jacob could see that lawsuits against him were just around the corner—not orderly lawsuits in the established courts of the land, but rough and ready lawsuits of the frontier, backed by force and fueled with hate. Evidently Jacob became fearful for his life and sought guidance from God.  The world had become suddenly menacing.

 

 

And the Lord said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee.

 

It had been a long time since Jacob had heard the clear voice of God, but now, in his altered circumstances, he did and it blew away all the cobwebs.  Everything came into focus; he had been arrested by God!  He must get back to the Promised Land.  God gave him permission to return and stressed again His promise, “I will be with thee.” What a blessing it is when the world, which looks so attractive to us, finally turns sour on us.  It is then that we are willing to listen to what God has to say to our souls.

 

How did the Lord tell Jacob that it was time to leave?  The same way He leads His people today: through the inner witness in the heart, the outward circumstances of life, and the truth of His Word.

 

Six years before, God had put the desire in Jacob’s heart to return to his own country—“After Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me on my way so I can go back to my own homeland” (30:25)—and that desire had never left him.  While not every longing in the human heart is necessarily the voice of God (Jeremiah 17:9)[1], and we must carefully exercise discernment, the Lord often begins to speak to us in that way.

 

Along with the desire within us, God also directs us as He did Jacob through the circumstances around us.  Toward the end of those six critical years, Jacob noticed that his in-laws weren’t as friendly toward him as before, largely because of the increase in his wealth. Circumstances aren’t always the finger of God pointing out His way (Acts 27:1-15), but they can be significant indicators of God’s will.  When God wants to move us, He occasionally makes us uncomfortable and “stirs up its nest” (Deuteronomy 32:11).

 

 The third and most important way God leads us is through His Word.  God had already spoken to Jacob in a dream (Genesis: 31:10-13), but Jacob remained in Padan-aram to acquire his wealth.  Then God said to him, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you” (31:3).  As the story of Jacob unfolds, you will discover that God spoke to him at every important crisis in his life: leaving home (28:12-15), returning home (31:1-13), meeting Esau (32:24), visiting Bethel (35:1), and moving to Egypt (46:1-4).  God leads us in the paths of righteousness if we’re willing to follow (Psalm 23:3)[2].

 

 

Preface to Verses 4-9

 

How to get away from Laban—that was the problem.  Should he simply tell Laban he was leaving?  Then Laban would summon his confederates and either stop him or else strip him and send him back deprived of everything, family and fortune and alike.  No, Jacob decided that if he must leave Padan-aram, it must be secretly.  So he called a family conference, not in his home where the discussion might be overheard, but out in the fields.  He did not summon his sons, they were still too young to count on.  Nor did he summon the slave-wives; the less who knew what was going on the better.  He summoned Rachel and Leah.

 

 

And Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field unto his flock,

And said unto them, I see your father's countenance, that it is not toward me as before; but the God of my father hath been with me.

 

He shared with his wives two things about their father that troubled him.  He talked of Laban’s proven dislike for him.  “I see,” he said.  “I see your father’s countenance, that it is not toward me as before; but the God of my father hath been with me.” Since Laban and his sons had made no attempt to conceal their mistrust and dislike of Jacob, he had no need to labor the point.  Laban’s daughters knew their father only too well.

 

Jacob was right to share his thinking with Rachel and Leah; for after all, he was asking them to leave their people and home and go with him to another land and people.  Even though the Word of God is our primary source of wisdom and making decisions (Psalm 119:105)[3], it’s good for us to consult with others and weigh their council, particularly those closest to us.

 

 

And ye know that with all my power I have served your father.

And your father hath deceived me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me.

If he said thus, The speckled shall be thy wages; then all the cattle bare speckled: and if he said thus, The ringstraked shall be thy hire; then bare all the cattle ringstraked.

Thus God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me.

 

Jacob could honestly say “With all my power I have served your father.” That is one thing upon which we can agree with Jacob and say to his credit.  He had worked hard, but I’m of the opinion that we ought to give Laban credit for that.  I believe that Laban got his money’s worth out of anyone who work for him.

 

Now he speaks of Laban’s persistent dishonesty.  Poor old Jacob!  â€œYour father hath deceived me!” he cried.  He still had not seen himself in the mirror that was Laban. How vocal we are when somebody wrongs us.  How blind we are to the wrongs and ills we have done to other people.  “Your father deceived me!” What about all the dirty tricks he had pulled himself in his earlier years?  He had forgotten them.

 

Jacob had not yet seen himself, but that was coming.  All he could think of now was Laban’s persistent dishonesty.  “Ten times!” He exclaimed.  “He changed my wages ten times.”

 

 

 

 

Preface to Verses 10-13

 

Jacob now gave his wives his testimony.  It was significant, for it revealed how much backtracking Jacob had been doing in his soul during the new crisis in his life.  He had come right back to God.

 

 

10 And it came to pass at the time that the cattle conceived, that I lifted up mine eyes, and saw in a dream, and, behold, the rams which leaped upon the cattle[4] were ringstraked, speckled, and grisled.

11 And the angel of God spake unto me in a dream, saying, Jacob: And I said, Here am I.

12 And he said, Lift up now thine eyes, and see, all the rams which leap upon the cattle are ringstraked, speckled, and grisled: for I have seen all that Laban doeth unto thee.

 

His first confession had to do with his prosperity.  His prosperity, he confessed, resulted not from his own cleverness but from God’s grace.  God had shown him in a dream how to mate the cattle. Sure, he had observed genetic laws!  Sure, he had used all the tricks he knew to stimulate reproduction!  But his successes were far, far beyond anything that could be attributed solely to human skill.  God had shown him what to do.  Jacob may have known something about recessive traits in animals, but he knew nothing about genes, nor could he know which animals had the kinds of genes best suited to his goals.  But God knew.  And God had aided him by showing him in dreams which animals to mate with which.  There it was.  Jacob’s confession.  His prosperity resulted not from his own cleverness but from God’s grace.

 

 

13 I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred.

 

Jacob’s second confession had to do with his prospects, which resided not in his own conniving but in God’s guidance.  “Wives,” he said, “let me tell you what God has been saying to me.  He has been saying, I am the God of Bethel . . .  arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred.” He confessed that there was no future for him in Padan-aram; his future lay in the place where God had placed His Name.  It is a great lesson for the believer to learn.  True prosperity is spiritual, not material, it does not reside here, but where God is.  We have to look higher than this world for true prosperity. Thus Jacob suddenly faced with the loss of everything, came home to the heart of God.

 

When God says, “I am the God of Bethel,” He is going back 20 years to the time He appeared to this boy when he was running away, that first night away from home which he spent at Bethel.  “The angel of God (v. 11), who appeared to Jacob at Bethel was actually Jehovah himself.

 

“Now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred.” God wants him to leave Haran because he has at this time eleven boys who are growing up, and they are already beginning to learn some things which they should not be learning.  God wants to get Jacob and these boys away from the place of idolatry just as He got Abraham out of a home of idolatry.

 

 

14 And Rachel and Leah answered and said unto him, Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father's house?

15 Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath quite devoured also our money.

16 For all the riches which God hath taken from our father, that is ours, and our children's: now then, whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do.

 

It only remained for Rachel and Leah to assure him they were one with him in what he proposed to do.  They readily agreed, for they too were tired of Laban’s tricks.  It was clear to them that Laban would cheat them just as he had cheated their husband.  They remembered with bitter resentment that Laban had humiliated and degraded them by selling them like property, and had used money which belonged to them and their children. “Now then,” they said, and it is heartwarming to see the sisters united, “whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do.” Surely a man cannot ask for anything better than, to have his own loved ones endorse, wholeheartedly and without reservation, his own desire to do the will of God.  Thus God stopped Jacob from pursuing old goals.

 

 

 

 

Preface to Verses 17-21

 

We are given two interesting sidelights into Laban’s character.  We learn, for instance, what Laban taught.  Laban had instilled two principles into the minds of his children, and he is now about to see them put into practice against him.

 

 

17 Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon camels;

18 And he carried away all his cattle, and all his goods which he had gotten, the cattle of his getting, which he had gotten in Padanaram, for to go to Isaac his father in the land of Canaan.

19a And Laban went to shear his sheep:

 

Here is a revelation of something that is quite interesting.  Jacob rises up and leaves right away.  You remember that this is the same way he left home when he was escaping from his brother.  Now he is leaving his uncle—but it is not all his fault this time.  It is obvious that he is prepared for this.  He has all the cattle[4] and the servants ready to march.

 

By his own example Laban had taught his children ruthless expediency.  We read, “Then Jacob rose up and set his sons and his wives upon camels; and he carried away all his goods . . .  to go to Isaac his father in the land of Canaan.  And Laban went to shear his sheep.” (A change, we might add—he was usually shearing Jacob!) The expedient thing for Jacob to do was to slip away while his father-in-law was busy shearing sheep, so Jacob, with the full support of his wives, use Laban’s own principle against him.  He had come to Laban as an accomplished trickster himself, but a score of years in Laban’s company had added to his bag of tricks.  Laban’s own daughters did not hesitate to fall in with Jacob’s scheme.

 

 

19b and Rachel had stolen the images that were her father's.

20 And Jacob stole away unawares to Laban the Syrian, in that he told him not that he fled.

21 So he fled with all that he had; and he rose up, and passed over the river, and set his face toward the mount Gilead.

 

Instead of facing Laban honestly and trusting the Lord to keep His promises, Jacob fled with his family like a criminal escaping justice.  This was an act of fear and unbelief, not an act of faith; for “whoever believes will not act hastily” (Isaiah 28:16, NKJV).  In fact, Jacob later admitted to Laban that he had departed secretly and quickly because he was afraid (Genesis 31:31).  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.

 

Laban had also taught his children religious error.  That is why Rachel stole her father’s idols (lit., “teraphim,” figurines of deities).  Perhaps she told herself she deserved them since Laban had turned the tables on her in the name of custom and had deprived her of her right to marry first.  This shows the pagan influence in Laban’s family.  God didn’t want Jacob’s boys to be brought up there.  But, you see, Rachel had been brought up in a home of idolatry, and she wanted to take her gods with her.  She had seen them in the home from childhood days and had seen her father reverence them.  And Laban should have known better.  Abraham’s testimony still lingered in the land.  Jacob, whose able hand God had used to bring great material prosperity to his home, had never been impressed with his Baals.  But with a kind of half-faith, Laban had paid lip service to Abraham’s God and had paid due attention to his Baals. No wonder Rachel, a true daughter of Laban, carried them off.  He had taught her well.  Rachel, of course, also knew of Jacob’s God and had been brought into a personal relationship with Him, but she still stood in awe of her father’s gods.  

 

He set his face westward and the broad banks of the Euphrates became a thin line on the horizon, but all unknown to him Laban’s household gods were being carted along in Rachel’s saddlebags.  It was always Rachel, not Leah, who caused Jacob trouble.  Jacob and his wives drove their flocks south across the Euphrates river, down past Damascus to the Highlands east of the Sea of Galilee called Mount Gilead.  They must have moved slowly, since the animals would want to graze along the way.  When finally they came within sight of the hill country of Mount Gilead, which is just east of the Jordon River, they had covered a lot of ground.

 

 

 

 

Special Notes

 

[1] (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV) “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

[2] (Psalm 23:3, NIV) “He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.”

[3] (Psalm 119:105, NIV) “Your word is a lamp for my feet,

    a light on my path.”

[4] “Cattle” is used here to represent all domesticated livestock; sheep. Goats, camels, etc.

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