May, 22, 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.2: Laban Pursues Jacob. (Gen. 31:22-35)

 

 

 

Genesis 31:22-35 (KJV)

 

22 And it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob was fled.

23 And he took his brethren with him, and pursued after him seven days' journey; and they overtook him in the mount Gilead.

24 And God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said unto him, Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.

25 Then Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the mount: and Laban with his brethren pitched in the mount of Gilead.

26 And Laban said to Jacob, What hast thou done, that thou hast stolen away unawares to me, and carried away my daughters, as captives taken with the sword?

27 Wherefore didst thou flee away secretly, and steal away from me; and didst not tell me, that I might have sent thee away with mirth, and with songs, with tabret, and with harp?

28 And hast not suffered me to kiss my sons and my daughters? thou hast now done foolishly in so doing.

29 It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt: but the God of your father spake unto me yesternight, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.

30 And now, though thou wouldest needs be gone, because thou sore longedst after thy father's house, yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods?

31 And Jacob answered and said to Laban, Because I was afraid: for I said, Peradventure thou wouldest take by force thy daughters from me.

32 With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live: before our brethren discern thou what is thine with me, and take it to thee. For Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them.

33 And Laban went into Jacob's tent, and into Leah's tent, and into the two maidservants' tents; but he found them not. Then went he out of Leah's tent, and entered into Rachel's tent.

34 Now Rachel had taken the images, and put them in the camel's furniture, and sat upon them. And Laban searched all the tent, but found them not.

35 And she said to her father, Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise up before thee; for the custom of women is upon me. And he searched but found not the images.

 



Commentary

 

22 And it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob was fled.

 

Since a three-day journey lay between “Laban’s” settlement and that of “Jacob” (30:36[1]), it took that long for the word to get to Laban that his son-in-law had bolted; and by the time Laban got the news, Jacob was far away.  Laban discovered that Jacob was not the only one that bolted; Rachel and Leah were also gone, his grandchildren were gone, Jacob’s vast holdings, which he had planned to seize, were gone, and his household gods were gone.  Laban was beside himself with fury. 

 

 

23 And he took his brethren with him, and pursued after him seven days' journey; and they overtook him in the mount Gilead.

 

He gathered together a force made up predominantly of “his brethren” (i.e., relatives) sufficient to make short work of Jacob; and they whipped their mounts in hot pursuit of the fugitives.  Across the Euphrates he went, up around the Fertile Crescent, on down into Canaan as far as the hill country of “Mount Gilead” in the northeast corner of the land[2].  The distance he covered was about 300 miles.  Jacob had taken 10 days to cover it, pushing his much larger caravan burdened with possessions and animalsas hard as he could, which indicates a forced march was undertaken by Jacob’s people, who were probably motivated by Jacob’s fear; Laban did the distance in a week.

 

 

24 And God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said unto him, Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.

 

At last he spied “Jacob’s” encampment and prepared for a showdown the next day.  But that night “Laban” met the living “God,” “Jacob’s God,” Abraham’s “God,” in a “dream,” Who warned: “Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad,” i.e., he was not to say anything. “Let him alone,” God said.  “He is mine.” Laban’s intentions were met by God’s action.  He had to take into account One stronger than Jacob, who had cautioned him not to use anything in the full range of options open to him, “from the good to the bad,” to alter the existing situation and bring Jacob back.

 

Years ago, in the days when a country’s flag still stood for something, an Anglo-American was traveling abroad and had the misfortune to be seized by extremists who held him hostage under threat of death.  An American and a British consul asked to see the prisoner as a prelude to negotiations.  At a favorable moment the British council stepped forward and threw the British flag over the prisoner, and the American did the same with the Stars and Stripes.  “Now then,” they said, “fire on those flags if you dare!” Thus God threw His banner over Jacob and warned Laban not to touch him.  Laban, who all his life had heard from this one and that about the true and living God, finally met Him face to face.

 

Like so many others who have had such a confrontation, Laban did not like it at all, for God put His finger on Laban’s sin, especially his sin of animosity toward the only believing man he had ever really known.  He warned Laban of judgment to come if he persisted in his chosen path.  Laban had met the Lord.

 

 

25 Then Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the mount: and Laban with his brethren pitched in the mount of Gilead.

 

“Laban” could not be deterred by divine intervention, so next we are told what happened when he finally caught up with “Jacob” (31:25-30).  The story emphasizes Laban’s bias (31:25-28), bitterness (31:29), and blindness (31:30).

 

 

26 And Laban said to Jacob, What hast thou done, that thou hast stolen away unawares to me, and carried away my daughters, as captives taken with the sword?

 

He blustered away at Jacob in his usual hypocritical way, accusing his son-in-law of gross discourtesy in fleeing—“Why did you run away?” And then he made another accusation: “Thou hast . . . carried away my daughters, as captives taken with the sword?” “Laban” evidently did not believe that his daughters could have possibly agreed to leave home and, thus, must have left under duress. 

 

 

27 Wherefore didst thou flee away secretly, and steal away from me; and didst not tell me, that I might have sent thee away with mirth, and with songs, with tabret[3], and with harp?

 

With a touch of self-pity, Laban depicted himself as a very generous man who had been deprived of displaying affection to his daughters (28) and the hospitality of giving a farewell feast—“Why didn’t you let me throw a farewell feast for you?” He wasn’t sincere; it was all lip service.  Laban’s “air of injured innocence” is an illustration of his hypocrisy.  His words of affection are either unreal or merely impulsive, for nothing like this has been seen in his actions for a very long time.

 

In place of “Wherefore didst thou flee away secretly,” the NIV has, “Why did you run off secretly and deceive me?” “Deceive” him indeed!  Laban had spent 20 years deceiving Jacob! But for all his blustering, Laban was helpless to harm Jacob because the Lord had warned him to be careful (24, 29).  God had promised to protect Jacob and He kept His promise.

 

 

28 And hast not suffered me to kiss my sons and my daughters? thou hast now done foolishly in so doing.

 

Why didn’t you let me “kiss” my “daughters” and grandchildren goodbye?

 

 

29 It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt: but the God of your father spake unto me yesternight, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.

 

“It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt,” he said, “but the God of your father spake unto me yesternight.” In other words, he let “Jacob” know that the only thing preventing him from punishing him severely was God’s intervention on Jacob’s behalf.

 

 

30 And now, though thou wouldest needs be gone, because thou sore longedst after thy father's house, yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods?

 

The next thing Laban did was to belittle Jacob by accusing him of being a homesick boy who just had to get back to his “father’s house.”

 

Now, he comes to the point, “wherefore hast thou stolen my gods?”This last charge stunned Jacob, and impulsively he gave his father-in-law permission to search the camp (32), adding that anyone caught with the “gods” (32) must die. 

 

Longing to return to Canaan (30:25[4]) might excuse his leaving without notice, but it could not excuse the theft of Laban’s teraphim (31:19[5]).  Laban’s thorough search for these idols (33-35) also marked how important they were to him as a pagan worshipper.

 

And there we have it—the wretched nature of idolatry—the fierce, satanic grip it gets upon a soul.  Just last night Laban had met the true and living God; yet he still preferred the wretched little clay idols as his “gods.”  That is the first time images are mentioned in Scripture and it is the first direct reference to heathen “gods.”

 

“My gods!” cried Laban.  Behind the image there lurks the demon; the worship of the idol gives the demon a hold upon the devotee.  “My gods!” cried Laban.  God’s indeed!  Mighty gods!  Gods that could be stolen!  God’s that could be packed up like old pots and pans and stuffed into a bag!  God’s that could be bounced and jostled over 300 miles without word or whimper!  Gods that could influence wind and weather, it was believed, yet gods that could not even cry out to the deluded man, “Here we are, Laban, on our heads in Rachel’s saddlebag!” “My gods,” the deluded Laban cried with the voice of the true God still ringing in his soul. The fact that Laban was distressed shows that his faith was in idols and not in the true God whom Jacob served.  Evidently Laban was more concerned over losing his images than over losing Jacob’s family.

 

Those who have the Lord for their God, should shout for joy, because they have a God that they cannot be robbed of.  Thieves may steal our possessions, but not our God.

 

 

31 And Jacob answered and said to Laban, Because I was afraid: for I said, Peradventure thou wouldest take by force thy daughters from me.

 

Jacob” did not defend himself.  He simply admitted that fear had motivated him, a fear that was based on a deep distrust of Laban’s integrity and of his irresponsible use of force.  His greatest fear was that “Laban” would take his “daughters” (Rachel and Leah) from him “by force.”

 

 

32 With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live: before our brethren discern thou what is thine with me, and take it to thee. For Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them.

 

“Search the place!” he snapped.  “Put the thief to death if there is one.” Jacob,” of course, knew nothing about Rachel’s theft of the teraphim.  Later on, the teraphim proved a snare to Jacob’s family, and he could not go up two Bethel until he had cleared his house of them (35:1-3[6]).  But had the family of Laban cast away all the acknowledgement of Jehovah, the one true God?  It doesn’t appear they did, for they make frequent mention of Him—afterwards Laban prayed for Jehovah to watch over him and Jacob (31:49[7]).  The truth seems to be, they were like some in our times, who are neither cold nor hot, but seem to wish to serve both God and mammon.  They will acknowledge the true God in words, but their hearts and homes are places of spiritual idolatry.  When a man covets what another has, like Laban, he has no room for God or true religion.  The world is his god; and he has only to reside among gross idolaters in order to become one, or at least to encourage their abominations.

 

Jacob’s vow “let him not live,” could have cost the life of “Rachel”—if the gods had been found, but she herself ensured that they were not discovered (34).  We are never told what her motive was for the theft; whether it was the religion or the property of her father that appealed to Rachel; neither would in fact benefit her.  Laban’s religious practices we’re clearly not those of the true worshipper of Yahweh (see also 30:27[8]), and the implication may be that Rachel had yet to be schooled in this respect (35:2[9]).

 

 

33 And Laban went into Jacob's tent, and into Leah's tent, and into the two maidservants' tents; but he found them not. Then went he out of Leah's tent, and entered into Rachel's tent.

 

And search “Laban” did.  He poked and pried into everything, and Jacob stood there and watched, his temper rising.  At length Laban’s search brought him into “Rachel’s tent.”  She looked her father in the eye.  “Come on in, father.  Take a look around.  You’ll pardon me if I remain seated.  I’m not feeling well today.  You won’t find your gods in here, but you’re welcome to look.”

 

 

34 Now Rachel had taken images, and put them in the camel's furniture, and sat upon them. And Laban searched all the tent, but found them not.

 

“And Laban searched all the tent,” but in vain.  And no wonder!  “Rachel” was setting on them.  One dishonest deed needed further dishonesty and trickery to cover it up.

 

 “The camel’s furniture” would be “the camel’s saddle” (RSV)—the box that went on the camel’s back.  This “camel’s furniture” gave an Eastern lady some comfort and privacy as she journeyed.

 

 

35 And she said to her father, Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise up before thee; for the custom of women is upon me. And he searched but found not the images.

 

Jacob’s beloved wife, Rachel, was the guilty party.  But Rachel was resourceful and claimed “the custom of women is upon me,”—which rendered her ceremonially unclean (Leviticus 15:19-23[8])—as the reason for her not moving so that her father could search the area where she was sitting.  Apparently Laban never dreamed that a woman would dare take a chance on contaminating the idols.  But what a blow this was to the teraphim—they became “nothing god’s,” for a woman who claimed to be unclean sat on them (Leviticus 15:20[8]).

 

Rachel’s taking the teraphim from “her father” was probably much more serious than we had imagined.  The possession of those household gods implied leadership of the family, which meant that Jacob was going to inherit everything old Laban had[9]!  That is the reason Laban was so upset over it.  He surely did not want Jacob to get his estate—he felt he had gotten too much already.

 

Jacob gets a little confidence now.  They can’t locate “the images,” and Jacob is sure that they aren’t anywhere around.  He wants to rebuke his father-in-law who has come after him.

 

It is too be hoped that Rachel learned the lesson of those old gods of hers—useless, futile things they were.  Imagine a god being sat upon!  What useless idols we cherish, all too often, in our hearts.  Oh, that we had the grace and sense to get rid of them.

 

 

 

Special Notes and Scripture Referenced

 

[1] (Genesis 30:36, NIV) “Then he put a three-day journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob continued to tend the rest of Laban’s flocks.”

[2] Jacob’s route was a more easterly one than had been taken by Abraham (12:5-8).

[3] Tabret was the early name for a Tambourine.

[4] (Genesis 30:25, NIV) “After Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me on my way so I can go back to my own homeland.”

[5] (Genesis 31:19, NIV) “When Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father’s household gods.”

[6] (Genesis 35:1-3, KJV) “And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments:And let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went.”

[7] (Genesis 31:49, KJV) “And Mizpah; for he said, The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.”

[8] (Leviticus 15:19-23, KJV) “And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even.And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean.And whosoever toucheth her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.And whosoever toucheth any thing that she sat upon shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.And if it be on her bed, or on any thing whereon she sitteth, when he toucheth it, he shall be unclean until the even.

[9] On the bases of ancient Mesopotamian documents it has been argued that household deities also served a legal function, being roughly the equivalent of title deeds; but recent studies have thrown doubt on this interpretation.

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