The Pulpit Commentary

Genesis 31:31-32 (Genesis 31:31-32)

And Jacob answered —"in an able and powerful speech" (Kalisch)— and said to Laban (replying to his first interrogation as to why Jacob had stolen away unawares), Because I was afraid: for I said (sc. to myself), Peradventure (literally, lest, i . e . I must depart without informing thee lest ) thou wouldest (or shoudest) take by force —the verb signifies to strip off as skin from flesh ( vide Micah 3:2 ), and hence to forcibly remove— thy daughters from me (after which, in response to Laban's question about his stolen gods, he proceeds). With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live. If Jacob meant he shall not live, but I will slay him with mine own hand (Aben Ezra), let God destroy him (Abarbanel), I give him up to thee to put to death (Rosenmüller), let him instantly die (Drusius), he was guilty of great unadvisedness in speech. Accordingly, the import of his words has been mollified by regarding them simply as a prediction, "he will not live," i . e . he will die before his time (Jonathan), a prediction which, the Rabbins note, was fulfilled in Rachel ( vide Genesis 35:16 , Genesis 35:18 ); or by connecting them with clause following, "he will not live before our brethren," i . e . let him be henceforth cut off from the society of his kinsmen ( LXX ; Bush). Yet, even as thus explained, the language of Jacob was precipitats, since he ought first to have inquired at his wives and children before pronouncing so emphatically on a matter of which he was entirely ignorant (Calvin). Before our brethren —not Jacob's sons, but Laban's kinsmen ( Genesis 31:23 )— discern thou —literally, examine closely for thyself , the hiph. of נָכַר (to be strange) meaning to press strongly into a thing, i.e. to perceive it by finding out its distinguishing characteristics ( vide Furst, sub voce )— what is thine with me, and take it to thee. For (literally, and) Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them —otherwise he would have spoken with less heat and more caution.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Genesis 31:22-44 (Genesis 31:22-44)

Laban's pursuit of Jacob.

I. THE HOSTILE PREPARATION . Learning of his son-in-law's departure, Laban at once determines on pursuit; not alone for the purpose of recovering his household gods, but chiefly with the view of wreaking his pent-up vengeance on Jacob, whom he now regarded as the spoiler of his fortunes, and if possible to capture and detain the much-coveted flocks and herds which he considered had been practically stolen by his nephew. Mustering his kinsmen by either force or fraud,—by command enjoining those belonging to his household, and by misrepresentation probably beguiling such as were independent of his authority, he loses not a moment, but starts upon the trail of the fugitives. Worldly men are seldom slow in seeking to repair their lost fortunes, and angry men are seldom laggard in exacting revenge, it is only God's vengeance that is slow-footed.

II. THE DIVINE INTERPOSITION . Six days the wrathful Laban follows in pursuit of Jacob, and now the distance of one day is all that parts him from the fugitives. In a dream by night he is warned by Elohim to speak neither good nor bad to Jacob. The incident reminds us of the Divine superintendence of mundane affairs in general, and of God's care for his people in particular; of the access which God ever has to the minds of his dependent creatures, and of the many different ways in which he can communicate his will; of his ability at all times to restrain the wrath of wicked men, and check the hands of evil-doers, who meditate the spoiling of his Church or the persecution of his saints.

III. THE STORMY INTERVIEW .

I. The pompous harangue of Laban . Laban gives way to—

2. The ingenuous response of Jacob . In this are discernible virtues worthy of imitation, if also infirmities deserving reprobation. If Jacob's candor in declaring the reasons of his flight ( Genesis 31:31 ) and willingness to restore to Laban whatever property belonged to him ( Genesis 31:32 ) are examples to be copied, on the other hand, the over-confident assertion that no one had Laban's gods, and the over-hasty imprecation on any who should be found possessing them, are not to be commended.

IV. THE FRUITLESS SEARCH .

1. The missing gods . On the nature, probable origin, and uses of the teraphim see Exposition, Genesis 31:19 . The existence of these silver or wooden images in Laban's tent was a proof of the religious declension, if not complete apostasy, of this branch of the family of Terah. Scripture never represents idolatry as an upward effort of the human heart, as a further development in the onward evolution of the soul; but always as a deterioration, or a retrogression, or a falling away of the human spirit from its rightful allegiance. The loss of Laban's manufactured deities was a ridiculous commentary on the folly of worshipping or trusting in a god that could be stolen—a complete reductio ad absurdum of the whole superstructure of idolatry (cf. 1 Kings 18:27 ; Psalms 115:4 , Psalms 115:8 ; Isaiah 43:19 ; Isaiah 46:6 , Isaiah 46:7 ; Jeremiah 10:5 ).

2. The anxious devotee . Invited by Jacob to make a search for his lost teraphim, Laban begins with Jacob's tent, then with the tents of Bilhah and Zilpah, after which he passes into Leah's, and finally comes to Rachel's; but everywhere his efforts to recover his gods are defeated. What a spectacle of infinite humor, if it were not rather of ineffable sadness—a man seeking for his lost gods! The gospel presents us with the opposite picture—the ever-present God seeking for his lost children.

3. The lying daughter . If the conduct of Rachel in carrying off the images of her father was open to serious question ( vide Exposition, Genesis 31:19 ), her behavior towards her father in the tent was utterly inexcusable. Even if she spoke the truth in describing her condition, she was guilty of bare-faced deception. This particular passage in-Rachel's history is painfully suggestive of the disastrous results of worldliness and irreligion in the training of children. Laban's craft and Laban's superstition had both been factors in Rachel's education.

4. The deceived parent . Worse than being disappointed in his gods, Laban was dishonored by his daughter. But what else could he expect? Laban was only reaping as he had sowed. Marvelous and appropriate are God's pro vide ntial retributions.

V. THE PASSIONATE INVECTIVE . It was now Jacob's turn to pour out the vials of his wrath upon Laban, and certainly it burned all the hotter because of its previous suppression.

1. He upbraids Laban with the unreasonableness of his persecution ( Genesis 31:36 ).

2. He taunts Laban with the fruitlessness of his search ( Genesis 31:37 ).

3. He reminds Laban of the faithful service he had given for twenty years ( Genesis 31:38-41 ).

4. He recalls the crafty attempts to defraud him of which Laban had been guilty ( Genesis 31:41 ).

5. He assures Laban that it was God's gracious care, and neither his honesty nor affection, that had prevented him from being that day a poor man instead of a rich emir ( Genesis 31:42 ).

6. He somewhat fiercely bids Laban accept the rebuke which God had addressed to him the previous night.

VI. THE AMICABLE SETTLEMENT . Doubtless much to Jacob's surprise, the wrath of Laban all at once subsided, and a proposal came from him to bury past animosities, to strike a covenant of friendship with one another, and to part in peace. The seven days' journey, affording time for reflection; the Divine interposition, inspiring him with fear; the mortification resulting from his fruitless search, convincing him that he had really overstepped the bounds of moderation in accusing Jacob; the voice of conscience within his breast re-echoing the words of Jacob, and declaring them to be true; and perhaps the sight of his daughters at last touching a chord in the old man's heart;—all these may have contributed to this unexpected collapse in Laban; but whether or not, Jacob, as became him, cordially assented to the proposition.

Lessons:—

1. The reality of God's care for his people—illustrated by the appearances of Elohim to Jacob and to Laban.

2. The miserable outcome of a worldly life—exemplified in Laban.

3. The efficacy of a soft answer in turning away wrath—proved by Jacob's first response.

4. The difficulty of restraining angry speech within just bounds—exemplified by both.

5. The folly of idolatry, as seen in Laban's lost teraphim.

6. The evil fruits of bad parental training, as they appear in Rachel.

7. The proper way of ending quarrels—exhibited by Laban and Jacob in their covenant agreement.

- The Pulpit Commentary