Verses 17-24 (Genesis 31:17-24)

Here is, I. Jacob?s flight from Laban. We may suppose he had been long considering of it, and casting about in his mind respecting it; but when now, at last, God had given him positive orders to go, he made no delay, nor was he disobedient to the heavenly vision. The first opportunity that offered itself he laid hold of, when Laban was shearing his sheep (Gen. 31:19), that part of his flock which was in the hands of his sons three days? journey off. Now, 1. It is certain that it was lawful for Jacob to leave his service suddenly, without giving a quarter?s warning. It was not only justified by the particular instructions God gave him, but warranted by the fundamental law of self-preservation, which directs us, when we are in danger, to shift for our own safety, as far as we can do it without wronging our consciences. 2. It was his prudence to steal away unawares to Laban, lest, if Laban had known, he should have hindered him or plundered him. 3. It was honestly done to take no more than his own with him, the cattle of his getting, Gen. 31:18. He took what Providence gave him, and was content with that, and would not take the repair of his damages into his own hands. Yet Rachel was not so honest as her husband; she stole her father?s images (Gen. 31:19) and carried them away with her. The Hebrew calls them teraphim. Some think they were only little representations of the ancestors of the family, in statues or pictures, which Rachel had a particular fondness for, and was desirous to have with her, now that she was going into another country. It should rather seem that they were images for a religious use, penates, household-gods, either worshipped or consulted as oracles; and we are willing to hope (with bishop Patrick) that she took them away not out of covetousness of the rich metal they were made of, much less for her own use, or out of any superstitious fear lest Laban, by consulting his teraphim, might know which way they had gone (Jacob, no doubt, dwelt with his wives as a man of knowledge, and they were better taught than so), but out of a design hereby to convince her father of the folly of his regard to those as gods which could not secure themselves, Isa. 46:1, 2.

II. Laban?s pursuit of Jacob. Tidings were brought him, on the third day, that Jacob had fled; he immediately raises the whole clan, takes his brethren, that is, the relations of his family, that were all in his interests, and pursues Jacob (as Pharaoh and his Egyptians afterwards pursued the seed of Jacob), to bring him back into bondage again, or with design to strip him of what he had. Seven days? journey he marched in pursuit of him, Gen. 31:23. He would not have taken half the pains to have visited his best friends. But the truth is bad men will do more to serve their sinful passions than good men will to serve their just affections, and are more vehement in their anger than in their love. Well, at length Laban, overtook him, and the very night before he came up with him God interposed in the quarrel, rebuked Laban and sheltered Jacob, charging Laban not to speak unto him either good or bad (Gen. 31:24), that is, to say nothing against his going on with his journey, for that it proceeded from the Lord. The same Hebraism we have, Gen. 24:50. Laban, during his seven day?s march, had been full of rage against Jacob, and was now full of hopes that his lust should be satisfied upon him (Exod. 15:9); but God comes to him, and with one word ties his hands, though he does not turn his heart. Note, 1. In a dream, and in slumberings upon the bed, God has ways of opening the ears of men, and sealing their instruction, Job 33:15, 16. Thus he admonishes men by their consciences, in secret whispers, which the man of wisdom will hear and heed. 2. The safety of good men is very much owing to the hold God has of the consciences of bad men and the access he has to them. 3. God sometimes appears wonderfully for the deliverance of his people when they are upon the very brink of ruin. The Jews were saved from Haman?s plot when the king?s decree drew hear to be put in execution, Est. 9:1.

- Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary