Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, by John Wesley, [1754-65], at sacred-texts.com
gen 31:1It should seem they said it in Jacob's hearing. The last chapter began with Rachel's envying Leah; this begins with Laban's sons envying Jacob. He has gotten all his glory - And what was this glory? It was a parcel of brown sheep and speckled goats, and some camels and asses. Jacob has taken away all that was our fathers - Not all, sure; what was become of those cattle which were committed to the custody of Laban's sons, and sent three days journey off?
gen 31:3The Lord said unto Jacob, Return and I will be with thee - though Jacob had met with very hard usage, yet he would not quit his place 'till God bid him. He came thither by orders from heaven, and there he would slay 'till he was ordered back. The direction he had from heaven is more fully related in the account he gives of it to his wives, where he tells them of the dream he had about the cattle, and the wonderful increase of those of his colour; and how the angel of God in that dream instructed him that it was not by chance, nor by his own policy, that he obtained that great advantage but by the providence of God, who had taken notice of the hardships Laban had put upon him, and in performance of his promise.
gen 31:4And Jacob sent for Rachel and Leah to the field - That he might discourse with them more privately.
gen 31:9God hath taken away the cattle of your father and given them to me - Thus the righteous God paid Jacob for his hard service out of Laban's estate; as afterwards he paid the seed of Jacob for their service of the Egyptians with their spoils.
gen 31:16Whereas Jacob looked upon the wealth which God had passed over from Laban to him as his wages, they look upon it as their portions; so that both ways God forced Laban to pay his debts, both to his servant and to his daughters.
gen 31:19Laban went to shear his sheep - That part of his flock which was in the hands of his sons, three days journey off. Now, It is certain it was lawful for Jacob to leave his service suddenly: 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. It was his prudence to steal away unawares to Laban, lest if Laban had known, he should have hindered him, or plundered him. It was honestly done to take no more than his own with him, the cattle of his getting. He took what providence gave him, 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, and carried them away. The Hebrew calls them Teraphim. Some think they were only little representations of the ancestors of the family in statue or picture, which Rachel had a particular fondness for, and was desirous to have with her now she was going into another country. It should rather seem they were images for a religious use, penates, household gods, either worshipped, or consulted as oracles; and we are willing to hope, that she took them away, not out of covetousness much less for her own use, or out of any superstitious fear lest Laban, by consulting his teraphim, might know which way they were gone; (Jacob no doubt dwelt with his wives as a man of knowledge, and they were better taught than so) but with a design to convince her father of the folly of his regard to those as gods which could not secure themselves.
gen 31:23He took his brethren - That is, his relations, and pursues Jacob to bring him back into bondage, or, to strip him of what he had.
gen 31:24Speak not, either good or bad - That is, say nothing against his going on with his journey, for the thing proceedeth from the Lord. The same Hebraism we have, Gen 24:50. 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.
gen 31:27I might have sent thee away with mirth and with songs, with tabret and with harp - Not as Rebekah was sent away out of the same family above one hundred and twenty years before, with prayers and blessings, but with sport and merriment; which was a sign that religion was much decayed in the family.
gen 31:29It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt - He supposeth that he had both right on his side, and strength on his side, either to revenge the wrong, or recover the right. Yet he owns himself under the restraint of God's power; he durst not injure one of whom he saw to be the particular care of heaven.
gen 31:30Wherefore hast thou stolen my gods? - Foolish man! to call those his gods that could be stolen! Could he expect protection from them that could neither resist nor discover their invaders? Happy are they who have the Lord for their God. Enemies may steal our goods, but not our God.
gen 31:31Jacob clears himself by giving the true reason why he went away unknown to Laban; he feared lest Laban would by force take away his daughters and so oblige him to continue in his service. As to the charge of stealing Laban's gods, he pleads not guilty. He not only did not take them himself, but he did not know that they were taken.
gen 31:42Jacob speaks of God as the God of his father, intimating that he thought himself unworthy to be thus regarded, but was beloved for his father's sake. He calls him the God of Abraham and the fear of Isaac: for Abraham was dead, and gone to that world where there is no fear; but Isaac was yet alive, sanctifying the Lord in his heart as his fear and his dread.
gen 31:43All his mine - That is, came by me.
gen 31:44Let us make a covenant - It was made and ratified with great solemnity, according to the usages of those times. A pillar was erected, and a heap of stones raised, to perpetuate the memory of the thing, writing being then not known. A sacrifice was offered, a sacrifice of peace - offerings. They did eat bread together, jointly partaking of the feast upon the sacrifice. This was in token of a hearty reconciliation. Covenants of friendship were anciently ratified by the parties eating and drinking together. They solemnity appealed to God concerning their sincerity herein; As a witness, Gen 31:49. The Lord watch between me and thee - That is, the Lord take cognizance of every thing that shall be done on either side in violation of this league. As a judge, The God of Abraham, from whom Jacob was descended, and The God of Nahor, from whom Laban was descended, the God of their father, the common ancestor from whom they were both descended, judge betwixt us. God's relation to them is thus expressed, to intimate that they worshipped one and the same God, upon which consideration there ought to be no enmity betwixt them. Those that have one God should have one heart: God is judge between contending parties, and he will judge righteously, whoever doth wrong it is at their peril. They gave a new name to the place, Gen 31:47-48. Laban called it in Syriac, and Jacob in Hebrew, The heap of witness. And Gen 31:49, it was called Mizpah, a watch - tower. Posterity being included in the league, care was taken that thus the memory of it should be preserved. The name Jacob gave this heap stuck by it, Galeed, not the name Laban gave it.
gen 31:54And Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac - The God whom his father Isaac feared, who had never served other gods, as Abraham and Nahor had done.