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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Genesis Chapter 31

Genesis 31:1

gen 31:1

The Flight. - Through some angry remarks of Laban's sons with reference to his growing wealth, and the evident change in the feelings of Laban himself towards him (Gen 31:1, Gen 31:2), Jacob was inwardly prepared for the termination of his present connection with Laban; and at the same time he received instructions from Jehovah, to return to his home, together with a promise of divine protection. In consequence of this, he sent for Rachel and Leah to come to him in the field, and explained to them (Gen 31:4-13), how their father's disposition had changed towards him, and how he had deceived him in spite of the service he had forced out of him, and had altered his wages ten times; but that the God of his father had stood by him, and had transferred to him their father's cattle, and now at length had directed him to return to his home.

Genesis 31:6

gen 31:6

אתּנה: the original form of the abbreviated אתּן, which is merely copied from the Pentateuch in Exo 13:11, Exo 13:20; Exo 34:17.

Genesis 31:9

gen 31:9

אביכם: for אביכן as in Gen 32:16, etc. - "Ten times:" i.e., as often as possible, the ten as a round number expressing the idea of completeness. From the statement that Laban had changed his wages ten times, it is evident that when Laban observed, that among his sheep and goats, of one colour only, a large number of mottled young were born, he made repeated attempts to limit the original stipulation by changing the rule as to the colour of the young, and so diminishing Jacob's wages. But when Jacob passes over his own stratagem in silence, and represents all that he aimed at and secured by crafty means as the fruit of God's blessing, this differs no doubt from the account in Gen 30. It is not a contradiction, however, pointing to a difference in the sources of the two chapters, but merely a difference founded upon actual fact, viz., the fact that Jacob did not tell the whole truth to his wives. Moreover self-help and divine help do not exclude one another. Hence his account of the dream, in which he saw that the rams that leaped upon the cattle were all of various colours, and heard the voice of the angel of God calling his attention to what had been seen, in the words, "I have seen all that Laban hath done to thee," may contain actual truth; and the dream may be regarded as a divine revelation, which was either sent to explain to him now, at the end of the sixth year, "that it was not his stratagem, but the providence of God which had prevented him from falling a victim to Laban's avarice, and had brought him such wealth" (Delitzsch); or, if the dream occurred at an earlier period, was meant to teach him, that "the help of God, without any such self-help, could procure him justice and safety in spite of Laban's selfish covetousness" (Kurtz). It is very difficult to decide between these two interpretations. As Jehovah's instructions to him to return were not given till the end of his period of service, and Jacob connects them so closely with the vision of the rams that they seem contemporaneous, Delitzsch's view appears to deserve the preference. But the עשׂה in Gen 31:12, "all that Laban is doing to thee," does not exactly suit this meaning; and we should rather expect to find עשׂה used at the end of the time of service. The participle rather favours Kurtz's view, that Jacob had the vision of the rams and the explanation from the angel at the beginning of the last six years of service, but that in his communication to his wives, in which there was no necessity to preserve a strict continuity or distinction of time, he connected it with the divine instructions to return to his home, which he received at the end of his time of service. But if we decide in favour of this view, we have no further guarantee for the objective reality of the vision of the rams, since nothing is said about it in the historical account, and it is nowhere stated that the wealth obtained by Jacob's craftiness was the result of the divine blessing. The attempt so unmistakeably apparent in Jacob's whole conversation with his wives, to place his dealing with Laban in the most favourable light for himself, excites the suspicion, that the vision of which he spoke was nothing more than a natural dream, the materials being supplied by the three thoughts that were most frequently in his mind, by night as well as by day, viz., (1) his own schemes and their success; (2) the promise received at Bethel; (3) the wish to justify his actions to his own conscience; and that these were wrought up by an excited imagination into a visionary dream, of the divine origin of which Jacob himself may not have had the slightest doubt. - In Gen 31:13 האל has the article in the construct state, contrary to the ordinary rule; cf. Ges. 110, 2b; Ewald, 290.

Genesis 31:14

gen 31:14

The two wives naturally agreed with their husband, and declared that they had no longer any part or inheritance in their father's house. For he had not treated them as daughters, but sold them like strangers, i.e., servants. "And he has even constantly eaten our money," i.e., consumed the property brought to him by our service. The inf. abs. אכול after the finite verb expresses the continuation of the act, and is intensified by גם "yes, even." כּי in Gen 31:16 signifies "so that," as in Deu 14:24; Job 10:6.

Genesis 31:17

gen 31:17

Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon camels; Jacob then set out with his children and wives, and all the property that he had acquired in Padan-Aram, to return to his father in Canaan; whilst Laban had gone to the sheep-shearing, which kept him some time from his home on account of the size of his flock. Rachel took advantage of her father's absence to rob him of his teraphim (penates), probably small images of household gods in human form, which were worshipped as givers of earthly prosperity, and also consulted as oracles (see my Archologie, 90).

Genesis 31:20

gen 31:20

"Thus Jacob deceived Laban the Syrian, in that he told him not that he fled;" - לב גּנב to steal the heart (as the seat of the understanding), like κλέπτειν νοο͂ν, and גּנב with the simple accus. pers., Gen 31:27, like κλεπτειν τίνα, signifies to take the knowledge of anything away from a person, to deceive him; - "and passed over the river (Euphrates), and took the direction to the mountains of Gilead."

Genesis 31:22

gen 31:22

Laban's Pursuit, Reconciliation, and Covenant with Jacob. - As Laban was not told till the third day after the flight, though he pursued the fugitives with his brethren, i.e., his nearest relations, he did not overtake Jacob for seven days, by which time he had reached the mountains of Gilead (Gen 31:22-24). The night before he overtook them, he was warned by God in a dream, "not to speak to Jacob from good to bad," i.e., not to say anything decisive and emphatic for the purpose of altering what had already occurred (vid., Gen 31:29, and the note on Gen 24:50). Hence he confined himself, when they met, "to bitter reproaches combining paternal feeling on the one hand with hypocrisy on the other;" in which he told them that he had the power to do them harm, if God had not forbidden him, and charged them with stealing his gods (the teraphim).

Genesis 31:26

gen 31:26

"Like sword-booty;" i.e., like prisoners of war (Kg2 6:22) carried away unwillingly and by force.

Genesis 31:27

gen 31:27

"So I might have conducted thee with mirth and songs, with tabret and harp," i.e., have sent thee away with a parting feast.

Gen 31:28

עשׂו: an old form of the infinitive for עשׂות as in Gen 48:11; Gen 50:20.

Genesis 31:29

gen 31:29

ידי לאל ישׁ: "there is to God my hand" (Mic 2:1; cf. Deu 28:32; Neh 5:5), i.e., my hand serves me as God (Hab 1:11; Job 12:6), a proverbial expression for "the power lies in my hand."

Genesis 31:30

gen 31:30

"And now thou art gone (for, if thou art gone), because thou longedst after thy father's house, why hast thou stolen my gods?" The meaning is this: even if thy secret departure can be explained, thy stealing of my gods cannot.

Genesis 31:31

gen 31:31

The first, Jacob met by pleading his fear lest Laban should take away his daughters (keep them back by force). "For I said:" equivalent to "for I thought." But Jacob knew nothing of the theft; hence he declared, that with whomsoever he might find the gods he should be put to death, and told Laban to make the strictest search among all the things that he had with him. "Before our brethren," i.e., the relations who had come with Laban, as being impartial witnesses (cf. Gen 31:37); not, as Knobel thinks, before Jacob's horde of male and female slaves, of women and of children.

Genesis 31:33

gen 31:33

Laban looked through all the tents, but did not find his teraphim; for Rachel had put them in the saddle of her camel and was sitting upon them, and excused herself to her lord (Adonai, Gen 31:35), on the ground that the custom of women was upon her. "The camel's furniture," i.e., the saddle (not "the camel's litter:" Luther), here the woman's riding saddle, which had a comfortable seat formed of carpets on the top of the packsaddle. The fact that Laban passed over Rachel's seat because of her pretended condition, does not presuppose the Levitical law in Lev 15:19., according to which, any one who touched the couch or seat of such a woman was rendered unclean. For, in the first place, the view which lies at the foundation of this law was much older than the laws of Moses, and is met with among many other nations (cf. Bhr, Symbolik ii. 466, etc.); consequently Laban might refrain from making further examination, less from fear of defilement, than because he regarded it as impossible that any one with the custom of women upon her should sit upon his gods.

Genesis 31:36

gen 31:36

As Laban found nothing, Jacob grew angry, and pointed out the injustice of his hot pursuit and his search among all his things, but more especially the harsh treatment he had received from him in return for the unselfish and self-denying services that he had rendered him for twenty years. Acute sensibility and elevated self-consciousness give to Jacob's words a rhythmical movement and a poetical form. Hence such expressions as אחרי דּלק "hotly pursued," which is only met with in Sa1 17:53; אחטּנּה for אחטּאנּה "I had to atone for it," i.e., to bear the loss; "the Fear of Isaac," used as a name for God, פּחד, σέβας = σέβασμα, the object of Isaac's fear or sacred awe.

Genesis 31:40

gen 31:40

"I have been; by day (i.e., I have been in this condition, that by day) heat has consumed (prostrated) me, and cold by night" - for it is well known, that in the East the cold by night corresponds to the heat by day; the hotter the day the colder the night, as a rule.

Genesis 31:42

gen 31:42

"Except the God of my father...had been for me, surely thou wouldst now have sent me away empty. God has seen mine affliction and the labour of my hands, and last night He judged it." By the warning given to Laban, God pronounced sentence upon the matter between Jacob and Laban, condemning the course which Laban had pursued, and still intended to pursue, towards Jacob; but not on that account sanctioning all that Jacob had done to increase his own possessions, still less confirming Jacob's assertion that the vision mentioned by Jacob (Gen 31:11, Gen 31:12) was a revelation from God. But as Jacob had only met cunning with cunning, deceit with deceit, Laban had no right to punish him for what he had done. Some excuse may indeed be found for Jacob's conduct in the heartless treatment he received from Laban, but the fact that God defended him from Laban's revenge did not prove it to be right. He had not acted upon the rule laid down in Pro 20:22 (cf. Rom 12:17; Th1 5:15).

Genesis 31:43

gen 31:43

These words of Jacob "cut Laban to the heart with their truth, so that he turned round, offered his hand, and proposed a covenant." Jacob proceeded at once to give a practical proof of his assent to this proposal of his father-in-law, by erecting a stone as a memorial, and calling upon his relations also ("his brethren," as in Gen 31:23, by whom Laban and the relations who came with him are intended, as Gen 31:54 shows) to gather stones into a heap, which formed a table, as is briefly observed in Gen 31:46, for the covenant meal (Gen 31:54). This stone-heap was called Jegar-Sahadutha by Laban, and Galeed by Jacob (the former is the Chaldee, the latter the Hebrew; they have both the same meaning, viz., "heaps of witness"),

(Note: These words are the oldest proof, that in the native country of the patriarchs, Mesopotamia, Aramaean or Chaldaean was spoken, and Hebrew in Jacob's native country, Canaan; from which we may conclude that Abraham's family first acquired the Hebrew in Canaan from the Canaanites (Phoenicians).)

because, as Laban, who spoke first, as being the elder, explained, the heap was to be a "witness between him and Jacob." The historian then adds this explanation: "therefore they called his name Gal'ed," and immediately afterwards introduces a second name, which the heap received from words that were spoken by Laban at the conclusion of the covenant (Gen 31:49): "And Mizpah," i.e., watch, watch-place (sc., he called it), "for he (Laban) said, Jehovah watch between me and thee; for we are hidden from one another (from the face of one another), if thou shalt oppress my daughters, and if thou shalt take wives to my daughters! No man is with us, behold God is witness between me and thee!" (Gen 31:49, Gen 31:50). After these words of Laban, which are introduced parenthetically,

(Note: There can be no doubt that Gen 31:49 and Gen 31:50 bear the marks of a subsequent insertion. But there is nothing in the nature of this interpolation to indicate a compilation of the history from different sources. That Laban, when making this covenant, should have spoken of the future treatment of his daughters, is a thing so natural, that there would have been something strange in the omission. And it is not less suitable to the circumstances, that he calls upon the God of Jacob, i.e., Jehovah, to watch in this affair. And apart from the use of the name Jehovah, which is perfectly suitable here, there is nothing whatever to point to a different source; to say nothing of the fact that the critics themselves cannot agree as to the nature of the source supposed.)

and in which he enjoined upon Jacob fidelity to his daughters, the formation of the covenant of reconciliation and peace between them is first described, according to which, neither of them (sive ego sive tu, as in Exo 19:13) was to pass the stone-heap and memorial-stone with a hostile intention towards the other. Of this the memorial was to serve as a witness, and the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father (Terah), would be umpire between them. To this covenant, in which Laban, according to his polytheistic views, placed the God of Abraham upon the same level with the God of Nahor and Terah, Jacob swore by "the Fear of Isaac" (Gen 31:42), the God who was worshipped by his father with sacred awe. He then offered sacrifices upon the mountain, and invited his relations to eat, i.e., to partake of a sacrificial meal, and seal the covenant by a feast of love.

The geographical names Gilead and Ramath-mizpeh (Jos 13:26), also Mizpeh-Gilead (Jdg 11:29), sound so obviously like Gal'ed and Mizpah, that they are no doubt connected, and owe their origin to the monument erected by Jacob and Laban; so that it was by prolepsis that the scene of this occurrence was called "the mountains of Gilead" in Gen 31:21, Gen 31:23, Gen 31:25. By the mount or mountains of Gilead we are not to understand the mountain range to the south of the Jabbok (Zerka), the present Jebel Jelaad, or Jebel es Salt. The name Gilead has a much more comprehensive signification in the Old Testament; and the mountains to the south of the Jabbok are called in Deu 3:12 the half of Mount Gilead; the mountains to the north of the Jabbok, the Jebel-Ajlun, forming the other half. In this chapter the name is used in the broader sense, and refers primarily to the northern half of the mountains (above the Jabbok); for Jacob did not cross the Jabbok till afterwards (Gen 32:23-24). There is nothing in the names Ramath-mizpeh, which Ramoth in Gilead bears in Jos 13:26, and Mizpeh-Gilead, which it bears in Jdg 11:29, to compel us to place Laban's meeting with Jacob in the southern portion of the mountains of Gilead. For even if this city is to be found in the modern Salt, and was called Ramath-mizpeh from the even recorded here, all that can be inferred from that is, that the tradition of Laban's covenant with Jacob was associated in later ages with Ramoth in Gilead, without the correctness of the association being thereby established.

Next: Genesis Chapter 32