Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
1. he heard the words of Laban's sons--It must have been from
rumor that Jacob got knowledge of the invidious reflections cast upon
him by his cousins; for they were separated at the distance of three
2. And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban--literally, "was
not the same as yesterday, and the day before," a common Oriental form
of speech. The insinuations against Jacob's fidelity by Laban's sons,
and the sullen reserve, the churlish conduct, of Laban himself, had
made Jacob's situation, in his uncle's establishment, most trying and
painful. It is always one of the vexations attendant on worldly
prosperity, that it excites the envy of others
and that, however careful a man is to maintain a good conscience, he
cannot always reckon on maintaining a good name, in a censorious world.
This, Jacob experienced; and it is probable that, like a good man, he
had asked direction and relief in prayer.
3. the Lord said . . . Return unto the land of thy
fathers--Notwithstanding the ill usage he had received, Jacob might
not have deemed himself at liberty to quit his present sphere, under
the impulse of passionate fretfulness and discontent. Having been
conducted to Haran by God
and having got a promise that the same heavenly Guardian would bring
him again into the land of Canaan, he might have thought he ought not
to leave it, without being clearly persuaded as to the path of duty. So
ought we to set the Lord before us, and to acknowledge Him in all our
ways, our journeys, our settlements, and plans in life.
4. Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah--His wives and family
were in their usual residence. Whether he wished them to be present at
the festivities of sheep shearing, as some think; or, because he could
not leave his flock, he called them both to come to him, in order that,
having resolved on immediate departure, he might communicate his
intentions. Rachel and Leah only were called, for the other two wives,
being secondary and still in a state of servitude, were not entitled to
be taken into account. Jacob acted the part of a dutiful husband in
telling them his plans; for husbands that love their wives should
consult with them and trust in them
6. ye know that . . . I have served your
father--Having stated his strong grounds of dissatisfaction with
their father's conduct and the ill requital he had got for all his
faithful services, he informed them of the blessing of God that had
made him rich notwithstanding Laban's design to ruin him; and finally,
of the command from God he had received to return to his own country,
that they might not accuse him of caprice, or disaffection to their
family; but be convinced, that in resolving to depart, he acted from a
principle of religious obedience.
14. Rachel and Leah answered--Having heard his views, they
expressed their entire approval; and from grievances of their own, they
were fully as desirous of a separation as himself. They display not
only conjugal affection, but piety in following the course
described--"whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do"
"Those that are really their husbands' helpmeets will never be their
hindrances in doing that to which God calls them" [HENRY].
17. Then Jacob rose up--Little time is spent by pastoral people
in removing. The striking down the tents and poles and stowing them
among their other baggage; the putting their wives and children in
houdas like cradles, on the backs of camels, or in panniers on
asses; and the ranging of the various parts of the flock under the
respective shepherds; all this is a short process. A plain that is
covered in the morning with a long array of tents and with browsing
flocks, may, in a few hours, appear so desolate that not a vestige of
the encampment remains, except the holes in which the tent poles had
18. he carried the cattle of his getting--that is, his own and
nothing more. He did not indemnify himself for his many losses by
carrying off any thing of Laban's, but was content with what Providence
had given him. Some may think that due notice should have been given;
but when a man feels himself in danger--the law of self-preservation
prescribes the duty of immediate flight, if it can be done consistently
20. Jacob stole away--The result showed the prudence and
necessity of departing secretly; otherwise, Laban might have detained
him by violence or artifice.
22-24. it was told Laban on the third day--No sooner did the
news reach Laban than he set out in pursuit, and he being not
encumbered, advanced rapidly; whereas Jacob, with a young family and
numerous flocks, had to march slowly, so that he overtook the fugitives
after seven days' journey as they lay encamped on the brow of mount
Gilead, an extensive range of hills forming the eastern boundary of
Canaan. Being accompanied by a number of his people, he might have
used violence had he not been divinely warned in a dream to give no
interruption to his nephew's journey. How striking and sudden a change!
For several days he had been full of rage, and was now in eager
anticipation that his vengeance would be fully wreaked, when lo! his
hands are tied by invisible power
He did not dare to touch Jacob, but there was a war of words.
26-30. Laban said . . . What hast thou done?--Not a
word is said of the charge
His reproaches were of a different kind. His first charge was for
depriving him of the satisfaction of giving Jacob and his family the
usual salutations at parting. In the East it is customary, when any are
setting out to a great distance, for their relatives and friends to
accompany them a considerable way with music and valedictory songs.
Considering the past conduct of Laban, his complaint on this ground was
hypocritical cant. But his second charge was a grave one--the carrying
off his gods--Hebrew, "teraphim," small images of human figures,
used not as idols or objects of worship, but as talismans, for
31, 32. Jacob said, . . . With whomsoever thou findest thy
gods let him not live--Conscious of his own innocence and little
suspecting the misdeed of his favorite wife, Jacob boldly challenged a
search and denounced the heaviest penalty on the culprit. A personal
scrutiny was made by Laban, who examined every tent
and having entered Rachel's last, he would have infallibly discovered
the stolen images had not Rachel made an appeal to him which prevented
[Ge 31:34, 35].
34. Rachel had taken the images, and put them in the camel's
furniture, and sat upon them--The common pack saddle is often used
as a seat or a cushion, against which a person squatted on the floor
36, 37. Jacob was wroth--Recrimination on his part was natural
in the circumstances, and, as usual, when passion is high, the charges
took a wide range. He rapidly enumerated his grievances for twenty
years and in a tone of unrestrained severity described the niggard
character and vexatious exactions of his uncle, together with the
hardships of various kinds he had patiently endured.
38. The rams of thy flock have I not eaten--Eastern people
seldom kill the females for food except they are barren.
39. That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee--The
shepherds are strictly responsible for losses in the flock, unless they
can prove these were occasioned by wild beasts.
40. in the day the drought . . . and the frost by
night--The temperature changes often in twenty-four hours from the
greatest extremes of heat and cold, most trying to the shepherd who has
to keep watch by his flocks. Much allowance must be made for Jacob.
Great and long-continued provocations ruffle the mildest and most
disciplined tempers. It is difficult to "be angry and sin not"
But these two relatives, after having given utterance to their pent-up
feelings, came at length to a mutual understanding, or rather, God
influenced Laban to make reconciliation with his injured nephew
44. Come thou, let us make a covenant--The way in which this
covenant was ratified was by a heap of stones being laid in a circular
pile, to serve as seats, and in the center of this circle a large one
was set up perpendicularly for an altar. It is probable that a
sacrifice was first offered, and then that the feast of reconciliation
was partaken of by both parties seated on the stones around it. To this
day heaps of stones, which have been used as memorials, are found
abundantly in the region where this transaction took place.
52. This heap be witness--Objects of nature were frequently thus
spoken of. But over and above, there was a solemn appeal to God; and it
is observable that there was a marked difference in the religious
sentiments of the two. Laban spake of the God of Abraham and Nahor,
their common ancestors; but Jacob, knowing that idolatry had crept in
among that branch of the family, swore by the "fear of his father
Isaac." They who have one God should have one heart: they who are
agreed in religion should endeavor to agree in everything else.