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Genesis 31


Jacob Leaves Secretly for Canaan Jacob Flees from Laban Jacob's Success in Haran (29:1-31:55) Jacob Flees from Laban Jacob's Flight
31:1-16 31:1-16 31:1-9 31:1-3 31:1-13
    31:10-16 31:10-13  
      31:14-16 31:14-16
31:17-21 31:17-21 31:17-18 31:17-21 31:17-21
Laban Pursues Jacob Laban Pursues Jacob 31:19-21 Laban Pursues Jacob Laban Pursues Jacob
31:22-24 31:22-24 31:22-24 31:22-25 21:22-25
31:25-32 31:25-32 31:25-32    
      31:26-30 31:26-30
      31:31-32 31:31-35
31:33-35 31:33-35 31:33-35 31:33-35  
31:36-42 31:36-42 31:36-42 31:36-42 31:36-42
The Covenant of Mizpah Laban's Covenant with Jacob   The Agreement Between Jacob and Laban A Treaty Between Jacob and Laban (31:43-32:3)
31:43-55 31:43-50 31:43-50 31:43-44 31:43-44
      31:45-55 31:45-55
  31:51-55 31:51-54    



This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



1Now Jacob heard the words of Laban's sons, saying, "Jacob has taken away all that was our father's, and from what belonged to our father he has made all this wealth." 2Jacob saw the attitude of Laban, and behold, it was not friendly toward him as formerly. 3Then the Lord said to Jacob, "Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you." 4So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to his flock in the field, 5and said to them, "I see your father's attitude, that it is not friendly toward me as formerly, but the God of my father has been with me. 6You know that I have served your father with all my strength. 7Yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times; however, God did not allow him to hurt me. 8If he spoke thus, 'The speckled shall be your wages,' then all the flock brought forth speckled; and if he spoke thus, 'The striped shall be your wages,' then all the flock brought forth striped. 9Thus God has taken away your father's livestock and given them to me. 10And it came about at the time when the flock were mating that I lifted up my eyes and saw in a dream, and behold, the male goats which were mating were striped, speckled, and mottled. 11Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, 'Jacob,' and I said, 'Here I am.' 12He said, 'Lift up now your eyes and see that all the male goats which are mating are striped, speckled, and mottled; for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. 13I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar, where you made a vow to Me; now arise, leave this land, and return to the land of your birth.'" 14Rachel and Leah said to him, "Do we still have any portion or inheritance in our father's house? 15Are we not reckoned by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and has also entirely consumed our purchase price. 16Surely all the wealth which God has taken away from our father belongs to us and our children; now then, do whatever God has said to you."

31:1 "Now Jacob heard the words of Laban's sons, saying" Exactly how old these sons were is uncertain, but they were old enough to tend the flocks by themselves (cf. 30:35). Several years must have passed since chapter 30. Apparently they were repeating what they had heard at home. They were also repeating it in public, which shows that they were not afraid of Jacob's finding out. Their accusations, though understandable, were not factual (cf. 30:30). Before Jacob came, Laban was not a wealthy man. YHWH was with Jacob; Laban had been blessed by the association.

▣ "wealth" This is literally "glory" (BDB 459, cf. KJV). The Hebrew term "glory" means "heaviness" or "weight." It can be used of "honor," but here it seems to mean "physical abundance" (NKJV).

31:2 "Jacob saw the attitude of Laban" Laban was a manipulator. Although he had treated Jacob harshly, he had always smiled at him, but now his countenance had changed.

31:3 "Then the Lord said to Jacob" YHWH took this opportunity of Jacob's recognition of a negative situation to reveal to him that it was time for him to go home ("return," BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal imperative). He reminded him of the Bethel experience with the phrase "I will be with you," which had occurred 20 years earlier (cf. Gen. 28:10-22, esp. v. 15).

31:4 "Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to his flock in the field" Rachel is mentioned first because she was the favored wife. They are called out into the field for a private, secret meeting. Apparently Jacob had not discussed this with his wives before.

31:5 "the God of my father" This is one of several phrases in chapter 31 which shows the historical continuity of God's covenant with several generations of Abraham's family.

31:6 "you know that I have served your father with all my strength" The wives had been cognizant of Jacob's long hours and difficult working schedule in connection with their father. He worked 14 years for them and 6 more years for his own flocks and herds.

31: 7 "Yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times" The term "cheated" (BDB 1068, KB 1739, Hiphil perfect) comes from the Hebrew root which means "to mock," "to deceive," or "to trifle with."

The term "changed" (BDB 322, KB 321) is also alluded to in v. 41. Although we are not told exactly how Laban changed his wages, it is obvious from the context that Jacob was supposed to get all of the off-colored animals, but when the off-colored animals produced more offspring, Laban began to take certain groups of them for his own. Every time he made a change, God blessed the remaining flock of Jacob, whether they were speckled or mottled or striped (cf. v. 8).

▣ "ten times" This seems to be a round number used as hyperbole, not exactly ten times (be careful of western literalism).

"God did not allow him to hurt me" Jacob, realizing his position before God, based not only on the prophecy of 25:23, but of God's specific vision to him in 28:10-22, has the theological understanding of what he is experiencing. Laban knew it too (cf. v. 29).

31:8 This verse describes in detail how Laban tried to change their agreement. However, every time he changed it, God changed the breeding habits of the goats and sheep to benefit Jacob (cf. v. 9).

31:9 "God has taken away" This is a strong verb (BDB 664, KB 717, Hiphil imperfect), which in the Hiphil stem denotes "snatching away," cf. vv. 9 and 16. It is used of delivering prey from wild animal attacks (cf. I Sam. 17:34-35; Ezek. 34:10; Amos 3:12). As Laban took away Jacob's rightful wages, now God snatches away his flock and gives it to Jacob. The mechanism of the transfer is described in v. 12.

31:10 "And it came about at the time that the flocks were mating" This describes a subsequent vision that Jacob had concerning the animals which would belong to him. It was not Jacob's manipulation of certain techniques (i.e., 30:37-43), but God's grace, that caused Jacob's portion of the flock to prosper (cf. v. 9, and esp. v. 12).

31:11 "the angel of God" Again, the angel of the Lord is a personification of Deity (i.e., Gen. 16:7-13; 18:1; 19:1; 21:17, 19; 22:11-15; 31:11, 13; 32:24, 30; 48:15, 16; Exod. 3:2, 4; 13:21; 14:19; Jdgs. 6:12, 14; Zech. 3:1-2). He speaks for YHWH. See Special Topic at 12:7.

31:13 "I am the God of Bethel" This refers to God's vision to Jacob which is recorded in Gen. 28:10-22. The God of Jacob's father and grandfather (cf. v. 5) issues new orders.

1. "arise," BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal imperative

2. "leave" (lit. "go"), BDB 422, KB 425, Qal imperative

3. "return," BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal imperative


31:14 Jacob's wives are fully with him!

31:15 "Are we not reckoned by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and has also entirely consumed our purchase price" Here the two daughters of Laban accuse their father of not acting faithfully with them in light of the cultural expectations of that day (Hurrian culture). In the Hurrian documents the "Mohar"or "wife's dowry" was saved, at least in part, for the daughter. However, Laban had taken Jacob's wages and totally consumed them. Verse 15 shows us the daughters recognized this greediness and neglect by Laban their brother.

The phrase "entirely consumed" is an infinitive absolute and imperfect verb of the same root (BDB 37, KB 46), which denotes intensity.

17Then Jacob arose and put his children and his wives upon camels; 18and he drove away all his livestock and all his property which he had gathered, his acquired livestock which he had gathered in Paddan-aram, to go to the land of Canaan to his father Isaac. 19When Laban had gone to shear his flock, then Rachel stole the household idols that were her father's. 20And Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him that he was fleeing. 21So he fled with all that he had; and he arose and crossed the Euphrates River, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead.

31:17 "Jacob arose and put his children and his wives upon camels" The flight was going to be in haste and his family was too young to make the trip except mounted on camels.

31:18 "he drove away all his livestock" The term "drove away" (BDB 624, KB 675) denotes the haste with which the livestock were driven. Apparently, they traveled in the evening and night-time hours to avoid the heat.

31:19 "When Laban had gone to shear his flock" The shearing season was a time of great festivity and family reunion (cf. Gen. 38:12; I Sam. 25:4 and II Sam. 13:23). Jacob's absence is significant, which shows the deterioration of their relationship.

▣ "then Rachel stole the household idols that were her father's" The Hebrew word for "household idols" is teraphim (BDB 1076). These household idols could be very large (cf. I Sam. 19:13), or very small so as to fit in Rachel's camel saddle (cf. v. 34). We understand from the Nuzi Tablets that these household idols were a sign of inheritance rights so Rachel may have stolen them as a symbol of her understanding of Laban's illegal acts in regard to her inheritance or to later assert the right of her son to inherit Jacob's property. Some say that she stole them so that Laban could not divine their whereabouts (i.e., Rashi, cf. 30:27). These teraphim were used for divination (cf. Zech. 10:2). They often appear in association with "the ephod" (cf. Jdgs. 17:5; 18:14-20 and Hos. 3:4). They are condemned as being idolatrous in I Sam. 15:23.



PESHITTA"Jacob deceived"
NKJV"stole away"
RSV, NJB"outwitted"
JPSOA"kept in the dark"
LXX"hid the matter"

As Rachel "stole" the family's teraphim, so Jacob "stole the heart" (BDB 170, KB 198, Qal imperfect) of Laban, which is obviously an idiom for deception.

▣ "Laban the Syrian" The term "Syrian" can be translated "Aramean" (BDB 74). The exact relationship between Laban being called an Aramean and Jacob being called the same in Deut. 26:5 is uncertain. From the genealogies of Genesis 10 these seem to be two different ethnic lines, but inter-marriage may have caused them to be identified together or by the geographical location (i.e., Haran) in which Abraham initially sojourned.

22When it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob had fled, 23then he took his kinsmen with him and pursued him a distance of seven days' journey, and he overtook him in the hill country of Gilead. 24God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream of the night and said to him, "Be careful that you do not speak to Jacob either good or bad."

31:22 "When it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob had fled" We learn from Gen. 30:36 that the flocks of Laban and Jacob were kept a three days journey apart, so apparently a servant saw Jacob leave and immediately went to tell Laban (BDB 616, KB 665, Hophal imperfect).

31:23 "in the hill country of Gilead" There has been some discussion about the possibility of this much distance being traveled in such a short time. However, we are talking about a ten day period of forced march. It is uncertain what the exact distance is, possibly between 250 and 350 miles because (1) we are not certain of the location in Syria where Jacob's flock was located and (2) we are not sure of the eastern boundary of Gilead.

Laban came with a large contingent of armed men (cf. v. 29). His pursuit is characterized as "hotly pursued" (BDB 196, KB223, Qal perfect) in v. 36.

31:24 "Be careful that you do not speak to Jacob either good or bad" This is a Hebrew idiom ("take heed that you do not say a word to Jacob either good or bad") which apparently means "leave him completely alone." Again, God's grace and protection are clearly seen in delivering the patriarchal family again and again.

25Laban caught up with Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsmen camped in the hill country of Gilead. 26Then Laban said to Jacob, "What have you done by deceiving me and carrying away my daughters like captives of the sword? 27Why did you flee secretly and deceive me, and did not tell me so that I might have sent you away with joy and with songs, with timbrel and with lyre; 28and did not allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters? Now you have done foolishly. 29It is in my power to do you harm, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, 'Be careful not to speak either good or bad to Jacob.' 30Now you have indeed gone away because you longed greatly for your father's house; but why did you steal my gods?" 31Then Jacob replied to Laban, "Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force. 32The one with whom you find your gods shall not live; in the presence of our kinsmen point out what is yours among my belongings and take it for yourself." For Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them.

31:25 "Now Jacob had pitched his tent" This is the first mention that Jacob had put up his tent, so apparently the forced march had not allowed them to stop earlier. Apparently, Jacob felt that they were far enough away to be safe.

31:26-30 I interpret this as Laban, the manipulator, making unfair accusations about Jacob. Many of the things that Laban accuses him of are not true to fact. Laban seems to be making his case publicly for the sake of his relatives (and Jacob's) who were listening and would ultimately act as judges.

31:27 Laban says he would have given Jacob a party. Jacob remembers the last party Laban held for him (i.e., the wedding night with Leah)! He wanted no more "parties" with his father-in-law.

31:28 "Now you have done foolishly" This term (BDB 698, KB 754, Hiphil perfect) is usually used in the Bible in connection with sin and guilt (cf. I Sam. 13:13 in connection with Saul, and II Sam. 24:10 in connection with David). Apparently Laban was accusing Jacob's flight of being sinful in nature.

31:29 "It is in my power to do you harm, but the God of your father spoke to me last night" The phrase "in my power" (BDB 42) is related etymologically to the term El (BDB 42) or Elohim (BDB 43). This is the only verse that gives us the clue that the basic etymology of the word El may mean "to be strong." God warns Laban in a dream as He had earlier warned Pharaoh (through a plague, cf. 12:17, and some further revelation, but exactly how is not recorded) and Abimelech (cf. 20:3). YHWH is watching and protecting the covenant family from harm/attack.

31:30 "you have indeed gone away because you longed greatly for your father's house" There are two intensified forms in this verse spoken by Laban.

1. "indeed gone away," infinitive absolute and perfect verb from the same root (BDB 229, KB 246, "go")

2. "longed greatly," infinitive absolute and perfect verb from the same root (BDB 493, KB 490)

The term "longed greatly" (BDB 493) is from the Hebrew root "to be pale," which was often used to describe the metal silver (BDB 494). It was a very strong term for "desire." Laban accused Jacob of leaving because he was homesick, not because of the true reason which was Laban's manipulation, fraud, trickery and finally, bad attitude.

"but why did you steal my gods" Refer to 31:19. Apparently these household gods were superstitiously connected with inheritance and prosperity and Laban saw Jacob's leaving as a loss of prosperity as well as with the loss of inheritance and possibly spiritual direction from these household gods (i.e., teraphim).

31:31-32 Jacob answers Laban's question from v. 27, but not his question from v. 30b. Jacob did not know about Rachel stealing the teraphim (v. 19).

31:32 Apparently Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen these gods. Verse 32 reflects the Code of Hammurabi in connection with someone stealing, either from a temple, or someone's household gods. The rabbis say (cf. Gen. Rab. 74.4) that Rachel's death, recorded in Gen. 35:16-18, while giving birth to Benjamin, is related to Jacob's words recorded in this verse. This is obviously legal terminology (i.e., "in the presence of our kinsmen"). There are two imperatives.

1. point out (lit. "examine," cf. 37:32; 38:25), BDB 647 I, KB 699, Hiphil imperative

2. take (connotation, "take it back for yourself"), BDB 542, KB 534, Qal imperative


33So Laban went into Jacob's tent and into Leah's tent and into the tent of the two maids, but he did not find them. Then he went out of Leah's tent and entered Rachel's tent. 34Now Rachel had taken the household idols and put them in the camel's saddle, and she sat on them. And Laban felt through all the tent but did not find them. 35She said to her father, "Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women is upon me." So he searched but did not find the household idols.

31:33 "So Laban went into Jacob's tent, and into Leah's tent" This shows the historicity in the account that the women usually stayed in separate tents.

31:34 "the camel's saddle" This term (BDB 468), found only here, could refer to a pouch in the saddle or a bag attached to the saddle (TEV, REB).

"And Laban felt through all the tent" This term "felt" means "to feel carefully with the hands" (BDB 606, KB 653, Piel imperfect). It is usually used of blind people groping in the darkness (cf. Deut. 28:29; Job 5:14; 12:25).

31:35 "for the manner of women is upon me" This refers to her menstrual period (BDB 202 construct BDB 61). It is obvious from Lev. 15:19 that there were some cultural taboos connected with this. However, it is uncertain how much we can project these Levitical legislations back into the culture of Laban and Jacob, but there was some compelling reason why he did not ask Rachel to get up.

36Then Jacob became angry and contended with Laban; and Jacob said to Laban, "What is my transgression? What is my sin that you have hotly pursued me? 37Though you have felt through all my goods, what have you found of all your household goods? Set it here before my kinsmen and your kinsmen, that they may decide between us two. 38These twenty years I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten the rams of your flocks. 39That which was torn of beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it myself. You required it of my hand whether stolen by day or stolen by night. 40Thus I was: by day the heat consumed me and the frost by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes. 41These twenty years I have been in your house; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flock, and you changed my wages ten times. 42If the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had not been for me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the toil of my hands, so He rendered judgment last night."

31:36 "Jacob became angry" This verb (BDB 354, KB 351, Qal imperfect) means "to burn" and denotes human anger (cf. 4:5,6; 30:2; 34:7; 39:19).

▣ "contended with Laban" The verb (BDB 936, KB 1224, Qal imperfect) has legal connotations (cf. v. 37). Jacob was attacked by Laban before the relatives, now Jacob retaliates with rhetorical questions.

1. "What is my transgression?" (v. 36)

2. "What is my sin?" (v. 36)

3. "What have you found?" (v. 37)

In a real sense the relatives constituted a court of nomadic law. They must render a decision in the dispute (v. 37).

31:38-42 Jacob defends his shepherding techniques and diligence (before the kinsmen).

1. the lambs had not miscarried

2. he had not eaten of the rams

3. he took the loss of the sheep due to wild animals

All of this fits exactly into the culture of that day which is shown in the Law Code of Hammurabi, (paragraph 266).

31:42 "If the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac" This phrase "the fear of Isaac" is unique to this chapter and is used twice (cf. v. 53). It may refer to the Deity Isaac respects or awes. An American archeologist, Albright, says that the word "fear" is related to the use of "kinsmen" in the Cognate languages (Aramaic, Arabic, and Ugaritic) and should be translated the "kinsmen of Isaac," another way of expressing "the God of my fathers." However, this is uncertain.

▣ "you would have sent me away empty-handed" Jacob realized the greed of Laban and also the presence of the grace of God. This is seen in the last phrase of v. 42, where Jacob makes an allusion to the dream of Laban which is recorded in vv. 24 and 29. God has already passed judgment!

43Then Laban replied to Jacob, "The daughters are my daughters, and the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day to these my daughters or to their children whom they have borne? 44So now come, let us make a covenant, you and I, and let it be a witness between you and me." 45Then Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46Jacob said to his kinsmen, "Gather stones." So they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there by the heap. 47Now Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed. 48Laban said, "This heap is a witness between you and me this day." Therefore it was named Galeed, 49and Mizpah, for he said, "May the Lord watch between you and me when we are absent one from the other. 50If you mistreat my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no man is with us, see, God is witness between you and me." 51Laban said to Jacob, "Behold this heap and behold the pillar which I have set between you and me. 52This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass by this heap to you for harm, and you will not pass by this heap and this pillar to me, for harm. 53The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us." So Jacob swore by the fear of his father Isaac. 54Then Jacob offered a sacrifice on the mountain, and called his kinsmen to the meal; and they ate the meal and spent the night on the mountain. 55Early in the morning Laban arose, and kissed his sons and his daughters and blessed them. Then Laban departed and returned to his place.

31:43 Laban tries to answer Jacob's accusations.

31:44 "So now come, let us make a covenant, you and I, and let it be a witness between you and me" Although Laban offers to make a covenant, it is Jacob who sets up a pillar (v. 45 [see 28:18], although Laban claims to have done it in v. 51) and gets the kinsmen to gather stones around it (v. 46). There they ate the covenantal meal. Meals are often associated with the forming of a covenant in the OT.

The grammatical features of this verse are

1. "come," BDB 229, KB 246, Qal imperative

2. "let us make a covenant," BDB 503, KB 500, Qal cohortative, (lit. "to cut," see Special Topic at 13:15)

3. "let it be a witness," BDB 224, KB 243, Qal perfect, implicating a permanent witness of non-aggression (cf. v. 52)


31:47 There are two names here. The first is Aramaic (BDB 1094 construct BDB 1113) and the second is Hebrew (BDB 165). They are parallel, referring to the heap of stones. Jacob named the place "Galeed" (BDB 165, "witness-pile"), which is related to where they were camped (i.e., "Gilead," BDB 166, "a circle of stones" or "a circle of mountains").

There has been much discussion over Aramaic vs. Hebrew as the language of the Patriarchs. It seems that Aramaic was spoken in Mesopotamia, the home of Abraham, but as he journeyed to Canaan he picked up a dialect of Aramaic which we know as Hebrew. This moves our linguistic understanding of these languages back in time.

31:49 "Mizpah" The term "Mizpah" (BDB 859) in v. 49 is also a Hebrew term which speaks of a "watchtower" and is personified there to refer to God witnessing (BDB 859, KB 1044, Qal jussive, root related to Mizpah) between these two men. It is interesting to me that Laban really takes this opportunity to blast Jacob in all the stipulations he puts on him in the presence of their relatives, which seems to be totally inappropriate. An example of this would be his not marrying other wives. It is Jacob who has shown a concern for Leah and Rachel, as seen in v. 31, and not Laban.

31:53 "The God of Abraham and God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us" The verb here is plural (BDB 1047, KB 1622, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense, plural), which seems to imply that Laban is making a polytheistic statement. The Septuagint does not follow the MT here (it has the singular verb). The book of Genesis seems to imply that Abraham became a YHWHist, but not Nahor. This seems to be an allusion to an agreement made in the names of several family gods. But, notice that Jacob only swears by the name of the God of his father, YHWH ("the fear of Isaac").


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1.  Who is seen as the manipulator in this chapter?

2.  List the ways that Laban had treated Jacob unfairly.

3.  List the ways that Jacob had acted faithfully.

4.  What was a teraphim (v. 19)? What was its purpose?

5.  List Laban's accusations in vv. 26-30 and show how they are true or false.

6.  Why did Rachel steal Laban's household gods?


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