Genesis 31: Jacob Flees from Laban

1 Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, “Jacob has taken all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has gained all this wealth.” 2 And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before. 3 Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.

-This is an example of God’s perfect timing. Laban had treated him well despite cheating him with giving him Leah first but now he and his sons have a lot of resentment. They are envious of his success and it’s about to cause problems. So at the right moment, God spoke to Jacob to tell him it was time to move on. God is in control and always knows when to act, we are just along for the ride. We need our big life decisions as pieces on a chessboard with God the One making the moves. Our chess piece may be like a queen and goes anywhere. It may be like a knight and moves only in specific patterns. Are lives may be like a pawn that hardly moves at all, or maybe we go the whole game without moving once. In either case, chess pieces do not move on their own. We can whine and complain all we want and try everything we can to move forward or backward but in the end, God is the one who moves the piece whether we are aware of it or not. Even though we do have free will, our free will is accounted for in God’s plan. We think we are making a choose to move ourselves, a rook for example, completely across the board to the other side yet we don’t realize that this choice was already accounted for in His plan. God can win the game in 3 moves if He wants to but He can win the game in millions of other ways as well if we want to make things harder on ourselves.

4 So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah into the field where his flock was 5 and said to them, “I see that your father does not regard me with favor as he did before. But the God of my father has been with me. 6 You know that I have served your father with all my strength, 7 yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times. But God did not permit him to harm me. 8 If he said, ‘The spotted shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore spotted; and if he said, ‘The striped shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore striped. 9 Thus God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me.

-We have not been told about the ten times Laban has changed wages but we get enough of an idea. Laban mentioned the speckled and spotted flock and tried his best to get rid of those so that he ended up with almost the entire flock but kept failing. So he kept changing the deal so that it seemed to be in his favor but it would not work so he changed it again. Jacob is showing faith in crediting God despite his selfish nature, he still ultimately has faith and that is what is important. We are all sinners so the degree does not matter of how much we sin. It simply shows where we are at in our walk and Jacob has a long distance to go. I say distance because often times, a believer can jump a great distances in a short time or sometimes it can take a lifetime to take a single step. A person can truly be transformed over night or sometimes a person can give their life and hardly notice a change at first.

10 In the breeding season of the flock I lifted up my eyes and saw in a dream that the goats that mated with the flock were striped, spotted, and mottled. 11 Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am!’ 12 And he said, ‘Lift up your eyes and see, all the goats that mate with the flock are striped, spotted, and mottled, for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred.’” Rachel and Leah answered and said to him, “Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house? 15 Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and he has indeed devoured our money. 16 All the wealth that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children. Now then, whatever God has said to you, do.”

-We now get the details of how God spoke to Jacob. It was in a dream, as before, and he was shown the flock and then told that it was given by God and it was now time to go. God is sending Jacob a clear message that it was not his clever thinking that won him so much of the flock because of his knowledge of breeding animals a certain way, but rather God’s providence. God ensured his success in this because it was part of his plan. The wives are fed up with this situation as well so they are willing to finally leave their father’s house and follow Jacob but not without taking some inheritance for themselves as well. I do not interpret this as the wives being subservient to God because of what we believe below and the fact that what they have already isn’t enough and they demand more. A person can outwardly praise God and not mean it in their hearts while committing unrepentant sin but one cannot truly give glory to God lifting up one hand in praise with a knife falling down to stab someone in the back with the other. In other words, we cannot walk two paths at the same time. We can only walk one path and jump off it in favor of another path. Then when we find ourselves on the wrong path, we need to find our way back on the right one. There is doubt at this point in their lives that Leah or Rachel were ever on the right path to begin with whatever they say with their mouths.

17 So Jacob arose and set his sons and his wives on camels. 18 He drove away all his livestock, all his property that he had gained, the livestock in his possession that he had acquired in Paddan-aram, to go to the land of Canaan to his father Isaac. 19 Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father’s household gods. 20 And Jacob tricked Laban the Aramean, by not telling him that he intended to flee. 21 He fled with all that he had and arose and crossed the Euphrates, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead. 22 When it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob had fled, 23 he took his kinsmen with him and pursued him for seven days and followed close after him into the hill country of Gilead.

-Gilead are the hills located on the east side of the Jordan River in modern day Jordan. We don’t know why it took Laban 3 days to realize Jacob left with everyone and everything but it might be reasonable to assume they were more like next door neighbors rather than living in the same house. After all, Jacob had four wives and many children and flocks, they probably needed a lot of space. This would be like walking outside and noticing your neighbors house looked empty. You probably would not realize or perhaps even notice the first day but after a couple days you may think they are just on vacation. After a while, you might notice that there is nothing in their back yard and there’s a fresh new phone book on the porch that hasn’t been picked up. Only then do you realize they must have moved. There isn’t reason to assume Laban and Jacob saw each other every single day.

24 But God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream by night and said to him, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.”

-Laban already recognized that God was with Jacob and he is even given a dream not to say anything to him at all, whether good or bad. God is telling him not to even wish him well and say goodbye! God was telling Laban that this was part of his plan and he should not interfere or there will be consequences.

25 And Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsmen pitched tents in the hill country of Gilead. 26 And Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done, that you have tricked me and driven away my daughters like captives of the sword? 27 Why did you flee secretly and trick me, and did not tell me, so that I might have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre? 28 And why did you not permit me to kiss my sons and my daughters farewell? Now you have done foolishly. 29 It is in my power to do you harm. But the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’

-It is curious that Laban admits God spoke to him in a dream and seems to believe it yet is speaking to Jacob anyway and making him feel guilty for leaving and implying that he would have sent Jacob away in style with his blessing. We have to imagine Laban is full of it and is only saying what he thinks may bring him back. He is even passively threatening him by saying it is in his power to do harm. Saying “I can kill you but I won’t” is not a neutral statement. Laban’s actions seem to show sadly what many individuals who have knowledge of God seem to do with their lives. They believe in God’s existence, they may even believe the bible is true, but they do no call Him Lord. Laban took what God said as simply advice from a stranger, not a command from a Lord and Master. God might has well have been a neighbor or casual friend who just happened to mention, “Hey buddy, I don’t think its a good idea to say something to Jacob, but hey, that’s just me. You do what you feel best”. Laban did do what he felt best and did probably what he would have done without the dream. God gave Laban and chance to choose Him but he doesn’t here. Don’t miss out when God gives you a chance.

30 And now you have gone away because you longed greatly for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods?” 31 Jacob answered and said to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force. 32 Anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live. In the presence of our kinsmen point out what I have that is yours, and take it.” Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them. 33 So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two female servants, but he did not find them. And he went out of Leah’s tent and entered Rachel’s. 34 Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them in the camel’s saddle and sat on them. Laban felt all about the tent, but did not find them. 35 And she said to her father, “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the way of women is upon me.” So he searched but did not find the household gods.

-Jacob assumes Laban is cheating him here as well and does not realize the foolishness of his statement by saying the person who is found with them shall not live. Not that Laban would have killed his own daughter, but this could have caused a physical battle between both camps had she been found. How horrible that Laban seems more concerned about his gods than anything else. Laban is clearly referring to idols and its likely his lack of fear of God was because he viewed Him as being one of many, probably fairly equal in strength gods. The fact that he had these idols may have given him a false sense of security that Jacob’s God could not harm him. When we don’t listen, when we don’t seek the truth, we write our own reality and it could cost us our very souls. What Rachel is talking about is what you think, she claims to be on her period. In this culture, Laban is a patriarch and a lord himself and even his own daughters would bow in his presents. This would involve getting off the camel but she gives this as her excuse not to descend and bow. The fact that Rachel also wanted these household gods must mean she too thought the same as Laban that there were many gods and the one helping Jacob was just the one that had taken interest in he and his fathers.

36 Then Jacob became angry and berated Laban. Jacob said to Laban, “What is my offense? What is my sin, that you have hotly pursued me? 37 For 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. 38 These twenty years I have been with you. Your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, and I have not eaten the rams of your flocks. 39 What was torn by wild beasts I did not bring to you. I bore the loss of it myself. From my hand you required it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. 40 There I was: by day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes. 41 These 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 have changed my wages ten times. 42 If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands and rebuked you last night.”

Jacob still sees his life as being his achievement but the world is always out to get him. He appears to honor God only because he believes God likes him and is proud of him. Jacob does show faith but it is a very immature faith. When we teach children in church, we typical teach the very basics that Jesus loves them, God created everyone including every one of them, He made everyone special, and God is good. At a very early age, it doesn’t accomplish much to go beyond this because the first step in a person’s faith journey is to believe God exists and then want to know more about Him. Later, like with Abraham’s servant when he found Rebekah for Isaac, a person will test their faith and may ask for a test from God. God is not obligated to answer but understands our immaturity and may answer it this time anyway to reward your faith. But once you believe God can answer prayer and bless you, you may find prayers like this don’t get answered anymore. This is because God wants you to know Him and want to be more like Him, not receive stuff to better your sinful nature and pride to want to be your own god. Jacob is at this stage. He has not learned yet that God wants him to be more like Him and so while Jacob believes in God that God loves him and that prayer can be answered, he still has not learned what the point is of receiving things and answers to prayer. The point is not to bless Jacob, the point is to bless the Lord! God is good, not Jacob. God is great, not Jacob. God is the most important being in the universe, not Jacob. Jacob will soon begin to learn this lesson.

43 Then Laban answered and said to Jacob, “The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day for these my daughters or for their children whom they have borne? 44 Come now, let us make a covenant, you and I. And let it be a witness between you and me.” 45 So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46 And Jacob said to his kinsmen, “Gather stones.” And they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there by the heap. 47 Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed.

-That’s a good start to a covenant when they cannot even agree on the name! The name Jegar-sahadutha means “witness heap” and the name Galeed means “witness heap”. So these two names were two different ways of saying the same thing. It would be like the different between calling it “The mound of witness” or “the place of covenant”. They are different words but they mean the exact same thing! This is located just east of Gilead mentioned last chapter: http://bibleatlas.org/region/ramoth-gilead.jpg . Jacob is foolish for making any deal with Laban because (as far as he knew) everything he took was his and he had every right to leave, as he stated, and more important God had told him to go personally. Making a deal will only give Laban something back but Jacob has a pride issue and wants to prove he is in the right. So to show he has nothing to hide he agrees to this covenant.

48 Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” Therefore he named it Galeed, 49 and Mizpah, for he said, “The Lord watch between you and me, when we are out of one another’s sight. 50 If you oppress my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no one is with us, see, God is witness between you and me.” 51 Then Laban said to Jacob, “See this heap and the pillar, which I have set between you and me. 52 This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm. 53 The 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, 54 and Jacob offered a sacrifice in the hill country and called his kinsmen to eat bread. They ate bread and spent the night in the hill country. 55 Early in the morning Laban arose and kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then Laban departed and returned home.

-Laban may have had a plan but than wisely reconsidered and settle for what he does stated above. He realized Jacob may take vengeance and Laban’s passive threat could have been a bluff and Jacob’s household could actually destroy Laban’s. Either way, Laban realizes there’s nothing he can do so he says his goodbyes and leaves in peace knowing Jacob will not break this covenant and come back to attack him. Once again, God has provided for Jacob and God mercifully allows Laban to return with what he had rather than punishing him for disobeying.

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