Genesis 31:1-21

1 Now Jacob heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, “Jacob has taken away all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has acquired all this wealth.”

And Jacob saw the countenance of Laban, and indeed it was not favorable toward him as before.

Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you.”

So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field, to his flock,

and said to them, “I see your father’s countenance, that it is not favorable toward me as before; but the God of my father has been with me.

And you know that with all my might I have served your father.

Yet your father has deceived me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not allow him to hurt me.

If he said thus: ‘The speckled shall be your wages,’ then all the flocks bore speckled. And if he said thus: ‘The streaked shall be your wages,’ then all the flocks bore streaked.

So God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me.

10 “And it happened, at the time when the flocks conceived, that I lifted my eyes and saw in a dream, and behold, the rams which leaped upon the flocks were streaked, speckled, and gray-spotted.

11 Then the Angel of God spoke to me in a dream, saying, ‘Jacob.’ And I said, ‘Here I am.’

12 And He said, ‘Lift your eyes now and see, all the rams which leap on the flocks are streaked, speckled, and gray-spotted; for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you.

13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar and where you made a vow to Me. Now arise, get out of this land, and return to the land of your family.’ ”

14 Then Rachel and Leah answered and said to him, “Is there still any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house?

15 Are we not considered strangers by him? For he has sold us, and also completely consumed our money.

16 For all these riches which God has taken from our father are really ours and our children’s; now then, whatever God has said to you, do it.”

17 Then Jacob rose and set his sons and his wives on camels.

18 And he carried away all his livestock and all his possessions which he had gained, his acquired livestock which he had gained in Padan Aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan.

19 Now Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel had stolen the household idols that were her father’s.

20 And Jacob stole away, unknown to Laban the Syrian, in that he did not tell him that he intended to flee.

21 So he fled with all that he had. He arose and crossed the river, and headed toward the mountains of Gilead.

Laban and his sons were becoming greatly concerned. What had seemed like an extremely good contract at the time they made it had taken a most surprising and distressing turn. Jacob had kept his part of the bargain faithfully, but some how his flock was prospering and theirs was suffering. Laban’s sons, in particular, who could see their inheritance slipping away from them (Laban was an old man by this time, no doubt), became unreasonably bitter, accusing Jacob of a thieving appropriation of their father’s wealth. — Morris, page 478.

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Knowing that he would not be allowed by Laban to leave openly with his flocks and family, Jacob realized he would have to leave unannounced. He knew that Laban would, if he could, take all his possessions from him before he would allow him to leave (Genesis 31:42). …

To secretly inform his wives about his plan, Jacob had to send for them to come out into the fields, where he was keeping the flocks. … He told them their father no longer felt toward him as he formerly did, because of his increasing prosperity. He recounted numerous instances when Laban had deceived him and when he had changed his wages for no reason except to hinder Jacob’s increase in wealth. When he saw the cattle were producing speckled cattle, he would tell Jacob he had decided only the striped would be his wages. Then, when the cattle would produce striped offspring, he would change it again. In every case, however, the Lord had kept blessing Jacob. No matter what Laban had tried to do to him, God had protected and prospered him. During all this time, Jacob had continued to serve Laban to the very best of his ability, trying to keep his own word. … Jacob also knew Leah and Rachel were aware of this, and they could hardly fail to have been deeply impressed with the way the Lord was miraculously prospering their husband in spite of all their father could do to prevent it. Jacob made no claim that it was by his own ability or ingenuity that he had acquired such wealth; he gave all the credit to the Lord. — Morris, page 479.

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God revealed in a dream, through His angel, that the reason He had [prospered Jacob] was His awareness of what Laban was attempting to do to Jacob. He reminded Jacob that He had spoken to him at Bethel, twenty years before. In the vow, made at that time, when he had set up and anointed a pillar in commemoration of God’s promise, Jacob had contemplated someday returning to his father’s house in peace. Now the time had come, and God told him to be on his way, returning to his homeland. — Morris, page 480.

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Rachel and Leah revealed in their words here that they had long resented the way that their father had essentially “sold” them to Jacob. He had treated them as “strangers” or “foreigners,” rather than as his own daughters. The exorbitant price which Jacob had paid for them—fourteen years of free service to Laban—made them love Jacob but resent their father. Rather than treating this payment like a dowry, to provide a financial base for his daughters’ future well-being and security, as should have been done, he had “devoured” it all himself, using it probably to build up his own holdings, and had given nothing to them personally. They rightly felt that, since their husband had been responsible for the great prosperity of their father, and since this was in effect what Jacob had given in order to marry, them, these possessions by all rights should have come to them. … Consequently, they felt justified in interpreting God’s dealings with Laban, in causing his flocks to gradually become those of Jacob, as imply taking what had rightly belonged to them and their children and restoring it to them. — Morris, page 481.

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The vast majority of new animals born to Laban’s flocks [were stripped, speckled, and spotted], thus greatly enhancing Jacob’s wealth at the expense of Laban’s. Though this may seem to contradict Laban’s affirmation in the previous chapter that God had blessed him on Jacob’s account (see Genesis 30:27), a careful reading bears out that this new turn of circumstances is completely consistent with (and an early example of) God’s accompanying covenant promise to “curse the one who slights you” (Genesis 12:3); for as Jacob tells his wives Rachel and Leah, “Your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times.” From his ensuing statement it is clear that this refers to the time following their agreement of Genesis 30:31-34, according to which Jacob was to have all the stripped, speckled, and spotted sheep and goats. [No matter how Laban changed the deal] observes Jacob, “God has taken away Laban’s livestock and given them to me” — bearing out not only the covenant paradigm of “cursing for slighting,” but also raising the expectation that He will often curse the cursor in much the same way as he/they sought to curse the covenant family. … He does not (and nor should we) attribute the accumulation of stripped, speckled, and spotted livestock to anything but the activity of God. — Wechsler, pages 235-236.

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Jacob lost no time in preparing to depart. … The entire assemblage, when ready, must have made quite a large caravan. … Rachel, before leaving, and quite unknown to Jacob, had slipped into Laban’s tent and stolen his “images” (literally, teraphim, or small idol figurines used in divination and as household deities supposed to bring good luck to the owner). Their use frequently cropped up on later Israelite history, but was definitely idolatrous and contrary to the true faith of Jehovah. … Laban had become an idolater, though he did know about Jehovah in a general way. … It is also possible, as implied in some of the Nuzu tablets excavated around 1930, that the teraphim were associated with the inheritance and property rights of their owner. — Morris, pages 482-483.

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A key verb which underscores, both explicitly and implicitly, the theological immaturity and sin of all of the three major (human) figures in this episode—i.e., Jacob, Rachel, and Laban— is the verb “to steal,” which is here employed eight times (vs. 19, 20, 26, 27, 30, 32, 39 [twice])—the same verb employed by God to describe the prohibited action of the eighth commandment (see Exodus 20:15).  Rachel stole Laban’s household idols, and in the next verse we are told that Jacob stole Laban’s heart. There is a subtle and sophisticated semantic irony here, for by the immediately following statement “by not telling him that he was fleeing” the reader might naturally assume that the “stealing” of Laban’s “heart” centered in the surreptitious removal of his daughters and grandchildren (i.e., the “sons” of v.28), as Laban himself seems to suggest in vs.26-27; yet the parallelism of this reference to “stealing” Laban’s “heart in v.20a with the reference to “stealing” Laban’s “idols” in v.19b, suggests in fact that his heart was more attached to his idols than his own flesh and blood ( part of the reason, perhaps, that Rachel chose to steal them)! And indeed it is with recovering his idols that Laban demonstrates a clear preoccupation in the ensuing verses. — Wechsler, page 237.

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Jacob and his party forded the River Euphrates (the river is sufficiently shallow at certain points near its source for this) and headed for Mount Gilead, for to the southwest. Mount Gilead is actually a mountainous region east of the Jordan River. Its northern edges are nearly three hundred miles from Haran; so a long journey stretched ahead of them. … Once they began moving the flocks along, they would be able to make only fifteen or twenty miles a day. Thus, once they started driving the cattle, it would take them probably ten days or so to reach the Mount Gilead region. — Morris, page 483.

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