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Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, [1834], at

Genesis Chapter 31

- Jacob's Flight from Haran

19. תרפים terāpı̂ym, Teraphim. This word occurs fifteen times in the Old Testament. It appears three times in this chapter, and nowhere else in the Pentateuch. It is always in the plural number. The root does not appear in Biblical Hebrew. It perhaps means "to live well," intransitively (Gesenius, Roedig.), "to nourish," transitively (Furst). The teraphim were symbols or representatives of the Deity, as Laban calls them his gods. They seem to have been busts (προτομαί protomai, Aquila) of the human form, sometimes as large as life Sa1 19:13. Those of full size were probably of wood; the smaller ones may have been of metal. In two passages Jdg 17:1-13; 18; Hos 3:4 they are six times associated with the ephod. This intimates either that they were worn on the ephod, like the Urim and Thummim, or more probably that the ephod was worn on them; in accordance with which they were employed for the purposes of divination Gen 30:27; Zac 10:2. The employment of them in the worship of God, which Laban seems to have inherited from his fathers Jos 24:2, is denounced as idolatry Sa1 15:23; and hence, they are classed with the idols and other abominations put away by Josiah Kg2 23:24.

47. שׂהדוּתא יגר yegar-śâhădûtā', Jegar-sahadutha, "cairn of witness" in the Aramaic dialect of the old Hebrew or Shemite speech. גלעד gal‛ēd, Gal'ed; and גלעד gı̂l‛ād, Gil'ad, "cairn of witness" in Hebrew especially so called (see Gen 11:1-9).

49. מצפה mı̂tspâh, Mizpah, "watch-tower."

Jacob had now been twenty years in Laban's service, and was therefore, ninety-six years of age. It has now become manifest that he cannot obtain leave of Laban to return home. He must, therefore, either come off by the high hand, or by secret flight. Jacob has many reasons for preferring the latter course.

Gen 31:1-13

Circumstances at length induce Jacob to propose flight to his wives. His prosperity provokes the envy and slander of Laban's sons, and Laban himself becomes estranged. The Lord now commands Jacob to return, and promises him his presence to protect him. Jacob now opens his mind fully to Rachel and Leah. Rachel, we observe, is put first. Several new facts come out in his discourse to them. Ye know - Jacob appeals to his wives on this point - "that with all my might I served your father." He means, of course, to the extent of his engagement. During the last six years he was to provide for his own house, as the Lord permitted him, with the full knowledge and concurrence of Laban. Beyond this, which is a fair and acknowledged exception, he has been faithful in keeping the cattle of Laban. "Your father deceived me, and changed my wages ten times;" that is, as often as he could.

If, at the end of the first year, he found that Jacob had gained considerably, though he began with nothing, he might change his wages every following half-year, and so actually change them ten times in five years. In this case, the preceding chapter only records his original expedients, and then states the final result. "God suffered him not to hurt me." Jacob, we are to remember, left his hire to the providence of God. He thought himself bound at the same time to use all legitimate means for the attainment of the desired end. His expedients may have been perfectly legitimate in the circumstances, but they were evidently of no avail without the divine blessing. And they would become wholly ineffectual when his wages were changed. Hence, he says, God took the cattle and gave them to me. Jacob seems here to record two dreams, the former of which is dated at the rutting season. The dream indicates the result by a symbolic representation, which ascribes it rather to the God of nature than to the man of art. The second dream makes allusion to the former as a process still going on up to the present time. This appears to be an encouragement to Jacob now to commit himself to the Lord on his way home. The angel of the Lord, we observe, announces himself as the God of Bethel, and recalls to Jacob the pillar and the vow. The angel, then, is Yahweh manifesting himself to human apprehension.

Gen 31:14-19

His wives entirely accord with his view of their father's selfishness in dealing with his son-in-law, and approve of his intended departure. Jacob makes all the needful preparations for a hasty and secret flight. He avails himself of the occasion when Laban is at a distance probably of three or more days' journey, shearing his sheep. "Rachel stole the teraphim." It is not the business of Scripture to acquaint us with the kinds and characteristics of false worship. Hence, we know little of the teraphim, except that they were employed by those who professed to worship the true God. Rachel had a lingering attachment to these objects of her family's superstitious reverence, and secretly carried them away as relics of a home she was to visit no more, and as sources of safety to herself against the perils of her flight.

Gen 31:20-24

Laban hears of his flight, pursues, and overtakes him. "Stole the heart," κλέπτειν νοῦν kleptein noun. The heart is the seat of the understanding in Scripture. To steal the heart of anyone is to act without his knowledge. The river. The Frat, near which, we may conclude, Jacob was tending his flocks. Haran was about seventy miles from the river, and therefore, Laban's flocks were on the other side of Haran. "Toward mount Gilead;" about three hundred miles from the Frat. "On the third day." This shows that Laban's flocks kept by his sons were still three days' journey apart from Jacob's. His brethren - his kindred and dependents. "Seven days' journey." On the third day after the arrival of the messenger, Laban might return to the spot whence Jacob had taken his flight. In this case, Jacob would have at least five days of a start; which, added to the seven days of pursuit, would give him twelve days to travel three hundred English miles. To those accustomed to the pastoral life this was a possible achievement. God appears to Laban on behalf of Jacob, and warns him not to harm him. "Not to speak from good to bad" is merely to abstain from language expressing and prefacing violence.

Gen 31:25-32

Laban's expostulation and Jacob's reply. What hast thou done? Laban intimates that he would have dismissed him honorably and affectionately, and therefore, that his flight was needless and unkind; and finally charges him with stealing his gods. Jacob gives him to understand that he did not expect fair treatment at his hands, and gives him leave to search for his gods, not knowing that Rachel had taken them.

Gen 31:33-42

After the search for the teraphim has proved vain, Jacob warmly upbraids Laban. "The camel's saddle." This was a pack-saddle, in the recesses of which articles might be deposited, and on which was a seat or couch for the rider. Rachel pleads the custom of women as an excuse for keeping her seat; which is admitted by Laban, not perhaps from the fear of ceremonial defilement Lev 15:19-27, as this law was not yet in force, but from respect to his daughter and the conviction that in such circumstances she would not sit upon the teraphim. "My brethren and thy brethren" - their common kindred. Jacob recapitulates his services in feeling terms. "By day the drought;" caused by the heat, which is extreme during the day, while the cold is not less severe in Palestine during the night. "The fear of Isaac" - the God whom Isaac fears. Judged - requited by restraining thee from wrong-doing.

Gen 31:43-47

Laban, now pacified, if not conscience-stricken, proposes a covenant between them. Jacob erects a memorial pillar, around which the clan gather a cairn of stones, which serves by its name for a witness of their compact. "Jegar-sahadutha." Here is the first decided specimen of Aramaic, as contradistinguished from Hebrew. Its incidental appearance indicates a fully formed dialect known to Jacob, and distinct from his own. Gilead or Galeed remains to this day in Jebel Jel'ad, though the original spot was further north.

Gen 31:48-54

The covenant is then completed. And Mizpah. This refers to some prominent cliff from which, as a watch-tower, an extensive view might be obtained. It was in the northern half of Gilead Deu 3:12-13, and is noticed in Jdg 11:29. It is not to be confounded with other places called by the same name. The reference of this name to the present occurrence is explained in these two verses. The names Gilead and Mizpah may have arisen from this transaction, or received a new turn in consequence of its occurrence. The terms of the covenant are now formally stated. I have cast. The erection of the pillar was a joint act of the two parties; in which Laban proposes, Jacob performs, and all take part. "The God of Abraham, Nahor, and Terah." This is an interesting acknowledgment that their common ancestor Terah and his descendants down to Laban still acknowledged the true God even in their idolatry. Jacob swears by the fear of isaac, perhaps to rid himself of any error that had crept into Laban's notions of God and his worship. The common sacrifice and the common meal ratify the covenant of reconciliation.

Next: Genesis Chapter 32