Genesis – Chapter 31

The Bible – Old Testament



Chapter 31


Jacob learned that Laban’s sons were saying, «Jacob has taken everything that belonged to our father, and he has accumulated all this wealth of his by using our father’s property.»


Jacob perceived, too, that Laban’s attitude toward him was not what it had previously been.


Then the LORD said to Jacob, «Return to the land of your fathers, where you were born, and I will be with you.»


So Jacob sent for Rachel and Leah to meet him where he was in the field with his flock.


There he said to them: «I have noticed that your father’s attitude toward me is not as it was in the past; but the God of my father has been with me.


You well know what effort I put into serving your father;


yet your father cheated me and changed my wages time after time. God, however, did not let him do me any harm.


1 Whenever your father said, ‘The speckled animals shall be your wages,’ the entire flock would bear speckled young; whenever he said, ‘The streaked animals shall be your wages,’ the entire flock would bear streaked young.


Thus God reclaimed your father’s livestock and gave it to me.


Once, in the breeding season, I had a dream in which I saw mating he-goats that were streaked, speckled and mottled.


In the dream God’s messenger called to me, ‘Jacob!’ ‘Here!’ I replied.


Then he said: ‘Note well. All the he-goats in the flock, as they mate, are streaked, speckled and mottled, for I have seen all the things that Laban has been doing to you.


I am the God who appeared to you in Bethel, where you anointed a memorial stone and made a vow to me. Up, then! Leave this land and return to the land of your birth.'»


Rachel and Leah answered him: «Have we still an heir’s portion in our father’s house?


2 Are we not regarded by him as outsiders? He not only sold us; he has even used up the money that he got for us!


All the wealth that God reclaimed from our father really belongs to us and our children. Therefore, do just as God has told you.»


Jacob proceeded to put his children and wives on camels,


and he drove off with all his livestock and all the property he had acquired in Paddan-aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan.


3 Now Laban had gone away to shear his sheep, and Rachel had meanwhile appropriated her father’s household idols.


4 Jacob had hoodwinked Laban the Aramean by not telling him of his intended flight.


Thus he made his escape with all that he had. Once he was across the Euphrates, he headed for the highlands of Gilead.


On the third day, word came to Laban that Jacob had fled.


5 Taking his kinsmen with him, he pursued him for seven days until he caught up with him in the hill country of Gilead.


But that night God appeared to Laban the Aramean in a dream and warned him, «Take care not to threaten Jacob with any harm!»


When Laban overtook Jacob, Jacob’s tents were pitched in the highlands; Laban also pitched his tents there, on Mount Gilead.


6 «What do you mean,» Laban demanded of Jacob, «by hoodwinking me and carrying off my daughters like war captives?


Why did you dupe me by stealing away secretly? You should have told me, and I would have sent you off with merry singing to the sound of tambourines and harps.


You did not even allow me a parting kiss to my daughters and grandchildren! What you have now done is a senseless thing.


I have it in my power to harm all of you; but last night the God of your father said to me, ‘Take care not to threaten Jacob with any harm!’


Granted that you had to leave because you were desperately homesick for your father’s house, why did you steal my gods?»


«I was frightened,» Jacob replied to Laban, «at the thought that you might take your daughters away from me by force.


But as for your gods, the one you find them with shall not remain alive! If, with my kinsmen looking on, you identify anything here as belonging to you, take it.» Jacob, of course, had no idea that Rachel had stolen the idols.


Laban then went in and searched Jacob’s tent and Leah’s tent, as well as the tents of the two maidservants; but he did not find the idols. Leaving Leah’s tent, he went into Rachel’s.


Now Rachel had taken the idols, put them inside a camel cushion, and seated herself upon them. When Laban had rummaged through the rest of her tent without finding them,


Rachel said to her father, «Let not my lord feel offended that I cannot rise in your presence; a woman’s period is upon me.» So, despite his search, he did not find his idols.


Jacob, now enraged, upbraided Laban. «What crime or offense have I committed,» he demanded, «that you should hound me so fiercely?


Now that you have ransacked all my things, have you found a single object taken from your belongings? If so, produce it here before your kinsmen and mine, and let them decide between us two.


«In the twenty years that I was under you, no ewe or she-goat of yours ever miscarried, and I have never feasted on a ram of your flock.


7 I never brought you an animal torn by wild beasts; I made good the loss myself. You held me responsible for anything stolen by day or night.


How often the scorching heat ravaged me by day, and the frost by night, while sleep fled from my eyes!


Of the twenty years that I have now spent in your household, I slaved fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flock, while you changed my wages time after time.


If my ancestral God, the God of Abraham and the Awesome One of Isaac, had not been on my side, you would now have sent me away empty-handed. But God saw my plight and the fruits of my toil, and last night he gave judgment.»


8 Laban replied to Jacob: «The women are mine, their children are mine, and the flocks are mine; everything you see belongs to me. But since these women are my daughters, I will now do something for them and for the children they have borne.


Come, then, we will make a pact, you and I; the LORD shall be a witness between us.»


Then Jacob took a stone and set it up as a memorial stone.


Jacob said to his kinsmen, «Gather some stones.» So they got some stones and made a mound; and they had a meal there at the mound.


9 Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, but Jacob named it Galeed.


«This mound,» said Laban, «shall be a witness from now on between you and me.» That is why it was named Galeed – 


10 and also Mizpah, for he said: «May the LORD keep watch between you and me when we are out of each other’s sight.


If you mistreat my daughters, or take other wives besides my daughters, remember that even though no one else is about, God will be witness between you and me.»


Laban said further to Jacob: «Here is this mound, and here is the memorial stone that I have set up between you and me.


This mound shall be witness, and this memorial stone shall be witness, that, with hostile intent, neither may I pass beyond this mound into your territory, nor may you pass beyond it into mine.


May the God of Abraham and the god of Nahor (their ancestral deities) maintain justice between us!» Jacob took the oath by the Awesome One of Isaac.


He then offered a sacrifice on the mountain and invited his kinsmen to share in the meal. When they had eaten, they passed the night on the mountain.

1 [8-12] This Elohist account of the miraculous increase in Jacob’s flock differs somewhat from the Yahwist account given in ⇒ Genesis 30:32-42.
2 [15] Outsiders: literally «foreign women»; they lacked the favored legal status of native women. Used up: literally «eaten, consumed»; the bridal price that a man received for giving his daughter in marriage was legally reserved as her inalienable dowry.
3 [19] Household idols: in Hebrew, teraphim, figurines used in divination (⇒ Ezekiel 21:26; ⇒ Zechariah 10:2). Laban calls them his «gods» ?(⇒ Genesis 31:30).
4 [20] Hoodwinked: literally «stolen the heart of,» i.e., lulled the mind of. Aramean: The earliest extra-biblical references to the Arameans date from several centuries after the time of Jacob; to call Laban an Aramean and to have him speak Aramaic (⇒ Genesis 31:47) would seem to be an anachronism.
5 [23] For seven days: literally «a way of seven days,» a general term to designate a long distance; it would have taken a camel caravan many more days to travel from Haran to Gilead, the region east of the northern half of the Jordan.
6 [26] War captives: literally «women captured by the sword»; the women of a conquered people were treated as part of the victor’s booty; cf ⇒ 1 Sam 30:2; ⇒ 2 Kings 5:2.
7 [39] Laban’s actions were contrary to the customs of the ancient Near East, as recorded in the Code of Hammurabi: «If in a sheepfold an act of god has occurred, or a lion has made a kill, the shepherd shall clear himself before the deity, and the owner of the fold must accept the loss» (par. 266); cf ⇒ Exodus 22:12.
8 [43-54] In this account of the treaty between Laban and Jacob, the Yahwist and Elohist sources are closely interwoven. The mound or cairn of stones comes from the Yahwist source, the memorial stone or stele comes from the Elohist one.
9 [47] Jegar-sahadutha: an Aramaic term meaning «mound of witness.» Galeed: in Hebrew, galed, with the same meaning; also offers an explanation of the regional name Gilead.
10 [49] Mizpah: a town in Gilead; cf ⇒ Judges 10:17; ⇒ 11:11, ⇒ 34; ⇒ Hosea 5:1. The Hebrew name mispa («lookout») is allied to yisep yhwh («may the Lord keep watch»), and also echoes the word masseba («memorial pillar»).