JACOB’S FLIGHT.—THE PURSUIT OF HIM BY LABAN, AND THEIR RECONCILIATION.
(1) Laban’s sons.—No mention hitherto had been made of Laban having any other children than Leah and Rachel. If his sons were by the same wife, they would be men about fifty-five or sixty years of age. In saying that Jacob had taken “all that was their father’s” they were guilty of exaggeration; for Laban was still rich, and probably, upon the whole, was a gainer by the presence of one so highly gifted as Jacob. Their word “glory” suggests that, enriched by cattle and commerce, Jacob had now become a person of great importance in the eyes of the people of Haran.
Thy kindred.—Heb., thy birthplace, as in Genesis 12:1; Genesis 24:4; Genesis 24:7, &c.
As regards the vision, it has been thought that Jacob has compressed two occurrences into one narrative; but for insufficient reasons. It was at the breeding-time (Genesis 31:10) that Jacob saw the vision, with its two-fold lesson: the first, that the multiplication of his wages had been God’s gift, and not the result of his own artifices; the second, that this bestowal of wealth was to enable him to return to Canaan. His wives heartily concurred in his purpose, but it was not till the time of sheep-shearing came (Genesis 31:19) that he effected his escape. But there is no difficulty in this delay. How large the household of Jacob had become we learn from the greatness of the present he selected for Esau (Genesis 32:13-15), and it could not be removed without preparation. The servants and camels must be gathered in from their trading expeditions, tents must be got ready, and camels’ furniture and other requisites obtained; finally, they could not start until the ewes were fit for their journey, and only at a time of year when there would be herbage for the cattle on the march. We find that when they reached the Jabbok, Jacob’s flocks and herds were “giving suck” (Genesis 33:13 in the Heb.); but it is not easy to calculate the interval between this and the time when they commenced their journey.
Images.—Heb., teraphim, called Laban’s gods in Genesis 31:30, and we find that their worship continued throughout the Old Testament history. Micah sets up teraphim, as well as a molten and a graven image, and an ephod (Judges 18:17). Though in 1 Samuel 15:23, where the Authorised Version has idolatry, teraphim are spoken of in strong terms of condemnation, yet Michal possessed them, and placed them in David’s bed. We gather from this that they had a head shaped like that of a man, but, probably, a dwarf trunk, as she seems to have put more than one in the bed to represent David’s body (1 Samuel 19:13). So, too, here Rachel hides them under the camel’s furniture (Genesis 31:34), which proves that they, in this case, were of no great size. In the history of the thorough reformation carried out by King Josiah we find the mention of teraphim among the things put away (2 Kings 23:24). We learn, nevertheless, from Zechariah 10:2, that they were still used for divination; and from Hosea 3:4 that both pillars and teraphim had long been objects of ordinary superstition among the ten tribes. As Nebuchadnezzar divines by them (Ezekiel 21:21) they were possibly of Chaldean origin; and, probably, were not so much worshipped as used for consultation. Women seem to have been most given to their service, and probably regarded them as charms, and told fortunes by them; and here Rachel stole them upon the supposition that they would bring prosperity to her and her husband.
Mount Gilead.—Gilead, the region of rock, was the mountainous frontier between the Aramean and Canaanite races. The form of the word is so remote from ordinary Hebrew that we have in it, probably, a very old appellation of this region; and Jacob apparently plays upon it in his name Galeed (Genesis 31:47).
Seven days’ journey.—The route chosen by Jacob was apparently the more easterly one, past Tadmor, and through the Hauran, leaving Damascus to the west. The hill, which subsequently was called Mount Gilead, lay to the south of the Jabbok; but asMahanaim, reached some days after the meeting with Laban, is to the north of that river, the word Gilead was evidently applied to the whole of the region of chalk cliffs on the east of the Jordan. This is made certain by the fact that Laban overtook Jacob in seven days. But as the distance from Haran to the most northerly part of this country (afterwards assigned to the half-tribe of Manasseh) was fully three hundred miles, it would require hard riding on the part of Laban and his brethren to enable them to overtake Jacob, even on the borders of this region. There is no difficulty about Jacob’s movements. His flocks were pastured at so remote a distance from Haran that it would be easy for him to send them in detachments to the ford of the Euphrates, distant about sixty or seventy miles; he would make all the arrangements with his four elder sons and trusty servants, and, probably, even see them across the ford himself, and would return to Haran to fetch his wives and younger children only when all was well advanced. Finally, when Laban goes to a distance, in another direction, for his sheep-shearing, Jacob “sets his sons and his wives upon camels,” and follows with the utmost speed. They would have remained quietly at Haran to the last, to avoid suspicion, and, excepting Leah’s four elder sons, the rest would have been too young to be of much use. When Jacob, with his wives, overtook the cattle, they would, probably, not travel more than ten or twelve miles a day; but three days passed before Laban learned what had taken place, and a couple of days at least must have been spent in returning to Haran and preparing for the pursuit. Thus Jacob had reached Canaanite ground—a matter of very considerable importance—before his father-in-law overtook him.
Captives . . . —Heb., captives of the sword, women carried off in war as spoil.
The speech of Laban is half true and half false. He would have wished not to part with Jacob at all, but to have recovered from him as much as he could of his property. But if he was to go, he would have liked outward appearances maintained; and, probably, he had an affection for his daughters and their children, though not so strong as to counterbalance his selfishness. His character, like that of all men, is a mixture of good and evil.
Let him not live.—The Rabbins regard this as a prophecy, fulfilled in Rachel’s premature death. Its more simple meaning is, I yield him up to thee even to be put to death.
Genesis 31:55And early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his daughters, and blessed them: and Laban departed, and returned unto his place.