Gleanings In Genesis

32. Jacob's Departure From Haran

Genesis 31

Before Jacob had ever set foot in Padan-Aram Jehovah, the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac, had said to him, "Behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of." (Gen. 28:15). And now the time had drawn near when our patriarch was to return to the promised land. He was not to spend the remainder of his days in his uncle's household; God had a different purpose than that for him, and all things were made to work together for the furtherance of that purpose. But not until God's hour was ripe must Jacob leave Padan-Aram. Some little while before God's time had come, Jacob assayed to leave: "And it came to pass, when Rachel had borne Joseph, that Jacob said unto Laban, send me away, that I may go unto mine own place, and to my country." (Gen. 30:25). Apparently Laban was reluctant to grant this request, and so offered to raise his wages as an inducement for Jacob to remain with him, "And Laban said unto him, I pray thee, if I have found favor in thine eyes, tarry: for I have learned by experience that the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake. And he said, Appoint me thy wages, and I will give it." (Gen. 30:27,28). Ere proceeding with the narrative the above words of Laban deserve to be noticed. This was a remarkable confession of Jacob's uncle- "The Lord hath blessed me for thy sake." Laban was not blessed for his own sake, nor on account of any good deeds he had done; but he was blessed "for the sake" of another. Was not God here setting forth under a figure the method or principle by which He was going to bless sinners, namely, for the sake of another who was dear to Him? Do not these words of Laban anticipate the Gospel? and point forward to the present time when we read "God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you" (Eph. 4:32), and again in 1 John 2:12 "your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake." Yes, this is the blessed truth foreshadowed in Genesis 30:27: God blessed Laban for Jacob's sake. So again we read in Genesis 39:15 concerning Potiphar, "The Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake." And again we have another beautiful illustration of this same precious fact and truth in 2 Samuel 9:1: "And David said, Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake." Reader, have you apprehended this saving truth? That for which we are accepted and saved by God is, not any work of righteousness which we have done, nor even for our believing- necessary though that be- but simply and solely for Christ's sake.

The sequel would seem to show that Jacob accepted Laban's offer, and decided to prolong his stay. Instead, however, of leaving himself at the mercy of his grasping and deceitful uncle, who had already "changed his wages ten times" (see Genesis 31:7), Jacob determined to outwit the one whom he had now served for upwards of twenty years by suggesting a plan which left him master of the situation, and promised to greatly enrich him. (See Genesis 30:31-42). Much has been written concerning this device of Jacob to get the better of Laban and at the same time secure for himself that which he had really earned, and varied have been the opinions expressed. One thing seems clear: unless God had prospered it Jacob's plan had failed, for something more than sticks from which a part of the bark had been removed was needed to make the cattle bear "ringstreaked, speckled, and spotted" young ones. (Gen. 30:39).

The outcome of Jacob's device is stated in the last verse of Genesis 30: "And the man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses." This intimates that some little time must have elapsed since our patriarch suggested (Gen. 30:25) leaving his uncle. Now that prosperity smiled upon him Jacob was, apparently, well satisfied to remain where he was, for though Laban was no longer as friendly as hitherto, and though Laban's sons were openly jealous of him (Gen. 31:1, 2) we hear no more about Jacob being anxious to depart. But, as we have said, God's time for him to leave had almost arrived; and so we read, "And the Lord said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee." (Gen. 31:3).

God timed this word to Jacob most graciously. The opening verses of Genesis 31 show there was not a little envy and evilmindedness at work in the family against him. Not only were Laban's sons murmuring at Jacob's prosperity, but their father was plainly of the same mind and bore an unkindly demeanor toward his nephew- "And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and behold, it was not toward him as before." The Lord had promised to be with Jacob, and to keep him in all places whither he went, and he now makes good His word. Like a watchful friend at hand, He observes his treatment and bids him depart. As another has well said, "If Jacob had removed from mere personal resentment, or as stimulated only by a sense of injury, he might have sinned against God, though not against Laban. But when it was said to him ‘Return unto the land of thy fathers and to thy kindred, and I will be with thee,' his way was plain before him. In all our removals, it becomes us to act as that we may hope for the Divine presence and blessing to attend us; else, though we may flee from one trouble, we shall fall into many, and be less able to endure them." (Andrew Fuller).

"And the Lord said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee." (Gen. 31:3). What a showing forth of God's wondrous grace was this! In all that is told us about Jacob during the twenty years he spent at Padan-Aram there was not a word which intimates he had any dealings with God during that time. There is no mention of any "altar," no reference to prayer, nothing to distinguish him from a thorough worldling. It needs to be remembered that the "altar" speaks not only of sacrifice but of communion too. The altar pointed forward to Christ, and it is only in Him that God and the redeemed sinner meet and commune together. Jacob, then, had no altar in Padan-Aram because he was out of communion with Jehovah. "Although God in His faithfulness be with us, we are not always with Him." (J. N.D.). But if Jacob had forgotten the Lord, Jehovah had not forgotten him; and now that Jacob begins to be in real need the Lord spoke the suited word. Yet mark the other side.

Having been warned of God to depart, Jacob sends for his wives into the field, where he might converse with them freely on the subject, without danger of being overheard. (See Genesis 31:4-13). The reasons he names for leaving were partly the treatment of Laban, and partly the intimations of God- "I see your father's countenance that it is not toward me as before." Mr. Fuller's practical observations on these words are so good we cannot refrain from quoting them: "It is wisely ordered that the countenance should, in most cases, be an index to the heart; else there would be much more deception in the world than there is. We gather more of men's disposition toward us from their looks than their words; and domestic happiness is more influenced by the one than by the other. Sullen silence is often more intolerable than contention itself, because the latter, painful as it is, affords opportunity for mutual explanation. But while Jacob had to complain at Laban's cloudy countenance he could add, ‘The God of my father hath been with me.' God's smiles are the best support under man's frowns; if we walk in the light of His countenance we need not fear what man can do unto us."

Having talked the matter over with his wives, and obtained their consent to accompany him, the next thing was to prepare for their departure. Had Laban known what was in his nephew's mind there is reason to fear he would have objected, perhaps have used force to detain him, or at least deprived him of the greater part of his possessions. Acting with his usual caution, Jacob waited until Laban was a three days' journey away from home, absent at a sheep-shearing. Taking advantage of this, Jacob, accompanied by his wives, his children, and his flocks, "stole away unawares to Laban." (Gen. 31:20). How little there was of Divine guidance and of faith in Jehovah in this stealth! Not of him could it be said "For ye shall not go out with haste, nor by flight; for the Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rearward." (Isa. 52:12). That the Holy Spirit was not here leading is made still more evident by what is told us in verse 19: "And Rachel had stolen the teraphim that were her father's." It may be of interest to some of our readers if we here digress again and contemplate these teraphim in the light of other scriptures.

Scholars tell us that the word "teraphim" may be traced to a Syrian root which means "to inquire."[1] This explains the reason why Rachel took with her these family "gods" when her husband stole away surreptitiously from her home- it was to prevent her father from "inquiring" of these idol "oracles" and thus discovering the direction in which they had gone. Mark that Laban calls these teraphim his "gods." (Gen. 31:30). The next reference to the "teraphim" in Scripture confirms the idea that they were used for oracular consultation. In Judges 17:5 we read: "And the man Micah had a house of gods, and made an ephod, and teraphim, and consecrated one of his sons who became his priest"; next we are told "In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes" and "Micah consecrated the Levite; and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah." (Verse 6, 12). Then, in the chapter that follows, we read of the tribe of Dan seeking an inheritance to dwell in, and sending out spies to search out the land; and they came to "the house of Micah (who had the teraphim) and said to his priest, Ask counsel, we pray thee, of God, that we may know whether our way which we go shall be prosperous." (Judg. 18:6). That it was of the "teraphim" they wished him to enquire, and not of the Lord, is clear from what follows, for when the spies returned to their tribe and made their report (which was adopted), the tribe on going forth to secure their inheritance carefully saw to it that Micah's "priest" with his "graven image, and the ephod, and the teraphim" accompanied them, so that we are told he became their "priest." (See Genesis 18:8-20). Next we read in 1 Samuel 19:13: "And Michal took a teraphim and laid it in the bed, and put a pillow of goat's hair for his bolster, and covered it with a cloth." This scripture not only reveals the sad fact that Saul's daughter was an idolator and practiced necromancy, but also intimates that by this time the "teraphim" were fashioned after the human form- hence Michal's selection of one of these to appear like the figure of her sleeping husband.[2] Ezekiel 21:21 also makes it clear that the "teraphim" were used for oracular consultation- ‘‘The king of Babylon.. consulted with teraphim." Later scriptures indicate that after Israel had apostatized from Jehovah they turned to the "teraphim" more and more "For the teraphim have spoken vanity, and the diviners have seen a lie, and have told false dreams; they comfort in vain." (Zech. 10:2). Hence it was in pronouncing sentence on recreant Israel, God said: "For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without a teraphim." What a terrible analogy to all this we behold in our own day! Just as in olden time Israel turned from Jehovah to the "teraphim" of the heathen, so today, now that Christendom has apostatized, men on all sides are turning away from the Holy Scriptures which are the Oracles of God, and are giving heed to seducing spirits and the deceptions of Satan.

That Laban harbored in his home these "teraphim" shows that the idolatry of Babylonia still clung to his family, notwithstanding he had some knowledge of the true God. (See Genesis 31:53). Laban appears to have been a man much after the order of those of whom it is written: "They sware by the Lord and by Malehom" (a heathen god). (Zeph. 1:5). This strange contradiction in Laban's religious life appears to throw light upon a passage and person that has long puzzled Bible students. We refer to Balaam. This mysterious prophet seems to have been a heathen soothsayer, and yet it is evident he also had some dealings with Jehovah. If Balaam was a descendant of Laban this would account for this religious anomoly. Now in Numbers 23:7 we learn that Balaam came from "Aram," which may possibly be identical with Padan-Aram where Laban dwelt. Balaam prophesied only some 280 years after Jacob's departure from Laban's home, and may then have been an old man, at any rate in those days 280 years covered only about two generations. The Targum of Jonathan on Numbers 27:5, and the Targum on 1 Chronicles 1:44 make Balaam to be Laban himself; and others say he was the son of Boor, the son of Laban. Bearing in mind that Laban employed the "teraphim" as his "gods," if Balaam were one of his descendants then it would explain why he did not utterly disown Jehovah while yet practicing the abominations of the heathen.

To return to the narrative. It was not long after Jacob's stealthy departure that Laban heard of what had taken place, and gathering together what was, no doubt, a considerable force, he immediately set out in pursuit. But on the night before he overtook Jacob's party, God appeared to him in a dream, and warned him against even speaking to Jacob "good or bad." Thus did Jehovah, once again, make good His original promise to our patriarch and manifest His preserving Presence with Jacob. The measure in which Laban respected the word of God is seen in the charges he brought against Jacob when they met the next day. We refrain from commenting on the lengthy colloquy between Jacob and his uncle. Though considerable feeling was evidenced by both parties, the interview terminated happily, and the final leave-taking was quite affecting. But it is remarkable that at the close of their interview each man revealed himself and his true condition of heart. It is by the seemingly little things that our characters are shown- "By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." (Matthew 12:37). So it was here. When Jacob took a stone and" set it up for a pillar" to be a witness of the covenant made between them (Gen. 31:44-46) Laban called it "Jegar-sahadutha" which is Chaldean for "heap of witness," thus speaking in the language of heathendom; whereas, Jacob termed it "Galeed" which was Hebrew for "heap of witness." Only the true believer can speak the language of God's people; of the worldling, the godless idolator, it must be said of him as the maid said of Peter when he was denying his Lord, "Thy speech betrayeth thee." (Matthew 26:73).

The closing verses of our chapter present briefly another beautiful typical picture: "Then Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat bread; and they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the mount. And 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." First a covenant of peace was proposed, then it was ratified by a sacrifice, and last it was commemorated by a feast. So it was in Egypt. God made promise to Moses, then the lamb was slain, and then the people feasted upon his roasted flesh. Thus it is with us. God entered into a covenant of peace before the foundation of the world, in the fullness of time the great Sacrifice was offered and accepted, and this is now commemorated at the" feast" of the Lord's Supper. (1 Cor. 5:8). Note, too, it was not Laban the elder, but Jacob his nephew who "offered sacrifice upon the mount."

One practical observation on the circumstance of Jacob leaving Padan-Aram and we conclude. It has been suggested by Dr. Griffith-Thomas that this incident supplies us with valuable principles for regulating the believer in his daily life when in doubt concerning the will of God. How often one is puzzled to know whether God would have us take a certain course or not. How may I be sure of God's will concerning some issue which confronts me? An important question; one that is frequently met with, and one which must find answer in the Word alone. Surely God has not left us without something definite for our guidance. Not that we must always look for a passage of Scripture whose terms are absolutely identical with our own situation, but rather must we search for some passage which sets forth some clearly defined principles which are suited to meet our case. Such indeed we find here in Genesis 31.

Jacob was in a strange land. He had been there for twenty years, yet he knew he was not to spend the remainder of his days there. God had assured him he should return to Canaan. How much longer then was he to tarry at Padan-Aram? When was he to start out for his old home? How could he be sure when God's time for him to move had arrived? Pressing questions these. Note how the answer to them is found here in three things: first, a definite desire sprang up in Jacob's heart to return home- this is evident from Genesis 30:25. But this in itself was not sufficient to warrant a move, so Jacob must wait a while longer. Second, circumstances became such that a move seemed the wise thing; the jealousy of Laban and his sons made his continued stay there intolerable. (Gen. 31:1, 2). This was ordered of God who makes all things "work together" for the good of His own people. But still something more was needed ere Jacob was justified in leaving. So, in the third place there was a clear word from God- "The Lord said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers." (Gen. 31:3).

It is not always that God gives us a manifestation of these three principles, but whenever they do combine and are evident we may be sure of His will in any given circumstance. First, a definite conviction in our hearts that God desires us to take a certain course or do a certain thing. Second, the path He would have us take being indicated by outward circumstances, which make it (humanly) possible or expedient we should do it. Then, third, after definitely waiting on God for it, some special word from the Scriptures which is suited to our case and which by the Spirit bringing it manifestly to our notice (while waiting for guidance) is plainly a message from God to our individual heart. Thus may we be assured of God's will for us. The most important thing is to wait on God. Tell Him your perplexity, ask Him to prevent you from making any mistake, cry earnestly to Him to make "plain His way before your face" (Ps. 5:8), and then "wait patiently" till He does so. Remember that "whatsoever is not of faith is sin." (Rom. 4:23). If you are sincere and patient, and pray in faith, then, in His own good time and way, He will most certainly answer, either by removing the conviction or desire from your heart, and arranging your circumstances in such a manner that your way is blocked- and then you will know His time for you to move has not arrived- or, by deepening your conviction, so ordering your circumstances as that the way is opened up without your doing anything yourself, and by speaking definitely through His written Word. "Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. (Ps. 37:5). The meek will He guide in judgment; and the meek will He teach His way." (Ps. 25:9). "He that believeth shall not make haste." May writer and reader be permitted by Divine grace to enjoy that blessed peace that comes from knowing we are in the will that "good and perfect and acceptable will" - of God.


[1] Probably the name “teraphim” was originally a corruption of cherubim.

[2] This one must have been much larger than those which Rachael concealed under her saddle.

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