Genesis | Chapter 31

Genesis 31:17-55

“Going the right way the wrong way”

  1. Intro.
  2. Vs. 17-21 Running to God with your tail between your legs
  3. Vs. 22-35 Who stole my sticks?
  4. Vs. 36-55 Don’t mess with Mizpah


We come to the end of Laban in this chapter and we shall not see him again. He passes from the seen as a man who wanted the blessings of God apart from practicing the truth of God’s word. A man who sought religion for his own personal gain but was really only worshipping himself. Yet God has used Laban to teach Jacob who is very much like Laban.

Jacob’s life has so far been seen as a man whom God desired to bless but Jacob wanted to obtain the promises of God in the energy of the flesh. He left home because he had refused to submit to God over the issue of his birth right. Instead he ends up having to submit to his crooked uncle Laban. He came to seek a wife but found instead they he had to become a servant for the wrong woman because he did not want to submit to the rights of the first born. He deceived his father and was deceived by his father in law. He deceivingly sought the rights of the older while he was the younger, he then was deceived given the rights of the older why he wanted the younger. Jacob’s problem? “Submission” to God and because he refused to submit to God he had to rely upon deception. This chapter is all about ethics which is best understood by saying that it is doing what ought to do not just what we have to do. In other words it is treating others, as you would want to be treated not just how they deserve to be treated.

There was a pastor who went to visit an elderly lady one afternoon. As they were having fellowship the pastor eyed a bowl of peanuts and asked if he may have some. She said to help himself. As the afternoon wore on he continued to munch on the bowl of nuts until they were finished. Embarrassed, he offered to buy her some more, she replied “Oh Pastor don’t be concerned about eating all the peanuts you see since I lost my teeth I can’t eat them all I do is suck the chocolate off them and spit the nuts back in the bowl!” You see she was perfectly ok in doing what she did with her peanuts but ethically she should have told him she sucked the Chocolate off them first.

Vs. 17-21 Running to God with your tail between your legs

Vs. 17-18 Three things that moved Jacob from Haron where he had lived 20 years back to the land of promise.

  1. Vs. 30:25 A desire to go
  2. Vs. 31:1-2 Circumstances that made it impossible to stay
  3. Vs. 31:3 God Commanded him to go

All three of these combined together to make it clear to him that he should go. This seems always to be the way God guides in our lives: “The conviction of the Spirit of God within our hearts. The Word of God agreeing with the conviction and finally the outward circumstances making it possible to go.” Now the first two together will tell us that the way is right but without the third the time is not now. Yet if all we have is the circumstances apart from the conviction of the Spirit and the Word of God agreeing with the conviction then we cannot be certain that the way is right. It is also interesting to me just on a practical basis Jacob did not move until he got the support from his wives I think that is Biblical wisdom as God has often used my wife to guide my heart to where it ought to be.

Vs. 19-21 It is obvious that Jacob is leaving in the will of God but in doing so he is not going about it the right way. He is not treating Laban the way in which he would like to be treated. According Jacob words if verse 31 his action is not based upon faith but rather fear. He sneaks away, while Laban is our shearing sheep. When you look at the geography in these words you see that Jacob waited until Laban was 70 miles away from Haron while he was three days journey in the opposite direction from Haron. Get the picture? Jacob waited until he had the most opportune time to leave instead of announcing his departure, trusted the Lord and left in victory. The way in which he leaves demonstrates that he was not trusting even though he was going the way in which he was supposed to. God is going to force Jacob to stop and take a stand and deal with the issue. The words, “headed towards Gilead” are literally “set his face toward Gilead” in other words he left with all he had and did so with complete resolve. Gilead means “perpetual fountain” and in a land of little rain speaks of a place of great blessing from God. Jacob was obviously guided by God to go, he was under heavy conviction that he needed to go right away and set all he had into going. The place he was going was a total blessing yet with all that said he still went about this the wrong way! The way in which he went made where he was going clouded! This explains a lot about how our convictions become polluted by our actions. Let me say this that I have discovered in my own life that it is much easier to change what I think then it is how I act! The first requires honest inquiry the second can only come about upon dying to self.

Now concerning Laban’s household idols swiped by Rachael. These carved sticks had a twofold importance to those that owned them:

  1. They signified ownership of property or possessions. Kind of like keys do today.
  2. They were thought of as “good luck charms”.

What interests me is that these “household gods” could be stolen in the first place. It was considered a capital offence to steal them, a risk that Rachael was willing to take. Why did she do so? Well only three possibilities exist.

  1. She was trying to keep her father from idol worship
  2. She was trying take away his “mojo” and get even for the way in which he treated her
  3. Or she realized that these tokens represented the inheritance that was supposed to be her sisters and hers (verse 15) that he had spent on himself. This is my guess as in the end Laban sets up a pillar so that just in case Jacob and his clan try to come back and claim what the household idols represented they were doing so at the risk of death.

With that said it would be good for us to ask ourselves if anyone right now could steel our god’s? Is what we hold onto as being the most precious things in our lives theft proof? When it all comes down to it everything except Jesus can be taken from us. We need to be careful what we place on the throne of our hearts not only for our sakes but also for our children’s as well, seeing that Rachael realized that Laban’s gods were something that she wanted as well.

Now we can see right off the bat two things wrong with Jacob’s departure:

  1. They left without telling Laban, choosing to do so when Laban would be unable to catch them so they thought.
  2. Rachael stole her father’s gods, which were the right to claim a portion of his inheritance.

What this shows us is that Jacob was going the right way the wrong way!

Vs. 22-35 Who stole my sticks?

Vs. 22-25 Three days pass before Laban finds out that they have left and he is not a happy camper. Based upon verse 30 he must have been somewhat suspicious as he searches his home to see if the house hold gods are still there. In verse 24 God speaks to Laban and warns him to be careful how he speaks to Jacob, which shows us that Laban did not have good intentions concerning Jacob, most likely believing that Jacob was going to try to further rip him off. The sad thing in this story to me is that in comparing Laban the nonbeliever with Jacob the believer there is not any difference in their behavior. The only thing that is different is that God had promised to Jacob’s grandfather Abraham and He always keeps His promises.

Vs. 26-30 Laban has heard the word of the Lord to watch what he says to Jacob and tries diplomacy, (Webster’s dictionary defines this as the “skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility”). To read these words of Laban towards Jacob it would appear as if he is trying to make Jacob feel guilty for depriving him the opportunity to say good-by to his daughters and grandchildren with a big party, (verse 27). In fact the words “stolen away” in verse 26 actually mean in the Hebrew to “steal ones heart away”. The trouble with Laban’s words is that they did not match his actions. His life had been characterized by selfishness even selling his daughters to Jacob and spending the dowry upon himself. All the “right words” apart from “right actions” have no meaning. We cannot speak of love and affection to folks if we have not demonstrated such. One commentator put it this way, “It is what we do for those that we profess love for while they are amongst us and not what we say of them after they are gone that is the real measure of our love!”

It seems as though Laban realized that guilt was not going to cause the desired effects from Jacob so in verse 29-30 he tries to be a bully by saying that he had the power to harm him but God intervened. Now Laban represents a lot of folks as he:

  1. 30:27 Acknowledges the blessings of the Lord
  2. 31:29 The power and sovereignty of the Lord, even heeding the warning.
  3. 31:30 Yet he has never entered into a relationship with God as he is chasing Jacob around the countryside to retrieve some sticks he worships because they had been ripped off.

Laban knows of the Lord but has never gone the next step and trusted in Him choosing rather to worship that which can be taken from him.

Vs. 31-35 Jacob’s response is not much better as he confess that his actions were based upon fear and not faith. Jacob professes to believe in the God who spoke and the worlds came into being right but he is running from a man who worships sticks. God had told Jacob in 28:15 “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.” Nowhere in these words spoken to him do we read, “Except in the case of a man who worships sticks then all bets are off!”

Rachael has learned the art of deception and lying from her father and husband. No doubt Jacob would never had made this pledge if he thought Rachael had stolen the sticks. It seems as though they get away with this but if we look ahead to 35:2-4 we shall see that these household idols are buried at Bethel as the family dies to a divided heart. Perhaps it is time for us to recognize the death of all that we worship that can be taken from us and bury in the presence of God at the Bethel “house of God”. Looking at this it is difficult to see how God could bless Jacob and I suppose if it was based upon human merit there could be no blessing instead His blessing is based upon pure grace lavished upon us in spite of us and not because of us.

Vs. 36-55 Don’t mess with Mizpah

Vs. 36-42 The years of friction now boil over as Jacob uses no diplomacy and speaks his mind towards Laban. Jacob asks, “What’s the real reason you came after me?” Then he suggests that the real reason is not to say good-by but because he thought Jacob had ripped him off. Jacob does not realize that Rachael had indeed ripped of Laban’s gods so he says, “Put up or shut up and since you can’t put up shut up!”

Jacob then retraces 20 years of Laban’s infractions that had not gone unnoticed even if they had gone un-dealt with!

  • Laban had not suffered neglect even though he had missed treated Jacob
  • Laban had never suffered loss even if it was not Jacob’s fault he still paid
  • Jacob had never taken a vacation, sick leave or any other benefit that he himself did not pay for.
  • Finally Jacob says in verse 42 God is on my side something that Laban had already said by admitting that God spoke to him to watch what he said to Jacob.

With all of these as arguments in his favor look closely at his words 42 and you will discover something very interesting. “Unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked you last night.” What’s missing in this statement? Well we see that God is the God of Abraham and he is the God of his father Isaac but nowhere does he say that He is his God! This is further born out in the fact as great as a speech to Laban as this verse is his actions had shown to all that Jacob did not yet understand that God was his God as well! He was not convinced with the truth that he spoke of instead he sees his blessings as coming from his own hands (verse 42) and he acted as such! Jacob’s prosperity had nothing to do with his piety nor his productivity it was pure grace!

Vs. 43-55 Laban says that all that Jacob has was once his but this is not so all that Jacob has is God’s and will always be so. They set up a tower of stones as a border between them as a witness and they cannot even agree on what they name it. But they do agree in that they both need to keep their distance from each other. It is interesting that today you will see people ware coins that say the word “Mizpah” on it as folks think this is some sort of a good look charm but really it means “God is watching”. Many organizations have this as a motto. But clearly in the context this statement is not a blessing of future fellowship but rather an armistice and warning. The effect of this pillar between Jacob and Laban was, “If you come on my side of this line all deals are off and I’m going to kill you!” In reality this word ought to be associated with a D.M.Z with the only hope of survival being the Lord’s protection.