New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Gen 31:1 He heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, Jacob has taken away all that was our father’s. From that which was our father’s, has he gotten all this wealth- This recalls how Esau spoke in his heart, that he would murder Jacob; and those words were heard. Attitudes were heard as words, as they are today. Laban had doubtless misrepresented the agreement about the spotted and speckled, as noted on :8. They likely believed his story, and of course noted that the Jacob who had been a poor shepherd for 14 years had now suddenly got wealthy. The sudden wealth did of course look suspicious. The tension served to help their sisters, Rachel and Leah, to have to make a decision between Jacob and their fathers' family; and they came down on the right side.

Gen 31:2 Jacob saw the expression on Laban’s face, and, behold, it was not toward him as before- Laban had abused Jacob for 14 years. But the sudden increase in Jacob's wealth had altered the balance of power; and no longer was Jacob legally bound to serve Laban. Laban would have sensed that he the elder was coming to serve the younger. The changed relationship became a push factor, encouraging Jacob to do what he should have done earlier- to make returning to the eretz a priority.

Gen 31:3 Yahweh said to Jacob, Return to the land of your fathers, and to your relatives, and I will be with you- The plan had originally been that Jacob would remain with Laban until Rebekah his mother sent him a message to return home. That message apparently never came, and it seems Rebekah was dead. God now replaces Rebekah for Jacob. I've noted several times that he seemed psychologically dominated by her, the stay at home mamma's boy who ended up trapped in a complex situation far from home, obsessively in love with a woman who restimulated his feelings toward his mother; and for whom he spent 14 years in servitude. And now God replaces Rebekah; He specifically calls Jacob homeward, and not Rebekah. This was all part of His program to draw Jacob into a direct personal relationship with Himself, rather than Jacob passively going alone with the religion of mum and dad.

Here we have God telling Jacob whilst he lived with Laban to return to the land and people of his fathers- Canaan. This is the very opposite of Abraham's reasoning in Gen. 24:6- that the land of his fathers was Mesopotamia. The real land of his fathers was not there in Mesopotomia, but Canaan. Yet Abraham had not perceived that, for he reasons exactly the other way around. This is yet another hint at incomplete faith in Abraham, and his desire to not totally separate from his land and family as required.

Gen 31:4 Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field to his flock- Seeing they had young children to care for and bring with them, this was a major invitation. It seems from :17 that they left from "the field" without returning home. The need to all be together "in the field" was fabricated so that they could make the escape without Laban and his sons forcing them to remain.

Gen 31:5 And said to them, I see the expression on your father’s face, that it is not toward me as before; but the God of my father has been with me- We note "my father"- not ‘my God’. Although Yahweh was still not fully Jacob's God, Jacob puts before his wives a clear choice- the god of their father, or the one true God of his father. There is something almost childishly proud about the way Jacob sets off his father against the deceitful father of his wives (:5-7). Laban mocks this almost immature homesickness in Gen. 31:30. "Has been with me" could refer to an Angelic visitation, but it is more likely referring to the promise of Gen. 28 at Bethel, that "I will be with you". Jacob was starting to see that that promise of 20 (or 40) years ago had indeed been fulfilled; and he had vouched that if it were, then Yahweh would be his God. He still struggles with fulfilling that, as he talks about Yahweh as the God of his father, rather than his own God.

Gen 31:6 You know that I have served your father with all of my strength- The suggestion could be that he had served Laban with all his strength, when the implication of the first commandment was that a man should serve God with all his strength (Mk. 12:30). Now Jacob wanted to serve God and not Laban; his heavenly Father rather than "your father". The scene would have been programmatic for the wilderness generation who first heard the Genesis history; they had been called to no longer serve Pharaoh, but to escape and travel through the desert to the promised land of Canaan and serve Yahweh instead of Pharaoh. There was a period of great physical blessing upon their offspring, just as there had been upon Jacob's cattle; see on :7,21,28.

Gen 31:7 Your father has deceived me, and changed my wages ten times, but God didn’t allow him to hurt me- The situation is similar to how God "didn't allow" the Abimelechs to take Sarah or Rebekah and sleep with them. Jacob was coming to see that there was this same unmerited, gracious activity on his behalf by the Spirit. Jacob had of course deceived his own father. He was being helped to realize how Isaac had felt; to the end he might repent the more deeply and learn the lessons. We go through similar prodding from the Lord who works also in our lives.

I suggested on :6 that Jacob's escape from Laban has similarities with Israel's exodus from Egypt and Pharaoh. As Laban "deceived" Jacob, so the same word is used of how Pharaoh dealt "deceitfully" with Israel (Ex. 8:29). See on :21.

LXX "ten lambs" could suggest 'ten lambing seasons'. Each season, Jacob offered Laban a different deal as to which types of animals he could keep; and each time, those types multiplied.

Gen 31:8 If he said this, ‘The speckled will be your wages’, then all the flock bore speckled. If he said this, ‘The streaked will be your wages’, then all the flock bore streaked- Laban was obviously aghast at how Jacob's flocks were growing so rapidly, and tried to amend the original agreement so that some of the increased numbers would be his. He is portrayed as an avaricious liar and deceiver; although Jacob had been little better. The difference between Jacob and Laban was simply God's grace, and Jacob's eventual openness to this.

Gen 31:9 Thus God has taken away your father’s livestock, and given them to me- Yet Jacob was soon going to be telling Esau that he wanted him to 'take away' all his material blessings; see on Gen. 33:11. Jacob didn't steal Laban's animals, but his own flock did grow from the stock of black and spotted animals which Laban originally agreed to give to Jacob. Their increase was as it were taken away from Laban and given to Jacob. But Jacob insists this was done by God, and perhaps this is an admission that the paganism and folklore bunk science he had used was not the real cause of the great increase. He now justifies what he did as obedience to an Angelic dream (:10,11), although the dream is ill defined and unspecific about how the breeding was to be done.

Gen 31:10 It happened during mating season that I lifted up my eyes, and saw in a dream, and behold, the male goats which leaped on the flock were streaked, speckled, and grizzled- The explanation suggests that the wives were ignorant as to how Jacob had acquired such huge fecundity amongst his flocks. Or perhaps he is telling them to the effect: 'We thought it was all due to those pagan rituals and folklore we believed; but let me tell you, it wasn't that at all. It was from God'. There was nothing told Jacob about using the rods, bunk science or other pagan devices which he did. That was his interpretation of the dream.

Gen 31:11 The angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob’, and I said, ‘Here I am’- These were the very words of response to Angelic visitation made by Abraham and Isaac. Jacob is being led into situations which they were in, and he responds as they do. His knowledge of how they responded was therefore significant; and whilst Biblical knowledge of itself will not save anyone, the more we are aware of Biblical history, the quicker we will perceive when we are in essentially similar situations and will respond correctly.

Gen 31:12 He said, ‘Now lift up your eyes, and behold, all the male goats which leap on the flock are streaked, speckled, and grizzled, for I have seen all that Laban does to you- “Lift up your eyes, and behold...”  is a promise couched in the language with which God invited Abraham to lift up his eyes and behold the land which He would give him (Gen. 13:14,15). Even whilst Jacob was trying to fulfill God’s promises for Him, still half worshipping idols, God gently went along with him to teach him firstly that He would  keep promises, and then to show Jacob the more spiritual essence of it all. The idea was that God had seen Jacob's affliction, and His response was to give Jacob huge numbers of spotty animals. But Jacob worked this out in practice through his usage of the pagan rods and other devices; but all the same, God worked through it. I see this as the first hint at Jacob''s conversion, which will become more developed over the next two chapters. He is accepting the teaching that despite all his human efforts to be fruitful, it is God who has given him blessing. 

Gen 31:13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar, where you vowed a vow to me. Now arise, get out from this land, and return to the land of your birth’- The memory of 20 or 40 years ago would have been dim for Jacob, so maybe he needed reminding. It was presumably an Angel who appeared to him at Bethel, so the Angel he now sees is saying that He is the same Angel as in the earlier vision. As noted before, Jacob originally planned to only return to the eretz when he received a message from his mother; but she was probably dead, and so the Angel is effectively telling him that He is now replacing Rebekah. Jacob is to grow up and relate with God as a man, directly, and not through fulfilling parental expectation. Jacob is saying that the call to return to the eretz came from God at the same time as the vision of amassing wealth from spotted and black animals. It could therefore have been six years before this time of final exodus. But Jacob is only now telling his wives about the vision. We sense a distance between him and both of them, and a lack of spiritual connection between them. Yet out of this dysfunctional and unspiritual background, the Father formed His special people.

So although Jacob may have forgotten his vow, God was needling him to return from Mesopotamia to Canaan- so that God could fulfil the promise and keep covenant with Jacob. Just as Abraham had been 'encouraged' to make the same journey. In Jacob's case, God worked through the totally dysfunctional situation with Laban as the push factor to make Jacob obedient and return to Canaan; just as with Abraham, it was his father Terah who wanted to emigrate from Ur and took Abraham with him. Man is not alone before the call to obedience; God nudges and coaxes us towards it. Jacob left Mesopotamia for Canaan because he feared Laban ["Because I was afraid...", :31]; not because of faith and perception that Canaan was the land of the covenant. Jacob's wives were likewise prepared by their father's materialism and abuse- they had to leave, as they saw it, in order to assure their inheritance and old age provision.

Gen 31:14 Rachel and Leah answered him, Is there still any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house?- There was no statement here of love for Jacob nor Yahweh. Rather they considered that being Jacob's wives cut them out of any possible inheritance in their father's family, and so they may as well throw in their lot with Jacob. The decision making process as revealed here seems very mercenary. The idea is as GNB "There is nothing left for us to inherit from our father"- because he had spent it on himself (:15). This could mean that he had spent their dowry on himself- perhaps implying that any benefit arising through Jacob's 14 years of service to Laban should have gone to them. And there is material in the Nuzi documents which suggests this was how dowry was reckoned in those times. Hence they consider that whatever Jacob had taken from Laban (:16) was not in fact theft, but a taking of what was rightfully theirs. Or it could be that Laban had declared that he was leaving his estate to the sons he had had by Bilhah and Zilpah. We can then see again the spaggheti junction syndrome- the sons Jacob had had by those same women received nothing. There would have been huge conflict between the sons. Jacob's family was riven by conflict and dysfunction- but out of it came the Israel of God. Yahweh showed for all time how He works through human dysfunction.

Gen 31:15 Aren’t we accounted by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and has also quite devoured our money- We learn from this that Laban counted Jacob a "foreigner". This means that the blessing he felt from Jacob was an example of the Abrahamic blessing starting to come upon 'foreigners' (see on Gen. 30:27). It seems that as Laban ten times changed the "wages" of Jacob (:7), so he had also added to the terms of marriage. It was not only seven years service for each daughter, but also "money", or (Heb.), "silver". And he had spent that money, in ways the daughters seem not to approve of, because it has left them with nothing to inherit anyway (:14). Devouring an inheritance is the language of the prodigal son; and yet that same parable presents Jacob as the prodigal. But the language is in places also appropriate to Laban, showing that in essence these two deceitful and materialistic men were little different. The saving difference was simply God's grace and Jacob's openness to it.

"Sold" is 'deceived' or 'tricked'. The sisters had been deceived by their father, both at the wedding night and in subsequent issues. The whole Jacob family had been both deceivers and deceived. Jacob 'deceives' Laban (:20). "Money" is a term used in the Nuzi tablets about a dowry. Laban had presumably demanded even more dowry than the 14 years of service- and had been given it, and blown it. The idea of a dowry payment in Mesopotamia was so that the father had resources to care for his daughter if for any reason she returned to live with him. Or the dowry was kept by the wives, worn as gold around their heads, in case they were divorced or widowed and needed to care for themselves later in life. Remember that divorce was very easy for men at that time, and was often practiced for petty reasons. Rachel and Leah consider that they have no assured future with their father, because he had spent their dowry money. He treated them "as foreigners"- perhaps meaning that he treated them as foreigners treated their daughters, just spending the dowry money, rather than following the local custom of keeping it in case the father had to care for his daughters again. Their decision to remain with Jacob is therefore presented as being not out of love, but from fear for their future without him. Just as Leah so wanted to have male children so that Jacob wouldn't divorce her. So out of this loveless family, God formed the Israel of God. 

Gen 31:16 For all the riches which God has taken away from our father, that is ours and our children’s. Now then, whatever God has said to you, do- They seem to reason that their father has spent all his wealth, so they have no inheritance from him anyway (:14); therefore it's as well that God had taken some of their father's wealth and given it to Jacob. And they feel justified in taking it because they consider it to be their inheritance anyway. However, they were repeating a misunderstanding common amongst Laban's children (see on :1). Jacob hadn't stolen or taken away anything from Laban. They are saying how it appeared. He had originally had a prime flock of unspotted animals, which Jacob would look after in return for Laban's spotted animals becoming his. But God had hugely blessed those spotted animals and the herds of them had multiplied. It was only an incorrect appearance that God had taken Laban's wealth and given it to Jacob. But as with the language of demons, the Bible often records things from the perspective of the characters, without clarifying that their viewpoint is actually false or only partially correct.

Gen 31:17 Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives on the camels- Travel by camel would have recalled the account of Rebekah, Jacob's mother, travelling from the same area to the eretz on camel. Now finally Jacob was doing what God had intended he do when he first met Leah; marry her and return to the land of promise. The motivation of Rebekah was spiritual, it seems; whereas Rachel and Leah returned because they effectively had no other option, and faced poverty if they remained behind (see on :14,15). Jacob clearly would have had daughters too, although we only read of Dinah. But the focus is upon the sons; because this is to be taken as the account of when "Israel" as a nation, "the fathers", first entered the land of promise. And it was in a state of unspirituality.

We note that Jacob put his sons and then his wives on the camels, whereas when Esau moved, it is mentioned that he took his wives first and then his sons (Gen. 36:6 "Esau took his wives and his sons"). It could be argued that Jacob didn't really love his four wives apart from Rachel. His focus was upon the sons they had produced. Whereas Esau focuses firstly upon his wives- perhaps another of several indications that on a secular level, Esau was a far nicer guy than Jacob. But Jacob the twister was the one God worked with, as Jacob had that basic faith which Esau apparently didn't. On its own, this may appear to be over interpretation; but it must be put together with many other instances of Esau appearing a 'nicer guy' than Jacob in secular terms. More forgiving, more honest etc.  

Gen 31:18 And he took away all his livestock, and all his possessions which he had gathered, including the livestock which he had gained in Paddan Aram, to go to Isaac his father, to the land of Canaan- The AV better reflects the manic 'getting': "all his goods which he had gotten, the cattle of his getting, which he had gotten". After 14 years of servitude as a labourer, his plan with the rods had led to huge and sudden increase of wealth. This would have surely reminded him of the Divine promise at Bethel to bless him and be with him, and return him to his land. His plan to return "to Isaac" suggests Rebekah was dead; her ruse to get blessing for her favourite son led to her never seeing him again in this life.

An example of following the negative spiritual traits of our forbears is seen in Jacob's penchant for materialism. This was a weakness of the whole Abraham family; a specific word is used about how they “gathered" material wealth. Abraham did it (Gen. 12:5), and so now did Jacob. The list of what they "gathered" is almost identical (Gen. 24:35 cp. Gen. 30:43). Faithless fear (cp. Dt. 20:8; Mt. 25;25; Rev. 21:8) was another characteristic; in Abraham (Gen. 15:1; 20:11); Isaac (Gen. 26:7,24; 31:42,53); and followed by Jacob (Gen. 28:17; 31:31; 32:7,11; 41:3).  

Gen 31:19 Now Laban had gone to shear his sheep: and Rachel stole the teraphim that were her father’s- He used them for divination (Gen. 30:27), so maybe she thought Laban would use them to divine where Jacob and his family had fled to, or would use the teraphim to curse them. Such images were also thought to be the guardians of the family property and the source of blessing, "teraphim" coming from the root taarap to be prosperous. Rachel had just lamented that she was written out of the inheritance, as it were, such as it now was. So it wasn't simply that it was her idolatry which led to her stealing them; she was angry with her father and was bitter about the issue of the inheritance (see on :14,15). This was used providentially by God to ensure she would wish to emigrate with Jacob to the land of promise. They were also thought to be the source of fertility; Rachel should have learnt that they actually had no power in this at all, but such power was only of God. It was not until Gen. 35:2 that Jacob ordered these images to be discarded and buried beneath a tree; they were likely valuable, as such teraphim were typically covered in gold and precious stones. He sacrificed family wealth to ensure that idolatry was ended amongst his children and wives, and that they recognized that blessing was solely from Yahweh; a principle which remains relevant to this day.

The escape was planned for when Laban would be out in the field. Rachel presumably knew that her going out to meet Jacob in the fields was a signal to escape; so she stole the teraphim before leaving. Or perhaps she was the guardian of them anyway and carried them in her personal stuff; for they may have been quite small household gods. Her lack of spirituality is here clearly displayed; and yet Jacob had spent 14 years working for this woman. Jacob had recently protested to Laban that he would not steal a thing from him (Gen. 30:33); and now his favourite wife steals her father's images. The same word for "stole" is now used in :20,26,27 for how Jacob "stole away" (AV) from Laban, as if to suggest that he was just as deceitful as was Rachel.


Gen 31:20 Jacob deceived Laban the Syrian, in that he didn’t tell him that he was running away- Laban is called "the Syrian"; although he was a member of the Abraham family, he is spoken of now as a Gentile. And yet his "blessing" on account of Jacob was therefore the primary fulfilment of the Abrahamic blessing, that the nations would be blessed through his seed. Jacob's behaviour at this point is presented as 'deceit' although it was perfectly understandable- in order to continue the idea that both Jacob and Laban were equally deceitful. It was just that Jacob accepted God's grace.

Gen 31:21 So he fled with all that he had. He rose up, passed over the River, and set his face toward the mountain of Gilead- "The river" refers to the Euphrates, the boundary of the eretz. Jacob is presented as now returning to the promised land. But the "river" also refers to the Nile, and is perhaps used to portray the similarities with Israel's exodus from bondage in Egypt, and then passing through the water of the Red Sea; see on :6,7,22.

Gen 31:22 Laban was told on the third day that Jacob had fled- This continues the connection with Pharaoh, who was "told... that the people fled" and then pursued them over the water (Ex. 14:5,8). The parallels were of great relevance to the initial audience of Genesis- Israel in the wilderness, who had likewise fled their abusers and been pursued. And they too were saved by grace; for Ez. 20 says that they took the idols of Egypt with them after spoiling the Egyptians, just as Jacob was accused of spoiling Laban and taking his idols with him. See on :6,7,21.

Gen 31:23 He took his relatives with him, and pursued after him seven days’ journey. He overtook him in the mountain of Gilead- See on :22; this continues the parallel with the exodus from Egypt, with Pharaoh (cp. Laban) being informed the Israelites had fled (Ex. 14:5) and taking his chosen people with him to purse and overtake the fleeing Israelites (Ex. 14:9); see on :6,7,21,22. The distance is about 500 km. from Haran to the Gilead mountains. We wonder why it took Laban so long to catch up with Jacob, who was moving slowly because of the huge herds he was driving, some of whom were pregnant (Gen. 33:13). Surely the delay was providentially overruled so that Jacob had time to cross the Euphrates into the promised land, and the meeting between them with the conclusion that Jacob and family could never return past that point was made once they were firmly in the eretz.  

Gen 31:24 God came to Laban the Syrian, in a dream of the night, and said to him, Take heed to yourself that you don’t speak to Jacob either good or bad- If this is the correct translation, then we reflect that there are times when God leaves us with a kind of neutral situation- in order to elicit our own self-examination and choice of the right path ourselves without it being forced upon us by Him. But the LXX reads: "Take heed to thyself that thou speak not at any time to Jacob evil things", and the literal Hebrew: "From good to bad". This makes better sense of Laban's words in :29; and in :42, Jacob understands this visitation of Laban as a "rebuke". This can only mean that Laban intended to murder Jacob, but was "rebuked" from that plan by God. Jacob would've recalled how Esau had likewise wanted to pursue and murder him, and he had been saved by grace. Again, circumstances repeat within our lives, as a loving Father teaches us the extent of His grace.

Gen 31:25 Laban caught up with Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the mountain, and Laban with his relatives encamped in the mountain of Gilead- The impression is given of two camps, Jacob's and Laban's. This forms the basis of "Mahanaim", the place of the two camps (Gen. 32:2). But those two camps then were Angels on one camp and Jacob in the other. And he was saved from the camp of Angels coming in judgment by his pleading with the Angel he wrestled with. We are therefore to conclude that Laban indeed was coming to destroy Jacob, as noted on :24. But Jacob had been saved by the Angel who came and warned Laban not to; the same Angel Jacob wrestled with. The Angel foresaw that Jacob would at a point then future wrestle with him in prayer and prevail; and so the answer to that prayer was granted ahead of time, in saving Jacob from Laban and his camp. Laban in this sense had God behind him, as noted on :29.

Gen 31:26 Laban said to Jacob, What have you done, that you have deceived me, and carried away my daughters like captives of the sword?- Jacob was indeed a deceiver, of Esau and Isaac; but this was a relatively false accusation. And yet through the process of false accusation we often find that our real and actual sins are elicited. Laban perhaps genuinely considered that his daughters were still his; he had lied so often about the conditions upon which Jacob obtained them that he perhaps came to actually believe his own lie, just as the sons of Jacob did regarding the supposed death of Joseph. And this is the problem with lying; unless repented of, the lie becomes our perceived truth.

Gen 31:27 Why did you flee secretly, and deceive me, and didn’t tell me, that I might have sent you away with mirth and with songs, with tambourine and with harp- The only other party Laban had arranged for Jacob, when he married Leah, had been riddled with deceit. Laban is presented as clearly being deceitful.

Gen 31:28 And didn’t allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters? Now have you done foolishly- The charge of doing foolishly has a moral dimension, as if to say 'You sinned' (1 Sam. 13:13). This was a false accusation when taken specifically; and yet Jacob was indeed a sinner. And so we have what I myself have experienced, and likely many others too- a totally false and unreasonable accusation elicits within us an awareness of wherein we have actually sinned; see on :31. Laban's desire to kiss his sons and daughters could refer to his grandchildren; but it could also mean that some of his sons, the brothers of Rachel and Leah, had gone over to Jacob's side (cp. :1), just as some of the Egyptians joined with the Israelites in fleeing Egypt (see on :6,7).

Gen 31:29 It is in the power of my hand to hurt you-
"Power" translates el, "God"; Keil translates "there is to God my hand". He felt he had Divine right to hurt Jacob, as noted on :25, but God had also warned him not do. Laban was wrong as to why he thought Jacob could be "hurt"; Jacob had done nothing wrong to him, but we are aware from Jacob's earlier life that he had much in it that deserved Divine judgment.

But the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Take heed to yourself that you don’t speak to Jacob either good or bad’See on :24. That Jacob worshipped the God of his father rather than his own God was well known. "Your (plural) father" (cp. AV "thee" in the previous and following verses) may suggest that Jacob was confident enough of his father's God to have introduced it to his family, although he himself still had not reached the point where he had made this God completely his own.

Gen 31:30 Now you want to be gone, because you greatly longed for your father’s house, but why have you stolen my gods?- The implication is that Jacob was a homesick boy, pining for his mum and dad. Whilst this was provocative, I have repeatedly noted that Jacob was indeed psychologically dominated by his parents to an unhealthy extent.

Gen 31:31 Jacob answered Laban, Because I was afraid, for I said, ‘Lest you should take your daughters from me by force’- "Because I was afraid" is the language of a guilty Adam in Eden. As noted on :28, a false and unreasonable accusation can elicit in us an awareness of wherein we have actually sinned. And this seems to have happened to Jacob. Jacob wisely ignores the provocation noted on :30, and focuses on the essential accusation; a good pattern for our dealing with such difficult situations. The reason Jacob gives here is absolutely true; and total honesty was not his strong point. Just as his sons were led by Joseph's interrogations to total honesty, so Jacob was led here. And we too are led to this point by the Divine hand in human life.

Gen 31:32 Anyone you find your gods with shall not live. Before our relatives, discern what is yours with me, and take it. For Jacob didn’t know that Rachel had stolen them- We note the contrast between "your gods" and "the God of your father" (:29). Jacob loved Rachel and obviously assumed she had a higher level of ethics and spirituality than she actually did, imputing righteousness to the one he loved. Jacob would later reflect how the life of his beloved and yet spiritually weak Rachel had been saved at this point by absolute grace. We see again how God uses Jacob's over confident self righteousness and Rachel's human weakness and even sin- for Rachel was surely wrong to have stolen the idols- in order to finally awe us with His grace and bring us to repentance and devotion to Him alone.

Jacob's cursing of whoever had taken the idols actually came true. For Rachel died soon afterwards. Hence Jacob later reflects that Rachel died by or because of him. This is one of many Biblical warnings that what we say, especially in wishing evil, has a way of coming true. We think of David's cursing of Saul and Absalom in his Psalms, and how bitterly he wept when his cursings came true. Again we see the importance of life and living, and the significance of words, even if said in anger.   

Gen 31:33 Laban went into Jacob’s tent, into Leah’s tent, and into the tent of the two female servants; but he didn’t find them. He went out of Leah’s tent, and entered into Rachel’s tent- The Divine cameraman is zooming in, so we can visualize the movement at close range, as Laban moves from tent to tent, with us knowing that the idols are in the last tent, building up a sense of suspense, realizing that Rachel's life depends upon this... and he doesn't find them.

Gen 31:34 Now Rachel had taken the teraphim, put them in the camel’s saddle, and sat on them. Laban felt about all the tent, but didn’t find them- The Mosaic laws about uncleanness from contact with menstruating women were surely known in essence at this time. The holy was not to be mixed with the unclean. For a menstruating woman to squat upon an idol, the supposedly holy, would've been anathema and deeply obnoxious; and the power of the idol would surely be seen as having been compromised. Rachel was driven to do this in desperation to save her own life; and God in His amazing economy worked in this way, so that Rachel had to desecrate her own beloved idols in order to save her life.

It has been suggested that Rachel stole the teraphim because they were the equivalent of the title to inheritance. Even if this is the case, she thereby betrays the same kind of obsessive materialism as her father Laban. And moreover, a lack of faith in the promises to Abraham- which were all about receiving the ultimate inheritance at a future point. Perhaps she was concerned that Laban's earlier sons by his handmaids would inherit Laban's wealth- whereas she obsessively wanted the inheritance to pass to her son. She considered herself the senior wife and that therefore her son should inherit most. Whereas Leah was technically the first wife of Jacob, at least by one week; and had born Jacob more sons, including his firstborn. "But I am the favoured wife", her argument may have run, "And so the inheritance should pass to my son". In the Emar wills from this period, uncovered in the same area in the late 20th century, there appears the case of a father bequeathing his property to his daughter "if she invoke my gods". Some of the wills on the Nuzi tablets use the same phrase. Perhaps Rachel had done this, and thought that possession of those gods would bring her inheritance from her father. She thereby appears insecure in her relationship with Jacob, just as Leah did [judging from how she named her sons]. But from all this dysfunction, God built the house of Israel. Whatever reconstruction we make, Rachel appears totally unspiritual by her actions.

When Laban sets out to attack Jacob, it was clearly in his power to kill him. But the incident of him accusing Jacob of stealing his idols, him publicly searching the whole camp, feeling absolutely everything, and not finding them, probably led to a loss of face which meant he couldn't do what he planned to Jacob. Jacob then bursts out in proud, arrogant denunciation of Laban- not realizing that his beloved, idolatrous Rachel couldn't bear to be without those idols, and had stolen them. Despite Rachel's deceit and idolatry, and Jacob's arrogance, God worked through all this to save them. The way God works with us in our weakness, leading us on, hoping we will later reflect back and marvel at His grace and patience... all this God works oftentimes with man. Not only should we be deeply humbled as a result of our self-examination. We ought to reflect this kind of patience and going along with weakness in the hope of later change in our attitude to our brethren.  

Gen 31:35 She said to her father, Don’t let my lord be angry that I can’t rise up before you; for I’m having my period. He searched, but didn’t find the teraphim- They may well have been under some precedent of the laws about touching menstruating women which were later codified in Lev. 15:22; and Laban surely assumed that his daughter would not sit upon a holy idol whilst menstruating. The theme of deceit continues; Rachel lies to her father, deceiving him as Jacob had done to his father. The idea is that the chosen family were not more righteous than the surrounding unbelievers; they were chosen and transformed through grace alone.

The Hebrew is literally "let it not become hot in my lord's eyes" or "let not my lord's eyes burn". The reference is almost certainly to the popular idea of the 'evil eye', something we often find alluded to in the Hebrew Old Testament. We note that Laban claimed the power to do Jacob 'evil', although Jacob's God had warned him not to use it. Rachel believed in the 'evil eye' just as many mistakenly believe in the existence of demons and a 'Satan' figure today; rather than accepting that Yahweh really is God almighty and all power is with Him alone. Jacob apparently also used the 'evil eye'; for the same phrase is used in Gen. 30:2 of how "Jacob's face glowed against Rachel". If nothing else, we see a family angry with each other; Jacob against his wife Rachel, and Rachel's father Laban against her. This is all part of the same nexus of belief which led Rachel to steal the teraphim; we know the family were idolators because after the incident with Dinah and Shechem, Jacob appeals to the family to quit idolatry and they bury their idols. Later Scripture features frequent appeals to "Jacob" / Israel to abandon their idolatry- after the pattern of their father Jacob. But at this point, he was an idolater, who only wanted Yahweh as his God if Yahweh returned him safely to his father's house. Which at this point was yet distant with many obstacles in the path. Condemnation of using the 'evil eye' is common: “Those who hate pinch with their eye in vain” (Ps. 35:19); “a wicked man… pinches with his eyes" (Prov. 6:12,13); “what do your eyes wink at?” (Job 15:12). Prov. 28:22 likewise: “he who has the evil eye hastens after riches”. Zech. 3:9 features a stone with seven eyes which Yahweh presents to Joshua, as if assuring him that all the supposed power of the 'evil eye' was nothing compared to Yahweh's power. If Yahweh turns His eyes upon a man for evil, then this shall happen; it is His  'evil eye' which was to be feared, not that of pagan superstition (Am. 9:4; Lev. 20:5 "I will set My eye against that man"; Jer. 24:6; Ps. 34:17).

Jacob has told his wives that their father's face is not toward him as before (Gen. 31:5); he feared the 'evil eye' from Laban. But Rachel defeats it through her lie. The overall impression, as with God's usage of the myths about conception in Gen. 30, is that wrong ideas and beliefs are worked with by God- to bring the thoughtful to realize that He is really all powerful.

Gen 31:36 Jacob was angry, and argued with Laban. Jacob answered Laban, What is my trespass? What is my sin, that you have hotly pursued after me?- Jacob was indeed innocent and his flight from Laban was not morally wrong. But he was a big time sinner apart from that. The trouble with being falsely accused is that it can make us very self-righteous, failing to accept that we may not have sinned in that matter, but we have indeed failed in others.  Jacob would later have realized God's grace to him when he learnt that Rachel had in fact stolen the idols. And he would have repeated back to himself his question: "What is my sin...?". No sin against Laban, indeed; but the question would have elicited self-examination.

Gen 31:37 Now that you have felt around in all my stuff, what have you found of all your household stuff? Set it here before my relatives and your relatives, that they may judge between us two- Laban and his relatives had travelled 500 km. at high speed. This was a real showdown, as their haste and anger would have been fuelled by the thought that Jacob had stolen their teraphim. The situation had been reflected upon by Jacob's son Joseph, when he later sets up his brothers in a similar situation- accusing them of things [stealing the cup, lying to him about their family] of which they were guilty and yet thought they were innocent, in order to elicit in them repentance. Because Joseph would've perceived that this incident had led his father Jacob to repentance; indeed, Jacob may have told his sons as much in reciting the family history to them.

Gen 31:38 These twenty years I have been with you. Your ewes and your female goats have not cast their young, and I haven’t eaten the rams of your flocks- The chronological problem is well addressed by H.P. Mansfield:

"Jacob was ninety-seven years of age when he fled from Laban. If he were with his father-in-law only twenty years, the events of his life are compressed in too narrow a compass to be practical, and introduce contradictions.

Consider the following: At the end of two years' famine (Gen. 45:6) Joseph would have been between 39-40 (Gen. 41:46), and Jacob was 130 (Gen. 47:9). Joseph was thus born when Jacob was 90-91, and this is dated just prior to the six years that he served Laban for his cattle (Gen. 30:25). If, to that point of time, he had been only fourteen years with Laban, it would mean that he fled from Esau to seek a wife when he was about 77! Assuming that he first worked seven years for Leah, his first son would not be born before he was 85; and if Joseph were born when he was 90, he had eleven sons and at least one daughter in five years! In that case, also, he had children and grandchildren to the number of sixty-six in the short space of forty-five years. At that rate, Judah, the fourth son could not have been born before he was 88, and would have been about 42 when the events of Genesis 38 took place, or 48, if Jacob married Leah before the completion of the seven years that he worked for Laban to obtain her.

Esau visited Ishmael and married his daughter after Jacob left for Haran at the age of 77, though Ishmael died when Jacob was 63 (Gen. 25:17). Isaac married at 40 (Gen. 25:20). Jacob was born twenty years later (Gen. 25:26). Ishmael, thirteen years older than Isaac died at 137 (Gen. 25:17). These problems are solved if we can add a further twenty years to Jacob's sojourn with Laban, making his age 57 when he fled from Esau, though still 97 when he left Laban. This would allow for forty years with Laban, the period of probation or trial. And that forty years seem to be provided for in Jacob's conversation with Laban. He makes reference to two periods of "twenty years" each (cp. vv. 38,41). The first twenty years, he was with Laban as a friend: "I have been with thee." The second twenty years, he was there as a covenant servant: "I have been twenty years in thy house; I served thee..." The first fourteen years he served Laban for his two daughters; the following twenty years, he was with Laban in his capacity as shepherd; the final six years, he served him for his cattle. The first fourteen years, and the last six years, represented twenty years of servitude; the intervening twenty years he was employed as a shepherd, during which Laban's flocks remarkably increased.

The Hebrew provides some warrant for this interpretation which also disposes of the difficulties mentioned above. The Hebrew zeh (rendered this: v. 38, and thus v. 41) when used in conjunction one with the other is often used by way of distinction as in Ex. 14:20, there rendered one and other; Ecc. 6:5-8: "this and that"; Job 21:23-25: "one and another". And so here. Jacob could have meant "this twenty years have I been with thee" and "that twenty years I have been in thy house." The first twenty years he served Laban as a friend. At some personal loss, but in gratitude to his father-in-law, he cared for his flocks (Vv. 38-40), the other twenty years he profited from his labour: first in the acquisition of his wives; and then from Laban's herds. The Hebrew zeh li esrim signifies "this for myself (li) twenty years..." In other words, during one twenty years he showed a profit; whilst during the other twenty years he showed a loss. In all, he was in Haran forty years: fourteen for his wives; twenty as a friend and son-in-law; six for the cattle. In all, forty years, a period of probation".

Gen 31:39 That which was torn of animals, I didn’t bring to you. I bore its loss. Of my hand you required it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night- See on Gen. 33:10. Jacob was afflicted with legalism, and struggled all his life to understand and accept grace. Here we see Jacob at his most self congratulatory and meretricious; although his anger and self-justification is understandable, seeing how Laban had abused and manipulated him through legalistic methods. But again, both Laban and Jacob are presented as legalists as well as both being deceivers. The legalistic attitude of Jacob and his family is brought out by the behaviour of his wives as well as himself when they are caught up with by Laban as recorded here in Gen. 31. The society in which they lived had codified legal practices, as has been established by archaeological research into contemporary towns in the area. For example, part of the bride price had to be kept by the wife personally; and thus Rachel and Leah accuse their father of taking away from them that which was rightfully theirs. Likewise, according to the Nuzi documents, daughters and sons-in-law had legal title to part of the father's estate, and this was proven by their possession of the household idols. Hence Jacob and his wives stole those idols. E.A. Speiser quotes par. 266 of the Code of Hammurabi, which states: "If there occurs in the fold an act of god, or a lion takes a life, the shepherd [cp. Jacob] shall clear himself before the deity; the owner of the fold [cp. Laban] must then accept the loss incurred" (E.A. Speiser, Genesis [The Anchor Bible] (New York: Doubleday, 1964) p. 247). It was surely with allusion to this that Jacob complained that he as the shepherd had had to bear the loss of Laban's lost cattle.

Earlier in his life, Jacob had learned to "bear the loss" of that which was "torn in pieces of beasts"; and the same terms are used in Gen. 31:39 and Gen. 37:33, when again Jacob has to 'bear the loss' of [apparently] having his beloved son torn in pieces of wild beasts [s.w.]. As so often in our lives, one experience is used to prepare us for a similar one, but to a much greater extent. In this case, not bearing the loss of an animal, but of a beloved son.

Gen 31:40 This was my situation: in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep fled from my eyes- Jacob appears to have distanced himself from the domestic nightmare caused by his various relationships; see on Gen. 30:18. Through those years of insomnia and slave labour, Jacob must have struggled to believe the promises of blessing made at Bethel, and the idea that he the younger would have the elder and more powerful serving him. We too may pass through whole periods of life where the promised blessings seem mythical. But those valleys are needed in order to appreciate the wonder of the blessings, and also to drive us all, as happened with Jacob, to perceive that the essence of "blessing" is not material prosperity in this life, but rather the blessing of forgiveness and fellowship with God (Acts 3:25,26).

Gen 31:41 These twenty years I have been in your house. I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times- See on :38. Spare a thought for Jacob at this time. During those years he would have gone through all the shame of an intelligent man who is desperately poor, and knows himself to be hopelessly in love (at 77). And when he finally gets the object of his lust, still having to work for her, it really doesn't turn out as he thinks. Bitterness between his wives escalates to the point where he has to have sexual relations with their handmaids; who were, remember, Laban's ex women. He had to go in to the women of a man he must have hated, picking up his throw offs. And then his wages were changed ten times, the conditions of service were ridiculous. To escape from his domestic pain he must have gone out and talked to those sheep, consumed at night by the cold and by the heat in the day time (:40). This was all a far, far cry from the cozy life with mum and dad and granddad, thinking that he'd go off and pick up a lovely wife just as Isaac obtained Rebekah.

Speaking in the context of Israel's punishment for idolatry (remember, in God's eyes Israel = Jacob), we are told, apparently out of context, that Jacob served for a wife (singular), and for a wife he kept sheep (Hos. 12:12). Yet this is in the context of Hos. 12:2, which says that God would punish Israel for their idolatry, according to their ways. And the terrible 14 years of keeping the sheep which their forefather Jacob went through was a type of their punishment for idolatry. As Jacob served for Rachel, so Israel served idols and would have to serve those idolatrous nations as an appropriate punishment. Keeping sheep in Gentile lands is the basis of the prodigal parable; the young man who left home, tricked his father, sidled past his hostile elder brother with what he was sure was his inheritance by rights, squandered it, kept sheep, and came back a new man. Clearly the Lord had his mind on Jacob, although that parable is full of reference to prophetic descriptions of the nation of Israel, too. Hos. 12:4-6,12,13 seem to say that Jacob's humiliation at the hands of Laban is a type of the future suffering of Jacob, before their final homecoming


Gen 31:42 Unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham- Again, not my God. And he saw God as the supplier of physical blessing; he understood the promise to Abraham that "I will be with you" as referring to blessing of cattle more than anything more spiritual. See on Gen. 25:31. Abraham was promised that his seed would have Yahweh as their personal God, and would eternally inherit the land. But Jacob, like us, was slow to perceive this. In a sense, the promises that the seed would inherit the land, and that God would be their God were fulfilled straight after God said them. He became Isaac's God (Gen. 31:42,53 refer to this), the God of Abraham's son. Time and again God reminds Israel that He is their God. And that land in a sense was given to the Jewish fathers (Gen. 15:18; Dt. 28:63; 30:5 NIV; Josh. 1:2-9; 21:43; 1 Kings 4:20,21).

And the fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely now you would have sent me away empty. God has seen my affliction and the labour of my hands- See on Ex. 23:27. An element of fear is not wrong in itself. Israel in the wilderness had the pillar of fire to remind them of God's close presence, and to thereby motivate them not to sin: "His fear (will) be before your faces, that ye sin not" (Ex. 20:20). Notice how Isaac's guardian angel is described as "the fear" in Gen. 31:42,53 cp. 48:15,16. But "the fear of Isaac" would've been alluding to how after Jacob deceived Isaac, he trembled greatly at the realization that he had tried to force a stop to the fulfilment of God's promises about Jacob. And this image remained with Jacob, and he now clings on to belief that those promises shall be fulfilled; just as he admits that God "had been with me", alluding to the promises to Jacob at Bethel, that God would be with him. 

God seeing affliction and noticing hard labour alludes to how God saw the similar sufferings of His people in Egypt (Ex. 3:7; 4:31; Dt. 26:7 s.w.); see on :6,7. But the very same Hebrew phrase "God has seen my affliction" is used by Leah when she gives birth to her first son (Gen. 29:32). As happens in families, the same turns of phrase were used, especially about God. In the hard servile years, Jacob would have remembered his wife's words and come to believe that God was likewise seeing his affliction at Laban's hands.

And rebuked you last night- Laban's intention was to murder Jacob, but by grace, he was restrained. The "rebuke" was therefore to stop him killing Jacob. The same word has just been translated "judge" in :37.

Gen 31:43 Laban answered Jacob, The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine: and what can I do this day to these my daughters, or to their children whom they have borne?- These accusations were false and so easy to answer. Unless he was claiming that Jacob was somehow his adopted son, or that some agreement meant that Jacob had resigned his claims upon his wives and children. For sure Laban had acted even more deceitfully than is recorded, and is presented as a scheming materialist who still never quite made it in life. But Laban had travelled 500 km. with his relatives and now had to travel them back home. Jacob was sensitive to the need to save Laban from a  loss of face, so that peace might ensue. And we too are unwise to 'take up' every issue of false accusation and unreasonable treatment. We have to allow a saving of face and be pragmatic, with peace for God's true seed as the desired final outcome. The accusation of theft of the teraphim had been dropped; but Jacob isn't recorded as questioning these wider accusations of theft.

Gen 31:44 Now come, let us make a covenant, you and I; and let it be for a witness between me and you- This was a way of saving face and Jacob accepted it. Notice the connection between covenant and witness. It is axiomatic that those who are in the new covenant must be witnesses to it; such witness is not therefore optional, but part and parcel of covenant relationship. God witnesses His covenant to us (2 Kings 17:15), and we too witness to the covenant; both in witness to the world, and in witness to Him through the breaking of bread service, in our day. The equivalent of that in Jacob's time was to eat a sacrifice as a meal together.

Gen 31:45 Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar- This was to recall the pillar he had erected that night at Bethel, where God had promised him that he would be with him and make him return from Paddan Aram to the eretz.

Gen 31:46 Jacob said to his relatives, Gather stones. They took stones, and made a heap. They ate there by the heap- The "relatives" may refer to Laban's relatives who had accompanied him on the pursuit; for they were Jacob's relatives by marriage. The record notes that there was this family connection. Sacrificial meals were understood as confirming a covenant, and this is what the breaking of bread meeting is all about; a confirmation of the new covenant with us.

Gen 31:47 Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed- Despite 40 years living with non-Hebrew speakers, Jacob didn't forget his native tongue. His heart was in the land of promise, the Kingdom, for all his weakness. And Jacob insists that the circular heap of witness stones ("Galeed") be named in Hebrew, perhaps because he wanted his future seed never to return to the land of the east, never to leave the promised land as he had done.

Gen 31:48 Laban said, This heap is witness between me and you this day. Therefore it was named Galeed- Inanimate things are often spoken of in the Old Testament as being somehow alive; or non-human things spoken of in human terms, e.g. forests clapping their hands. The Bible doesn't footnote these things; just as the usage of the language of demons isn't specifically explained in the New Testament, and yet it is not to be taken as literally true.

Gen 31:49 And Mizpah, for he said, Yahweh watch between me and you, when we are absent one from another- Again we see Laban using the Yahweh Name; as noted on :53, he wrongly mixed pagan and Divine things, although Jacob and his wives did the same. To harp on about 'God sees even when men don't' (:50) was of course hypocritical for Laban; but Jacob had likewise failed to perceive this.

Gen 31:50 If you afflict my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, no man is with us; behold, God is witness between me and you- Perhaps Laban did have some reason for thinking that Jacob might harm his daughters; because it does seem that Jacob's relationship with them was strained as I have pointed out throughout these notes. And we recall his great anger with Rachel at Gen. 30:2. Laban appears to mean what he says here and to believe it; that God sees even when no other witness is present. And the nature of his argument seems to presuppose that just one all-seeing God is in view, which was certainly not what the surrounding culture believed. We dare to hope that through all his weakness, Laban may have turned to the one true God at the end of his life.

Gen 31:51 Laban said to Jacob, See this heap, and see the pillar, which I have set between me and you- It was Jacob who set up the pillar, and so we can interpret this as meaning that Laban was setting the significance of these things as being that they marked the boundary between the two families (:52).

Gen 31:52 May this heap be a witness, and the pillar be a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and that you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, for harm- Laban proposed this condition; but God used it to ensure that Jacob and his family would never be tempted to leave the land of promise back towards the East. For they all promised, including Laban's daughters, never to return. And the heap of stones was near the river Euphrates, the border of the land of promise; see on :21. Again we see God as it were needling Jacob towards Canaan, the land and things of the Kingdom. For due to this initiative of Laban, Jacob now cannot return to Mesopotamia. He can only go onwards towards the things of the Kingdom, to Canaan. As we eat the symbols of the covenant at the communion service (:54), we can likewise perceive that God is locking us up into a one way direction towards His Kingdom, making the way of return to the world harder and harder.

Gen 31:53 The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us- Here we see the classic mixing of true and false worship. The god of Nahor was an idol (Josh. 24:2); the God of Abraham was Yahweh, whose Name Laban knew. But Laban mixes the two together, and the grammar for "judge between" is plural, as if both 'gods' would judge. Perhaps here Laban means to imply that his god was the god of Nahor, and Jacob's was the God of Abraham.

Then Jacob swore by the fear of his father, Isaac- Jacob unashamedly swore "by the fear of his father Isaac"; the picture of his father trembling in fear of God when he realized his superficiality stayed with Jacob (Gen. 27:33). It seems he spoke publicly of God as the God of his father, for this is the term Laban used to him (Gen. 31:29). The influence of his father and grandfather lasted a lifetime; even in old age, he feared to go down to Egypt because of the precedents set by the bad experience of Isaac and Abraham there; it seems that he delayed to obey Joseph's invitation to visit Egypt because of this, and was possibly rebuked by Yahweh for this: "Jacob, Jacob (such repetition is often a rebuke), Fear not to go down into Egypt" (Gen. 46:3). Likewise Christians can  live out parental expectation without much personal faith.

The structure and balance of the statement seems to be emphasizing that Laban swore by his fathers' gods, because he knew no better, and Jacob did likewise. A Baptist is a Baptist because his father is, and at the beginning of spiritual life, a Christian can be one for no better reason than his parents are. Jacob was still at this stage in middle age. And so many of us must pass through that inevitable growth curve of Jacob. That Abraham did finally break with his family is hinted at by the way that Laban speaks of "the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor- may they judge between us (Gen. 31:53 Heb.). Laban recognized that Nahor and Abraham worshipped different gods- whereas we know that initially, they worshipped the same gods.

Gen 31:54 Jacob offered a sacrifice in the mountain, and called his relatives to eat bread. They ate bread, and stayed all night in the mountain- Eating bread was a sign of covenant fellowship. Jacob did this with a self-confessed unbeliever in the true God (see on :53); just as the memorial meal of the new covenant can be used in various ways, and there is no guilt by association through sharing it even with an unbeliever. The calling of "his relatives" may refer to Jacob inviting Laban's family to eat bread as a sign of their agreement to the covenant; they were his relatives by marriage. So the story with Laban ends with a reminder of their unity; see on :55.

Gen 31:55 Early in the morning, Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his daughters, and blessed them. Laban departed and returned to his place- This is Laban at his best, and the curtain closes on Laban with us feeling somewhat sorry for him, as he knows he will never see his family again, and we note his fondness for his daughters who were clearly agree with him and saw no point in living further with him (see on :14,15). We note that some of his sons [or grandsons?] were with Jacob now. We get the impression of a humbled Laban returning those 500 km. to Haran, and although he clearly at that time believed in other gods, we are left with the hope that he converted to the one true God with all his heart and repented, or at least regretted, his behaviour with Jacob.