Yaakov’s oath binds Yaakov to freedom from Laban’s wickedness, while leaving Laban a prisoner to the curse he has brought upon himself.
31:1 Now Yaakov (Follower after the heel) heard the words Laban’s (White) sons were saying, “Yaakov has taken everything that belongs to our father, and from what belongs to our father he has made all these riches.”
Radak concludes that Laban’s sons were saying these things to everyone, including Laban and that is the reason for the subsequent change in Laban’s countenance.
The complaint of Laban’s sons is similar to the equally untrue claims of Esau (Gen. 27:36).
2 Then Yaakov saw Laban’s face, and he noticed that his expression wasn’t the same as it was just a day or two before. 3 Then HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) said to Yaakov, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”
Verse 3 recalls the words of HaShem to Yaakov in Gen. 28:15 when he first set out for Charan. HaShem has been with Yaakov protecting his going out and guarding his return. This brings to mind the prayer we pray as we leave and return to our homes, touching the Mezuzah and bringing the promises of the Torah to our lips:
“HaShem (Mercy) will guard your going out and your coming in, now and forever.” –Tehilim (Psalms) 121:8
4 So Yaakov sent and called for Rachel (Ewe) and Leah (Weary) to come to the field, to his flock.
By having his wives meet him in the field he was ensuring that they would be out of earshot of the community and in particular, Laban and his sons.
5 He said to them, “I can see by your father’s face that his expression isn’t the same as it was just a day or two ago. But the Elohim (God: Judge) of my father has been with me.
HaShem (Mercy) had spoken to Yaakov, however, Yaakov now acknowledges HaShem in His role as Elohiym (Judge) when he explains his Divine protection while in Laban’s community.
6 Now you yourselves know that I’ve served your father with all my strength. 7 Yet your father has deceived me and has changed my wages ten times—but Elohim (God: Judge) hasn’t allowed him to harm me.
The number ten conveys the great duplicity and wickedness of Laban. Ten symbolizes fullness and completion, in this case it is the fullness and completion of Laban’s sinful actions toward Yaakov the patriarch of Israel. Again, in the face of this injustice, Yaakov calls on Elohiym, the Judge.
8 If he would say, ‘the spotted ones will be your wages,’ then the flocks would give birth to spotted ones. Or if he would say, ‘the striped ones will be your wages,’ then all the flocks would give birth to striped ones. 9 So Elohiym (God, Judge) has taken away your father’s livestock and has given them to me.
It is a judgement passed by the Judge (Elohiym) that has decided the case against Laban and in favour of Yaakov, thus Yaakov has received the flocks that were owed him.
10 Now it happened when the flocks were in heat that I lifted up my eyes and saw, in a dream, behold, the males going up to the flocks were striped, spotted and speckled. 11 Then Malakh Ha-Elohiym (the angel of God) said to me in the dream, ‘Yaakov,’ and I said, ‘Hineni.’ (Here I am, ready, willing, obedient) 12 He said, ‘Lift up your eyes and see that all the males going up to the flocks are striped, spotted and speckled. For I have seen everything Laban has done to you. 13 I am the Elohiym (God: Judge) of Beit-El (The House of God) where you anointed a memorial stone, where you made a vow to Me. Get up now and leave this land, and return to the land of your relatives.’”
It appears from the recounting of this dream that Yaakov dreamed it while watching the flocks mating at a time prior to his offering the solution of ownership of the speckled, streaked and spotted animals as a wage in the previous chapter. At the end of this account Yaakov is commanded by God to return to the land of his birth. Thus, because Yaakov has said Hineini (Here I am, ready, willing and obedient), it seems likely that he approached Laban with his request to leave (Chpt. 30) soon after having the dream encounter with The Messenger of God, Malakh Ha-Elohiym.
One of the most prominent elements of this dream interaction is the emphasis God places on the fact that it is as a result of the harm He has witnessed Laban doing to Yaakov that He (God) will increase the streaked, speckled and spotted members of the herds. This should be understood to teach that Yaakov’s efforts have not brought this about, rather it is God Who has both given the dream and fulfilled it.
14 Then Rachel answered along with Leah and they said to him, “Is there still a portion and inheritance for us in our father’s house? 15 Aren’t we considered foreigners to him? For he has sold us and has also completely used up our bridal price. 16 Surely all the riches that Elohiym (God: Judge) has taken away from our father is for us and for our children. So now, everything Elohiym (God: Judge) God said to you, do it!”
Rachel and Leah make two charges against their father. First, he has treated them as foreign slaves to be sold like cattle and second, he has used up the bride-price that Yaakov has paid for the privilege of marrying his daughters. The bride-price belonged to the bride and was to act as her security. Laban had kept the just wages of Yaakov’s work from him and had therefore stolen the bride-price that should have been passed on to his daughters when they were ready to move into fields and lands of their own. The selfish Laban had been using his daughters as a means for making himself rich.
17 Then Yaakov got up and put his children and wives on camels. 18 He drove away all his livestock and all his possessions that he had acquired—the livestock in his possession that he acquired in Paddan-aram (Field of Exaltation)—to go to his father Yitzchak’s (He laughs), to the land of Ke’naan (Lowland).
The text is careful to call all these people and possession’s Yaakov’s. They are legally and rightfully his. By leaving Yaakov is obedient to God’s instruction to t’shuva (return). Yaakov had shown discernment and wisdom in seeking the council of his wives and had received confirmation from God through their words of affirmation.
19 But while Laban went to shear his flocks, Rachel yig’nov took away the teraphiym (household idols, idols of healing) that belonged to her father, 20 while Yaakov yig’nov took away ha-lev (the heart, mind, will, inner man, core being) from Laban the Aramean (Exalted ones) by not telling him that he was fleeing.
The doubling of the yig’nov taking away, emphasizes the removal of all that Laban has wrongly kept as his possessions. Rachel’s motivation for taking the household idols is not clear. However, it’s possible that she is both seeking to benefit from their value and has some belief in the power associated with these idols. The Hebrew teraphiym (Plural) is born of the root raphah (heal) which infers that there was some connection to the belief that these particular idols were used as a means of receiving occult healing power. If this is part of Rachel’s belief system at this point in her faith journey, it is no different than the syncretism found in the faith journeys of many modern Messiah followers.
The literal reading of the Hebrew, “Yaakov yig’nov took away ha-lev (the heart, mind, will, inner man, core being) from Laban the Aramean (Exalted ones) by not telling him that he was fleeing.” Proves difficult for many modern English readers and is rarely translated literally into English. However, its literal meaning is important. To say that Yaakov took away Laban’s Lev (Core being) is to say that he had taken all cultural respect, title, wealth, position and familial authority from Laban. By going without Laban’s approval Yaakov was showing his contempt for Laban’s authority and position in the community of Charan.
21 He himself fled with everything that belonged to him, and he got up and crossed the River, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead (Spring of Witness).
Again the text is careful to make clear that Yaakov is fleeing (from an enemy) with everything that belongs to him. These are Yaakov’s legal belongings, they are not Laban’s.
22 When Laban was told on the third day after Yaakov had fled,
The third day denotes unity of purpose and a process of death and resurrection. Yaakov had been dead in the sense that he had been held captive to Laban’s whim, he was now free, resurrected, he had escaped and was beginning anew.
23 he took his relatives with him and pursued him a seven days’ journey.
Laban takes his relatives as an army of intimidation and pursues Yaakov with evil intent. His journey lasts seven days, the number seven representing the fullness of Laban’s sin and his continued resistance to the God of Yaakov.
Then he overtook him in the hill country of Gilead (Spring/mound of witness). 24 But Elohiym God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream at night and said to him, “Watch yourself—lest you say anything to Yaakov, good or bad.”
The fact that Laban overtook Yaakov indicates his intention to prevent Yaakov from returning to the Land of Israel. It is Elohiym (God the Judge) Who meets with Laban and not HaShem (YHVH: Mercy). God is fierce for His servant Yaakov. God does not ask Laban, He warns him.
25 So Laban caught up to Yaakov. (Yaakov had pitched his tent in the hill country, so Laban and his brothers pitched their tents in the hill country of Gilead as well). 26 Then Laban said to Yaakov, “What have you done, that you’ve v’tig’nov taken away my ha-lev (the heart, mind, will, inner man, core being) and have driven my daughters away like captives of the sword?
Laban acknowledges that his standing, authority and means of prosperity have been taken from him. However, his claim that Yaakov has driven his daughters away as captives is ludicrous. His daughters went willingly and he knows it.
27 Why did you secretly flee, and steal away from me? Why didn’t you tell me, so I could send you away with joy and with songs, with tambourines and with lyres?
Laban knows why Yaakov went away secretly, Laban had no intention of ever letting Yaakov go free because he believed that Yaakov was the reason for his prosperity.
28 And you didn’t even let me kiss my grandsons and daughters! “Now, you’ve behaved foolishly. 29 It is in the power of my hand to do evil with you, but yesterday Ha-Elohiym (the God: Judge) of your fathers spoke to me, saying, ‘Watch yourself—lest you say anything to Yaakov, good or bad.’ 30 So now, when you up and left because you really missed your father’s house, why did you steal my elohaiy (gods)?”
Laban settles on the only legitimate reason for him to be angry with Yaakov’s retinue, the stolen teraphiym.
31 In response, Yaakov said to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I thought, ‘Suppose you snatch your daughters away from me.’ 32 Anyone with whom you find your elohaiy (gods) shall not y’ch’yeh remain live. In front of our relatives, identify whatever is yours that is with me, and take it back.” (But Yaakov did not know that Rachel had stolen them.)
The scripture reminds us that it is an undeserved curse that cannot land or rest upon a person (Proverbs 26:2), however, in this instance Rachel is guilty of the actions identified by the curse and is thus under the curse of Yaakov. This is why the Torah makes it clear that Yaakov was unaware of Rachel’s actions. If he had been aware he would not have spoken such a dreadful curse.
The midrash Genesis Rabah 74:4 suggests that the curse spoken here by Yaakov is the reason for Rachel’s premature death (Gen. 35:16-20).
33 So Laban went into Yaakov’s tent, and Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two maids, but he found nothing. Then he went out of Leah’s tent and entered Rachel’s tent. 34 (Now Rachel had taken the terafiym (idols, household gods) and put them in the camel’s saddlebag and sat on them.) So Laban felt around the entire tent but did not find them. 35 She said to her father, “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for I am having the way of women.” So he searched but did not find the terafiym (idols, household gods) idols.
Whatever Rachel’s reasons for taking the teraphiym, the symbolism here is vivid. Rachel, unclean through menstruation (whether by deception or not) is sitting on the elohaiy (gods), the teraphiym (idols, demons) of Laban’s household. According to the Torah anything a menstruating woman sits on becomes unclean (Lev. 15:22). Thus both the idols of Laban’s household and the household they rule over have been menstruated on. Laban’s household has been covered in a curse of barrenness and desecration.
While teraphiym could be life sized (1 Sam. 19:13), these were obviously smaller idols due to the fact that Rachel was able to fit them into her camel’s saddle bags.
36 Then Yaakov got angry and argued with Laban. Yaakov answered and said to Laban, “What’s my crime? What’s my sin that you’ve hotly pursued me? 37 For you’ve groped through all my things. What did you find? Any of your household possessions? Put them here, in front of my relatives and yours—so they can decide between the two of us.
Here Yaakov calls on the testimony of Laban’s relatives as witness to Laban’s mistreatment of Yaakov.
38 These past twenty years I’ve been with you, your ewes and female goats have never miscarried, and I’ve never eaten the rams of your flock.
20 years is twice the term of completion and emphasizes the fact that Yaakov has gone far beyond expected societal norms in respect to his commitments.
39 I didn’t bring you animals torn by wild beasts. I myself would bear the loss. You would require it from my hand, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. 40 I was consumed by heat during the day, consumed by frost during the night, and my sleep fled from my eyes. 41 This is how it’s been for me twenty years in your house. I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flocks—and you changed my wages ten times!
Yaakov states the charge of Laban’s complete duplicity and wickedness before witnesses (Laban’s relatives).
42 Had I not had the Elohiym (God: Judge) of my father, the God Elohiym (God: Judge) of Abraham, and the pachad (fear, terror, dread) of Yitzchak (He laughs), you would have sent me away empty-handed now. But seeing my misery and the toil of my hands and last night Elohiym (The Judge) passed Judgement (Yochach).”
Yaakov calls on God as Elohiym (Judge), “The Judge of my father, the Judge of Avraham”. He then uses an unusual title for God, one that also conveys the fear of God that goes before His servants. The text reads, “The fear of Yitzchak”. This fear has a twofold meaning. It reveal’s Yitzchak’s healthy fear and awe of God and at the same time reveals the dread and fear that came upon Yitzchak’s enemies. People like Avimelekh. In effect, Yaakov is calling on the entire story of the Patriarchs in order to bring the weight of the Patriarch’s God given protection upon Laban.
43 In response Laban said to Yaakov, “The daughters are my daughters, and the grandsons are my grandsons, and the flocks are my flocks. Everything you see is mine. But what can I do for these, my daughters, today, or for their sons to whom they’ve given birth? 44 So now, come, let’s make a b’riyt (covenant, cutting) you and I, and let it be l’ad (a witness) between you and me.”
When a woman is released into marriage she and her husband become one. Laban ignores this fact when he claims his daughters as property. He is outright lying when he claims that the flocks are his. If he seeks peace it is only because he is afraid (not in awe) of the God of Yaakov.
45 So Yaakov took a aven (stone) and set it up as a pillar, 46 and Yaakov said to his relatives, “Gather avaniym stones.” So they took the avaniym stones and made a pile. Then they ate there beside the spring.
At the beginning of this portion of scripture Yaakov recounted his dream concerning the God of Beit-El. Yaakov had set up a stone of remembrance at Beit–El, thus he remembers God’s protection here at Gal-ed. The stone becomes a witness to God’s justice. It is a symbol not an idol.
The stones gathered by all present were a separate pile meant to indicate their agreement to making a covenant.
47 Laban called it Yegar-sahadota (Witness heap) and Yaakov called it Gal-ed (spring of witness). 48 And Laban said, “This ha-gal (pile, spring) is a witness between me and you today.” That is why its name is Gal-ed, 49 or Mizpah (watchtower), for he said, “Let HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) keep watch between you and me when we are out of one another’s sight.
Laban calls on HaShem because he knows that he is in need of a merciful ruling from Elohiym, the Judge.
50 If you mistreat my daughters, and if you take wives besides my daughters, though no one is with us, look! Elohiym ed (God: Judge is the witness) between you and me.” 51 Laban said further to Yaakov, “Behold, ha-gal (the pile, spring) and this matzeivah (pillar) which I’ve set up between you and me: 52 this ha-gal (the pile, spring) serves as a eid witness, that I won’t pass by this matzeivah (pillar) to go to you, and that you won’t pass by this ha-gal (the pile, spring) and this matzeivah (pillar) to go to me—with evil intent. 53 May ha-Elohiym (the God: Judge) of Avraham and the elohaiy (gods) of Nachor (snorting), the elohaiy gods of their father, y’shp’tu judge between us.”
We note that Laban makes his covenant without blood. The very nature of B’riyt requires the shedding of blood. Also, Laban attempts to place Ha-Elohiym (The God) of Avraham among a pantheon of deities, the gods of Nachor and the gods of their father, false gods. Thus Laban’s oath is worthless. It has been made without blood and by using a syncretized pantheon.
Yaakov also made an oath by the pachad (fear, terror, dread) of his father Yitzchak (He laughs). 54 Then Yaakov zevach (slaughtered, offered a sacrifice) on the mountain and he invited his relatives to eat lechem (bread) on the mountain. So they ate lechem (bread) and spent the night on the mountain.
Yaakov distinguishes himself from Laban and honours God by acknowledging HaShem’s unique position above all other powers. This is why Yaakov swears his oath, “by the fear of Yitzchak” that is, the fear and awe of HaShem and by the fear and dread that HaShem brings against His servant’s enemies. Yaakov makes his oath through blood shed (B’riyt) and has all present eat together in order to recognize this covenant as binding, unlike the oath of Laban which was made without the shedding of blood. Thus Yaakov’s oath binds Yaakov to freedom from Laban’s wickedness, while leaving Laban a prisoner to the curse he has brought upon himself.
© Yaakov Brown 2017
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.