With two wives, two concubines, and four sets of children Jacob had all the troubles he needed. But added to this is the fact that he also had some very serious father-in-law troubles. All his wealth could not give Jacob joy and peace, though he craved them constantly. He was not a happy man in Haran in spite of all his material prosperity. Had he only dared to do so, he would have returned to his father in the land of Canaan without hesitation. In His mercy God gave him the courage to set out to do so.
Jacob had become rich at the expense of Laban. And Laban, although he still was a wealthy man, was losing his material goods very rapidly because God was with Jacob. At the moment that Jacob does leave for the land of Canaan, Laban was richer than he was before Jacob came. God had increased Laban’s goods and cattle for Jacob’s sake, and this must be remembered. God’s eye is always upon His Church. And when the world enjoys peace, it is because God deems this good and necessary for His Church. The chaff must enjoy the rain and sunshine necessary for the wheat to develop and ripen, even though the intention is to bum the chaff presently after its work is completed. And God had put Laban in Haran so that Jacob could flee there, could get a God-fearing wife there in the person of Leah — though Jacob’s choice of Rachel was dictated by the flesh and the result of love at first sight — and Jacob could prosper materially as an evidence of God’s grace and blessing upon him.
But friction soon appeared between Jacob and Laban from Laban’s side. Jacob was a patient man in Haran, and that is not a difficult attitude when all goes well materially. Laban, however, seeing that he was losing cattle and other possessions to Jacob, makes no attempt to hide his growing anger. He speaks to his sons about it, and they make sure that Jacob gets to overhear them complain that he was stealing the goods of their father. With some of their father’s slyness they do not come and tell Jacob to his face, but they arrange to have him overhear their speech. What is more, Laban showed it plainly on his face. His false, deceptive smile had been replaced by dark, angry looks which Jacob could not fail to interpret correctly. The situation became very tense and explosive.
This in itself was the voice of God to Jacob, for in it God was showing Jacob that he must leave and return to the promised land. But in His mercy God does more, for Jacob was afraid to return to the land where his brother, who had threatened to kill him, still dwelt. Whether he had received any word out of Canaan those twenty years or not is not reported in Holy Writ. But we may be sure that Jacob’s thoughts now and then, and especially of late, returned to his father and mother, and in that connection also to his brother who had made such an unbrotherly threat. If Jacob had not heard word of his father that he was still living, though twenty years before both he, Isaac, and his mother, Rebekah, expected him to die in a short time, that threat of Esau stood out in bold relief. If he knew that his father was still living, would it mean that he could return in safety? Did Esau’s attitude change? We see from subsequent revelation that Jacob still fears Esau so much as to send a tremendously big peace offering and to call him lord, and to present himself as his servant. And so God also speaks to Jacob in a dream and tells him to go back to the land of his fathers, Abraham and Isaac, with the promise to be with him. Thus here in Genesis 31 God repeats the promise which He gave Jacob at Bethel when, according to Genesis 28, He appeared to Jacob in connection with the ladder that reached from the earth up to heaven. Then God said, “Behold I am with thee and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land, for I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.” Now He repeats that He will be with him on this journey back to Canaan. Jacob needs nothing more. If God is with him, nothing can harm him.
And is that also not true of us? As pilgrims and strangers we are homeward bound to the heavenly promised land. Like Jacob we do not think of it very often, but deep within our souls we do want to go there. The flesh wants to stay here and gather a few more sheep and goats, see our children and children’s ‘ children in this life, and we dread the thought of parting from loved ones. We also, even as Jacob, have an enemy we fear to face. The last enemy is death, Paul writes to the church at Corinth. And in the epistle to the Hebrews we read, “Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He (Christ) also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that hath the power of death, that is, the devil.” Hebrews 2:14. That course through death and the grave is so mysterious, and the fact that we, like Jacob, have sins that call for our death and punishment, make us draw back at the thought of being homeward bound. 0, it will be wonderful there, and we want to go to all that glory. But the way:. . . ! And can we be sure that we will arrive safely there in that promised land above? We also, therefore, need this word of God, “Behold I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land, for I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.” If He will go with us, we are sure that nothing shall harm us.
And when He called Jacob to go home He also reminded him of his vow at Bethel. According to Genesis 31:13 God said to Jacob, “I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointest the pillar, and where thou vowest a vow unto me.” Jacob had vowed there at Bethel saying, “If God will be with me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God.” Genesis 28:20-21. O, Jacob, you had much more than bread to eat and raiment to put on! You are now a rich man. God certainly has been with you and manifested it by these material goods. Confess Him now to be your God. The idea is that Jacob will worship and serve Him, will put all his trust in Him alone. And now God twenty years later says to Jacob, “Trust Me, Obey Me. Go back now to the land of your father and serve Me alone. For indeed I did keep thee in all the way. Go in the assurance that as I blessed thee ever since Bethel, I will be with thee to bless thee and bring thee in peace to thy father’s house.”
Thereafter Jacob speaks to his wives about going to Canaan and shows his faith more clearly than at any time before this. He speaks before his wives of all his experiences there in Haran and gives the richest manifestation of his faith recorded thus far in Holy Writ. He openly confesses God’s work of defending him against Laban and his trickery. He explains how in those twenty years Laban changed his wages ten times. This need not necessarily be taken in the literal sense. It surely means that it did not happen once or twice but so fully that there can be no doubt as to what Laban was doing. When Laban had agreed that all the speckled sheep — those with small spots — would be Jacob’s, and God caused most of the sheep to bring forth speckled ones, Laban changed Jacob’s hire to be the ringstreaked. And when God now caused most of the sheep to produce ringstreaked offspring, Laban again changed the kind Jacob would get. Ten times may easily mean that he went back to speckled, and then back to ringstreaked, and to solid colors only to return to speckled when these solid ones were the kind God gave Jacob. Constantly Laban was trying to get the best of Jacob, not stopping to think that he was foolishly trying to get ahead of God. That man can never do! Laban must ally himself with Jacob and must not be against him, if he wishes to receive a blessing.
We do not at all mean to infer that Laban was not a child of God. He certainly does not appear here as a giant of faith, but much more like Lot who vexed his righteous soul in Sodom but stayed there. Laban’s idols do not reveal a wholehearted trust in Jehovah, and his treatment of Jacob does not reveal a man walking by faith. He was, in that he was doing this to one of Christ’s brethren (one in whose loins the Christ was at that very moment) doing all this against the Christ. We must not forget that in the church today. We can be cruel and we can walk over God’s children in the church here below, take advantage of them, speak evilly of them, ridicule them and torment them, but we are touching Christ to Whose body these belong. We do well to watch our treatment of the brother and sister in the church. Our sharp tongue can be touching Christ in one of His members. And whether Laban was a sincere child of God or not, we will leave to God, lest we do him injustice by our faulty, human judgment.
But when Jacob has been encouraged by God, he tells his wives of his plan to go to Canaan, and, in revealing his strength of faith at the moment, explains to them that all his wealth is due to God’s hand and not his own. He confesses before them that the God of his father suffered not their father to hurt him. And God hath taken away the cattle from Laban. Here he admits, and admit he must, that it was not his trickery but God’s power that gave him the cattle in spite of those changed wages.
The daughters without hesitation agree to go with their husband and to leave their father. Their love for him had diminished considerably of late. He had alienated them also. They accuse him of having counted them as strangers, of having sold them and quite devoured their money. Rachel seems to be the first to respond and to speak for herself and Leah. She is mentioned first even though she is not the older of the two, or Jacob’s first wife. She had an impetuous nature, and a fiery temper. Her attractive dark eyes that flashed with beauty, flashed also with fire. That became plain already when she snapped at Jacob, “Give me children or I die!” The statement, “Whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do” could be Leah’s speech, so that in the entire section we have the views of two sisters speaking, and their different views put in one paragraph without indicating which said what. But even then two things must be said. We will not here judge Rachel as to whether the reference to God and use of God’s name means that she was a child of God or not. There will be more instances where she shows herself as anything but a child of God. Her stealing and lying about the idols of her father indicates what she learned from her father, and does not speak well of her from a spiritual point of view. We will also see her on her deathbed speaking anything but the language of faith. All this too we can leave to God for His right judgment. Then, too, the mere use of God’s name must never lead us to believe that this one using that name necessarily is a child of God. Did not Satan say to Christ in the wilderness, “If Thou be the Son of God”? Rachel may have spoken sincerely and revealed faith in God, but the mere use of God’s name does not show this definitely to be the case. The walk of life must also say this. And when the mouth says that He is God, the heart must be saying it as well.