Verses 1–16

Jacob is here taking up a resolution immediately to quit his uncle’s service, to take what he had and go back to Canaan. This resolution he took up upon a just provocation, by divine direction, and with the advice and consent of his wives.

I. Upon a just provocation; for Laban and his sons had become very cross and ill-natured towards him, so that he could not stay among them with safety or satisfaction.

1. Laban’s sons showed their ill-will in what they said, Gen. 31:1. It should seem they said it in Jacob’s hearing, with a design to vex him. The last chapter began with Rachel’s envying Leah; this begins with Laban’s sons envying Jacob. Observe, (1.) How greatly they magnify Jacob’s prosperity: He has gotten all this glory. And what was this glory that they made so much ado about? It was a parcel of brown sheep and speckled goats (and perhaps the fine colours made them seem more glorious), and some camels and asses, and such like trading; and this was all this glory. Note, Riches are glorious things in the eyes of carnal people, while to all those that are conversant with heavenly things they have no glory in comparison with the glory which excelleth. Men’s over-valuing worldly wealth is that fundamental error which is the root of covetousness, envy, and all evil. (2.) How basely they reflect upon Jacob’s fidelity, as if what he had he had not gotten honestly: Jacob has taken away all that was our father’s. Not all, surely. What had become of those cattle which were committed to the custody of Laban’s sons, and sent three days’ journey off? Gen. 30:35, 36. They mean all that was committed to him; but, speaking invidiously, they express themselves thus generally. Note, [1.] Those that are ever so careful to keep a good conscience cannot always be sure of a good name. [2.] This is one of the vanities and vexations which attend outward prosperity, that it makes a man to be envied of his neighbors (Eccl. 4:4), and who can stand before envy? Prov. 27:4. Whom Heaven blesses hell curses, and all its children on earth.

2. Laban himself said little, but his countenance was not towards Jacob as it used to be; and Jacob could not but take notice of it, Gen. 31:2, 5. He was but a churl at the best, but now he was more churlish than formerly. Note, Envy is a sin that often appears in the countenance; hence we read of an evil eye, Prov. 23:6. Sour looks may do a great deal towards the ruin of peace and love in a family, and the making of those uneasy of whose comfort we ought to be tender. Laban’s angry countenance lost him the greatest blessing his family ever had, and justly.

II. By divine direction and under the convoy of a promise: The Lord said unto Jacob, Return, and I will be with thee, Gen. 31:3. Though Jacob had met with very hard usage here, yet he would not quit his place till God bade him. He came thither by orders from Heaven, and there he would stay till he was ordered back. Note, It is our duty to set ourselves, and it will be our comfort to see ourselves, under God’s guidance, both in our going out and in our coming in. The direction he had from Heaven is more fully related in the account he gives of it to his wives (Gen. 31:10-13), where he tells them of a dream he had about the cattle, and the wonderful increase of those of his colour; and how the angel of God, in that dream (for I suppose the dream spoken of Gen. 31:10 and that Gen. 31:11 to be the same), took notice of the workings of his fancy in his sleep, and instructed him, so that it was not by chance, or by his own policy, that he obtained that great advantage; but, 1. By the providence of God, who had taken notice of the hardships Laban had put upon him, and took this way to recompense him: “For I have seen all the Laban doeth unto thee, and herein I have an eye to that.” Note, There is more of equity in the distributions of the divine providence than we are aware of, and by them the injured are recompensed really, though perhaps insensibly. Nor was it only by the justice of providence that Jacob was thus enriched, but, 2. In performance of the promise intimated in what is said Gen. 31:13; I am the God of Beth-el, This was the place where the covenant was renewed with him. Note, Worldly prosperity and success are doubly sweet and comfortable when we see them flowing, not from common providence, but from covenant-love, to perform the mercy promised—when we have them from God as the God of Beth-el, from those promises of the life which now is that belong to godliness. Jacob, even when he had this hopeful prospect of growing rich with Laban, must think of returning. When the world begins to smile upon us we must remember it is not our home. Now arise (Gen. 31:13) and return, (1.) To thy devotions in Canaan, the solemnities of which had perhaps been much intermitted while he was with Laban. The times of this servitude God had winked at; but now, “Return to the place where thou anointedst the pillar and vowedst the vow. Now that thou beginnest to grow rich it is time to think of an altar and sacrifices again.” (2.) To thy comforts in Canaan: Return to the land of thy kindred. He was here among his near kindred; but those only he must look upon as his kindred in the best sense, the kindred he must live and die with, to whom pertained the covenant. Note, The heirs of Canaan must never reckon themselves at home till they come thither, however they may seem to take root here.

III. With the knowledge and consent of his wives. Observe,

1. He sent for Rachel and Leah to him to the field (Gen. 31:4), that he might confer with them more privately, or because one would not come to the other’s apartment and he would willingly talk with them together, or because he had work to do in the field which he would not leave. Note, Husbands that love their wives will communicate their purposes and intentions to them. Where there is a mutual affection there will be a mutual confidence. And the prudence of the wife should engage the heart of her husband to trust in her, Prov. 31:11. Jacob told his wives, (1.) How faithfully he had served their father, Gen. 31:6. Note, If others do not do their duty to us, yet we shall have the comfort of having done ours to them. (2.) How unfaithfully their father had dealt with him Gen. 31:7. He would never keep to any bargain that he made with him, but, after the first year, still as he saw Providence favour Jacob with the colour agreed on, every half year of the remaining five he changed it for some other colour, which made it ten times; as if he thought not only to deceive Jacob, but the divine Providence, which manifestly smiled upon him. Note, Those that deal honestly are not always honestly dealt with. (3.) How God had owned him notwithstanding. He had protected him from Laban’s ill-will: God suffered him not to hurt me. Note, Those that keep close to God shall be kept safely by him. He had also provided plentifully for him, notwithstanding Laban’s design to ruin him: God has taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me, Gen. 31:9. Thus the righteous God paid Jacob for his hard service out of Laban’s estate; as afterwards he paid the seed of Jacob for their serving the Egyptians, with their spoils. Note, God is not unrighteous to forget his people’s work and labour of love, though men be so, Heb. 6:10. Providence has ways of making those honest in the event that are not so in their design. Note, further, The wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just, Prov. 13:22. (4.) He told them of the command God had given him, in a dream, to return to his own country (Gen. 31:13), that they might not suspect his resolution to arise from inconstancy, or any disaffection to their country or family, but might see it to proceed from a principle of obedience to his God, and dependence on him.

2. His wives cheerfully consented to his resolution. They also brought forward their grievances, complaining that their father had been not only unkind, but unjust, to them (Gen. 31:14-16), that he looked upon them as strangers, and was without natural affection towards them; and, whereas Jacob had looked upon the wealth which God had transferred from Laban to him as his wages, they looked upon it as their portions; so that, both ways, God forced Laban to pay his debts, both to his servant and to his daughters. So then it seemed, (1.) They were weary of their own people and their father’s house, and could easily forget them. Note, This good use we should make of the unkind usage we meet with from the world, we should sit the more loose to it, and be willing to leave it and desirous to be at home. (2.) They were willing to go along with their husband, and put themselves with him under the divine direction: Whatsoever God hath said unto thee do. Note, Those wives that are their husband’s meet helps will never be their hindrances in doing that to which God calls them.