Genesis 31
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Rachel had stolen the images that were her father's. This the first direct mention of images in connection with worship, though tradition speaks of Nimrod as an idolater (cf. Joshua 14:2). Laban calls them his gods (ver. 30); yet he and his family knew the Lord. His use of them was a corruption of worship.

I. THE IMAGES. Teraphim. Had some resemblance to the human form (1 Samuel 19:13). Of different sizes and materials. The manner of their use not very clear, but used in some way for worship. Apparently not as intentional rebellion against God. Rather as a help to worship him, but a help chosen in self-will. It was the error forbidden in the second commandment; a departure from the way of Abel, Noah, Abraham; the device of a soul out of harmony with spiritual things, and unable to realize God's presence in worship (cf. Exodus 32:4; Judges 8:27; Judges 17:3; 1 Kings 12:28). We live in midst of things claiming attention. Necessities of life compel it. And the good effect of diligence is quickly felt. This not evil, but becomes a snare unless spiritual life vigorous (Matthew 13:22; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31). The habit of looking earthward grows. The walk with God becomes less close. Then unreality in worship. Then the attempt by material aids to reconcile worship with an unchanged life. Hence, in the old time, teraphim; in our days, will worship.

II. THE EFFECT OF THIS ON THE MORAL CHARACTER AND ON THE SPIRITUAL LIFE; exemplified in Laban. Compare him as presented in Genesis 14. with what he now appears. There he is hospitable, frank, and liberal; here he is sordid, ungenerous, deceitful even to his own nephew. There he acknowledges the Lord as the Guide of actions (Genesis 14:50, 51); here he speaks of "the God of your father," and of "my gods." The love of wealth had made God no longer first in his thoughts (cf. Psalm 10:4; Philippians 3:19). Thus worship became a thing of times and seasons, a thing separate from daily life, and therefore possessing no influence on daily life. So in the Christian Church great attention to external aids and extravagant symbolism were the resources of a pervading spirit less spiritual than in times before; and these too often were as clouds hiding the face of God.

III. RACHEL'S ACT. Stole teraphim. Why? Some have thought to wean her father from them. More probably wished to make use of them. Had not escaped her father's influence. Hence the want of a submissive spirit (cf. Genesis 30:1 with 1 Samuel 1:11). The evil spread in Jacob's household (Genesis 35:2). The necessity for making a stand against it (Joshua 14:23).

IV. THE LESSON FOR OUR TIMES. The second commandment meets a real danger in every age - of leaning upon secondary means in religious service. Teraphim no longer tempt us. But amid whirl of active life, danger of leaning too much on outward impressions for spiritual life; of cultivating the emotions in place of spiritual earnestness (Psalm 130:6; Matthew 11:12); of putting religious services (1 Samuel 15:22) or work (Matthew 7:22) in place of walk with God. Amid much apparent religious activity the striving against self (Luke 9:28) and growth in grace may become languid (1 John 5:21). - M.

And Jacob stole away unawares to Laban the Syrian, &c. A great lesson on -

I. THE EVIL OF DISSIMULATION. Hatred and wrong the fruits of crafty ways. Family dissensions where the things of this world uppermost. Separations which are made in the spirit of dependence on God rend no true bond, but rather strengthen affection.

II. THE FORBEARANCE OF GOD. No justification of Laban, much imperfection in Jacob; yet the shield of Divine patience and mercy thrown over the man who vowed the vow of service, in whom his grace would yet be abundantly revealed. Laban's action controlled by God. He forbad the evil design. He stilleth the enemy and the avenger. "Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad" (ver. 29). "Touch not mine anointed," &c. When we are doing God's work and walking towards his chosen end we may leave it with him to speak with those who would hinder or harm us. - R.

I. ENTIRE SEPARATION FROM TEMPTATION IS THE ONLY SAFETY. Very imperfect knowledge in the Mesopotamian family. Rachel's theft of the household gods a sign of both moral and spiritual deficiency. The religion of Jacob and his descendants must be preserved from contamination. Intercourse with the unenlightened and unsanctified, though necessary for a time and in some degree, must not be suffered to obscure the higher light, or surround us with practical entanglements which hinder our faithfulness to God.

II. WHEREVER THE SPIRITUAL LIFE IS FEEBLE IT IS WELL THAT THERE SHOULD BE SOLEMN PUBLIC ACTS OF COVENANT AND TESTIMONY. We want the Galeed and the Mizpah, the heap of witness and the watch-tower of faith. Many united together in the covenant, and thus became witnesses in whose presence the oath was taken. We are helped to faithfulness by the publicity of our vows. But the higher the spiritual life, the less we shall call in material things to support it. Jacob with Laban is not the true Jacob. All dependence upon the symbol and rite is more or less compromise.

III. THE CONTACT OF THE HIGHER FORM OF RELIGION WITH THE LOWER ONE, OF THE MEANS OF PREPARING THE WORLD FOR THE TRUTH. Laban and his family types of the lower order of religious knowledge and life. The covenant between the father-in-law and son-in-law in the name of the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor points to a rising light in the Mesopotamian family. We may be sure that the influence of Christianity will be supreme wherever it is brought face to face with men's religions. That influence may be embodied in matters of common life, in covenants between man and man, in laws and commercial regulations and social arrangements.

IV. THE SEED OF THE DIVINE LIFE IS PLANTED IN THE SOIL OF NATURE, BUT REVEALS ITS SUPERIORITY TO NATURE BY BRINGING ALL THINGS AND MEN INTO SUBJECTION TO ITSELF. Jacob, Rachel, and afterwards Joseph, present to the Spirit of God elements of character which require both elevation and renovation. The grace is given. On a natural foundation inherited from others God rears by his grace a lofty structure. The crafty and the thoughtful are often nearly allied. It is one of the spiritual dangers to which specially energetic and subtle minds are exposed, that they may so easily fall into an abuse of their superior mental quickness to the injury of their moral purity and simplicity. Jacob and Laban making their covenant together, and erecting their witnessing monuments, are another illustration of the homage which even very imperfect characters pay to the God of truth. They appeal to him, and they do so in the presence of a world which they know will justify God, and not the sinner. The God of Abraham, the God of Nahor, the God of Isaac, judged between them. Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and invited his brethren to a sacrificial banquet; and it was in that atmosphere of mingled reverence for God and human affection that the heir of the covenant bade farewell to all that held him in restraint. and set his face once more towards the land of promise. - R.

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