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JACOB'S DEPARTURE FROM HARAN.
Gen. xxxi. 17-55.
VER. 17–21. Jacoh having consulted with his wives, and obtained their consent, the next step was to prepare for their departure. Had Laban known it, there is reason to fear he would either have detained him by force, or at least have deprived him of a part of his property. He must therefore, if possible, depart without his knowledge. At that time Laban was three days' journey from home, at a sheep-shearing. Jacob, taking advantage of this, effected his escape. The women returning from the field, collected their matters together in a little time ; and being all ready, Jacob rose up, set his family upon the camels, and with all his substance, set off for his father's house in the land of Canaan. Being apprehensive that Laban would pursue him, he passed over the Euphrates, and hastened on his way towards mount Gilead.
I do not know that we can justly blameJacob for this his sudden and secret departure: but when we read of Rachel's availing herself of her father's absence to steal his images, a scene of iniquity opens to our view! What then, is the family of Nahor, who left the idolatrous Chaldees ; the family to which Abrabam and Isaac repaired, in marrying their children, to the rejection of the idolatrous Canaanites—is this family itself become idolaters? It is
But is Rachel, the beloved wife of Jacob, not only capable of stealing, but of stealing images ? Some, reluctant to entertain such an opinion of her, have supposed she might take them away to prevent their ill effects on her father's family : but
subsequent events are far from justifying such a supposition. It is a fact, that these teraphim afterwards proved a snare to Jacob's family, and that he could not go up to Bethel till he had cleansed his house of them.* But had the family of Laban cast off the acknowledgment of Jehovah, the one true God? This does not appear, for they make frequent mention of him. Both Rachel and Leab, on the birth of their children, were full of apparently devout acknowledgments of him; and we were willing, from thence, to entertain a hope in favour of their piety. Laban also, notwithstanding his keeping these images in his house, could afterwards invoke Jehovah to watch between him and Jacob. (ver. 49.) The truth seems to be, they were like some in after times, who swear by the Lord, and by Malcham ;t and others in our times, who are neither cold nor hot, but seem to wish to serve both God and mammon. The teraphim that Rachel stole were not public idols, set up in temples for worship ; but, as some think, little images of them, a kind of household gods. Laban's family would probably have been ashamed of publicly accompanying the heathen to the worship of their gods; but they could keep images of them in their house, which implies a superstitious respect, if not a private homage paid to them.
This dividing of matters between the true God and idols, has in all ages been a great source of corruption. A little before the death of Joshua, when Israel began to degenerate, it was in this way. They did not openly renounce the acknowledgment of Jehovah, but kept images of the idols in the countries round about them in their houses. Of this the venerable man was aware ; and therefore, when they declared, saying, We will serve Jehovah for he is our God, he answered, Ye cannot serve Jehovah, for he is a holy God, he is a jealous God: he will not forgive your transgressions, nor your sins. And when they replied, Nay, but we will serve Jehovah, he answered,Put away the strange gods that are among you: as if he should say, “You cannot serve God and your idols : if Jehovah be God, follow him : but if Baal, follow him.' What is popery?
It does not profess to renounce the true God; but
* Chap. xxxv. 1-3.
+ Zeph, i, 5.
abounds in images of Christ, and departed saints. What is the religion of great numbers among Protestants, and even Protestant Dissenters? They will acknowledge the true God in words; but their hearts and houses are the abodes of spiritual idolatry. When a man, like Laban, gives himself up to covetousness, he has no room for God or true religion. The world is his god ;and he has only to reside among gross idolaters in order to be one, or at least a favourer of their abominations.
Ver. 22—30. The news of Jacob's abrupt departure was soon carried to Lában, who, collecting all his force, immediately pursued him. It was seven days, however, ere he came up with him. Without doubt, he meditated mischief. He would talk of his regard to his children, and grandchildren, and how much he was hurt in being prevented from taking leave of them: but that which lay nearest his heart was the substance which Jacobi had taken with him. This, I conceive, he meant by some means to recover. And if he had by persuasion or force induced the family to return, it had been only for the sake of this. But the night before he overtook Jacob, God appeared to him in a dream, and warned him not only against doing him harın, but even against speaking to him (that is, on the subject of returning to Haran) either good or bad. From this time his spirit was manifestly overawed, and his heart smitten as with a palsy. Overtaking Jacob at mount Gilead, he begins with him in rather a lofty tone, but faulters as he proceeds, dwelling upon the same charges over and over again. What hast thou done, said he, that thou hast stolen away unawares to me, and carried away my daughters, as captives taken with the sword? Wherefore didst thou flee away secretly, and steal away from me? and didst not tell me, that I might have sent thee away with mirth, and with songs, with tabret, and with harp? and hast not suffered me to kiss my sons and my daughters? thou hast now done foolishly in so doing. In all this he means to insinuate that Jacob had no cause to leave him on account of any thing he had done; that where there was so much secrecy there must be something dishonourable ; and that in pursuing him, he was only moved by affection to his children. He adds, It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt : but the God of your father
spake unto me yesternight, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob, either good or bad. Without doubt, Laban's company was much more powerful than that of Jacob, and he meant to impress this idea upon him, that his forbearance might appear to be the effect of generosity; nay, it is possible he might think he acted very religiously, in paying so much deference to the warningvoice of his God. He concludes by adding, And now, though thou wouldest needs be gone, because thou sore longedst after thy father's house ; yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods? The manner in wbich he accounts for his desire to be gone, has an appearance of candour and sympathy; but the design was to insinuate that it was not on account of any ill treatment he had received from him, and perhaps to give an edge to the heavy charge with which his speech is concluded. It was cutting to be accused of theft; more so of having stolen what he abhorred; and for the charge to be preferred by a man who wished to make every possible allowance, would render it more cutting still. Jacob felt it, and all bis other accusations, as his answers sufficiently indicate.
Ver. 31, 32. With respect to the reiterated complaints of the secrecy of his departure, Jacob answers all in a few words : It was because I was afraid : for I said, peradventure thou wouldst take by force thy daughters from me. This was admitting his power, but impeaching his justice ; and as he had dwelt only upon the taking away of his daughters, so Jacob in answer confines himself to them. Laban might feel for the loss of something else besides his daughters; and Jacob, when he left Haran, might be afraid for something else ; but as the charge respected only them, it was sufficient that the answer corresponded to it. If by withbolding the women he could have detained him and his substance, his former conduct proved that he would not have been to be trusted. With respect to the gods, Jacob's answer is expressive of the strongest indignation. He will not design to disown the charge; but desires that all his company might be searched, saying, With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live! It was worthy of an upright man to feel indignant at the charge of stealing, and of a servant of God at that of stealing idols. But unless he had been as well assured of the innocence of all about him, as he was of his