Genesis 30-31


Genesis 30 is routinely excluded from the Sunday School curriculum for the Old Testament.  Is it because the birth of the Twelve Tribes of Israel is unimportant?  Or is it because there is plenty of fodder for confusion in this chapter?  Imagine being the gospel doctrine teacher!  Who really wants to face the subject of polygamy with a Sunday School class full of sisters, and brethren, with difficult questions?

For some, understanding Genesis 30 can be a nightmare.  Two sisters are always fighting because they are married to the same man. The practice of polygamy is hard enough without having to see the contention it caused between Rachel and Leah—the way it turned two sisters against each other. First Leah envies Rachel, then Rachel envies Leah. Desperate for children they both give their handmaids to Jacob to increase their status.  Leah longingly seeks for love and validation; Rachel can’t feel validated until she bears a child.  The circumstances produce a situation where the women are competing for Jacob’s love and attention.  Was this the way it was supposed to be?  There is no prophetic commentary to help us sort out right from wrong.  As is typical for Genesis, the narrator refrains from condoning or condemning the events; the point seems to be to tell the story and let the reader decide for himself. Their culture was certainly different than ours; applying a modern value system to their lives is neither productive nor fair.  

Fortunately, our day is different.  The rule for us is the same as for the ancient Nephites, to whom the Lord declared,

“there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;

For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord… For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will my command my people [to practice polygamy]; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.”  (Jacob 2:27-30)

Genesis 30:1 Rachel envied her sister

Rachel preceded Moses and the Ten Commandments.  The command, “Thou shalt not covet,” (Ex. 20:17) was not directly part of her theology, but the principle certainly preceded Moses.  By nature covetousness leads to dissatisfaction, murmuring, and questions regarding the justice of God.  But didn’t Rachel covet a good thing—to be a mother, to raise children, to teach them righteousness?  It isn’t so much that she had evil desires, but that it negatively affected her relationship with her sister.  As is common with many of us, the greatest trials come from within the walls of our own families.  Could she still be happy for Leah without children of her own?  Rachel got to the point where she could not.

“The Bible gives no suggestion that any jealousy existed between the two sisters before their marriages.  The implication is that Leah and Rachel were close confidantes who shared hopes and dreams for their future families.” (Camille Fronk Olson, Women of the Old Testament, [SLC: Deseret Book, 2009], 67)


“Jealousy is an emotion that most of us feel at some time in our lives. It is complex because it contains elements of anger, fear, and resentment. Jealousy always involves people, and is centered in the fear of losing someone’s affection or recognition.  Jealousy also gnaws at the roots of self-esteem; a jealous child doubts his own worthiness to be loved…

“Jealousy has many sources. It often stems from wanting the exclusive love of someone dear.  Or it may be caused by just wanting to be equally recognized.” (Darnell Zollinger, “When Sibling Rivalry Strikes,” Ensign, Feb. 1975, 53)


“If you feel pressure to ‘measure up’ to your sister, step back and take a better look at yourself.

“Constant comparisons by family and friends can spark jealousy between sisters. My youngest sisters, Lisa and Lori, are twins. Even though they don’t look at all alike, they are constantly being compared by classmates and others.

“One of the twins told me that the only way for her to handle that problem was to be sure that she didn’t also compare herself to her twin. She was starting to realize that her twin worked harder at some things, like grades, because it was more important to her, but that didn’t mean she was necessarily smarter or better.

“So if you find that there are a few competitive or jealous feelings lurking in the dusty rear closet of your mind, it’s time for house cleaning. Fling open the creaky door and look at your feelings squarely. Now go to work cleaning and polishing so that you can make them a positive and constructive force in your life.” (Janene Wolsey Baadsgaard, “Making Your Sister Your Friend,” Young Women New Era, Nov. 1985, 18)

Gordon B. Hinckley

Covetousness… is an evil and gnawing disease. (“Thou Shalt Not Covet,” Ensign, Mar. 1990, 4)

Joseph F. Smith

We may say we are thankful that the Lord has blessed our neighbor above that which he has blessed us. We may be thankful that the Lord has given to our neighbor greater wisdom and ability to honestly gather to himself. But we should not covet it. We should not be envious, because we are commanded not to be. (Gospel Doctrine: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Joseph F. Smith, compiled by John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939], 403)

Genesis 30:1-2 Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die

In psychology, the term “displacement” means to take out your frustrations on someone else.  Rachel is upset with her situation, jealous of her sister, and perhaps angry with God.  Yet she seems to blame Jacob as if it were his fault.  This is an example of displacement.

“Have ever had a really bad day at work and then gone home and taken out your frustration on family and friends? Then you have experienced the ego defense mechanism of displacement. Displacement involves taking out our frustrations, feelings, and impulses on people or objects that are less threatening. Displaced aggression is a common example of this defense mechanism. Rather than express our anger in ways that could lead to negative consequences (like arguing with our boss), we instead express our anger towards a person or object that poses no threat (such as our spouse, children, or pets).” (

Real people use defense mechanisms to cope with life. The patriarchs and their wives were real people with real struggles.  Why should we think they wouldn’t be?  So if we come home from a bad day at work and kick the dog, or blame the hammer when we hit our thumb with it, then we are using the same defense mechanism.

Genesis 30:3 Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees

“Throughout the patriarchal era, chief women faced trial and refinement through a period of barrenness.  For a significant length of time, all except Leah feared they might never bear a child.  The wives of the patriarchs viewed barrenness as even more disastrous than did women generally and Hebrew women specifically.  For the patriarchs, a son was the assurance of the continuation of God’s covenant with Abraham. Even after giving birth, these wives of the patriarchs were still responsible to ensure that the son that God had chosen inherited the birthright, that he married a woman who likewise reverenced the birthright, and properly perpetuated the covenant through a worthy heir.  The trial of barrenness served to underscore the value of children in general and the birthright son in particular.  They knew that no one else in that generation could assume the birthright’s role, but through the faith and obedience to God of the birthright son, he could become an instrument to perpetuate God’s ultimate blessings to all of humankind.  Rachel’s plea, ‘Give me children, or else I die’ (Genesis 30:1) was more than an instinctive maternal desire but was a profound longing to fulfill her responsibility to continue the Abrahamic covenant…

“Rachel’s initial solution to her barrenness was to achieve motherhood through her handmaid, Bilhah.  Perhaps prompted by Sarah’s decision to give Hagar as a wife to Abraham, Rachel gave Bilhah to Jacob as his third wife.  Rachel’s statement that Bilhah would ‘bear upon my knees’ (Genesis 30:3) is an idiomatic expression suggesting that any child Bilhah bore would be acknowledged as Rachel’s own child.” (Camille Fronk Olson, Women of the Old Testament, [SLC: Deseret Book, 2009], 72, 71)

Genesis 29:32-35; 30:5-24    The naming of the 12 tribes of Israel

The celestial kingdom is really more of a walled city than a sanctified sphere (Heb. 12:22-23; Rev. 21:10-27; Ether 13:9-11).  The city has a “wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel.” (Rev. 21:12) Leah and Rachel chose the names for the 12 gates of the holy city!  That is a pretty big responsibility.  Along with Bilhah and Zilpah, to be matriarchs of the house of Israel was quite a privilege!  We should not be surprised, therefore that the spirit of prophecy rested upon these women as they named their children. 

Typical for the Old Testament custom, children were named based on the situation or emotion at the time of the birth.  Such is the case with the 12 sons of Israel, but we can’t help noticing a prophetic component to each of the names. Rachel remembered her wrestlings with Leah when she named her son “Naphtali,” which means wrestlings.  But it is also symbolic of Jacob’s wrestle with an angel (Gen. 32:24-32) and every individual’s wrestle with the inner natural man in mortality. 




1.  Reuben

Look a son

For unto us a child is born, and unto us a son is given (Isa 9:6)

2.  Simeon

The Lord hath heard

The Lord hath heard my supplication; the Lord will receive my prayer… Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry and he shall say, Here I am (Ps. 6:9; Isa. 58:9)

3.  Levi


And many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee (Zech. 2:11)

4.  Judah


And in that day shall ye say, Praise the Lord, call upon his name, declare his doings among the people, make mention that his name is exalted (Isa 12:4)

5.  Dan


He shall execute judgment in righteousness. And the righteous need not fear for they are those who shall not be confounded (1 Ne. 22:21-22)

6.  Naphtali


Jacob… there wrestled a man with him… and he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. (Gen. 32:24-28)

7.  Gad

Good Fortune

For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up. (Jer. 24:6)

8.  Asher


Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD: and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance. (Ps. 33:12)

9.  Issachar


Now is the end come upon thee, and I… will recompense upon thee all thine abominations. And mine eye shall not spare thee, neither will I have pity: but I will recompense thy ways upon thee (Ezek. 7:3-4)

10.  Zebulun


I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end. (D&C 76:5)

11.  Joseph

Add or Gather

Then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee. (Deut. 30:3)

12.  Benjamin (Gen. 35:18)

Son at the right hand

Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God (Acts 7:56)

Orson Pratt

The Lord used to give revelation not only to the head of a family, but also to a man's wives. Read, for instance, what the Lord revealed to the wives of Jacob, how he used to reveal a great many things to Rachel, a great many things to Leah, a great many things to Bilhah, and a great many things to Zilpah. These four wives were revelators; they were prophetesses; they were individuals that could inquire of the Lord, and obtain an answer from him; and we have their revelations recorded in the Scriptures. (Journal of Discourses, 20:67)

Genesis 30:14 Rachel said to Leah, Give me, I pray thee of thy son’s mandrakes

“Because of the resemblance of its root to the human form, the mandrake is almost universally credited with magical powers… The plant is used especially, as in our biblical narrative, as an aphrodisiac and as an antidote to barrenness.  It is thus mentioned for example, by the Greek comic dramatist Alexis (fourth century B.C.), and Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was sometimes styled, ‘Our Lady of the Mandrake.’  The Hebrew word rendered ‘mandrake’ is indeed connected with a verbal root meaning ‘to love’ and has its English counterpart in the popular term, ‘love-apple.’ In the Song of Songs [i.e. Song of Solomon] (7:14), when the maiden invites her lover to enjoy her favors, she adds to her inducements the statement that she has stored up for him fragrant mandrakes.  In Jewish folklore, the mandrake was long believed to relieve barrenness; while in Germany and some other parts of Europe it was customary to place mandrakes under a bridal bed.” (The Torah: A Modern Commentary, ed. by W. Gunther Plaut [New York, The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981], 207)

Genesis 30:15 Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with thee to night for thy son’s mandrakes

Notice how Leah seems almost desperate for Jacob’s attention and affection. “Rachel had an ideal marriage but no children.  Leah had a difficult marriage but a great family.  Both situations posed a temptation for the women at times to feel worthless and forgotten by God.” (Camille Fronk Olson, Women of the Old Testament, [SLC: Deseret Book, 2009], 72)

Genesis 30:22-23 God hath taken away my reproach

Rachel may have done everything she could, including mandrakes etc., to get pregnant, but when she finally did, she knew who deserved the credit.  “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise” (2 Pet. 3:9).  “For God is powerful to the fulfilling of all his words.  For he will fulfil all his promises which he shall make unto you, for he has fulfilled his promises which he has made unto our fathers” (Alma 37:16-17).

“Surely during those long, barren years, the Lord was preparing Rachel for the great responsibility of teaching Joseph and training him in the ways of the Lord. He must be taught well if he would remain faithful, for in his chartered course he would be subjected to the contaminating influence of a heathen nation for the greater part of his life.

“Rachel must not fail! Nor did she fail, for Joseph emerged not only as a champion of righteousness but as one who was noble, kind, forgiving, virtuous, and faithful to his God and to his people. He was a credit to a noble mother. Even though he was next to the youngest of his father’s children, the birthright was his, to be realized through his son Ephraim.” (Mary Pratt Parrish, “Guardians of the Covenant,” Ensign, May 1972, 28)

Genesis 30:24 she called his name Joseph

Please note the footnote for the meaning to Joseph’s name; it means 1) to add, 2) to take away, and 3) to gather.

Joseph is the most famous of all of his brothers.  He was the chosen son with the coat of many colors.  His descendants would also play a prominent role in the fulfillment of the covenant of Abraham wherein all the world would be blessed.  Within the meaning of Joseph’s name, we can see both immediate and latter-day prophecy fulfilled with remarkable accuracy. 

Joseph was a blessed addition to Jacob and Rachel, but he was taken away by the violence of his brothers selling him into Egypt (Gen. 37).  Yet, in the end, he was the means of gathering the whole family to Egypt saving them from certain death by famine (Gen. 46). 

In the days of Lehi, Joseph’s descendants were taken away from the rest of Israel as a branch taken from the mother olive tree (Jacob 5).  Their prophets and scripture provided a beautiful addition to the Jewish record of the Bible (1 Ne. 13:35, 40-41) which has helped to gather the House of Israel back into the fold (Isa. 29:18-24).

Joseph Fielding Smith

The members of the Church, most of us of the tribe of Ephraim (Joseph’s younger son), are of the remnant of Jacob. We know it to be the fact that the Lord called upon the descendants of Ephraim to commence his work in the earth in these last days. We know further that he has said that he set Ephraim, according to the promises of his birthright, at the head. Ephraim receives the "richer blessings," these blessings being those of presidency or direction. The keys are with Ephraim. It is Ephraim who is to be endowed with power to bless and give to the other tribes, including the Lamanites, their blessings. All the other tribes of Jacob, including the Lamanites, are to be crowned with glory in Zion by the hands of Ephraim. . . .

That the remnants of Joseph, found among the descendants of Lehi, will have part in this great work is certainly consistent, and the great work of this restoration, the building of the temple and the City of Zion, or New Jerusalem, will fall to the lot of the descendants of Joseph, but it is Ephraim who will stand at the head and direct the work. (Daniel H. Ludlow, Selected Writings of Daniel H. Ludlow: Gospel Scholars Series [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2000], 533.)

Genesis 30-31  Jacob’s departure from Haran a type for the Israelites departure from Egypt

The Lord teaches through symbolism.  Just as great literature is full of foreshadowing, the Bible is full of “types and shadows” (Mosiah 3:15) of things to come. Examining Jacob’s relationship with Laban as a type for Israel (i.e. the house of Israel) before Pharaoh of Egypt turns out to be quite interesting. 

  • Jacob travelled to Haran from the land of his inheritance just as the Israelites left Canaan for Egypt
  • Jacob served Laban; Israel served Pharaoh
  • Initially Jacob was well received by Laban, but Laban’s favor didn’t last—especially when it was time for Jacob to leave; initially Pharaoh was kind to the Israelites and blessed them, but the last Pharaoh turned against them (Ex. 1)
  • Jacob was blessed with a great posterity; “the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty” (Ex: 1:8)
  • Jacob was established and blessed as a shepherd but served Laban;  the Israelites were sheepherders in Goshen yet subservient to Pharaoh
  • Laban was blessed while Jacob dwelt with him; Pharaoh and all of Egypt were blessed by the Israelites (Gen. 47:13-26, Ex. 1:13)
  • Jacob wanted to leave but his wages were changed 10 times (Gen. 31:7); Pharaoh’s heart was hardened 10 times (Ex. 7:13, 22; 8:15, 32; 9:7,12, 35; 10:20, 27; 11:10)
  • The Lord blessed Jacob to be blessed with great riches and cattle upon leaving Laban;  the Israelites borrowed riches of their neighbors and “spoiled the Egyptians” (Ex. 12:36)
  • Jacob seeks to leave Haran for the land of his inheritance;  Israel seeks to leave Egypt for their land of promise.
  • Laban pursues Jacob after he leaves; Pharaoh pursues after the Israelites (Ex. 14).
  • God protected Jacob from the wrath of Laban;  God protected Israel from the armies of Pharaoh

Genesis 30:25-28 Jacob said unto Laban, Send me away

Jacob’s plea, “Send me away,” is now reminiscent of Moses demand before Pharaoh, “Let my people go” (Ex. 7:16).  Had Jacob been a good son-in-law?  Had he met his obligations?  Did Laban have any justification for keeping Jacob any longer?  Laban’s motivation was completely selfish—he wanted Jacob around because it was a blessing for him. Did he consider Jacob’s patience and diligence?  He seemingly ignores his daughters’ needs to move on and establish their own families. He has been using Jacob, plain and simple.  With this background, Laban disingenuously said to Jacob, “Appoint me thy wages, and I will give it” (v. 28).

Jacob has had this conversation before—nine or ten times before.  Just like Pharaoh promised Moses the Israelites could leave and then reneged, Jacob certainly expected Laban would change his mind; he even had reason to suspect Laban might harm him.  His request for wages would need to be meager enough for his greedy father-in-law to agree. But how could it be fair to him?  Jacob devises a brilliant plan.  It would require hard work and the blessings of heaven, but those elements have always been harbingers of success.

Genesis 30:32 the speckled and spotted cattle, and all the brown… and the spotted and speckled among the goats… shall be my hire

“More than once Laban had deliberately cheated Jacob.  He had promised him Rachel to wife, and after Jacob had served seven years for her he withheld Rachel and gave him Leah instead.  According to Jacob, Laban had also changed his wages ten times (31:7). Jacob had good reason therefore to be suspicious when Laban tried to persuade him to stay and work for him further (30:27)…

“Jacob does not cheat [Laban]. He carries through exactly the terms of an agreement which he had proposed to Laban, and which Laban explicitly accepted.  He was not false like Laban; he was simply more inventive and adroit.  When he had proposed to Laban that all he asked in the way of wages was that little fraction of the flock which might be odd in color, that seemed to Laban a highly desirable bargain, especially since he, Laban, took the opportunity then and there to remove from the flock all the sheep and goats that might breed the type that would belong to Jacob.  The trouble was that de did not foresee the extraordinary device by which Jacob would be able to make the flock breed according to his interest—a device not ruled out by the bargain.

“So by every secular standard Jacob was entitled to his triumph… Jacob’s clever stratagem and the success it brought him are the result of the commitment… God had given to him at Bethel to make him prosperous.” (The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. by G. A. Buttrick et al [New York, Abingdon Press, 1952] vol. 1, 707-709)

Genesis 30:33 So shall my righteousness answer for me in time to come

Jacob wasn’t self-righteous.  He just knew that he didn’t deserve the treatment he was getting.  When life was unfair, he did not take matters in his own hands but lived by the adage, “let God between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds” (D&C 64:11).  It takes faith to believe that the Lord is watching and will always take care of us.  It takes faith to “cast your bread upon the waters,” and patience to know that “thou shalt find it after many days” (Eccl. 11:1)

Joseph Smith

It is a time-honored adage that love begets love. Let us pour forth love—show forth all kindness unto all mankind and the Lord will reward us with everlasting increase; cast our bread upon the waters, and we shall receive it after many days, increased to a hundredfold. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976], 316)

Genesis 30:37 Jacob took him rods of green poplar, and of the hazel and chestnut tree; and pilled white strakes in them

Taking small branches of 3 different trees, removing strips of the bark, and then placing them in the watering trough could expose the cattle to certain chemicals in the tree branches.  Was this brilliant herbal therapy or useless folk medicine?  We don’t know.  Maybe Jacob knew something we don’t.  He certainly understood that isolating the spotted cattle for mating would increase the likelihood of more spotted offspring, which is a principle of modern genetics.

The underlying gospel principle is that Jacob did everything he could to receive an inheritance from Laban who had little intention of giving him one.  He worked hard and then asked the Lord to bless him.   He didn’t spend all his time complaining to the Lord expecting Him to do all the work.  He did everything he could first and left the rest in the hands of the Lord.  Jacob worked as if everything depended on himself and prayed as if everything depended on the Lord.

Gene R. Cook

What a glorious principle to understand: the Lord's assistance to us—whether we have strong faith or weak faith; whether a man, a woman, or a child—is not based just on what we know, how strong we are, or who we are, but more on our giving all that we can give and doing all that we can do, according to the Lord's requirement and according to our present capacity. Once we have given all we can, then the Lord, through his grace, may assist us. (Receiving Answers to Our Prayers [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1996], 125 - 126)

Joseph Smith

Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God (D&C 123:17).

Genesis 31:1 Jacob hath taken away all that was our father’s

Rachel and Leah’s brothers were seeing their inheritance shrink before their eyes.  They weren’t the ones out in the fields taking care of Laban’s flocks, but as soon as the flocks multiplied to Jacob’s advantage, they cried foul.  This is another test for Jacob.  This is the theme for chapter 31—will Jacob be able to endure the unfair treatment from his in-laws?  He is falsely accused by Laban’s sons, treated unfairly by Laban, and even had reason to fear bodily harm (v. 7).  Will Jacob respond with the integrity of Abraham and Isaac? Will we?

Joseph Smith

God hath said that He would have a tried people, that He would purge them as gold… we think also, it will be a trial of our faith equal to that of Abraham, and that the ancients will not have whereof to boast over us in the day of judgment, as being called to pass through heavier afflictions; that we may hold an even weight in the balance with them.  (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 135-136)

Genesis 31:9  God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me

Jacob couldn’t give the cattle back.  That would offend the Lord.  The Lord was blessing Jacob for his righteousness and multiplied the speckled, grisled, and ringstraked cattle.

Genesis 31:13  I am the God of Beth-el

“Beth-el” means literally “the house of God”:  beth, house of, el, God (short for Elohim).  Jehovah is saying to Jacob, “I am the God of the House of God.”  He could have said, “I am the God of your fathers, Abraham and Isaac,” but Jehovah was Jacob’s God in a very personal way.  20 years prior, when Jacob was on his way to Haran, the Lord gave him the promise of the Abrahamic covenant and declared, “I will bring thee again into this land” (Gen. 28:15).  It was a promise that Jacob was ready to see fulfilled.  First, he thought it was going to be seven years, but then the deal changed.  He could have blamed God for the switch but he didn’t.  After 14 years, when he had served for both daughters, the game changed again.  At that point, Jacob could have murmured to God, “I thought you were going to bring me back to the land of my inheritance!  How is it that Laban is keeping me longer?”  After 20 years, he still hasn’t blamed God.  He has been patient.  He has waited on the Lord understanding that the promises of the Lord are fulfilled even if it is not according to a mortal schedule.  It is sometimes easier to trust in the Lord than to trust in his timing.

Neal A. Maxwell

Faith also includes trust in God’s timing, for He has said, “All things must come to pass in their time.” (D&C 64:32.) Ironically, some who acknowledge God are tried by His timing, globally and personally!

Faith likewise includes faith in God’s developmental purposes, for “the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.” (Mosiah 23:21.) Still, some of us have trouble when God’s tutoring is applied to us! (“Lest Ye Be Wearied and Faint in Your Minds,” Ensign, May 1991, 90)

Genesis 31:14-16  Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house?

According to ancient custom, the groom would pay the bride’s father a “bride-price.”  Jacob knew this well, having paid 20 years of devoted labor—a huge payment, much more than ancient custom normally required. 

“A bride-price did not necessarily take the form of a lump-sum payment. It was not uncommon to pay the bride-price over time. Rachel must have been pleased for the bride-price was huge by contemporary standards.” (James R. Baker, “Women’s Rights in Old Testament Times,”

Conversely, the bride’s father was to provide his daughter with a dowry, a sum of money or property often approximating a tenth of the father’s wealth, which would support the new couple and was to be returned to the wife in case of divorce.  Often the dowry included the original bride-price.  This is what Rachel and Leah are asking about, “is there yet any portion or inheritance for us?” 

Increasingly, we see Laban as selfish and greedy.  While custom would have counted Zilpah and Bilhah as part of a dowry, Rachel and Leah knew that Laban would not part with any more of his wealth.  He was happy to exact a huge bride-price of Jacob but too selfish to give his daughters a generous dowry.  Perhaps this is why Rachel stole his idols, out of resentment for her father’s misplaced loyalty and greed. 

Genesis 31:16 now then, whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do

Howard W. Hunter

When Jacob was instructed to return to the land of Canaan, which meant leaving all for which he had worked many years, he called Rachel and Leah into the field where his flock was and explained what the Lord had said. The reply of Rachel was simple and straightforward and indicative of her commitment: "Whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do." (Gen. 31:16.)

We have, then, examples from the scriptures of how we should consider and evaluate the commandments of the Lord. If we choose to react like Joshua, Abraham, Rebekah, and Rachel, our response will be, simply, to go and do the thing that the Lord has commanded. (That We Might Have Joy [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1994], 157)

Genesis 31:19  Rachel had stolen the images that were her father’s

“Teraphim were small, portable figurines in human shapes.  Anciently, they were consulted as oracles for purposes of divination and represented the family’s prosperity and divine protection.” (Camille Fronk Olson, Women of the Old Testament, [SLC: Deseret Book, 2009], 76)

“Josephus reported that even in his day (first century C.E.) it was the custom ‘among all the people in that country to have objects of worship in their house and to take them along when going abroad’… Nuzi records indicate that teraphim were often symbols of property rights and family status.  Their possession could indicate that certain privileges had been confirmed by transmitting the ownership of the teraphim (cf. The symbolism of the scepter or of keys to a house).  Thus, Jacob’s possession of the teraphim might prove that he was no longer Laban’s servant and that he was, therefore entitled to a part of the latter’s estate.  If Jacob had not in law attained this position, Rachel by her theft meant to assure it for him.  Biblical tradition viewed Rachel as a resolute woman who did not hesitate to take the law—or what she believed to be the law—into her own hands.  She knew he husband’s rights and she had ample reason to doubt that Laban would voluntarily and formally transfer [them].” (The Torah: A Modern Commentary, ed. by W. Gunther Plaut [New York, The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981], 214)

Genesis 31:20 Jacob stole away unawares

The Lord told Jacob to leave Haran (v. 3), but he didn’t tell him how to do it. Jacob surmised it would be better for him to leave in secret.  If he announced his plans openly, surely Laban would change his wages again, surely he would devise some new excuse to keep him around.  Jacob could wait no longer; he had the Lord on his side and it was time to leave—secretly was the best way to do it.

Genesis 31:22-23 Laban… pursued after him seven day’s journey

We return to the foreshadowing theme of Jacob’s departure.  We can see that Jacob leaving Haran is a type for Israel leaving Egypt.  Just as Pharaoh would gather his army to pursue Moses and the Israelites (Ex. 13:6-9), so Laban gathered his brethren to chase after Jacob.  We ask, “what does Laban have to complain about?”  He has been using Jacob as a slave for 20 years and that is not enough.  Just as God helped the Israelites “spoil” the Egyptians” (Ex. 3:22), Jacob would take the spoil of Laban’s ringstraked cattle and Rachel would spoil him of his idol gods.

Laban was furious.  He hasn’t been wronged by Jacob but his greed and avarice are in full sway.  Moses promised Israel, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord… the Lord shall fight for you” (Ex. 14:14).  The Lord would fight for Jacob as well.  No harm would come upon any of Jacob’s party.

Genesis 31:25-30 God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night

Laban admitted to Jacob “it is in the power of my hand to do you hurt” (v. 29).  Laban was angry enough to either kill Jacob or take back his daughters with all his goods and leave him destitute.  Divine intervention was the only thing that would protect Jacob and so Laban is given instruction in a dream.  We have no reason to feel sorry for Laban.  He didn’t have a vision because he was righteous.  When he makes his claim that what he really wanted was to send Jacob off with a party and kiss his daughters goodbye, don’t believe him.  He pretends to have a magnanimous spirit. He pretends to have a generous disposition. He pretends to do the right thing.  Jacob knew his heart.

Genesis 31:32 with whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live

Why would Jacob say such a thing?  As a matter of honor, Jacob does not want to take anything that is not rightfully his.  That Jacob condones such a harsh punishment on the thief suggests he knows that Laban is out for blood.  The results could have been disastrous for Rachel, but the Lord would provide protection.

Genesis 31:34-35 Rachel had taken the images, and put them in the camel’s furniture

“Going last to Rachel suggests that Laban suspected her least of all.  Rachel hid the teraphim in ‘the camel’s furniture,’ perhaps in a compartment under the saddle, and was sitting upon the furniture when Laban entered (Genesis 31:34).  Her pretense of female incapacitation afforded her an excuse not to move away from the hiding place in order to allow her father to search the furniture (Genesis 31:35) The scene suggests that a woman was granted particular privacy and protection from disturbance during her menstrual period… Perhaps she wanted to render the deities ritually impure by sitting on them to show that they held no power.  Whatever the case, she succeeded in keeping Laban’s teraphim away from him.” (Camille Fronk Olson, Women of the Old Testament, [SLC: Deseret Book, 2009], 77)

Genesis 31:36-41 Jacob was wroth, and chode with Laban

Jacob finally lets off some steam.  Have you ever wanted to speak your mind to your boss, let someone have it, or really speak your mind?  This is it for Jacob.  He has been patient for 20 years and he just can’t take it anymore.

Ultimately, Jacob and Laban came to a respectful parting of the ways and established a boundary covenant which would long divide the territory of the Israelites from the northern Aramaeans (see Gen. 31:44–52). The point is that Jacob’s life was never one of ease or devoid of challenges and conflicts. Indeed, in effect, Jacob says to Laban at a moment of intense frustration during their last confrontation: “Why are you chasing me? Why won’t you let me go home in peace? What is my sin against you? I have served you in the heat of day and the frost of night. You have changed my wages ten times, and except for the fear of God, you would have sent me away destitute” (see Gen. 31:36–42).

In the face of every trial, Jacob had remained faithful and God had been with him as promised. In the end, it was the Lord who commanded him to leave Laban’s land and return to the land of Canaan. The vision in which Jacob was instructed to leave Padan-aram bears a significant resemblance to one given to Abraham in which that patriarch also was told to leave a country and go to Canaan (see Gen. 31:11, 13; compare Abr. 1:16, 18). (Andrew C. Skinner, “Jacob: Keeper of Covenants,” Ensign, Mar. 1998, 53)

Genesis 31:42 God hath seen my affliction and the labour of my hands

“The Lord is aware of each of us. I have felt his sustaining influence on many occasions during trials in my life. Whether experiencing fear after a painful knee injury in the mission field, loneliness during a traumatic separation from my family to serve in Vietnam, or an awful hollow numbness following the death of a beloved companion, I have found no balm so soothing as the sweet, peaceful, comforting assurance that comes from divine whisperings, ‘Be still,’ ‘Be calm,’ ‘I am here,’ ‘I know.’” (David A. Whetten, “Sir, We Would See Jesus,” Ensign, Oct. 1978, 6)

Genesis 31:43 These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and these cattle are my cattle

This sounds a bit like a childish temper tantrum, “This is my toy and you can’t have it.”  My daughters, my children, my cattle!  Jacob has to be rolling his eyes.  20 years of service isn’t enough for Laban.

Genesis 31:49 Mizpeh; for he said, The Lord watch between me and thee

“Mizpeh, originally the place where Jacob made a covenant with Laban (Gen. 31:43-55), was also the place where Saul would be formally chosen as king (1 Sam. 10:17-25). It was a well-known gathering place for Israel in the times of the Judges, when all of Israel came together to fight against the Ammonites (Judg. 10:17-18).”  (Kent P. Jackson and Robert L. Millet, eds., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 3: Genesis to 2 Samuel [Salt Lake City: Randall Book, 1985], 274)

Chieko Okazaki

Mizpah, which means watchtower in Hebrew. It signifies, "The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another" (Gen. 31:49). (Disciples [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1998], 163)