43 Then Laban answered and said to Jacob, “The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day for these my daughters or for their children whom they have borne? 44 Come now, let us make a covenant, you and I. And let it be a witness between you and me.” 45 So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46 And Jacob said to his kinsmen, “Gather stones.” And they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there by the heap. 47 Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed. 48 Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” Therefore he named it Galeed, 49 and Mizpah, for he said, “The Lord watch between you and me, when we are out of one another’s sight. 50 If you oppress my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no one is with us, see, God is witness between you and me.”
51 Then Laban said to Jacob, “See this heap and the pillar, which I have set between you and me. 52 This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm. 53 The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.” So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac, 54 and Jacob offered a sacrifice in the hill country and called his kinsmen to eat bread. They ate bread and spent the night in the hill country.
55 Early in the morning Laban arose and kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then Laban departed and returned home. – Genesis 31:43-55 ESV
Laban’s desperate search for his missing idols proved to be a bust. So, he had no other recourse but to let Jacob continue his journey to Canaan. This meant saying goodbye to his two daughters and his 11 grandsons. And he was not happy about it. In fact, he let Jacob know that the whole affair was nothing less than a form of highway robbery.
“These women are my daughters, these children are my grandchildren, and these flocks are my flocks—in fact, everything you see is mine. But what can I do now about my daughters and their children? So come, let’s make a covenant, you and I, and it will be a witness to our commitment.” – Genesis 41:43-44 NLT
He offered no confession or admission of wrongdoing. Instead, he accused Jacob of having taken what rightfully belonged to him, including his daughters, grandsons, and flocks. But sensing that he was powerless to stop Jacob’s departure, Laban decided to bury the hatchet and offered to sign a non-aggression pact with his son-in-law. Jacob was leaving Haran a very wealthy man and Laban was reluctant to completely sever ties with him, because he stood to lose a lot more than access to his daughters and grandsons. He really did believe that Jacob was absconding with his possessions and still held out hope that he might one day get them back.
But Jacob, anxious to put as much territory between he and Laban as physically possible, agreed to the treaty.
So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a monument. Then he told his family members, “Gather some stones.” So they gathered stones and piled them in a heap. Then Jacob and Laban sat down beside the pile of stones to eat a covenant meal. – Genesis 31:45-46 NLT
They erected a monument to commemorate their agreement, then sealed the deal with a meal. But despite their mutual pledge, the two men couldn’t agree on a name for the location. Laban called it יְגַר שָׂהֲדוּתָא (yᵊḡar śāhăḏûṯā’), which means “witness heap.” B ut Jacob named it גַּלְעֵד (galʿēḏ), which means “heap of testimony.”
The terms of the covenant were simple. They basically agreed to let the stones to serve as a boundary marker, which they pledged never to pass in order to harm on another.
“I will never pass this pile of stones to harm you, and you must never pass these stones or this monument to harm me. I call on the God of our ancestors—the God of your grandfather Abraham and the God of my grandfather Nahor—to serve as a judge between us.” – Genesis 31:52-53 NLT
It was less a treaty than it was an agreement to refrain from doing harm to one another. There were no wounds healed or friendships made as a result of this act. Laban and Jacob remained distrustful of one another and were much more like enemies than co-signers of a peace agreement. Because of their mutual interest in Leah, Rachel, and the children, the two men agreed to set their animosities aside and do what was necessary to protect those whom they loved.
And it’s interesting to note that the idol-worshiping Laban was the one who chose to call upon the name of Jacob’s God as witness.
“May the Lord keep watch between us to make sure that we keep this covenant when we are out of each other’s sight. If you mistreat my daughters or if you marry other wives, God will see it even if no one else does. He is a witness to this covenant between us.” – Genesis 31:49-50 NLT
While hundreds of miles would separate the two men, Laban called upon Yahweh to act as witness to their agreement and as the divine monitor of Jacob’s behavior. If Jacob got out of line and mistreated Leah or Rachel, Laban asked God to intervene and pass judgment on him. As a father, Laban grieved over the thought that he would no longer be able to protect his daughters. And it seems unlikely that he would live long enough to see his grandsons grow up and mature. He seemed to know that this would be the last time he ever saw his daughters and grandchildren.
So Jacob took an oath before the fearsome God of his father, Isaac, to respect the boundary line. Then Jacob offered a sacrifice to God there on the mountain and invited everyone to a covenant feast. After they had eaten, they spent the night on the mountain. – Genesis 31:53-54 NLT
Jacob would never return to Haran. And his relationship with his father-in-law would not end on the best of terms. They completed their covenant agreement, then parted ways. Laban returned to Mesopotamia and Jacob continued his journey back to Canaan. And Jacob must have felt a great sense of relief as he watched his father-in-law ride off into the distance. The last 20 years of his life had been a living nightmare, but now it was all over. But Jacob’s relief would be short-lived. He had gotten rid of one enemy but had another waiting for him at home – his brother Esau.
In the two decades he had been in Haran, Jacob had never received word from Rebekah that it was safe to come home (Genesis 27:45). So, he had no idea what to expect. Was Esau still harboring bitterness for him or had his anger subsided? Would he be greeted with a confrontation or a warm welcome? Every mile he traveled must have been excruciating as the distance between he and Esau diminished. His time of reckoning was drawing near. But, as always, God had plans of which Jacob was oblivious. This trip was going to end far better than Jacob could have ever imagined and it would all be in keeping with the promise had made 20 years earlier.
“Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:15 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
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