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In Genesis 31:53, Laban sets up a boundary marker between his land and Jacob's and says:

The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.

Apparently some translations take the God of Abraham to be synonymous with the God of Nahor and the God of their father, while others see this as referring to three gods or more. I can see arguments for both.

On the one hand, just earlier in the chapter we read about Rachel stealing Laban's household gods, implying that he is essentially pagan, believing in many gods - and likely so also then his fathers.

On the other hand, the first utterance of Laban — in Genesis 24:31 — suprisingly uses the divine name: "Come, you who are blessed by the LORD." This would perhaps(?) suggest that Laban was already familiar with the God of Abraham, and therefore perhaps also were Nahor and Terah.

Which is the right way to understand this passage?

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Laban worshiped idols: Genesis 31:19 Berean Study Bible

Now while Laban was out shearing his sheep, Rachel stole her father’s household idols [teraphim].

Laban was a polytheist. He believed in many gods, including his version of the LORD. That's why he could say to Jacob in Genesis 24:31

"Come, you who are blessed by the LORD."

Laban didn't say he was blessed by the LORD. On the contrary, he said to Jacob in Genesis 30:27

But Laban said to him, "If I have found favor in your eyes, please stay. I have learned by divination that the LORD has blessed me because of you."

Laban practiced divination like most people in those days.

Is the God of Nahor the God of Abraham?

No. A sharp distinction is made in Genesis 31:53 My translation:

"May the God [elohim] of Abraham and the god [elohim] of Nahor, the gods [elohim] of their father, judge between us."

Each "elohim" carries a different meaning. This is followed by no mention of "elohim" at all:

Jacob took an oath by the One [6343. פַּ֫חַד (pachad)] whom his father Isaac feared.

by the One feared
בְּפַ֖חַד (bə·p̄a·ḥaḏ)
Preposition-b | Noun - masculine singular construct
Strong's Hebrew 6343: A, alarm

Jacob distinguished Laban's 3 elohims from the specific God who was the one that Isaac feared.

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  • I wonder if Laban once was a believer in the Lord, and had apostatized away into other beliefs, while holding on to his belief in the Lord in name only. Perhaps we can't answer that one definitively, but an interesting thought. – Hold To The Rod Feb 18 at 2:30
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Laban was the grandson of Nahor, who was Abraham's brother. So Laban could said, "The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor..." But God would not recognize this, so "Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac" (v. 53b).

He [Laban] could say politely, "The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor," but Jacob could not say this. He could only swear by the God of his father Isaac. This means that the line of God's promise began from His choosing. God had chosen Jacob's father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham. Even Nahor could not interfere.

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The God (Elohim) of Abraham always takes a singular verb in the Old Testament. When the word Elohim is used to refer to two or more gods, it always takes a plural verb. In Genesis 31:53, the verb "judge" is plural showing us that the God of Abraham is not the God of Nahor. The second and third Elohim in this verse can be translated as "god" or "gods."

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  • You should quote some references to support your assertions. – Dottard Mar 13 at 9:30
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The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge betwixt us. And Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac. (KJV)
אלהי אברהם ואלהי נחור ישפטו בינינו אלהי אביהם וישבע יעקב בפחד אביו יצחק

Both the verb, שָׁפַט (judge) and the noun, אָב (father) are plural. A literal translation would be: "the God(s) of Abraham and the God(s) of Nahor, may they judge between us the God(s) of their fathers. And Jacob swore by the fear of his father Isaac."

Laban's vow reflects a polytheistic viewpoint but Jacob responded with a vow completely in the singular, both "the fear" and his father, Isaac. Translations of "God," "judge," and "father" is an attempt to make Abraham a monotheist in Laban's eyes.

The proper understanding is one in which Laban believes Abraham's God(s) and Nahor's God(s) are different. His thinking is probably based on the belief Abram and Nahor at one time had the same God(s), when they lived together, but the God(s) who gave Abram a new name was not the same. Polytheism attributed God(s) to a land (eg. 2 Kings 17:26-27). So Laban believes God(s) calling Abram to leave the land of his father was also a call to leave the God(s) of that land.

It should be noted, the passage simply reflects Laban's views and is not a commentary on what Abraham or Abram actually believed. Judging from Jacob's vow, it is reasonable to conclude he did not agree with Laban.

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  • You need to consider Abraham’s background. God wasn’t always Abrams’ god. Previously he worshipped other gods. Arguably, the reason he was told to leave all family to follow God, was because of their gods, which they would have ‘hung’ on to. – Dave Mar 17 at 18:38
  • @Dave You are probably right. But the statement is from Laban. It reflects Laban's beliefs about Abraham. – Revelation Lad Mar 17 at 18:41

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