In Genesis 31:48–49, Laban said to Jacob, “‘This heap [of stones] is a witness between you and me today.’ That is why it was called Galeed. It was also called Mizpah, because he said, ‘May the LORD keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.’” Laban’s words to Jacob at Mizpah were part of a covenant between the two as they parted company.
Both Laban and his nephew Jacob were sneaky, conniving, deceitful men. When the God-appointed time came for Jacob to leave Laban’s house in Paddan Aram and return to his father, Isaac, Laban was reluctant to let him go. Therefore, while Laban was off on a sheep-shearing mission three days from home, Jacob took his family, livestock, and all of his accumulated possessions and set off in secret for the land of Canaan (Genesis 31:17–20).
When Laban received news of Jacob’s departure, he immediately set out in hot pursuit. But along the way, God appeared to Laban in a dream and warned him to let Jacob go peacefully. But that did not stop Laban from ending their twenty-year relationship in a controversial legal dispute involving accusations of stolen idols and a counter-attack from Jacob regarding years of harsh labor and abuse (Genesis 31:25–42).
Finally, Laban suggested that they enact a treaty to enforce a boundary between them: “Come now, let’s make a covenant, you and I, and let it serve as a witness between us” (Genesis 31:44).
Jacob set up a stone monument where he and Laban sat down to share in a covenant meal. To memorialize the occasion, Laban called the place Jegar-sahadutha, which means “witness pile” in Aramaic. Jacob called it Galeed, which means “witness pile” in Hebrew (Genesis 31:47).
Laban added the Hebrew name Mizpah, meaning “watchtower.” Laban said, “May the LORD keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other” (Genesis 31:49). The New Living Translation says, “May the LORD keep watch between us to make sure that we keep this covenant when we are out of each other’s sight.” Laban had little confidence that Jacob would keep the covenant.
Laban recognized in Jacob his own slippery character—a relative cut from the same devious cloth. Beyond the reach of his eyes, he did not trust Jacob. Laban also employed legal language in an attempt to conceal his own untrustworthiness. He set conditions to the covenant to bind Jacob further: “If you mistreat my daughters or marry other women behind my back, remember that God stands as a witness between you and me” (Genesis 31:50, GWT).
Even though Jacob had built the monument, Laban seized credit for it, saying, “See this pile of stones . . . and see this monument I have set between us. They stand between us as witnesses of our vows. I will never pass this pile of stones to harm you, and you must never pass these stones or this monument to harm me” (Genesis 31:51–52, NLT).
May the Lord watch between you and me was a statement motivated by wariness and distrust. Once out of sight, Laban did not trust Jabob, so he called on the Lord to keep watch or be on the lookout for him. His petition was not a prayer for God to take care of the two men while they were separated, as believers sometimes pray. Instead, it was a desperate plea for the Lord to remain vigilant and catch the one who might be planning to harm the other. Today’s English Version captures the idea with these words: “May the Lord keep an eye on us.” As long as the two men were together, they could see what the other was doing and look out for themselves. But once they were hidden from each other’s view, they would have to commend their safety into the Lord’s hands.