“So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac, 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” (Gen. 31:53b-54).
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888, one of the forefathers of neo-Orthodoxy in 19th-century Germany) writes in his commentary on Genesis 31:42:
Pahad Yitzhak is not a name for G-d, but refers to that dread moment of the Akeda, when Isaac felt the knife already drawn at his throat. It is the zenith of the moral perfection which Isaac achieved.
31.42 Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the Fear of Isaac, had been on my side, surely now hadst thou sent me away empty. God hath seen mine affliction and the labour of my hands, and gave judgment yesternight.’
The back-drop to the Akeda (Binding of Isaac) is that he [Yitzchaq] willingly allowed himself to be bound on the Altar in total submission in Awe [or Fear inspired] of HaShem that HaShem would raise him up from being dead.
The Fear of Yitzchaq (Isaac) – why did Ya’acov swear by the Fear of Isaac?
Because this was a deity with which Laban has already subjectively identified with and been warned by. (31.29) Ya’cov has fled Laban’s presence and tried to take refuge in his homeland. Laban, thinking to do Ya’acov harm could now identify in the negative with the Deity with Whom he has encountered; that is, the G-D of Yitzchaq does not permit human sacrifice – hence the reference to “the fear of Isaac”) rather than be in a state of confusion with the shittuf – associations of the pagan deities he was trying to associate with the G-D of Avraham.
Here, Ya’acov recognizing Laban’s predicament that he is without his gods, takes the opportunity and attempts to dispel any notions of shittuf from the mind of Laban by the manner in which he swears.
31.29 “It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt; but the God of your father spoke unto me yesternight, saying: Take heed to thyself that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.”
Here, Ya’acov, by swearing בְּפַחַד in the Fear of Isaac, is taking an opportunity like his Grandfather, Avraham and “preaching” as it were, pure Monotheism, the Fear of G-D which he sees as lacking in that “place” (see 20.11 Abraham replied, “I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’)
In this case, Laban’s “state” [as in the rhetorical, “Adam, where are you?”] – an idolator who has accused Ya’acov of stealing idols, and thus implying that Ya’acov really wasn’t all that different from himself (accusingly implying that Ya’acov wasn’t really a tzaddik, a G-D Fearing man); for Laban was implying by accusing him, “but why have you stolen my gods (idols)?” that he too [Ya’acov] was also an idol worshipper deserving of the death penalty under the laws of Noah for having committed theft; and thus, the daughters, sons, and flocks were already his. It was just a matter of finding his gods!!!
Ya’acov’s reply was to remind Laban of his being mistreated by Laban (implying that Laban was guilty of theft of wages) and to remind him that it was only because of his (Ya’acov’s) G-D that no harm had come to him from the hand of Laban, “31.42 Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the Fear of Isaac, had been on my side, surely now hadst thou sent me away empty. God hath seen mine affliction and the labour of my hands, and gave judgment yesternight.’ ” – when Laban realizes he is now negotiating from a position of weakness, as he has not found his idols, he proposes the covenant which will place them on what he hopes are equal terms.
An interesting point on the phrase Fear of Isaac is made in a Jstor abstract article.
“”Kinsman of Isaac” is presented as the preferable translation [to “fear of Isaac”] in the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible and is given in the text of the English Jerusalem Bible. …
phachidh in Arabic is a small tribe consisting of a man’s nearest kin; in North Canaanite (Ugaritic) pchd means “flock”….”
see: Paḥad Yiṣḥāq Delbert R. Hillers Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 91, No. 1 (Mar., 1972), pp. 90-92 Published by: The Society of Biblical Literature DOI: 10.2307/3262922
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3262922
Paqad in Hebrew means to remember (21.1) פָּקַד as in, to visit, muster, take an accounting of, or a roll call. (as in Shmoth [Exodus] 3.16 – “Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them: The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, hath appeared unto me, saying: I have surely remembered you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt.”)
Therefore, we might read the passuk (verse) 31.42 “Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the Kinsmen of Isaac, had been on my side, surely now hadst thou sent me away empty.”
Thus, phonetically Ya’acov is swearing by the tribes – the blessing of the generations of Isaac given in 22.17-18.
“that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast hearkened to My voice.'”
The end analysis of the phrase, the fear of Isaac is that Ya’acov did not lose his fear of HaShem but by the encounter Laban had with HaShem, Ya’acov’s own faith in the promises given at the Akeda was strengthened when he heard Laban say, “but the God of your father spoke unto me yesternight, saying: etc.!”
Ya’acov could now in total confidence swear an oath by the future of his tribes and without fear of Laban.