Jacob had heard that Laban’s sons were saying, ‘Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.’” –Genesis 31:1
After Jacob grows exceedingly rich, some of Laban’s sons become jealous and accuse him of stealing their inheritance. But despite Laban’s harsh work environment, God has proven Himself faithful to Jacob (vs. 4-13).
You may read Genesis 31:1-55 here: Bible Gateway.
Twenty years slipped by since Jacob’s last recorded revelation from God. Jacob was still in the promised land at the time (28:10-22). Finally, God tells Jacob to go back to the land of his fathers (vs. 3). I wonder if God’s directive felt like a breath of fresh air to Jacob. Or, did the potential dangers gnaw at him with the high probabilities: Laban’s pursuit from behind and Esau’s revenge up ahead?
Whatever thoughts and anxieties swam through Jacob’s mind, he states the facts to his wives, Rachel and Leah. God is mentioned by name seven times during their discourse. Even the tension between the sisters can’t squelch their unanimous conclusion. Possibly for the first time, the awkward threesome agree on something: Laban, (their dad), doesn’t hesitate to walk over his own flesh and blood if it benefits him financially. (Okay, that’s my interpretation.)
The NIV Life Application Study Bible notes: “According to custom, they [Rachel and Leah] were supposed to receive the benefits of the dowry Jacob paid for them, which was 14 years of hard work. When Laban did not give them what was rightfully theirs, they knew they would never inherit anything from their father.”
Small wonder, Rachel and Leah support Jacob’s plan. Together they would take Jacob’s acquired wealth and vamoose.
So Jacob saddles up his camels with family and belongings in tow for the 300 mile trek from Haran to mountainous Gilead. But first, Jacob and Rachel would combine for a double whammy on Laban: 1) Rachel steals Laban’s small household idols while he shears sheep; 2) Jacob goes against God’s way by not informing Laban of their departure, (despite following God’s will to go home).
Small wonder, Laban chases after Jacob when he learns they skedaddled. Fortunately for Jacob, God reveals Himself to Laban in a dream. After traveling seven days, (Jacob had a three-day head start), Laban confronts Jacob in Gilead: “Why did you run off and secretly deceive me? . . . . Why did you steal my gods?”
Jacob confesses his fear of Laban taking his daughters by force as the motivating factor. Clueless that Rachel stole her father’s idols, Jacob tells him to search their belongings. “If you find anyone who has your gods, he shall not live.”
Neither Laban nor Jacob realize Rachel is the culprit as she hides the idols inside her saddle. When Laban searches Jacob’s tents, Rachel—matching her father’s wit—gives a female excuse for not getting off her camel. (I don’t know why he swallowed the fly, I mean bait, but fortunately he does!)
With Laban’s unsuccessful search, Jacob releases twenty years of pent-up frustration. But even in his rebuke, Jacob’s faith is evident (vs. 36-42).
This section ends with Jacob setting up a stone as a pillar. The two men make an agreement that neither party would harm the other, nor Jacob mistreat Laban’s daughters. Although both Jacob and Laban use God as their witness to make the agreement binding, Laban swears by the pagan god his father worshiped (31:53). This is the last mention of Laban in the Bible (vs. 55).
Why did Rachel steal her father’s idols? Was she reluctant to let go of her father’s religion, thinking it would bring her luck? Did she do it out of revenge? Or was it to secure her family’s inheritance? Whatever her reasons, God makes His position clear on idol worship: Exodus 20:30; Deuteronomy 5:7; 32:16.
Jacob was so sure no one had stolen Laban’s idols that he vowed to kill the crook. How horrible it would have been for everyone, especially Jacob, if Laban found out the truth. That’s a good lesson to take to the bank: It’s safer to avoid making rash statements, (even when we’re sure of something!)
Jacob’s work ethic under Laban was commendable. Although Jacob followed God’s will to go home, his way of fleeing without first telling Laban, however, showed his faith still had room to grow.
Lastly, Laban mastered using people. He controlled two generations of marriages in Abraham’s family (Rebekah, Rachel, Leah). But despite his efforts, God’s plan still carried on. And in the end, Laban was the one used.