33 So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two female servants, but he did not find them. And he went out of Leah’s tent and entered Rachel’s. 34 Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them in the camel’s saddle and sat on them. Laban felt all about the tent, but did not find them. 35 And she said to her father, “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the way of women is upon me.” So he searched but did not find the household gods.
36 Then Jacob became angry and berated Laban. Jacob said to Laban, “What is my offense? What is my sin, that you have hotly pursued me? 37 For you have felt through all my goods; what have you found of all your household goods? Set it here before my kinsmen and your kinsmen, that they may decide between us two. 38 These twenty years I have been with you. Your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, and I have not eaten the rams of your flocks. 39 What was torn by wild beasts I did not bring to you. I bore the loss of it myself. From my hand you required it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. 40 There I was: by day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes. 41 These twenty years I have been in your house. I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times. 42 If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands and rebuked you last night.” – Genesis 31:33-42 ESV
Reading this portion of the story is like watching a fight between two heavyweight boxers. Both Laban and Jacob are seasoned veterans of the ring, with an arsenal of well-honed skills at their disposal. And they each have proven themselves more than willing to resort to cheating if the circumstances call for it. They’re not afraid to fight dirty if that is what it will take to come out victorious.
So, as the angry and offended Laban confronts his nemesis, Jacob, tempers are at an all-time high. Upon discovering that Jacob had stolen away in the night, carrying his daughters, grandchildren, and personal household gods, Laban had set out in hot pursuit. Now, he was standing in front, full of fury and righteous indignation, accusing his son-in-law of everything from ingratitude and insensitivity to outright theft. But Jacob countered with a declaration of innocence and a vow to put to death anyone found in possession of Laban’s property.
Convinced of Jacob’s guilt, Laban ordered a thorough search of Jacob’s belongings. He began in the tents of Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah. But his efforts proved fruitless. He could find no trace of the missing household gods. And there is a certain sense of irony in all of this because Laban was in the strange and helpless position of having to “search” for his own gods. All the while he looked, they remained hidden and silent, because they were powerless and incapable of speech. Laban’s gods couldn’t reveal, much less, save themselves. All during this story, they remain invisible and impotent, hidden away and unable to come to Laban’s aid. And it is not surprising that God’s Word has much to say about the idiocy of idols.
“What good is an idol carved by man,
or a cast image that deceives you?
How foolish to trust in your own creation—
a god that can’t even talk!
What sorrow awaits you who say to wooden idols,
‘Wake up and save us!’
To speechless stone images you say,
‘Rise up and teach us!’
Can an idol tell you what to do?
They may be overlaid with gold and silver,
but they are lifeless inside.” – Habakuk 2:18-19 NLT
“Don’t go back to worshiping worthless idols that cannot help or rescue you—they are totally useless!” – 1 Samuel 12:21 NLT
Their idols are merely things of silver and gold,
shaped by human hands.
They have mouths but cannot speak,
and eyes but cannot see.
They have ears but cannot hear,
and noses but cannot smell.
They have hands but cannot feel,
and feet but cannot walk,
and throats but cannot make a sound.
And those who make idols are just like them,
as are all who trust in them. – Psalm 115:4-8 NLT
One can only imagine Laban’s growing frustration as his search for his “lost” gods came up empty-handed. But his stubbornness would not allow him to give up and admit defeat. So, the search continued, this time to Rachel’s tent. And while Laban had been busy ransacking the tents of Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah, Rachel had taken the household gods she had stolen and hid them in the saddle of her camel. Then, as Laban approached, she took a seat on the saddle. Verse 25 indicates that Jacob “had pitched his tent in the hill country,” so it seems likely that the saddle was lying on the ground near Rachel’s tent. And her pilfering of her father’s household gods seems to suggest that Rachel shared her father’s reverence for them. While the names of these gods are not revealed, it is readily apparent that they were of great value to Laban. He had traveled for three days in an attempt to recover them. And Rachel was willing to risk her life in order to keep them. The idols would have represented hope for future blessings and fruitfulness. Perhaps Rachel was hoping that one of these household gods could help her produce another son. Up to this point in the story, Rachel has only been able to conceive one time, and at the birth of that son, she had exclaimed, “May the Lord add yet another son to my family” (Genesis 30:24 NLT).
Perhaps Rachel believed that her first pregnancy had been the work of her father’s gods and she hoped that they would bring her further good fortune. It is clear that she was willing to risk a great deal in order to keep the gods in hiding and in her possession.
Firmly seated upon the saddle, with the idols hidden underneath her, Rachel begged her father’s forgiveness for not rising to greet him, using “the way of women” as her excuse. Laban remained unsuspecting of his daughter’s treachery and continued his search, “but he could not find the household idols” (Genesis 31:35 NLT).
And Jacob, completely oblivious to what his wife had done, must have been gloating on the inside as he watched his father-in-law’s frustration reach a fever pitch. But at some point, he lost his patience and demanded that the search end.
“What’s my crime?” he demanded. “What have I done wrong to make you chase after me as though I were a criminal?” – Genesis 31:35 NLT
Jacob had endured enough of his father-in-law’s insulting behavior and demanded an apology for the last 20 years of abuse he had been forced to endure.
“For twenty years I have been with you, caring for your flocks. In all that time your sheep and goats never miscarried. In all those years I never used a single ram of yours for food. If any were attacked and killed by wild animals, I never showed you the carcass and asked you to reduce the count of your flock. No, I took the loss myself! You made me pay for every stolen animal, whether it was taken in broad daylight or in the dark of night.” – Genesis 31:38-39 NLT
Jacob had Laban on the ropes and he was pulling no punches. With each powerful blow, Jacob attempted to deliver the knock-out punch that would send his opponent to the mat. He recounted his tireless and selfless efforts to serve Laban. He reveled in his sense of self-righteousness, detailing the many ways he had treated Laban with nothing but respect. Jacob paints himself as the consummate victim, even describing himself as a helpless slave.
“Yes, for twenty years I slaved in your house! I worked for fourteen years earning your two daughters, and then six more years for your flock. And you changed my wages ten times!” – Genesis 31:41 NLT
He had Laban staggering under a steady barrage of accusations. Those watching this epic battle would have observed that Laban was about to go down for the count. And them, Jacob delivered the final blow that would bring this fight to an end.
“In fact, if the God of my father had not been on my side—the God of Abraham and the fearsome God of Isaac—you would have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen your abuse and my hard work. That is why he appeared to you last night and rebuked you!” – Genesis 31:42 NLT
Jacob’s decisive one-two punch was Yahweh, the God of Abraham and the fearsome God of Isaac. Laban’s household gods had been no match for the Almighty. For 20 long years, as these two men had done battle, Jacob had enjoyed the blessings of Yahweh. Jacob concedes that all his success had been the work of Yahweh. And Jacob wanted Laban to know that Yahweh could and would undermine any attempts to keep him from returning to Canaan. There was no going back. Jacob would not be tricked again. And the scene seems to end with Jacob standing over his defeated foe as Yahweh raises his gloved hand in victory. That match is over but, for Jacob, the real fight is about to begin.
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.
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