Genesis 31:22-35

22 And Laban was told on the third day that Jacob had fled.

23 Then he took his brethren with him and pursued him for seven days’ journey, and he overtook him in the mountains of Gilead.

24 But God had come to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said to him, “Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.”

25 So Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the mountains, and Laban with his brethren pitched in the mountains of Gilead.

26 And Laban said to Jacob: “What have you done, that you have stolen away unknown to me, and carried away my daughters like captives taken with the sword?

27 Why did you flee away secretly, and steal away from me, and not tell me; for I might have sent you away with joy and songs, with timbrel and harp?

28 And you did not allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters. Now you have done foolishly in so doing.

29 It is in my power to do you harm, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.’

30 And now you have surely gone because you greatly long for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods?”

31 Then Jacob answered and said to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I said, ‘Perhaps you would take your daughters from me by force.’

32 With whomever you find your gods, do not let him live. In the presence of our brethren, identify what I have of yours and take it with you.” For Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them.

33 And Laban went into Jacob’s tent, into Leah’s tent, and into the two maids’ tents, but he did not find them. Then he went out of Leah’s tent and entered Rachel’s tent.

34 Now Rachel had taken the household idols, put them in the camel’s saddle, and sat on them. And Laban searched all about the tent but did not find them.

35 And she said to her father, “Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women is with me.” And he searched but did not find the household idols.

Laban and his retinue were busy with the sheep-shearing, [perhaps] not only with the actual work itself, but also with the festivities which accompanies this annual event. Word did not reach them that Jacob and his family had departed until after they had already been on the trail for three days. …

As soon as they could leave, Laban and his men started the pursuit, and pushed it as hard as they could. In fact, they covered the entire three hundred miles in only seven days [42 miles a day!] , an indication of the fast, hard traveling they did. Laban and his sons had no intention of letting Jacob take all his flocks to Canaan, and were resolved to take them from Jacob by whatever force was necessary. Quite likely they also intended to slay Jacob, especially if he tried to resist them.

They finally overtook Jacob’s caravan in the mountains of Gilead, probably soon after they had entered them. … But that night, Laban had a dream! In the dream, God spoke to him, giving him a sober warning against doing injury to Jacob in any way. He was not even to speak to him, if the intent of the conversation was to induce him to return or to reproach him for leaving. God made it plain to him that Jacob was under His protection and was following His directions. Though Laban did not know the Lord in any personal way, he did know enough about Him to know he had better do what He said. — Morris, pages 483-484


The next morning, Laban broke came early and overtook Jacob before his party got under way. As they rode into camp, the atmosphere must have been very tense. … [Laban] immediately blurted out, when he met Jacob, a hypocritical speech of feigned concern over Jacob’s secret snatching-away of his daughters and grandchildren, without giving Laban an opportunity even to kiss them good-bye. He complained that he would have sent them away joyously with great festivities of music and laughter, had Jacob not slipped away unannounced.  Jacob, as well as Leah and Rachel, and no doubt the whole company, all knew Laban was lying; but Laban was afraid to say what was really on his mind, in view of God’s warning.

He then boasted that he was well able to do Jacob harm (though, in view of his dream, he knew this was an empty threat). Nothing that his speech seemed to have produced neither fear nor sorrow in the hearts of Jacob and his daughters, … he then told of his dream, and of God’s warning. …

Trying to justify his actions in some measure,he told Jacob that he realized he wanted to return to his father’s house, and that this was a good enough reason for him to leave Haran. Why, however, had he stolen his teraphim? Laban was obviously trying now to excuse his pursuit of Jacob on this ground … Jacob would have had nothing whatever to do with them, even if they really did (as some have suggested) represent the inheritance rights of their owner. — Morris, pages 484-485


Not only is Laban deceived, but so too is Jacob, since he does not know that Rachel has stolen her father’s idols—for had he known he would certainly not have vowed to Laban that “the one with whom you find your gods shall not live” (v.32).

The idols, in any event, are not found, since Rachel put them in the camel’s saddle and sat on them, excusing herself from moving on the excuse that “the manner of women” (i.e., her menses) is upon her. Despite the potential volatility of the situation—fomented by Laban’s ire over the stealing of his “gods” and Jacob’s anger at being accused of such—God extends his blessing to both sides by warning Laban, who has the power to do Jacob harm, not to injure his cousin. In this way God’s covenant protection of Jacob is upheld and Laban is spared the inevitable curse of God that would follow from injuring the patriarch in His promised line (per Genesis 12:3). — Wechsler, pages 237-238


Before answering Laban’s charge of theft of the teraphim, … Jacob said that, if he had proposed departing openly, he was afraid (and with good reason) that Laban would try to take his daughters (and their children, of course) back from him by force.

As far as Laban’s images were concerned, Jacob knew nothing of them, and was angry at the very thought. If, by chance, someone in his employ (he certainly had no reason to suspect anyone in his own family, least of all Rachel, his beloved wife) had taken them, thus embarrassing him and giving Laban an excuse for chasing him. Laban could feel free to take him and exact whatever penalty the law of the times would warrant (the laws of Hammurabi, for instance, cite the theft of temple gods as a capital crime). Furthermore, if Laban found anything that really belonged to him (Jacob has been most scrupulous on this point, as he gathered up his belongings for the flight), he was welcome to take it back. — Morris, page 486.

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