Laban Catches Up
22Three days later Laban found out that Jacob had gone. 23So he took some of his relatives along and chased after Jacob for seven days, before catching up with him in the hill country of Gilead. 24But God appeared to Laban in a dream that night and warned, “Don't say a word to Jacob. Don't make a threat or a promise.”
25Jacob had set up camp in the hill country of Gilead, when Laban and his relatives came and set up camp in another part of the hill country. Laban went to Jacob 26and said:
Look what you've done! You've tricked me and run off with my daughters like a kidnapper. 27Why did you sneak away without telling me? I would have given you a going-away party with singing and with music on tambourines and harps. 28You didn't even give me a chance to kiss my own grandchildren and daughters goodbye. That was really foolish. 29I could easily hurt you, but the God your father worshiped has warned me not to make any threats or promises.
30I can understand why you were eager to return to your father, but why did you have to steal my idols?
31Jacob answered, “I left secretly because I was afraid you would take your daughters from me by force. 32If you find that any one of us has taken your idols, I'll have that person killed. Let your relatives be witnesses. Show me what belongs to you, and you can take it back.” Jacob did not realize that Rachel had stolen the household idols.
33Laban searched the tents of Jacob, Leah, and the two servant women, but did not find the idols. Then he went to Rachel's tent. 34She had already hidden them in the cushion she used as a saddle and was sitting on it. Laban searched everywhere and did not find them. 35Rachel said, “Father, please don't be angry with me for not getting up; I'm having my period.” Laban kept on searching, but still did not find the idols.
36Jacob became very angry and said to Laban:
What have I done wrong? Have I committed some crime? Is that why you hunted me down? 37After searching through everything I have, did you find anything of yours? If so, put it here, where your relatives and mine can see it. Then we can decide what to do.
38In all the 20 years that I've worked for you, not one of your sheep or goats has had a miscarriage, and I've never eaten even one of your rams. 39If a wild animal killed one of your sheep or goats, I paid for it myself. In fact, you demanded the full price, whether the animal was killed during the day or at night. 40I sweated every day, and I couldn't sleep at night because of the cold.
41I had to work 14 of these 20 long years to earn your two daughters and another 6 years to buy your sheep and goats. During that time you kept changing my wages. 42If the fearsome God worshiped by Abraham and my father Isaac had not been on my side, you would have sent me away without a thing. But God saw my hard work, and he knew the trouble I was in, so he helped me. Then last night he told you how wrong you were.
Laban and his relatives set off in hot pursuit of Jacob’s party. They catch up to them in the hills of Gilead, a region east of the Jordan between the Dead Sea and the Sea of the Galilee. Before they have time to have an encounter, the Lord intervenes by speaking to Laban in a dream. Laban is warned not to say a word to Jacob, not a threat or a promise (vv 22-24). As he will communicate in his meeting with Jacob, he clearly understands he is to cause no harm to Jacob, although he could do so (v 30). Once again God is determined to protect his promised one.
Nonetheless, as we see in the following conversation, Laban is exasperated. He cannot understand why Jacob would deceitfully sneak away without an opportunity for a proper farewell party with joy and singing. Of course one has to wonder if he is more frustrated by the lack of opportunity to say goodbye to his daughters and grandchildren or that his gods had gone missing? (vv25-30).
Here we see a clearly paradoxical scenario. On one hand Laban has an encounter with the true and living God and yet he continues to pursue his household gods that he uses in divination. This practice is clearly not in keeping with exclusively worshipping the one true God that Jacob represents. Fusion spirituality that draws from multiple, often contradictory streams of faith and practice is still prevalent today. Contemporary Labans mix a little bit of Jesus, the multiple gods of Hinduism, western individualism and materialism and the non-deistic understandings of Buddhism. In the middle of this is still a call for a covenant people who worship the one and only God.
Laban finds himself frustrated in finding his household gods. Jacob promises if the idol is found, he will kill the person who possesses it, not knowing that it is Rachel. Laban eventually comes into her tent but his ever wily daughter keeps it from him by feigning that due to her monthly period she cannot stand in his presence as would normally be the custom. Meanwhile the idol was tucked in the camel saddle she sat on (vv 31-35)!
This leads to a final encounter between Jacob and Laban where Jacob points out he has been needlessly pursued and reminds Laban of the unjust treatment he has put Jacob through. Can Laban not understand God has clearly rebuked him (vv 36-42)? Unfortunately it is often a challenge for most people to catch on to that.
Almighty One, In a world where so many other “gods” are fused together in people’s lives, let us live true to you, the one true and living God. In the name of Jesus, the only one who has power to save, Amen.