Jacob sneaks away from his father-in-law
Jacob’s in-laws don’t like him anymore1 Jacob got word that Laban’s sons were starting to gripe about him. They said, “Jacob is nothing more than a thief. Everything he owns he took from our father. That’s how he got rich—at our expense.” 2 Jacob noticed a chill in Laban’s attitude toward him, too.
3 The LORD told Jacob, “Go home. Go back to where your father and the rest of your family live. I’ll go with you.” 4 Jacob sent for Rachel and Leah. They met him in a field where he was watching the flock.
5 Jacob told them, “I’ve noticed that your father doesn’t seem to like me anymore. But God does. God has been looking out for me all along.” 6 You know that I’ve worked myself ragged for your father. 7 He repaid me by cheating me and by changing our work agreement 10 times. But God didn’t let him hurt me. 8 Instead, God gave me a huge flock. When your father said I could have only the spotted sheep and goats, it seemed as though the whole flock started producing spotted animals. The same thing happened when your father said I could have only the stripped animals. Suddenly, all the newborn animals seemed to come with stripes. 9 That’s how God has taken care of me. He took your father’s livestock and gave them to me.
A dream convinces Jacob to leave Laban10 Once during mating season I had an unusual dream. I saw that all the male goats mating with females were either striped, speckled, or marbled in streaks. The males weren’t solid-colored. 11 The angel of God called to me: ‘Jacob.’ I answered, ‘Here I am.’
12 The angel said, ‘Take a good look at this. Only male goats that are striped, speckled, or streaked are mating with the females. I’ve seen how Laban is cheating you. 13 I am the God you saw in your dream at Bethel. That’s where I promised you that I would be your God and where you anointed a stone pillar as a place to worship me. It’s time for you to pack up and leave here. Move back to the land where you were born.’” 14 Rachel and Leah said, “Let’s go. We’re not going to inherit anything from our father. 15 He treats us like illegal aliens. After he sold us to you, he spent all the money himself. 16 Every asset God has taken from our father and given to you belongs to our family. So go ahead and do whatever God tells you to do.”
17 Jacob broke camp. He and his wives and children climbed aboard camels. 18 Off they went. They left Laban’s region of Paddan-aram, taking everything they owned, including their livestock. They headed south toward Canaan, where Jacob’s father, Isaac, lived.
19 Laban was nowhere around at the time. He was off in some distant field shearing his sheep for another payday. Before Rachel left, she stole her father’s family idols. 20 Jacob pulled off the Great Escape. Laban the Aramean had no idea Jacob and his family had left. 21 Jacob took everything he owned. He crossed the Euphrates River and headed south for the hills of Gilead.
Laban in hot pursuit22 Jacob got a three-day head start before Laban discovered Jacob had packed up and peeled out. 23 Laban quickly rounded up a posse of relatives and off they went on the chase. They caught up with Jacob’s caravan seven days later in the hills of Gilead.
24 The night before that, though, God told Laban in a dream, “I’m warning you, don’t mess with Jacob. Don’t bribe him with promises. Don’t threaten him with violence.” 25 Laban caught up with Jacob while the caravan was camped in the Gilead hills. Laban set up his camp nearby.
26 Laban asked Jacob, “Why did you sneak away like this, taking my daughters like prisoners of war?” 27 Why did you trick me? Why didn’t you just tell me you wanted to leave? I would have thrown you a going-away party. We would have enjoyed a feast with lots of singing and the music of tambourines and harps. 28 Why didn’t you let me kiss my daughters and grandchildren goodbye, you fool? 29 I would kill you where you squat if it weren’t for your God. He came to me last night in a dream and warned me to leave you alone. 30 I can understand your homesickness and your need to go back. What I don’t understand is why on earth you took my gods.”
31 Jacob said, “I snuck away because I was afraid you wouldn’t let your daughters come with me—that you’d force them to stay with you. 32 As for your gods, if you find them anywhere in my camp, I’ll execute the person who stole them. And if you find anything else that belongs to you, take it.” Jacob had no idea that Rachel had stolen Laban’s family gods.
Laban searches for idol Rachel stole33 Laban started looking for his idols in Jacob’s tent. Then Leah’s tent. Then the tents of Leah’s and Rachel’s slaves. No luck. He moved on to Rachel’s tent. 34 Rachel had stuffed the idols in her camel’s saddle. Then she sat on it. Laban searched the tent and found nothing of his.
35 Rachel politely apologized. “Forgive me father for not getting up to greet you. I’m on my period.” Laban searched the rest of Jacob’s camp, but didn’t find one stolen thing. 36
Jacob tells off his father-in-law37 You’ve rifled through everything I call my own. Now show me what you found that you call your own. Set it down right here. Right now. In front of all our relatives. Let them decide which one of us is in the wrong. 38 For 20 years I’ve worked for you. In all those years, not one of your sheep or goats has miscarried. And I never so much as butchered and ate a single one of your rams. 39 Whenever wild animals killed any in your flock when I was taking care of them, I replaced them with my sheep and goats. And if anyone stole any of your animals—day or night— you made me pay for them. I took all the hits for you.
40 I worked for you when the blistering heat of the day withered my body and when the frost of the night chilled me until I was too bone-cold to sleep. 41 I did all this work for you for 20 years: 14 years for the right to marry your daughters and six more years for the flocks I earned. During that time, doggone if you didn’t change our working agreement 10 times. 42 If it hadn’t been for the God of my grandfather Abraham and of my father Isaac, there’s no doubt in my mind that you would have run me off empty-handed. God saw how you exploited me and how hard I worked for you. He passed judgment on you last night when he warned you not to mess with me."
Jacob makes peace with his father-in-law43 “Listen here,” Laban said to Jacob. “Everything you can see around us right now is mine. These women are my daughters. These children are my grandchildren. These flocks are mine, too. But how can I possibly keep them for myself alone? 44 Let’s make peace between the two of us. Let’s set up a stone monument as a reminder of our promise to each other.”
45 Jacob found the first stone for the monument. He set it up like a pillar. 46 Jacob told his family, “Gather more stones and put them in a pile here.” Then Jacob and Laban sat beside the stone monument and ate a meal to seal their agreement.
47 Laban gave the site a name using his language of Aramaic. He called it Jegar-sahadutha, which means Rock Witnesses. Jacob translated that name into his language of Hebrew. He called it Galeed. 48 Laban said, “These stones will stay here to remind us of the contract we’ve made today.” That’s why the place became known as Galeed.
49 Some people called it Mizpah. They got that name from something Laban said: “May God himself keep an eye on the two of us to make sure we keep our promises to each other even after we go our separate ways. 50 If you hurt my daughters in any way, and that includes by marrying other wives, God will see it even if I don’t. God will know who keeps the agreement and who doesn’t.”
51 Laban kept talking. “Take a good look at this pile of stones that stands between you and me. 52 The pillar you set up and the other stones around it stand as a marker for our peace treaty. I will not pass this marker to come and hurt you. Nor will you pass this marker to come and hurt me. 53 May the God of your grandfather Abraham and my grandfather Nahor punish either one of us if we break this promise we have made today.” Jacob agreed. He took an oath on the honor of his father Isaac to keep the promise he made. 54 Jacob offered a sacrifice there on the mountain. Then he invited everyone to join him in a meal celebrating the peace treaty. Afterward they spent the night there in the camp. 55 Laban got up early the next morning. He kissed his grandchildren and his daughters goodbye. Then he left for home.
Northern Syria and southern Turkey.
Israel and Palestinian territories.
Arameans lived mainly in what is now Syria.
East of the Jordan River in what is now Jordan.
Hebrew for “Watchtower.”
Jacob has worked for Laban for 14 years, as the wedding contract required. He stayed on for another six—and got rich. Then he decided to sneak out of town and take his family back to his homeland in what is now Israel, some 500 miles (800 km) south. Leaving without saying goodbye seems rude. Why do you think he did that?
Rachel “stole her father’s family idols” (31:19). That comes as a surprise. The wife of the man who will become father of the Jews seems attached to idols. What do you think was going on there?
When Laban finds out Jacob has taken the family and left, he chases them down “in the Gilead hills” (31:25). It takes him a week. And we have to add three days because that’s the head start Jacob got. We’re talking about Jacob and his caravan traveling 400 miles (640 km) in 10 days. That’s 40 miles a day, traveling with women, children, and enough livestock to make a man rich. What do we do with this math, which doesn’t seem to add up?
Why do you think Laban chased them down when he knew they wanted to leave and when he had already been distancing himself from Jacob: “Jacob noticed a chill in Laban’s attitude toward him” (31:2)?
Before Laban and Jacob part company, they make what sounds like a peace treaty. When they do that, Laban says something that sounds a bit odd: “If you hurt my daughters in any way, and that includes by marrying other wives, God will see it even if I don’t. God will know who keeps the agreement and who doesn’t” (31:50). What’s the point of that? Laban is not saying that if Jacob mistreats his daughters that Laban is going to come back and knock Jacob a good one up the side of his head. He’s simply saying “God will see it.” What’s the big deal?
LIFE APPLICATION. There are times when the best thing family members can do to preserve the family is to give each other elbow room. Sometimes hundreds of miles of elbow room. What kinds of situations can produce tension like that?
LIFE APPLICATION. Laban seems genuinely concerned about the welfare of his daughters. He wants Jacob to treat them kindly. Yet he seems to recognize there’s nothing he can do if Jacob treats them unkindly. When and how should parents react when their grown children are being mistreated by the spouse or partner?