“And the Lord said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee . . . 

Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon camels; 

And he carried away all his cattle, and all his goods which he had gotten, the cattle of his getting, which he had gotten in Padanaram, for to go to Isaac his father in the land of Canaan.” 

Genesis 31:3, 17, 18

With ever greater longing Jacob’s heart was yearning for the land of his fathers. For this there were good reasons. Although in earthly wealth he was prospering, this only served to make his sojourn in Haran more wearisome and difficult. Seeing Jacob’s wealth so rapidly increasing, his brothers-in-law were fired with bitter jealousy. He overheard them denouncing him with contemptuous complaints, “Jacob hath taken away all that was our father’s; and of that which was our father’s hath he gotten all this glory.” Furthermore, also the favor of Laban toward him had turned away. In former years when Jacob had labored diligently without receiving any real wages, Laban had always had for him a pleasant, although hypocritical, smile. But now that Jacob was receiving a just reward, he received from the covetous face of his father-in-law only acrid frowns. More and more Jacob felt .himself alone, a stranger in the land. Repeatedly Jacob found his thoughts returning nostalgically to his father’s home and to the vow which he had made at Bethel, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: and this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.” The Lord had blessed him and increased him, and Jacob longed to return to keep his vow. Finally the angel of the Lord appeared to him and spoke, “I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar; and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred.” With this the desire of Jacob became a determination. 

Nonetheless, although determined, Jacob did not immediately leave Haran because he was afraid. He was a peaceable man who always avoided open conflict. This was with him at various times both a virtue and a weakness. At certain times it enabled him when wrongfully afflicted to bear it with Godly charity and meekness. But there were other times when this same inclination led him into sin. When the truth called for him to give a bold and clear testimony, he often faltered, seeking rather to gain his ends by subterfuge and deceit. So was it at this time. Jacob was afraid of Laban. Laban was becoming increasingly dissatisfied because of Jacob’s growing wealth. It irritated him no end. Still there was for Laban a certain consolation in the fact that Jacob was his son-in-law, dwelling in his house, under his sphere of influence. This afforded Laban the opportunity to maintain a certain feeling of possessiveness over all that belonged to Jacob. Thus Jacob was afraid to inform his father-in-law of his intentions to leave. He could anticipate that Laban would become very angry and even violent. Laban might easily resort to force to make Jacob remain, or to drive him away without his family and possessions, or even to slay him. Honesty should have compelled Jacob to inform his uncle openly of his intentions, trusting in God to preserve him; but because of fear Jacob refrained. 

Finally, however, the time approached for Laban to shear his sheep, and Jacob saw his opportunity. This was the one time of the year when Laban allowed Jacob to take exclusive control of his own herds, for Laban did not trust Jacob to the gathering of his valuable wool. This task he and his sons performed alone. In this Jacob saw an opportunity to escape unnoticed because Laban still kept his herds a three days’ journey away from Jacob’s. Still Jacob was concerned whether his wives would be willing to leave their father’s house without farewells. He called them to him in the field lest his plans should be overheard and reported to Laban; and he told them of his thoughts. He told them there of the displeasure of their father which was becoming so evident, of the dishonesty of their father in always changing the term of wages to his own advantage, of the loving care of God which enabled him nonetheless to prosper, and finally of the command of God that he should go again to Canaan. Earnestly Jacob sought to persuade his wives; but soon he found that very little persuading was needed. They too had felt the sting of their father’s selfishness. The fourteen years of labor which their father had extracted from Jacob for them, they saw as being nothing more than a bill of sale. Laban had not asked it so as to be assured of Jacob’s ability to care for his family. He had not saved the increase that came to him through Jacob’s labor so as to insure his daughters against future want as was expected of a loving father. No, he had taken all and devoured it for his own gain, returning to them not a thing. A father’s love for them quite evidently did not exist. Let Jacob do what God commanded; they would willingly follow. 

So it was that, while Laban sheared his sheep, Jacob gathered his family and possessions and stole silently away. 

Three days later the news was brought to Laban—Jacob was gone. As was to be expected, Laban became furiously angry. Now, unless he made haste, the wealth which Jacob had gathered would be forever escaped from his power and could never be regained. Moreover, because Jacob had not had the courage to make a clean and open break, he now had an excuse for his anger. He could feign that his love for his daughters had been badly used and wounded. Gathering together his friends, he set out in hot pursuit. Although Jacob had a six days’ advantage, three days having passed before Laban learned of the departure plus the three days’ journey which had originally separated their flocks, Laban with forced travel was able in seven more days to narrow the distance between them. Surely a violent and even bloody scene would have followed, for Laban undoubtedly intended to force the return at least of Jacob’s wealth, had not God intervened. In the night before Laban came upon Jacob, God appeared to him and warned him to speak nothing bad to Jacob.

Although cowed by the warning of God, Laban would not turn back from confronting Jacob. He dared not bring the railing accusations and plotting treachery which he had planned; but still he could feign that his fatherly love had been wounded; and there was the matter of his idols. He had noted that his idol gods were missing from his house and concluded that Jacob had taken them. If he could discover these idols among Jacob’s possessions and expose Jacob as a thief and an idolater before his God (Laban was too superficial to understand that Jacob’s God knew all that had taken place) then perhaps he would still be allowed to wreak his vengeance upon him and retrieve the lost possessions. 

As a man whose feelings had been deeply wounded, Laban entered Jacob’s camp in mount Gilead. “What hast thou done, that thou hast stolen away unawares to me, and carried away my daughters, as captives taken with the sword? Wherefore didst thou flee away secretly, and steal away from me; and didst not tell me, that I might have sent thee away with mirth, and with songs, with tabret, and with harp? And hast not suffered me to kiss my sons and my daughters? thou hast now done foolishly in so doing. It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt: but the God of your father spake unto me yesternight, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad. And now, though thou wouldest needs be gone, because thou sore longedst after thy father’s house, yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods?” Touching words it would seem, almost pious, did we not know that every syllable dripped with hypocrisy. 

Jacob had learned to know his uncle too well to be deceived by his words, as filled with feeling as they might have seemed. He realized full well that it was not his farewell that Laban had missed but the wealth, not the kisses of his daughters for which he longed, but the cattle. It would not have been with mirth and song that Laban sent them away, but with anger and possibly even violence. With an unexpected boldness the nephew who had always before been quietly submissive, lashed back, “Because I was afraid: for I said, Peradventure thou wouldest take by force thy daughters from me.” Jacob would no longer bow before Laban’s hypocrisy, but told him exactly what he thought. Moreover, concerning the idol gods of Laban, his conscience was clear. “With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live: before our brethren discern thou what is thine with me, and take it to thee.” The very thought that he would steal, and a man’s idol gods at that, was deeply offensive to Jacob. Little did he realize that the images were within his camp and the possession of the wife whom so dearly he loved. Had he known, how it would have hurt. Even today we look back and are shocked. It makes us to wonder, if not about Rachel’s salvation, at least about the extent of her sanctification. 

Confidently Laban began his search; vainly he continued it. In each and every tent he hunted, but the images were not to be found. Some of the ingenious trickery which he had so often practiced was had also by his daughter. With a clever guise she kept him from searching the camel’s saddle in which the idols were hidden and upon which she sat. 

Once Jacob had been justified in the eyes of all that were present, he challenged Laban with boldness. A more eloquent and forceful defense we can hardly imagine. “What is my trespass?” he demanded of Laban. “What is my sin, that thou hast so hotly pursued after me? Whereas thou hast searched all my stuff, what hast thou found of all thy household stuff? set it here before my brethren and thy brethren, that they may judge betwixt us both. This twenty years have I been with thee; thy ewes and thy she goats have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flock have I not eaten. That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee; I bare the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it, whether stolen by day, or stolen by night. Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes. Thus have I been twenty years in thy house; I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle: and thou hast changed my wages ten times. Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely thou hadst sent me away now empty. God hath seen mine affliction and the labour of my hands, and rebuked thee yesternight.”

Before these accusations Laban could not stand. All that he could do was to plead, rather plaintively, “These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and these cattle are my cattle, and all thou seest is mine.” So long had he thought of Jacob’s possessions as being his own that even now he would not admit it not to be so. But he dared not push the point for there began to arise within him a fear. Reminded of the injustice that he had inflicted on his nephew and of the God who had caused Jacob nonetheless to prosper, he began to imagine that in years to come Jacob would become yet stronger and might return to Haran to bring upon him his just reward. He asked of Jacob to establish with him a covenant of friendship. There in the mount of Gilead, Jacob and Laban erected a monument of stone between them, and there they swore, “This heap of witness, and this pillar be witness, that I will not pass over this heap to thee, and that thou shalt not pass over this heap and this pillar unto me, for harm.” 

—B.W.