The son of Pharaoh’s daughter, a prince of Egypt, lived the life of a shepherd smelling like sheep. And would one day part the Red Sea leading God’s chosen people, the children of Israel, out from their slavery to Egypt. His name was…Charlton Heston. And he parts the Red Sea every Easter weekend on channel five.
There are certain similarities not between Jacob and Charlton Heston, but Jacob and Moses. Both men learned the life of a shepherd smelling like sheep. Both men met their wives by watering a flock of sheep. And both men would spend years tending the flock of their father-in-law!
The account of Moses is found in the book of the Bible called Exodus. Genesis 31 is an exodus! In the book of Exodus, God’s chosen people, the children of Israel, are in a land that was not home. In Genesis 31, God’s chosen man to be renamed Israel was in a land that was not home. In the book of Exodus, God’s chosen people, the children of Israel, spend years of servitude in a land that was not home. In Genesis 31, God’s chosen man renamed Israel has spent years of servitude in a land that was not home. In the book of Exodus, God’s chosen people, the children of Israel, flee a land that was not home for the Promised Land under the promise of God’s presence. In Genesis 31, God’s chosen man renamed Israel flees a land that was not home for the Promised Land under the promise of God’s presence. In the book of Exodus, God’s chosen people, the children of Israel, do not flee empty handed. In Genesis 31, God’s chosen man renamed Israel does not flee empty handed. And in both accounts, there is a hot pursuit.
Prosperity and Prominence Then Pursuit
But, keep this in mind, Genesis 31 is really about Jacob and Laban. Jacob flees. Laban pursues. Laban unloads six years of pent up frustration on Jacob. Jacob then unloads twenty-years of pent up frustration on Laban. And then the two men share dinner together. This is the whole chapter. But how does it all begin?
Genesis 31 begins with the sons of Laban talking. The sons of Laban are also the brothers-in-law of Jacob. And Jacob hears them talking. These men are talking about Jacob! Listen to what these men are saying. “Jacob has taken all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has gained all this wealth.” First, there is a key word in what these men are saying. I want us to pay close attention to it. It is the word father. And separate from this key word is a question. Why are these men talking about Jacob?
Jump ahead to Genesis 31:16. The daughters of Laban are talking. The daughters of Laban are also the wives of Jacob. The wives of Jacob are talking to Jacob. Listen to what these women are saying. “All the wealth that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children.” First, there is a key word in what these women are saying. I want us to pay close attention to it. It is the word father. And separate from this key word is a question. After listening to Rachel and Leah, the sisters of the sons of Laban, why would the sons of Laban be talking about Jacob? It has to do with wealth, the wealth of Jacob. The brothers are not too happy with Jacob’s prosperity. And why? Because it should have been their prosperity.
Keep all of this in mind and listen to Genesis 31:2. After Jacob hears the sons of Laban talking, he sees the father of the sons of Laban. “And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before.” Why, why is Laban not too happy with Jacob? It has to do with prosperity, Jacob’s prosperity! It has to do with Jacob’s prosperity that should have been Laban’s prosperity, all of it!
Here is something interesting. We will learn later in the chapter that Jacob has served Laban for twenty years (31:41). After fourteen years of Jacob’s service, Laban was a very wealthy man. Before Jacob arrived, Laban had little. After Jacob arrived, Laban had much, but Jacob had little. Jacob would serve Laban another six years and after these six years, it was Jacob who had much. But there is more. Notice the word wealth in verse one. This is the Hebrew word kabowd which means glory or glorious. It is the first time that this word is used in the Bible. Laban had prosperity, but it was not enough for Jacob had something that Laban never had. Jacob had prosperity and now prominence. And it will result in a hot pursuit.
Now Arise, Go Out From this Land
But we asked, how does it all begin? Listen to Genesis 31:3. Jacob hears the sons of Laban, sees Laban and then the Lord speaks to Jacob. “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.” First, there is a key word here. I want us to pay close attention to it. It is the word father. Jacob will next talk to his two wives secluded out in a field. And he will explain to them that they understand there is only one reason that he has gained the wealth he possesses. God. God has been with him. God has watched out for him. God has cared for him…every step of the way. And it leads to Jacob sharing verse thirteen with them. “[God said] Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred.”
In Genesis 30:25, after fourteen years and with much earnestness, Jacob shares with Laban his desire to go home…now. But when Genesis 31 picks up it is six years later. What happened to the Jacob who so eagerly wanted to go home? Some have suggested that it was wealth. Jacob grew comfortable as he gained all this prosperity and prominence. There might be something to it. For six years Jacob remained in his comfort zone. How often am I uncomfortable with leaving my comfort zone? But I think here it is much simpler. It was God’s timing. Although it was God’s will that Jacob return home, six years ago was not the time. This, Genesis 31, was God’s perfect timing for Jacob to return home. And it is emphasized here in verse thirteen with the word now. The time is now Jacob. The greater comfort is doing God’s will in God’s perfect timing.
So, Jacob shares all of this with his wives which they then say, “Now then, whatever God has said to you, do” (31:16). It helps a man to hear his wife say, “do God’s perfect will.”
Rachel and the Heart of the Home
And Jacob leads his family home. Jacob sets his children and his wives on camels and drives away all his livestock and all of the possessions in the direction of home. Which home? Listen to the last few words of verse eighteen. “…to go to the land of Canaan [this is the Promised Land] to his father Isaac.” First, there is a key word here. I want us to pay close attention to it. It is the word father. And then comes what are perhaps the pivotal verses of the entire chapter.
Laban heads out to shear his sheep. He leaves his home to shear his sheep and he has a lot of sheep. Apparently, this must be far away from home. And while gone, “Rachel stole her father’s household gods” (31:19). First, there is a key word here. I want us to pay close attention to it. It is the word father. These idols were most likely small, carved images, maybe images of ancestors. But these household gods would have been used for divination, worship; for protection or for healing, especially infertility. And remember, Rachel has had a history of infertility. The last we heard from her, she expressed her desire for another son (cf. 30:24). But. Rachel and Leah had expressed together that their father had wasted what should have been their inheritance (31:15). And the possession of the family gods strengthened one’s claim to an inheritance. Rachel, too, wanted what belonged to her.
But then there is verse twenty which intentionally runs parallel to verse nineteen. Rachel stole the household gods and “Jacob tricked Laban the Aramean, by not telling him that he intended to flee.” Some translations have the word deceived instead of tricked. The King James translation reads, “And Jacob stole away unawares.” The word tricked and deceived though do not accurately reflect the Hebrew. The Hebrew word here is leb (pronounced labe). This word occurs 593 times in the Old Testament of which some 440 times it is translated heart. So, it seems that although Rachel stole her father’s household gods, by fleeing unannounced Jacob stole her father’s heart, although unintentionally.
And in these two pivotal verses, two things have happened. Rachel stole the heart of a home and Jacob stole the heart of a father.
Laban Pursues and Laban Follows and Laban Overcome
When it is told to Laban that Jacob and by Jacob it is meant Jacob and his wives, and his kids and all of his stuff have fled, three days have passed. Laban then pursues. And in Genesis 31:22-55, it is all about Jacob seeking to return home and Laban seeking the return to his home.
Laban pursues, and Laban follows. But God restrains. God restrains Laban from saying anything good or bad to Jacob (31:24). Once Laban catches up to Jacob, he overtakes him or corners him. Jacob cannot escape the grasp of Laban. And Laban unloads all of this pent-up frustration of the last six years upon Jacob. What have you done? And why have you tricked [this again is the word for heart] me? Why have you stolen my heart (31:26)? How has Jacob stolen Laban’s heart? “And why did you not permit me to kiss my sons and my daughters farewell? I would have thrown a going away celebration” (31:27-28). I am not sure how genuine Laban is being about the party, but it does seem that Laban’s heart were his kids and grandkids. And in a sense, he may want them to return to his home.
And Laban assures Jacob in verse twenty-nine, “It is in my power to do you harm. But the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’” First, there is a key word here. I want us to pay close attention to it. It is the word father. And then Laban asks, “Why did you steal my gods?”
No one knows that Rachel stole these family gods. And Jacob confidently tells Laban to search for them and whoever has stolen them will be put to death (31:32). In short, Laban comes up short (31:33-35). Rachel deceptively hid them (31:34). And then Jacob unloads twenty-years of pent up frustration upon Laban (31:36-42). But the only thing I want us to notice is Genesis 31:42. “If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac [or the one whom my father fears], had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty handed.” There is a word to pay attention to here: father.
The two men then agree to a treaty, a peace treaty. It is really because neither trusts the other (31:43-54). In that treaty, Laban proposes that each swear to uphold the treaty by “The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.” There is a word to pay attention to here: father. The father in view is Terah and he worshiped not the God of the Bible, but gods. It could be that the gods of Laban’s household were the gods that his great-grandfather Terah worshiped. But instead, Jacob swears by the God his father worships and fears (31:53). The God Abraham eventually came to worship and fear.
There is a lot of mention of fathers in this chapter. The heart of Laban’s home were the gods of his fathers. The heart of the home Jacob was returning to, the heart of Isaac’s home was the God Isaac feared and worshiped. And the big idea for us is, what is the heart of your home?
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is seen praying…a lot. And when he taught his disciples to pray, he said to pray like this: Our Father in heaven… Jesus calls his disciples to call God their Father. It is amazing! The heart of a home is filled with those who are able to rightly call God Father! How is it even possible? “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).