Jacob realised that the moment had come for him to go home. This decision was based on two factors: one was providence (his brothers-in-law as well as Laban had turned against him) and the other was specific divine guidance to leave (probably through a dream, as described in verse 3). So he decided to obey immediately, a clear sign of Jacob’s devotion to God.
Because he had such clear divine guidance Jacob regarded it as important that his wives should know the bases of his decision. So he detailed to them how God had led him and worked for him in providence as well as giving him specific instructions and comfort (vv. 4-13). They received his information with total agreement and encouraged him to proceed (vv. 14-16). There is an obvious principle here – husbands and wives should share what God tells them and encourage one another to obey God.
Nevertheless Jacob and his wives were not open with Laban, and not surprisingly. They chose to leave when Laban was away. Rachel also stole her father’s idols or gods, which seem to have been manmade objects that depicted God (v. 19). Such objects were later forbidden for the Israelites when God gave to them the Ten Commandments. Laban would have assumed that his property was safe as long as those idols were in his tents. Rachel perhaps assumed that taking them would deprive Laban of such protection, which would explain why she had no intention of giving them back to him (v. 35), and transfer the protection to Jacob. Of course, she was wrong, but sometimes God’s people can act superstitiously! All we have to do is observe how some regard religious furniture in churches.
As expected, Laban was annoyed and pursued after them. God was still protecting Jacob and warned Laban in a dream not to use words to manipulate the situation. Laban took this warning seriously, but still wanted his idols back. He had passed on the ways of deception to Rachel, and she deceived him over his idols. Therefore he lost all that he valued – he had lost the best of the flock to Jacob, his daughters were leaving with Jacob, and his idols had gone too. Laban had discovered that divine providence paid him back with interest!
Jacob used the opportunity to rebuke Laban for his deceitful behaviour. Of course, Jacob had not forgotten his own deceitful practices with Esau, but he had experienced the crucial difference of divine help throughout the two decades he had been with Laban. He speaks about God as one who was with him as he had been with Abraham and Isaac. It is clear that Jacob now knew who he was as well as who God is.
Laban therefore suggested that they make a covenant. Jacob arranged for a pile of stones to be erected and they all ate together at a covenant meal. Jacob called it Mizpah because the pile would remind them that God would always be aware of their commitment to their promises not to harm one another in the future.
The chapter closes with Laban and Jacob going home. Did Laban ever meet Jacob again? They did not meet again in this life, but did they meet in the next? Laban did commit the future into the hands of the God of his forefathers, even if he did not use the name of Isaac. Was that a sign that he believed in the true God? One day we will find out.