Verses 1-21: Flee
Jacob was, with God’s providence, ready to leave the presence and influence of Laban with many possessions. Laban’s sons noticed all of the material things Jacob had gained from Laban and were remarking over it. Jacob heard, and Laban knew as well, that even though Jacob received all of these blessings from God, the perception among Laban and his sons was the Jacob had taken these things through dishonesty, trickery, or a combination of the two. The truth was that these were justly received blessings from God. Part of God’s plan for Jacob also was that he return to Isaac and the rest of his family.
God said that he would be with him. Part of the vow that Jacob made at Bethel was about to come true: “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God.”
As Jacob prepares to go back home, he tells Leah and Rachel that the Angel of God spoke to him in a dream, confirming that the blessings of the livestock, etc., were provided to him by the same God that he had prayed to at Bethel. Leah and Rachel agree with Jacob’s plan to leave – they recognize that Laban has given them both to Jacob and that the blessings that Jacob received are right and just blessings from God. They support Jacob in listening to and obeying God. Rachel steals her father’s household idols, presumably not to worship them, but to secure principle heir rights for Jacob, which was accorded to whomever had possession of the household idols. Jacob leaves without telling Laban, as Laban is away shearing his sheep. Jacob heads back to Gilead with his family and his many possessions.
Verses 22-42: Pursuit and accusation
Jacob gets a three day head start before Laban realizes he is gone and gives chase. During the pursuit, God comes to Laban in a dream and says to him, “Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.” Laban finds Jacob in the mountains of Gilead. Laban feels that Jacob has done him wrong, not because Jacob had gotten many of Laban’s possessions, but because Laban was unable to say goodbye to his daughters and grandchildren. Laban feels that he would be justified in harming Jacob, but God coming to him prevented this. Laban’s primary concern, however, perhaps is most evident in his final statement: “but why did you steal my gods?”
Jacob, unaware that Rachel had stolen the idols, said that if Laban could find them, he could kill whoever had them. Laban searched all through the tents, but did not find the idols that Rachel had hidden under a camel saddle that she was sitting on. She did not get up to allow her father to search the saddle because she said that she was menstruating.
When Laban could not find the idols, Jacob became angry with him. Jacob lashes out at Laban, defending his right to leave as abruptly as he did, considering how Laban had treated him during his time there.
Verses 43-55: Agreement
Laban recognizes that his position is weak and proposes peace between him and Jacob. Laban does not want to inflict pain on Jacob, which he knows will in turn also cause his daughters and grandchildren to suffer.
Jacob agrees, and Laban determines and voices the terms of the agreement. Jacob and his family gather and heap up stones, and Jacob and Laban name it “Heap of Witness”, albeit it in different languages: Laban in Aramaic and Jacob in Hebrew. This is meant to underscore their agreement being the same in essence, but their arrival to it is from different perspectives. Laban explains the agreement: “This heap is a witness between you and me this day.” Therefore its name was called Galeed, also Mizpah, because he said, “May the Lord watch between you and me when we are absent one from another. If you afflict my daughters, or if you take other wives besides my daughters, although no man is with us—see, God is witness between you and me!” Laban wants to ensure that Jacob will not mistreat his daughters; he is more than likely concerned with his perception that Jacob had mistreated him, and was not seeing the true picture. Nevertheless, it is good that Laban was able to agree to it with the one true God as witness. We can hope that Laban’s employing God as a witness is due more to a burgeoning faith than a desire to simply bring Jacob into the agreement.
Part of the agreement is also that Jacob will not go beyond the heap to Laban’s geography and likewise Laban would not go beyond the heap to the area where Jacob originated. Jacob sacrificed an offering there, and in the morning, after blessing his relatives, Laban leaves.
This chapter, though long, is not very complicated. Within it we have yet more evidence that God will keep the promises of the covenant He made with Abraham. Jacob is leaving Laban’s clutches in peace and with much more prosperity than he had when he arrived.