Today, I am reading and commenting on Genesis 31-32.
When Laban’s sons, Jacob’s brothers-in-law, began grumbling about Jacob’s wealth, Jacob decided that it was time to return to the land of Canaan. He was very careful to make sure Laban did not find out that he was leaving until he was gone. He chose a time when Laban was away sheering sheep and he called Rachel and Leah out away from the household servants to inform them. We can see that Jacob was justified both in his decision to leave and in doing so secretly by Laban’s reaction to learning he had left. Laban did not just set out in pursuit of Jacob, he gathered a small army to do so.
For all of his flaws, Jacob gave God credit for his success, both when he spoke to his wives about his plan to leave Laban and later when he was confronted by Laban. When Laban managed to catch up with Jacob, he pretended like he would have allowed Jacob to just leave if Jacob had told him that he wanted to do so. However, we know that this is not true because Laban cannot resist threatening Jacob even now by telling him that he could destroy him. Laban stated that the only reason he did not do so was because God had appeared to him the night before warning him against doing so. However, Laban is not willing to just let Jacob go, he wants to extract something from him, so he brings up the household idols which Rachel had stolen. (Those idols will come up again later and give us further insight into the thread about why Abraham left his homeland when they do.) It seems to me that, while I believe that God appeared to Laban in a dream to warn him against harming Jacob, when Laban realized how far he had come he began to have doubts about the wisdom of battling Jacob and his men, perhaps even some of the relatives he had gathered had expressed concern over fighting Jacob, who was also related to them.
I mentioned that the household idols which Rachel had stolen will provide us another insight into why Abraham left his homeland, but there is actually a little bit of a clue in today’s passage as well. When Laban enters into a treaty with Jacob here he calls on the god of their grandfathers, while Jacob calls on the God of his father. The point being that for Laban, God was the god of his grandfather, with whom he had only a passing familiarity, but for Jacob, God was the god of his father, whom he had grown up revering. God is not Laban’s god and while He is not yet Jacob’s god, Jacob is moving in that direction. As Jacob is leaving the camp where he made his treaty with Laban, he meets angels and realizes that God was indeed there when Laban confronted him. Then the night before he meets Esau Jacob wrestled with an angel and became Israel. Israel means either “the one who fights with God” or “the one for whom God fights” (the literal translation is “God fights”, but I think the context makes my two meanings the intended meaning).