22 On the third day Laban was told that Jacob had fled. 23 Taking his relatives with him, he pursued Jacob for seven days and caught up with him in the hill country of Gilead. 24 Then God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream at night and said to him, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.”
25 Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country of Gilead when Laban overtook him, and Laban and his relatives camped there too. 26 Then Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done? You’ve deceived me, and you’ve carried off my daughters like captives in war. 27 Why did you run off secretly and deceive me? Why didn’t you tell me, so I could send you away with joy and singing to the music of timbrels and harps? 28 You didn’t even let me kiss my grandchildren and my daughters goodbye.You have done a foolish thing. 29 I have the power to harm you; but last night the God of your father said to me, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’ 30 Now you have gone off because you longed to return to your father’s household. But why did you steal my gods?”
31 Jacob answered Laban, “I was afraid, because I thought you would take your daughters away from me by force. 32 But if you find anyone who has your gods, that person shall not live. In the presence of our relatives, see for yourself whether there is anything of yours here with me; and if so, take it.” Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the gods.
33 So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two female servants, but he found nothing. After he came out of Leah’s tent, he entered Rachel’s tent. 34 Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them inside her camel’s saddle and was sitting on them. Laban searched through everything in the tent but found nothing.
35 Rachel said to her father, “Don’t be angry, my lord, that I cannot stand up in your presence; I’m having my period.” So he searched but could not find the household gods.
36 Jacob was angry and took Laban to task. “What is my crime?” he asked Laban. “How have I wronged you that you hunt me down? 37 Now that you have searched through all my goods, what have you found that belongs to your household? Put it here in front of your relatives and mine, and let them judge between the two of us.
38 “I have been with you for twenty years now. Your sheep and goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten rams from your flocks. 39 I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself. And you demanded payment from me for whatever was stolen by day or night.40 This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes. 41 It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household. I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times. 42 If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you.”
43 Laban answered Jacob, “The women are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks. All you see is mine. Yet what can I do today about these daughters of mine, or about the children they have borne? 44 Come now, let’s make a covenant, you and I, and let it serve as a witness between us.”
45 So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46 He said to his relatives, “Gather some stones.” So they took stones and piled them in a heap, and they ate there by the heap. 47 Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha, and Jacob called it Galeed.
48 Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” That is why it was called Galeed. 49 It was also called Mizpah, because he said, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other. 50 If you mistreat my daughters or if you take any wives besides my daughters, even though no one is with us, remember that God is a witness between you and me.”
51 Laban also said to Jacob, “Here is this heap, and here is this pillar I have set up between you and me. 52 This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not go past this heap to your side to harm you and that you will not go past this heap and pillar to my side to harm me. 53 May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.”
So Jacob took an oath in the name of the Fear of his father Isaac. 54 He offered a sacrifice there in the hill country and invited his relatives to a meal. After they had eaten, they spent the night there.
55 Early the next morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then he left and returned home.
(Genesis 31:22-55 NIV)
In the first half of Chapter 31, the Lord had blessed Jacob, but the relationship between Jacob and Laban had changed. The Lord informed Jacob that it was time to return to his homeland. While Jacob obeyed the Lord, he did not transition or end well with Laban when he packed up and left without saying a word to Laban.
As we begin the second half of Chapter 31, we see the consequences of Jacob leaving without saying goodbye. Laban was out of town and found out three days after Jacob and family had left. Laban took some family members with him and caught up with Jacob a week after Jacob had left.
When Laban confronted Jacob, Jacob admitted that he had left in fear – afraid that Laban would send him away empty-handed, with no wives, no children, no animals, nothing. Once again, Jacob had acted on his own, and fear was his motivating force. While Laban had mentioned that he would have sent them away with a celebration, he also told Jacob that the women, children, and flocks belonged to him (Laban). While Jacob’s fears may have had validity, Jacob gave no room for the Lord to intervene and change Laban’s heart and mind.
Speaking of change, why did Laban not follow through on his claim on the women, children, and flocks? The Lord had in fact intervened and told Laban to not say anything to Jacob, either good or bad. The Lord was holding up His promise to bless Jacob and prosper him as He sent him back to his homeland.
Laban also accused Jacob of stealing his household gods. Jacob denied taking anything (not knowing that Rachel had indeed stolen them). After Laban searched everywhere except Rachel’s saddle and found nothing, Jacob confronted Laban about his dishonesty and reminded Laban of the way he had treated Laban with integrity, hard work, and honesty, enduring hardship and taking the loss out of his own flock, not Laban’s.
What was Laban’s response? A covenant between himself and Jacob. This was not a peace accord; this was an “I don’t trust you, but I can’t watch over or control you, so may God hold you accountable and harm you if you step out of line” agreement. Jacob agreed to the covenant and set up a pile of stones to commemorate the place.
While Jacob and Laban could have parted ways on a bad note, Jacob chose to reconcile with Laban before he and the other family member departed. Jacob made a sacrifice to the Lord, then served a meal to everyone in attendance. While it was certainly not the fanfare Laban had mentioned, it was at least a goodbye meal, and Laban did bless his daughters and grandchildren before he departed.
As I contemplate this passage, I am reminded of Paul’s words of wisdom regarding relationships, no matter what the current state:
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
(Romans 12:18 NIV)
God chose to reconcile with us; He took the first steps toward us when we were His enemies.
How can we do anything less with those whom we might have a disagreement?
May we, as far as it depends on us, live at peace with those around us.