After Jacob has broached the subject of departing from Laban’s household and service and received the initial response from his wives, those wives continued on to say “He not only sold us, but completely wasted the money paid for us!” (Genesis 31:15b). Reinforcing the idea of their father’s diminished standing (and honor), they add “Surely all the wealth that God snatched away from our father,” as they echo the words of Jacob (that were an echo of the words of Laban’s sons), “belongs to us and to our children. So now do everything God has told you” (31:16).
Here, Jacob, realizes his plight and comes to himself, while his wives have confirmed his thinking. In response, “Jacob immediately put his children and his wives on the camels. He took away all the livestock he had acquired in Paddan Aram and all his moveable property that he had accumulated. Then he set out toward the land of his Canaan to return to his father Isaac” (31:17-18). One problem still loomed large, which was how he was going to deal with his aggrieved brother. Undeniably, if he had shamed his uncle Laban, then he had also shamed his brother through his deceptive act. Indeed, if he had shamed his brother, had he not also shamed his father and his entire family, for was he not guilty of defrauding his father as well? This appears to be a larger problem than it has traditionally been presumed to be.
As one begins to examine Jacob’s return trek to Canaan, bearing in mind the dishonoring of both his father and brother that took place many years earlier (he will have to deal with this, and of course it is on his mind), one must also bear in mind that Genesis and Exodus (and the whole of the first five books of the Bible as presented) constitute a continuous narrative. Just as it is impossible for to understand Jesus apart from some level of comprehension of second Temple Judaism, it is impossible to understand what is going on in Exodus apart from an understanding of Genesis.
At the same time, the reader of Scripture is in the position, along with those that would have heard or read the Genesis and Exodus narratives together as the story of how Israel came to be a people, of allowing Exodus to inform a more thorough understanding of Genesis. Learning to take in the entire narrative in a way that will dictate the way that the entirety of the narrative is consumed will allow for a more complete comprehension of the movement of Scripture, and subsequently an improved comprehension (and service of) the Creator God that is therein revealed.
Why make mention of this here? It is because of what can be found in association with the story of Jacob’s departure from Laban. In verse nineteen of the thirty-first chapter, it is reported that “While Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole the household idols that belonged to her father” (31:19). The passage then turns immediately back to Jacob, saying “He left with all he owned” (31:21a). This is an interesting interlude, as it has already been reported Jacob had gathered up all of his property and had “set out toward the land of Canaan to return to his father Isaac” (31:18b). So, with the inclusion of the story about the stealing of the household idols---a story that will play out in short order, though it does not seem to have much ultimate bearing on the story going forward, one has to wonder why it is mentioned.
On the surface, together with the fact that “Jacob also deceived Laban by not telling him that he was leaving” (31:20), it provides the pretense for what comes next, when the story records that “Three days later Laban discovered Jacob had left. So he took his relatives with him and pursued Jacob for seven days” (31:22-23a). When Laban catches up with Jacob, he protests this treatment by Jacob (remembering the conflict and contest of honor and shame) and concludes his protest with “Yet why did you steal my gods?” (31:30b). Obviously, all of this serves a greater purpose. How would this story be heard by a post-exodus Israel? Naturally, they would hear their own exodus story in the tale of Jacob’s departure from Canaan, his time spent in labor, his departure from Laban to return to his homeland, the taking of the household gods, and Laban’s pursuit.