After two chapters of a silly farce that seemed to go nowhere, the story takes a dramatic turn. Astonishing that the suspense grips you across centuries of translations, redactions, and revisions.
God appears in this chapter via a dream to Laban:
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.”
I’m pulled into the story and see the confrontation between Jacob and Laban. Laban manipulating Jacob and Jacob defending himself.
The gods that Rachel steals on their way out are statues that Laban keeps to represent his household gods. Stealing the statues of a city’s gods was an act of conquest in Mesopotamia, a symbol of humiliation and defeat.
Jacob’s dress down after Laban ransacks his camp looking for the stolen gods is riveting:
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.”
Another fascinating part is Jacob setting up a stone as a pillar and having his party gather stones in a heap. They are creating a standing stone and a cairn, have a feast beside it, and use it to remember their treaty and to server as a boundary marker. These are Bronze Age shepherds and this is the first place I’ve seen where they’re carrying on a stone age tradition. It makes you think, how many of the cairns and standing stone scattered around the Middle East, Europe, and Scandinavia mark the site of a treaty between two warlords and are their boundary markers.
The Biblical place name Gilead means literally “heap of testimony/evidence” as does its Aramaic translation. In modern Hebrew, gal-‘ed is the actual word for “cairn”.
Gilead, where their confrontation takes, is the hill region east of the Jordan River in modern-day Jordan.
It is moving that God is in the background in this whole episode. Man is definitely getting deeper into their drama.
We never find out what happened to Laban’s stolen gods.