31 25 Laban caught up with Jacob. Jacob had pitched his tent in the mountains. Laban and his kin also pitched theirs in the heights of Gilead. 26 Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done? You have deceived me and led my daughters as if they were captives of the sword. 27 Why did you secretly flee, deceiving me, and not tell me? I would’ve sent you off with joy and festive songs, drum and lyre. 28 You did not even let me kiss my grandchildren and my daughters. Now you have played the fool! 29 My hand has the power to punish you, but the God of your father told me yesterday, ‘Watch out! Don’t say anything to Jacob, anything at all.’ 30 You had to go because you longed for your father’s house so much, but why did you steal my gods?”
31 Jacob responded to Laban, “I was afraid and said to myself that you would rob me of your daughters. 32 With whomever you find with your gods, they shall not live. In front of your brothers, Identify whatever I have that is yours and take it.” Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them. 33 Laban came into Jacob’s tent, Leah’s tent, and her two servants’ tent, but he found nothing.
He left Leah’s tent and went into Rachel’s tent. 34 Now Rachel had taken the god’s of the house and put them in the camel’s cushion and sat on them. Laban felt around in the whole tent and found nothing. 35 Rachel said to her father, “Let my lord not be angry with me that I am not able to rise, for the way of women is upon me.” He searched but could not find his household gods.
Somehow a slow train and a fast train meet at a borderline between their respective terminals. With their groups encamped against one another, Laban and Jacob face off over an issue of the heart rather than the expected one of property—the perceived value of the location of well-being. In a religious parallel, the presence of “my god(s).”
In good bargaining fashion, Laban begins with a lack of a proper goodbye. Laban even includes his dream warning to say nothing to Jacob. The loss of family, of tribe, is even more serious than the issues of the economy and must be addressed. Laban recognizes the call of Jacob’s clan, his ancestors. Only after this does the matter of his g/Gods rise to the forefront.
Jacob responds to the acknowledgment of the pull of his family. He also explains their flight based on Laban’s previous duplicity regarding Leah and Rachel—his fear of being cheated out of both of them, as well as his sons. For Jacob, he is just leaving with what he considers his, nothing less and nothing more.
The god question is of no import to Jacob. Little does he know that Rachel, his lovely Rachel, is at risk of death by his very hand should the household gods be found with her.
Laban proceeds to search the tents of Jacob, Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah. This leaves a dramatic inspection of the tent of Rachel who has the gods in question. Knowing what was coming, Rachel hid them in a comfortable cushion and sat upon it. Before being asked to stand, Rachel claimed she needed to remain seated here because her menses were flowing. What had once been an embarrassment because it meant she was not pregnant, has now become a source of safety and protection. Rachel is saved by an appeal to a patriarchal taboo of the mystery of the way of women.
Laban presumably went on to search outside the tents, among the flocks, camels, and slaves. His quest comes up empty.