Please turn to Genesis 31:22-42. This encounter is a great story in and of itself, but it is important to focus on two things that are set forth very clearly in this passage.  First, an incident occurs which undoubtedly was one of the most unpleasant of Jacob’s life. Jacob clearly feared Laban and the last thing he wanted to see was Laban catching up with him before he had gotten back to his father's land. Thus, we learn that God allows some things to happen so that we can see His hand of providence protecting us. Secondly, Jacob does not know that Rachel has put them in danger by taking her father’s idols. Although Jacob trusts in God's providence with a clean conscience, he does not know just how much he owes to God's providence. This passage can easily be divided into five parts. First, in verses 22-25, Laban pursues Jacob. Next, in verses 26-30, Laban gives a speech when he finally encounters Jacob. Then, in verses 31-32, Jacob responds to Laban’s claims. In verses 33-35, Laban searches for his idols. Finally, in verses 36-42, Jacob gives his scorching reply to Laban and acknowledges God’s providence.      

I. Laban's pursuit. 

In Genesis 31:22-25, we see Laban's pursuit of Jacob. When Laban hears of Jacob's departure, he is furious. Three days after Jacob and his people had departed, Laban finally hears of it. Remember that Laban had separated their flocks because he feared that Jacob would cheat him so he was a long way away. We are told that the journey that Jacob had to make to his homeland was about 360 miles. With his flocks being driven before him, it would have taken him approximately forty days to make the journey. Knowing that it is going to take a while for Jacob to make the journey back to his homeland, Laban puts his own issues in order by gathering his kinsmen and preparing for the ride. Laban finally encounters Jacob at Gilead after seven days of traveling, and he camps nearby. 

During the night, God appeared to Laban in a dream, and He warns him not to deter or harm Jacob. Specifically, God says, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad” in verse 24. God is telling Laban not to entice Jacob or to threaten him because the Lord intends for Jacob to return to his own land. Sometimes we ask the question, “Why is God letting us go through this thing?” There are different answers to that question on different occasions, and we do not always know the answers to that question in this life. But in this case, it is important to realize that Jacob would never have known how God protected him from Laban had his father-in-law not caught up to him and told him of the dream that God had given to him. God, by allowing this unpleasant exchange with Laban, was also allowing Jacob to see how He had intervened for him yet once more.

II. Laban's speech to Jacob. 

In Genesis 31:26-30, Laban gives a contradictory speech to Jacob. When Laban finally confronts Jacob, his options are limited. He cannot threaten, coax, or harm him. However, notice the four things that he says in confronting Jacob. First, in verse 26, he accuses Jacob of deception. Specifically, Laban says, “What have you done, that you have tricked me and driven away my daughters like captives of the sword?” Secondly, Laban accuses Jacob of foolishness. In verses 27-28, he claims that he would have given him a big party if he had just told him that he was going to leave. In fact, he kind of goes into the doting grandfather mode, and he says that he just wanted to kiss his daughters and grandchildren goodbye. But remember, this is the same man whose daughters had said that they felt as if their father had treated them like a stranger. Then, with the heartstring tugging approach not working, Laban threatens Jacob by saying, “It is in my power to do you harm” in verse 29. By threatening Jacob, Laban actually confirms the wisdom of Jacob's secret departure. Finally, he accuses Jacob of stealing his household gods in verse 30 when Laban says, “And now you have gone away because you longed greatly for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods?” Notice the irony here. Laban worships gods that can be stolen. Thankfully, our God is not a god who can be stolen.  


III. Jacob's response to Laban’s claims. 

In Genesis 31:31-32, Jacob explains his reasons, he protests his innocence, and then, he actually offers the death penalty to anybody who stole the gods. Jacob tells Laban to search all of his tents, and anything that he finds in those tents that belongs to him is his to take back. But the tension of the story is increased by the fact that Jacob does not know that Rachel is the one who has stolen the idols. 

IV. Rachel deceives Laban. 

In Genesis 31:33-35, Laban begins to go through Jacob's tent, Leah's tent, the two female servants’ tent, and finally, through Rachel’s tent. In response, Rachel protects the idols by  deception. In fact, she is willing to protect these idols at the potential cost of her life, showing us how deeply ingrained into her life was the sin of idolatry. However, Laban still comes up empty handed. This outcome is a great irony. Laban, the master deceiver, is finally deceived by his daughter who had learned well from her father. 


V. Jacob’s reply and acknowledgement of God’s providence.

In Genesis 31:36-42, Jacob uncorks twenty years of frustration in response to his father-in-law. First, in verses 36-37, Jacob indicates that he is not a thief and later acknowledges in the passage that all of his possessions could only be attributed to what God gave him. However, he did not  know what Rachel had taken. So he says with a clear conscience, but ignorantly, that none of his household has taken anything from Laban. Secondly, in verses 38-40, he indicates that he has been a good shepherd serving Laban well beyond what was required by the contracts of the time. Thirdly, in verse 41, he protests that Laban has been extremely unfair by changing his wages ten times. Finally, in verse 42, Jacob makes it clear that he is keenly aware that only God's providence has prospered him and protected him. We do not know why God does certain things in our lives, but God, in His providence as a wise and loving parent, has His reasons. Even when we have a little bit of a glimpse of just how well taken care of we are, we never really have a clue just how far God goes to protect us. May God enable us to trust in His wise and fatherly providence more because we can never out trust His provision of providence.