17 ¶ Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon camels; 18 And he carried away all his cattle, and all his goods which he had gotten, the cattle of his getting, which he had gotten in Padanaram, for to go to Isaac his father in the land of Canaan. 19 And Laban went to shear his sheep: and Rachel had stolen the images that were her father’s. 20 And Jacob stole away unawares to Laban the Syrian, in that he told him not that he fled. 21 So he fled with all that he had; and he rose up, and passed over the river, and set his face toward the mount Gilead. 22 And it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob was fled. 23 And he took his brethren with him, and pursued after him seven days’ journey; and they overtook him in the mount Gilead. 24 And God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said unto him, Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.
In the last passage we saw that God had kept Laban from doing Jacob harm.
7 And your father hath deceived me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me.
We also saw in Abraham and Isaac’s lives how God had protected them from the power of others to do them harm. Jacob and his family are going to make their escape from Laban on camels, a common conveyance in those days. He drove the sheep he had won for himself and carried all of his goods with him. His intention was to return to Isaac in the land of Canaan. Laban, not aware that his daughters and son-in-law had taken off went to shear his own sheep and did not know for three days that Jacob left. He took off after Jacob’s party with plenty of backup. Laban’s force overtook Jacob’s party at Mount Gilead. But, God came to Laban in a dream, as He had come to Abimelech reported back in chapter 20, and warned him not to harm Jacob. In fact, just leave him alone.
Rachel had stolen Laban’s household gods, little figurines used for worship in this world. See comments on 4:16-18. Remember that there were gods a family worshipped and a god the community worshipped if they lived in a city. Each family had their own gods which represented the worship of ancestors. Living under the government of the family with the father as head, priest, and chief domestic divinities were formed from this ancestor worship for protection and success. They were intensely personal to the family and their theft would have been regarded as a great sin against the father of the family. It is also important to note that after the Flood when these gods were formed it was also possible to believe in a more powerful god, a unifying entity, such as a Zeus or a Baal or even Jehovah God, the LORD of the Bible, creator of all things, as well as your household images.(45) This is what happened and this is part of what Jehovah God was undoing by bringing men back from this idolatry, after the Flood but based in part on the added worship of mighty… men of renown, the giants from whom one can suppose that the famous gods of the ancient world were formed, and ancestors like Noah and Shem.
So, you can see that Rachel had committed a grievous wrong in that world.
(45) Numa Denis Fustel De Coulanges, The Ancient City: A Study of the Religion, Laws, and Institutions of Greece and Rome (1874, repr. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2006), 123.