Rachel and the Household Idols (Genesis 31:19)

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After Jacob, Leah, and Rachel decide to leave Laban’s house, the only question that remains is when.

The cynic in us would say that they should just leave whenever. They’re all adults, after all, and Jacob is a much wealthier person than he was when he first arrived. Genesis 30:42-43 states that Jacob had become “exceedingly prosperous” with “stronger livestock” than Laban.

There also wasn’t the matter of saying goodbye — a fact that Laban brings up in Genesis 31:27. In everyone’s mind, it was time to go.

However, for Rachel, there is one small task that has to be performed before they go: taking her father’s household idols. Genesis 31:19 states she stole them while Laban was out sheering his flock.

Two questions arise from this brief event. First, what kind of idols were they, and second, why did Rachel feel the need to steal them?

To answer the first, no one is really sure what kind of idols Rachel actually stole. Some postulate that they were ancestral idols that were basically mini-figurines of long-dead ancestors. That’s not a far off concept; centuries later, wealthy Romans filled their homes with these types of statues. 

Conversely, these idols could be exactly what it says: idols. If so, that leads us to our second question: Why did Rachel want them? 

Again, there’s no clear consensus, but two dominant positions emerge. Some argue that Rachel was taking them to send a message to her father. “Jehovah is God, not these idols,” she could argue. After all, part of the reason for her departure is the belief in the God who has blessed her husband (Genesis 31:9-16).

On the other hand, Rachel could’ve taken these gods because she wanted to continue to serve them. This represents a devious side to Rachel that is clearly in keeping with the attitude of Lot’s wife. Just as she couldn’t bear to leave Sodom and Gomorrah without one more glance, so Rachel couldn’t leave her home with out suffering the same type of temptation.

Moreover, some believe that taking the household gods was a way of securing a family’s inheritance, like stealing the deed to a house. If that’s the case, then the whole story creates a bizarre parallel between the two individual lives of Jacob and Rachel

If you remember, Jacob was the youngest of two brothers. He also deceived his father, stole the birthright, and fled from Isaac’s sight.

Now, Rachel has done the same. She is also the younger of two sisters, she has also deceived her father, “stole” the inheritance (if stealing the idols was indeed a play for the inheritance) and fled from his presence.

Unfortunately, we don’t know why Rachel stole the idols, or even what kind of idols they were. What we do know is that these idols were important to her. They were one last link to her past that she probably should’ve severed, along with her sister and Jacob.