Laban Makes a Covenant with Jacob
"And Laban was told on the third day that Jacob had fled. Then he took his brethren with him and pursued him for seven days' journey, and he overtook him in the mountains of Gilead. But God had come to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said to him, 'Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad'" (Gen. 31:22-24). Jacob would not have been able to move very quickly with such a large entourage. It took a while for Laban to catch up to him, after learning of Jacob's departure. Likely Laban is very angry about the situation, though Jacob has not wronged him. God warned Laban not to speak either good or bad to Jacob. This divine warning is intriguing. God had great plans for the patriarch and his family, so it is easy to see why God instructed Laban not to speak "bad" to Jacob, but what would have been wrong with speaking "good" to his son-in-law? Perhaps the idea is that Laban was not to try to lure Jacob back with kind words and promises. God wanted Jacob to return to Canaan, and Laban was not to interfere with that in a positive or negative way.

Once Laban overtook Jacob, he asked - "What have you done, that you have stolen away unknown to me, and carried away my daughters like captives taken with the sword? Why did you flee away secretly, and steal away from me, and not tell me; for I might have sent you away with joy and songs, with timbrel and harp? And you did not allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters. Now you have done foolishly in so doing" (Gen. 31:26-28). Laban takes the hurt-feelings approach with Jacob. He likely would have been more forceful had God not commanded him not to do so. The party Laban speaks of would have been very unlikely due to Laban's feelings toward Jacob, but Laban is trying to paint himself as a victim here. Had Jacob told Laban ahead of time that he was going to leave, Jacob's fears were more likely to come true; that is, Laban taking his daughters back by force. Such was another reason for leaving quietly.

Laban can understand why Jacob would desire to return to his father's house, but he cannot comprehend why Jacob would steal his idols from him. Jacob replied - "'With whomever you find your gods, do not let him live. In the presence of our brethren, identify what I have of yours and take it with you.' For Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them" (Gen. 31:32). Laban proceeded to make a search of each tent. He would have found the idols, no doubt, had Rachel not hidden them in a camel's saddle and sat down upon it, refusing to get up while claiming to be having her period.

Laban, not being able to find a single item that had been stolen, is then verbally attacked by an angry Jacob:

"What is my trespass? What is my sin, that you have so hotly pursued me? Although you have searched all my things, what part of your household things have you found? Set it here before my brethren and your brethren, that they may judge between us both! These twenty years I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried their young, and I have not eaten the rams of your flock. That which was torn by beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it. You required it from my hand, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. There I was! In the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night, and my sleep departed from my eyes. Thus I have been in your house twenty years; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times. Unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked you last night" (Gen. 31:36-42).

Based upon Laban's response, I think Jacob knew Laban quite well! "And Laban answered and said to Jacob, 'These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and this flock is my flock; all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day to these my daughters or to their children whom they have borne?" (Gen. 31:43). After 20 years, Laban still views everything that belongs to Jacob as his! Laban is both greedy and self-centered. Surely he would have harmed Jacob in some way had God not intervened.

The chapter closes with the two men agreeing to make a covenant between them. They agreed not to pass beyond that place to one another with the intent to harm the other (cf. 31:52). Jacob proceeded to offer a sacrifice, and Laban said goodbye to his daughters and grandchildren the next morning and then returned to his own home.