As Genesis 31 opens, Jacob has been living in a foreign and hostile land for twenty years, outside the land that he was promised by God. He was driven out of this land in Genesis 28 after he had stolen the blessing meant for Esau, his elder brother. He fled to Paddan-aram, where his uncle Laban lived. There he stayed and worked for Laban and married his daughters, Leah and Rachel. Yet throughout these years, Laban took advantage of Jacob and dealt with him dishonorably.

Here in Genesis 31 Jacob finally decides to leave Laban after the Lord instructs him to return back home to the promised land (Gen. 31:3). So Jacob and his family leave, in obedience to the Lord, taking with them all the livestock and property that he received as payment for all the years he worked for Laban, as Genesis 30 explains. But in Genesis 31:19 there is a seemingly throwaway line that reads, “And Rachel stole her father’s household gods.”

Looking closer, this line is indeed a shocking revelation. Rachel, the God-fearing wife of Jacob, clinging to household gods—how can this be? Has not God been faithful to Jacob and his family, by making a way for them to return to the promised land? And now, Jacob’s wife steals her father’s household gods. Something seems amiss.

What are these “household gods”? They were idols used in pagan worship, most probably little statues depicting the dead ancestors of the family. They were used to communicate with the dead through the practice of divination. They were also worshiped, venerated, and prayed to for guidance, almost like good luck charms.

We know that the law of Moses explicitly forbids the practice of divination (Deut. 18:10–11). Moreover, the first commandment forbids the worship of any other god besides the true and living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

So we see first that Laban is a pagan, a polytheist—a worshiper of many gods—for these idols belong to him. Second, perhaps more shockingly, we see that Rachel, a follower of the true God of Jacob, takes these idols for herself. One logical conclusion is that she wanted to worship them.

Trust in Him who is able to turn a heart divided and polluted with idolatry into a heart that is forgiven, cleansed, and set firmly on Christ the Savior.

This action reveals the duplicity of the human heart. Our sinful bent is to worship other gods rather than the true God. John Calvin famously stated that the human heart is an idol factory. While we may not all worship little statues today, idolatry is still very much a great temptation. Idols also include anything in your life that takes the rightful place of God. These things could even be positive in and of themselves for instance, relationships, personal happiness, a job, hobby, or a sport. But if your allegiance to them interferes with your allegiance to God, they have become an idol. Perhaps you miss church because you need to play in a sporting event. Or maybe you choose your personal happiness over the pursuit of holiness and obedience to the Lord. Whenever you choose to worship anything in creation over the Creator, you have committed idolatry and, as Romans 1:25 says, “exchanged the truth about God for a lie.”

We see the hold these idols had over both Laban and Rachel. Laban decides to chase Jacob and his family as they returned home. Remember that Jacob left Laban abruptly, with much of his livestock and without having had the chance to bid farewell to his family. Yet when Laban catches up to Jacob, the thing he is most upset about is not his missing flocks or his relations leaving him. Instead, he is furious that his idols are missing, showing how much they had captured his heart. Rachel, who stole them, does all that she can to successfully hide them from her father by sitting on them on her camel, showing how much she really desires them.

This is precisely the power of idolatry. Once we are hooked to an idol, we will do anything to serve it. But what idolatry really betrays is our lack of faith, and this lies at the heart of sin. It essentially reveals that in our heart we don’t trust the Lord to provide for us, to fulfill our needs and to satisfy us. Instead, we fall for the lie of the idol that it will satisfy us and fulfill our deepest longings.

Of course, idols can do no such thing. They offer only empty promises, and those who trust in them will be put to shame. That’s why the Bible warns us emphatically about the futility of idolatry. Psalm 115:4–9 says:

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. O Israel, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield.

Herein lies the antidote to idolatry, to a divided heart: trust in the Lord! He is our help and shield. Unlike the dead, useless, and lifeless idols, our God is alive. He hears our prayers, sees us, sustains us, satisfies us, knows us, loves us, and speaks to us through His Word.

Not only is our God alive, but He also has drawn near to us whose hearts tend toward idolatry. In the fullness of time, God sent to earth His Son Jesus Christ, who took on flesh and was made man, God with us, our Immanuel. Jesus paid the price for our idolatry and all our sin by dying on the cross in our place. God raised Him to life on the third day, forgiving sins and reconciling a sinful and idolatrous people to Himself. Trust in Him who is able to turn a heart divided and polluted with idolatry into a heart that is forgiven, cleansed, and set firmly on Christ the Savior.

Redemptive Judgment

Love Is Patient