14 Then Rachel and Leah answered him, “Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house? 15 Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and he has been using up the money given for us. 16 All the property which God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children; now then, whatever God has said to you, do.”
17 So Jacob arose, and set his sons and his wives on camels; 18 and he drove away all his cattle, all his livestock which he had gained, the cattle in his possession which he had acquired in Paddan-aram, to go to the land of Canaan to his father Isaac. 19 Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father’s household gods. 20 And Jacob outwitted Laban the Arame′an, in that he did not tell him that he intended to flee. 21 He fled with all that he had, and arose and crossed the Euphra′tes, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead.
An interesting question arises of why Rachel stole those idols or images. I normally cite from the Revised Standard Version when making these posts, but I also have a paper copy of the New American Bible which is annotated. It uses the word image instead of idols or gods, and suggests that Rachel might not have stolen them for cultic purposes- that is, as idols to worship. Instead she might have stolen them because they were valuable, perhaps made of silver or gold. Given the complaint by the sisters about losing their inheritance, perhaps that is what really moved Rachel- an attempt to reclaim some of that lost inheritance.
Something else that I find fascinating is how a number of various cultic practices are either allowed or not treated disfavorably in the earlier sections of the OT, but later in the OT are forbidden. The process by which this happens is interesting because it shows a steady progression of God giving instructions to his chosen people on how to purify themselves and become holy. The problem, which has fully manifested by the time of Jesus, is that the focus of the Israelites/Jews moves from being holy to simply scrupulously keeping to the letter of the law. In the early Church this matter is debated intensely, with St. Paul taking the position that the Mosaic practices of Judaism were no longer necessary in so far as “purity” was concerned. As the next passages shows, the Church agreed with him:
22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsab′bas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, 23 with the following letter: “The brethren, both the apostles and the elders, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cili′cia, greeting. 24 Since we have heard that some persons from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, 25 it has seemed good to us in assembly to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”
Here much of the Mosaic law is swept aside for the Gentiles. This is a rather stunning move, when you think about it, because for over a thousand years Judaism had become more and more strict (with the Pharisees being the perfect example of this) with various rules and regulation. The leaders of the Church have realized that what matters is not the letter of the law, but the spirit- holiness. We are called by God to be holy, and thus what we do, and don’t do, should be motivated by that calling, not by a strict series of regulations.
Also important, in my view, is this language:
“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”
The apostles clearly believed that they had the authority to determine rules and conduct for Christians. They had been empowered by Christ to administer and lead the faithful, and could and should exercise spiritual authority. Also, some involved in this decision were not apostles, but elders (presbyters) who had been chosen by the apostles. And there was no question that they too could exercise this authority. Which means that not only did the apostles have authority over the faithful, they could bestow that authority in turn onto others. The letters to Timothy and Titus bear this out and take it a step further, by indicating that both men could also appoint church leaders who could exercise authority. Spiritual authority was not meant to be a one shot deal with the apostles.