Did Rachel Steal Her Father’s… Gods?

human skeletal remains; religious/ritual equipment | British Museum

Once upon a time in the Ancient Near East–going way, way back–people used to use human skulls or mummified heads as objects of worship. The Gauls in Western Europe did the same, and the ancient Irish might have. The picture above shows how these skulls were preserved and decorated.

In Genesis 31, as Jacob finally terminates his long servitude to Laban, his wife Rachel, unbeknownst to him, steals her father’s “gods.” The Hebrew word in the Bible is teraphim–an ancient word whose meaning has grown obscure over the centuries. It might be pagan idols. It might mean images of God Himself–which of course you’re not supposed to have, but there’s some evidence that Israelites sometimes broke the law in that regard. It might refer to some kind of wartime or political trophy.

Teraphim were often made of gold or silver, so they’d be valuable objects. They must have come in many sizes. The ones Rachel stole were small enough to be hidden in a rolled-up camel blanket. In I Samuel, when Saul tries to have David murdered in his bed, David’s wife Michal fools the assassins by hiding a teraphim under the covers and saying it’s David. (David, of course, came hundreds of years after Jacob: whatever they did with teraphim, it was a persistent custom.) And the “image” in Chapter 18 of Judges was made out of a woman’s life savings in silver.

We don’t believe in idols nowadays. We have Smartphones. We wouldn’t dream of worshiping idols. We have celebrities.

It shouldn’t surprise us when the Bible shows that God’s people, just like everybody else, have a perpetual temptation to worship other gods than God, even the work of their own hands, the creations of their own minds.

I wonder what He sees in us.

But He sent His only begotten Son to be our savior, so He must see what we can’t see.


4 comments on “Did Rachel Steal Her Father’s… Gods?

  1. Your last two sentences remind me of the hymn “Too Close to the Mirror,” and also of something Chesterton once said: It’s easy to understand why we’d want to spend eternity with God, but why God would want to spend eternity with us is truly a mystery.

  2. It’s important to remember that they were only under the law given to Noah. Genesis 9:1 Then God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. 2 The fear of you and the terror of you will be on every animal of the earth and on every bird of the sky; on everything that crawls on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea. They are handed over to you. 3 Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I have given everything to you, as I gave the green plant. 4 But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. 5 I certainly will require your lifeblood; from every animal I will require it. And from every person, from every man as his brother I will require the life of a person.

    6 Whoever sheds human blood,
    By man his blood shall be shed,
    For in the image of God
    He made mankind.
    7 As for you, be fruitful and multiply;
    Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.”

    As amazing as it is, they had no law against idolatry, until the Law of Moses. I’m sure that God was not pleased by idol worship, but many among mankind, even then, knew that there was One God above all others that had created the world and all that was in it. After the Fall, and the wickedness of the pre-Flood world, God had a long path to bring mankind back to some sort of sense. Apparently, at least by tradition, Abram at least realized that idols were nothing, and acted accordingly.

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