When Jacob flees from Laban, Rachel steals his household gods.

When Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father’s household gods. Genesis 31:19 (NIV)

Jacob seems pretty serious about the household gods too.

But if you find anyone who has your gods, that person shall not live. In the presence of our relatives, see for yourself whether there is anything of yours here with me; and if so, take it.” Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the gods. Genesis 31:32 (NIV)

What are they talking about? Are these idols?

  • The Book of Jasher, Ch 31, explains the story and the nature of the "images" perfectly.
    – user6252
    Nov 8, 2014 at 14:56
  • The Book of Jasher is lost and unknown, though there appear to be at least two forgeries. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Jasher_(Pseudo-Jasher)
    – Schuh
    May 21, 2015 at 17:29
  • @ Styfle - The most accurate answer, and to the point, is given by Christiana. The "gods" (idols, teraphim, etc.) were used to determine the inheritance rights of the clan. Whoever possessed them were the rightful heirs. This explained the anger of Laban (and his sons) who would loose rights.
    – ray grant
    Jan 27 at 23:49

10 Answers 10


The original word translated here as "household gods" is Teraphim, a Hebrew plural which may have actually referred to a singular object. (Hebrew is weird like that, sometimes using plural forms for singular things as a way to indicate greatness. Many people interpret Elohim this way, for example.) The word is used in various places throughout the Old Testament, always referring to some object of worship.

In other words, yes, they were idols. However, they seem to be frequently connected with Jehovah-worship, which implies that the use of Teraphim was not so much the worship of false gods as the worship of the true God in an incorrect manner.

  • 1
    What is the evidence for the claim that teraphim are idols? The link to Wikipedia provides this, "[I]n many English translations of the Bible it is translated as idols, or household god(s), though its exact meaning is more specific than this, but unknown precisely." Your answer is either incomplete or unsupported.
    – Schuh
    May 19, 2015 at 2:13
  • The concept you mention in parenthesis is not uncommon in other languages. It is called pluralis majestatis. In the Tanakh, discerning when pluralis majestatis is being utilized or not is very tricky and can lead to vastly different interpretations of a speaker's intentions. Aug 26, 2020 at 14:39
  • Oh, by the way, I could not find an instance of one being used for veneration. Rather they seem to be associated with divination specifically. Please provide a source to justify your claim of worship or correct your answer. Aug 26, 2020 at 14:46

The verses say this:

Genesis 31: 30 Now you have indeed gone away because you longed greatly for your father’s house; but why did you steal my gods?” 31 Then Jacob replied to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force. 32 The one with whom you find your gods shall not live; in the presence of our kinsmen point out what is yours among my belongings and take it for yourself.” For Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them. (NASB)

To answer your question, yes they are talking about idols. Jacob is serious because whether these are idols or not, it is another man's property (probably made out of gold or silver or something precious), and Jacob, being a man of honor, was not in favor of stealing.

Since he didn't know that Rachel had stolen the idols, he is basically angry at the accusation that anyone from his house would steal the property of Laban.

That's what I think is going on.

  • 2
    The Hebrew word translated as 'gods' in Gen.31:30 -- which this answer appears to equate with teraphim and 'idols' -- is 'elohiym, which is usually rendered 'God'. This answer would be strengthened with the addition of evidence for its claim that teraphim are idols.
    – Schuh
    May 19, 2015 at 2:22
  • @Schuh It is probably not pluralis majestatis because "gə-nā-ḇā-ṯam" ("had stolen them") in 31:32 is either masculine plural or feminine singular. The latter option doesn't conform to the Hebrew pattern of divorcing Asherah from El. Thus, the "’ĕ-lō-hāy" in 31:30 is the plural, "deities." Aug 26, 2020 at 15:00

The Jewish Virtual Library says in reference to the Nuzi tablets:

Rachel's theft of her father Laban's household gods (Genesis 31:19) may be explained by the idea that possession of household gods could be part of a legal title to the paternal estate.

And in the case of a married daughter, it gave her husband the claim to her father's property (C.H. Gordon, Revue Biblique, p. 35f).

Because Laban now had sons of his own who alone had the right to their father's god's, Rachel's theft was a serious offense.

Looks like the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree.

  • Interesting find. (And no. The apple does not fall far from the tree. ;-) Nov 27, 2012 at 23:39
  • @ Christiana - This is the most correct Answer! I recall the same understanding from my research long ago (so I can't give a resource now). He (or she) who had the family idols (teraphim) had the inheritance rights. Crafty Rachel understood this--and had seen the corrupt commercial practices of her dad against Jacob--so she just did a one-up on her dad. Keep contributing, and studying the Bible; it's great for the soul!
    – ray grant
    Jan 27 at 23:38

Teraphim: more than mere ‘idols’

The most that can be said with certainty is that teraphim were cultic objects, distinguished in Hebrew vocabulary from carved and molded idols, of significant value and meaning in Israelite religion and lore. They were probably made in human form to represent a household god or deceased ancestors. Like the more familiar Urim and Thummin – also associated with the priestly ephod vestment – teraphim were likely used for divination, specifically cleromancy or necromancy.1

Teraphim figure in three Hebrew Bible stories:

  1. Genesis 31: Rachel secretly stole her father’s small teraphim, which she hid in her camel saddle, when Jacob and his family snuck from Laban’s home to return to Canaan. Laban pursued them and asked why they had stolen ‘my elohim’, his god(s) or spirit(s).
  2. Judges 17-18: The Ephraimite Micah had a shrine dedicated to Yahweh in his house in which he placed a graven image (פֶּסֶל, pecel) and molded image (מַסֵּכָה, maccekah). He then made a teraphim and ephod and installed his son, and later a Levite, as priest in this shrine. Micah’s cultic objects and his priest were stolen by Danite tribesmen on their way to La’ish. Micah pursued them and asked why they had stolen ‘my elohim’, but they outnumbered him. The Danites conquered La’ish and installed Micah’s cult objects and priest, now identified as a grandson of Moses, in their city of Dan.
  3. 1 Samuel 19:8-17: Michal helped her husband, David, escape her father, King Saul, by telling the king’s guards that the teraphim – which she had put in her bed and covered with clothes and goat’s hair – was actually David, thus buying time for his escape.

Teraphim were also associated with divination in passing references by the prophets Samuel (1Sa.15:23), Ezekiel (Eze.21:21), and Zechariah (Zec.10:2), and were connected with the ephod and ‘sacred pillar’ by Hosea (Hos.3:4). They were also destroyed with necromancers and their idol pillars (גִּלּוּל, gilluwl) during the religious reforms of King Josiah in Judah.

Several etymologies of the Hebrew word itself have been offered, but none have gained scholarly consensus.2 The typical translation of ‘idol’ is plainly inadequate, teraphim being somehow distinct from the many other Hebrew words for ‘idol’, often in the same sentence. Because of its frequent association with the ephod and divination, teraphim were thought by McClintock and Strong to be “unauthorized substitutes for the Urim”. They continue:3

The inference is strengthened by the fact that the [Septuagint] uses here, instead of teraphim, the same word (δήλων) which it usually gives for Urim. That the teraphim were thus used through the whole history of Israel may be inferred from their frequent occurrence in conjunction with other forms of divination. .... The obnoxious name Teraphim was dropped. The thing itself was retained. The very name Urim was, [Spencer] argued, identical in meaning with Teraphim (Urim = “lights, fires;” Seraphim = “the burning,or fiery ones;” and Teraphim is but the same word, with an Aramaic substitution of ה for שִׂ).

This explanation suggests a development in the meaning of the word, if not the use of the object itself. More recent scholarship has similarly focused on the teraphim’s frequent association with necromancy, positing teraphim may have been simple ancestor figurines later given cultic purpose.

As Christopher Hays summarizes, “There is reason to think that the teraphim were once an accepted part of Israelite family religion” and only later “came to be condemned by representatives of Yahwism.”4 Whatever their exact use, teraphim were certainly more than mere idols.

1. For a full review of the scholarship, see B.D. Cox and S. Ackerman, "Micah’s Teraphim", Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, vol.12, art.11.

2. T. Desmond Alexander, David W. Bake (eds), Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, IVP: 2003; p.440.

3. John McClintock, James Strong, Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature, v.19, p.677 (Harper, 1894).

4. Christopher B. Hays, Death in the Iron Age II and in First Isaiah, (Mohr Siebeck, 2001); p.174.

  • Your answer corroborates what I could tell from its contextual usage and goes further. Good research (though this SE cares more for popular belief than good scholarship). I will also add that I find the substitution of ה for שִׂ dubious. More likely they were similar, but subtly different; they were known to use rhyme for concepts that are tied together and similar, but subtly different (e.g., tohu wa bohu). Aug 26, 2020 at 15:14

Oft times in my studies, I find it beneficial to realize the truth that the nature of mankind has been relatively constant through the ages, especially when it comes to security, financial and otherwise.

Perhaps a key motive for Rachel's theft was more mercenary than spiritual. Take note of the following First Testament passages, noting especially the physical nature of the 'gods':

The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire: thou shalt not desire the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it unto thee, lest thou be snared therein: for it is an abomination to the LORD thy God. —Deuteronomy 7:25 (KJV)

Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. —1 King 12:28 (KJV)

They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone. —Daniel 5:4 (KJV)

Essentially, there were no "banks", nor coins. Payment was made by weight of silver or gold.

And Abraham hearkened unto Ephron; and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the audience of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant. —Genesis 23:16 (KJV)

Thus, when one became wealthy, and desired to safeguard these irregular chunks of metal from thieves even of their own household, it was expedient to take them to the metal caster and have them molded into an homogeneous mass, which could easily be identified. Thus these "god" often represented the results of a lifetime of labor to the owner.

There are, of course, many references to these molten images throughout the Word.

Specifically, in the Deuteronomy reference above, it is apparent that the precious metals on these idols would become a snare: the images themselves were burnt into ashes, so that was not the "snare". Their precious metals were the snare, as the Word says.

The precious metals were the money of that day. Now, in Laban's case, He was both greedy and dishonest, as can be seen from his treatment of Jacob. His household gods most probably contained the majority of his old age pension, as well as the inheritance to be passed to his sons.

Although it was customary to provide his daughters with a dowry, he did not do so. Rachel perhaps took it upon herself to steal the dowry which she thought rightfully hers.

Jacob recognized that the thief was worthy of death. Not because the 'gods' were in any way special except for their monetary value.

It is so today with ones life savings, is it not? Too often money is more highly thought of than any mere works. People will do all they can to preserve their wealth, since it is often the most precious thing in their lives. Yes, many worship money as their god. It is as the Word says: the love of money is the root of all evil.

Likewise, The more things change, the more they are the same.

  • You see commonality in your quoted passages because you are using an English translation (and one of the poorer ones at that). If you read the original Hebrew you will see that "carved figure" (פְּסִילֵ֥י—pə-sî-lê), "moulded figure" (מַסֵּכָה—mas-say-kaw'), and "divinitory figure" (תְּרָפִים—ter-aw-feme') are different words not well distinguished in English (as I have done in this comment) Aug 26, 2020 at 15:25

From my point of view, these household gods really stands for the smaller gods and the worship of idols, but yet the Almighty God was with these family because of Jacob. Jacob did not know about these gods, but worshiped the God of his grandfather Abraham, and his father Isaac.

Remember, God told Abraham to leave his people to a land that he will give to his many descendants in Genesis Ch 12 vs 1 to 2. Because, Abraham was a God fearing person who did not do what the other people were doing, and avoided the worship of smaller gods. Also remember that, Laban said in Genesis Ch 31 vs 29 that, (I have the power to do you harm, but last night the God of your father warned me not to threaten you in any way). Laban was aware of the kind of god he was worshiping.


I also went to the book of Jasher for answers about this. Recall that the Bible says that Laban told Jacob: "I have learned by divination that I have been blessed by God through you." (Genesis 30:27) This was after Jacob had worked his second set of seven years and told Laban he wanted to leave, at which Laban asked him to stay, and to name his wages.

After the next six years, both the Bible and the book of Jasher state that Jacob noticed that his uncle and his sons were treating him differently. (Genesis 31:2) It almost seems as if he felt threatened. At that point, the LORD told Jacob to pack up and leave and return to Canaan to be near his father's family. (Gen. 31:3) Both books state that Rachel stole her father's "household gods". (Gen. 31: 19) Some translations say "images" or "idols".

Jasher gives a very detailed description of what the "images" really are: Somehow, a firstborn male adult is murdered, his head is cut off, shaven, and preserved with salt and oil, and a small metal disc with an engraved name in it is embedded in or under the tongue. The book does not tell us what the engraved name is, but it is likely the name of a demon (similar to how the occultists of today are able to "channel Ramtha" and the like.) Jasher states that after the head is prepared and enshrined, the owner then places lights in front of it (probably candles or oil lamps), then asks it questions and receives audible answers. (Sounds like a device similar to a Ouija board!) This would explain Laban's statement to Jacob about learning by divination that Laban has been blessed by God through Jacob.

Jasher tells us that Rachel stole her father's gods because she knew that Laban would be able to learn from them where Jacob was taking his wives and children. Unfortunately, the book seems to indicate he had plenty of extras, so he was able to "divine" their direction anyway, and he did in fact catch up with them a week later.

I understand that there are many questions about the veracity of the book of Jasher, but I have read the entire book and there are very many items of "background information" in it that do fit well with biblical truths. Of course, we must always ask for the Holy Spirit's guidance in such matters.

  • 2
    It would be good if you could cite the specific reference from the Book of Jasher, as well as the translation used. At best it is a secondary reference, but the book is quoted in the Bible, and certainly germane to the question.
    – Tau
    Feb 23, 2016 at 14:10

One Cheer for the Teraphim

I'm sure some readers will not forgive the possible blasphemy of my title, but I would like to draw attention to the fact that the Bible does not condemn teraphim in every case. No less a personage than King Saul's daughter Michael owned one, and used it to protect the future King David from her father's wrath. Prior to this, of course, Rachel brought her family's teraphim with her from Haran. Moreover in at least one case, these artifacts seem to have represented the God of Israel, not "other gods."

As the Jewish Encyclopedia states:

In early times teraphim-worship was undoubtedly tolerated by the Yhwh religion, as may be seen, for example, from I Sam. xix. 13 (the story of Michal, the daughter of Saul), where it is tacitly implied that a teraphim was a usual piece of furniture in the household of a loyal follower of Yhwh. In Hos. iii. 4 and in Gen. xxxi. 19, also, teraphim are alluded to without comment... It is certain, however, that teraphim soon became an object of distinct condemnation in the Yhwh cult.

It seems that the teraphim, in addition to being "household gods" were also objects used for divination:

The most important function of the teraphim, at any rate after the spread of the Yhwh cult over Israel, was that of divination. Evidently the images were used chiefly for oracular purposes, although nothing is known of the method of their consultation; it is probable, however, that they were used in connection with casting the sacred lot (comp. Zech. x. 2; Ezek. xxi. 26).

A question arises as to when the commandment against "molten/carved images" was given. For those who accept the modernist hypothesis that the Mosaic Law was not actually codified and published as a national law until after the reign of Solomon, the problem is solved. Michal owned a teraphim (the word is used both in the singular and the plural sense) because there was as yet no law against it. Moreover, Israelites apparently used them for divination along with the ephod.

Once the Temple of Jerusalem began to enforce a ban on unauthorized representations of the God Israel, the teraphim - like the Bronze Serpent that Moses made and the asherah poles which once stood by Israelite sacred altars (2 Kings 18) - were consigned to status of abominable idols.


In the ancient ME every household had Gods. They were typically represented as statues or "idols". They protected the household and were invoked for important contract signings (between households). The people of this time didn't have a concept of monotheism this story is from centuries before the Deuteronomists. The context of the narrative is not that it was wrong to have these Gods but that it was wrong to steal them. As noted above, by stealing them, Rachel may have been stealing her brother's inheritance.

  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! We're a little different from other sites. Do you have any sources to support the claims made in this answer? We prefer answers that 'show their work' here.
    – Dan
    Dec 18, 2013 at 6:05
  • Keel and Uehlinger provide evidence of these cult figurines in 'Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God: In Ancient Israel', with (for example) drawings of several fertility goddess figurines on page 165. 'The Early History of God', by Mark S. Smith provides a clear narrative of the evolution from polytheism towards monotheism. Feb 11, 2014 at 20:34
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  • 1
    You will find that this site operates on popular modern belief rather than archaeological or linguistic literacy. Still, I encourage you to source such answers. Also, the terms for how deities were conceptualized in this era are henotheism and/or monolatrism. Aug 26, 2020 at 15:34

I'm going to give an answer that you won't hear anywhere else. So feel free to investigate the claims for yourself with a grain of salt.

  1. Christianity (Protestant and Catholic) comes from Augustine who stole all of his ideas from the Prophet Mani, the founder of Manichaean Gnosticism.(The Foundations of Augustinian Calvinism by Ken Wilson) Here is how Mani died. From page 281 of my book, "Mani spends about 30 years traveling from Babylon to India and his Church spread from Spain all the way to China! But he makes a fatal mistake by returning to Iran and preaching against King Bahram of the Sasanian Empire by telling his people, “do not be like horse-saddles, for outside indeed they wear fine trappings…while inside they are full of straw!” (135) The King is familiar with Mani and knows that he’s royalty and thus a possible threat to his throne. Regardless the King calls Mani to court and debates him before having him arrested. Mani spends 26 days in jail in heavy chains before succumbing to what is assumed to be dehydration and starvation brought on by the weight of the chains and assumed lack of nourishment. His followers were allowed to minister to him, which was unusual. After he died, the King had Mani’s body displayed on a sheet in the middle of a public street. His skin was flayed off and stuffed with grass. (This is the origin of the term Mannequin). His stuffed skin was then hung at the gate of Jund-i-Shapur and his head was hung upon the gate. “This man has come forward calling people to destroy the world; it will be necessary to begin by destroying him before anything of his plans can be realized.” (The 4,000 Year HinduCalvinism Delusion - A CryptoManichaean Invasion of the World, Jeremy Richard)

Mani was stuffed with straw because he called the Kings "Empty Saddles stuffed with straw." He was put on display. (The Gospel of the Prophet Mani, Duncan Greenlees)

  1. The two Babylonian Demons in Isaiah 65:11 are named GD and MNY. (Accurately pronounced God and Money)

  2. Leah named her 7th son GD after GD the Babylonian Demon of Fortune.

  3. Laban chased after Jacob under the pretense that someone had stolen his teraphim (idols). And indeed Rachel had stolen them. We know there was more than one. I'm willing to bet it was GD and MNY because these teraphim were used for divination by the King of Babylon himself.


Leah hid God and Mani under her saddle. 2,200 Years Later the Prophet Mani would be exposed and finally killed, displayed for the entire world to see because he called the Kings "straw stuffed saddles."

Rachel is a Gentile Bride of Israel. A type and shadow of the bride of Jesus. Rachel hid GD and MNY in a saddle. The Church hid GD and MNY in the text.(See Isaiah 65:11 in the KJV and Geneva translations)

  • @ Jeremy Richard - Although what you wrote is interesting, it fails tp deal with "teraphim", the subject of this posted question. Therefore off-topic. There is however, plenty of historical info about these teraphim which should have been presented here in your answer with references to back up the info. Keep studying the Bible that had many research resources; it's great for the soul!
    – ray grant
    Jan 27 at 22:51
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