Jacob is no Clint Eastwood. He doesn’t face his enemies, but waits until Laban was far out with the flocks before sneaking away. Jacob is less a hero and more like a comic book villain who takes the cheap shot rather than face is opponent like a man.
Even with his three day head start, Jacob and his family are still overtaken by Laban (31:25). Had Laban found his stolen household gods, Jacob would have lost his beloved Rachel (31:32). Laban lets the lot of them go for one reason: God told Laban to leave them alone (31:24, 28).
Jacob is not the hero of this story. God is. God is the one who has blessed Jacob with so many children and livestock. God is the one who saves Jacob and his defenseless family. God is the one who called Jacob to go back to the Promised Land (31:3, 11-13).
And that is the point of this passage. The Promised Family is returning to the Promised Land. Jacob—the son of Isaac, the grandson of Abraham—is making his way back to the Land. Though Jacob and his family no doubt were suffering from fear of what Laban may do if he caught them, God was over all of it, ensuring that his purposes would be accomplished even through the free and sinful actions of Jacob, Laban and the rest.
And even now, God is over us, over our circumstances, bringing about his promises in our lives. The promise of land to Jacob was a promise of rest and peace and prosperity for Jacob, but even while he lived in that Land, it was never his own. It always belonged to someone else, and Jacob would always be a stranger in someone else’s land.
In much the same way, you and I will live the rest of our lives on this earth as strangers in a land that isn’t our own. Listen to how the author of Hebrews speaks of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the Promised Land:
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:13-16)
We too desire a better country than the one in which we live. We know that, in Christ, God has prepared for us city, a New Jerusalem, one in which we will be united with the Lord throughout eternity.
We have Christ. And one day, we’ll have his City too.