We've looked at several possible reasons why Rachel stole the household gods, or idols, from her father's tent, when Jacob and his family left Laban's stomping grounds and headed for home.
Maybe because she wanted a keepsake?
Perhaps to keep the idols from telling Laban where they were headed?
Nope, he could easily follow their trail.
To sell any gems on the idols, in case they were in dire straits?
To make certain of Jacob's legal status - to prove he was no longer Laban's servant?
But scholars have offered up another possible reason for the theft.
Perhaps Rachel wanted a backup.
A backup to Jacob's God, Yahweh.
Rachel's family worshiped idols. As a child, she would have participated in the rituals and pageantry associated with them. She would have watched the sacrifices, the chants, the divinations, and more. When he was introduced to Jacob, her father Laban became a man of two religions: he was aware of Jehovah, but he also liked his household gods -- after all, they never questioned his motives or his actions, and never challenged his conduct or made him pay any consequences for his treachery or immorality!
We can see that he may have been awe-struck by the God of his fathers, and find it inspiring that He could help, but hey, He didn't always respond. It was nice to have these other gods who could be more cooperative, right?
So, the images made excellent backup gods. Maybe Rachel thought that if Jacob's God didn't answer, it would be nice to consult these idols that she had known for all these years.
Did you know there is a story in II Kings that sounds a lot like Rachel . . .
It is when the final piece of Israel fell to the Assyrians. The current king of Israel, Hoshea, decided the time was right to throw off the yoke of servitude to the Assyrians, and so he stopped paying tribute to them, and reached out to the ruler of Egypt, instead. This didn't work too well. The king of Assyria sent his armies to carry off the last remnant of the Hebrew people to Babylonia.
His usual way of doing things was to re-settle a conquered land with different people. These people would be more pliable, more willing to show loyalty to him. So he sent a multitude of settlers into the land of Samaria.
He didn't consult Yahweh.
We can see that God not only thought of the people of Israel as His, He also thought of the land of Israel as His, too. Ravenous lions descended from the hills to kill people, devour cattle, and generally scare the population to pieces. The settlers were superstitious, and they believed that the wild beasts were the instruments of the offended God of Israel. The complaints came thick and fast to the king.
The king decided to send one of the captive priests of Israel back to Samaria. His instructions were to teach the inhabitants how to worship "the God of the land." We don't know his name from the scriptures, but we know that he was headquartered in Bethel, and that he traveled from city to city, teaching everyone who would listen the laws of Moses. He was successful in one sense: the Babylonian settlers began to fear the Lord.
But here is the rub: they continued to worship idols. They were truly afraid of the lions of Jehovah, but they only gave lip service to Him. They continued to revere their own gods. They appeared to be devout believers but remained idolatrous. In short, they were pretend believers; they had no real love for the Lord.
This was very similar to Rachel, who had idols in her home (until in chapter 35 of Genesis, when Jacob puts his foot down and says everyone must ditch their idols). It also looks a lot like people today whose religion is only ritual and ceremonies. When "lions" of sickness, financial hardship, and affliction appear, these people pray for God to help them. Afterwards, they forget to give thanks, and they go right back to the gods they have created themselves; they forget about the God of creation.
We don't know for sure, from Genesis, why Rachel stole the idols. But if we look at the people in II Kings who are so similar, we can guess that she wanted an extra measure of blessings and protection. When Jacob had said to his wives that it was time to leave, she had voiced her recognition of God's blessing and direction (verses 14-16), but she must have wanted something more to reassure and comfort her as she left her home for an unfamiliar land. She had just enough faith in God to say she would go, but it wasn't enough to give her emotional security.
Most of us don't have little household gods in our homes. We don't have figures sitting on a shelf that we cling to for protection and security, to ask if we should go one way or another. But do we cling to things besides God for that security? Success, our finances, our jobs, our good deeds -- all of these can be our idols.
Perhaps we should challenge ourselves to show faith -- to learn to let go of "things" and instead, trust our Lord completely!