In 31:1-21, Jacob actually leaves. At this point, and as we briefly touched on in the last lesson, Jacob is feeling the "vibes" so to speak of Laban's growing displeasure over his success. At this point, God Himself gives Jacob the proverbial "green light" to take off as well, and so Jacob makes the preparations. If anything is to be gleaned from this passage though, it is that God's timing is important, even in our own lives today. Had Jacob left sooner, he may have ran into Esau, who at this point was still steaming over his brother's deception, and it could have cost him his life. Had he stayed longer, he would have had a similar issue with Laban, who was growing more agitated with his son-in-law/nephew by the day. As we see though, God has perfect timing for everything, and He knew the right time to put the plan in motion so that Jacob would be protected. And, Jacob trusted God. In life, we tend to get too impatient as well with things without realizing that there are reasons for delays, and perhaps by having the delay God is either protecting us from something or preparing the way for us for what He wants. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to force God's hand, and it can lead to disastrous consequences when God relents and steps back, because then we expose ourselves to unnecessary risks. In times where situations like that arise, this would be an important story to refer back to.
The next part of this passage is puzzling. When Jacob gathers his family and servants together, in verse 19 we notice that the wives, Rachel and Leah, have concerns of their own. After all, their father is pretty wealthy, and they as his children want to obtain an inheritance of that wealth. So, as a security measure, Rachel actually steals some of the household idols of her father's without Jacob's knowledge, and she stashes them in her belongings as she packs. We see a sort of issue here that we didn't expect - first, wasn't Laban now suppose to be serving YHWH alone, which is why Isaac and Rebekah sent Jacob there for a wife in the first place? If that be the case, then what on earth are idols doing in Laban's possession in the first place. There are a couple of possible explanations for this that I will now explore, one being my own thesis and the other being based on some of the writings of the Church Fathers who have commentary on this passage. The idols were called teraphim, and as I look at this passage I see something more legally significant than I do religious in the possession of these things, and it is based on the earlier concerns that both Leah and Rachel had about inheriting their part of their father's estate. These small teraphim were often made of gold and had small jewels on them, and that would have made them very valuable market-wise. Stealing such items would ensure that some of the family wealth was obtained. Another possible explanation I noted was something I came across on a website (http://jhom.com/topics/thieves/rachel.htm - accessed October 13, 2016) that documents that these items often conferred property rights and family status, and the one who possesses them would be entitled to a transfer of ownership of family assets. Perhaps then by Rachel's taking these items, she was also thinking she was doing her husband a favor by indicating that Jacob was no longer in the service of Laban and now had entitlement to Laban's estate. In that case, these small idols would act more as a sort of deed of title of ownership than they would objects of worship, and that would make perfect sense. It also reflects the Mesopotamian culture of the time too, in which often the temples of certain deities also served as magistrate courts of sorts, and by "swearing on the gods" the priest/magistrate would issue one of these teraphim in lieu of legal documentation, symbolizing that the action was official. This would seem to be the most plausible reason for Rachel's absconding with these items.
The Church Fathers though had another take on this. St. John Chrysostom, for instance, states in his Homilies on Genesis that despite the fact that this family now served YHWH, there was still a tendency to cling onto ancestral habits - Chrysostom notes that Rachel went through a lot of effort to steal only the teraphim and didn't seem to be interested in anything else of her father's wealth, and that she did it covertly without Jacob knowing about it, lest he should be upset as idol worship was incomprehensible to him (Mark Sheridan, ed. The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture - Old Testament Vol II: Genesis 12-50. Downer's Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2001. pp. 206-207). In my estimation, it is possible that both of these were true at the same time, but the religious aspect maybe a little different. I don't believe that Rachel actually worshipped these teraphim, but her priorities were affixed on her father's wealth, which was in itself a type of idolatry. She really didn't need to do this, as Jacob was already quite wealthy in his own right as we have seen, yet she does it anyway. Greed can be a nasty taskmaster, and it is my assertion that this was perhaps Rachel's real motivation for stealing her father's teraphim. In principle though, the possession of the idols, even if only for a legal reason, would not have been acceptable to Jacob in that their very presence could tempt worship, and they were still pagan idols despite their non-religious purpose. And, that would explain why Rachel did what she did covertly.