22 And it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob was fled. 23 And he took his brethren with him, and pursued after him seven days’ journey; and they overtook him in the mount Gilead. 24 And God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said unto him, Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad. 25 Then Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the mount: and Laban with his brethren pitched in the mount of Gilead.
We were told that when Jacob was looking for more independence he moved his family three days’ journey away from Laban, and given that Laban heard about the family’s departure on the third day, it seems likely that there was some servant or neighbor who saw what Jacob had done and immediately set off to tell Laban about it.
But even with a three-day head-start, Laban and his men were able to catch up to them after only a week. No doubt he was aided by the fact that he knew exactly where Jacob would be headed, and also that Jacob was slowed down by all the cattle and children. Fortunately, God intervened, warning Laban upon his arrival that Jacob was under His protection.
As I read all this, I saw a pattern that will reappear many years later when the Israelites flee from Pharaoh and are pursued by his armies. They too will be slowed by their young, and they will also rely upon an intervention from God. Surely Jacob and the Israelites would have preferred that God had caused their pursuers to never come upon them, that He had kept trouble as far away as possible, but He didn’t. In each case He protected His flock but did it in His own way.
Often, we wish that God wouldn’t let trouble overtake us either, but we can take comfort from stories like these, which show that when God commands a retreat, He will guard the rear, no matter how near the danger looms.