The Teraphim
Genesis 31:17-21
Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives on camels;…

Rachel stole the Teraphim, either, as has been advanced, because she wished to prevent Laban's consulting them on the direction of their flight, or to secure their guardianship for a journey apparently fraught with difficulties and dangers. The value of the precious metal of which the idol might have been made was certainly a temptation subordinate to the superstitious motive. The example given by Jacob with regard to the worship of God, had manifestly exercised a greater influence upon Leah than upon Rachel; though both, therefore, acknowledged, in Jacob's blessing, the will and favour of God, and urged him to follow the Divine directions (ver. 16), Rachel continued to attach a high value to dumb images, and regarded herself safe only under the guardianship of her own gods. Our knowledge concerning the shape of the Teraphim is very limited. They resembled the form of man (1 Samuel 19:13), either consisting of the entire human body, or only of head and breast. They were made of various materials, and not unfrequently of silver, two hundred shekels of which were employed for one statue (Judges 17:4). Our information is more accurate respecting the use and nature of the Teraphim. But we must distinguish between the earlier and later history of the Hebrews. The origin of the Teraphim seems to have been in Mesopotamia or Chaldea, a supposition probable from our passage, and from a later allusion in which the Babylonian king is related to have consulted them (Ezekiel 21:26). Although no doubt comprised amongst the idols which Jacob is recorded to have removed in Shechem (Genesis 35:4), they long remained in favour among his descendants; and while the Hebrews were always conscious of their crime whenever they worshipped other gods, they do not seem to have regarded the adoration of the Teraphim as equally reproachful. On this point, the history of Micah is highly instructive (Judges 17.; 18.). It shows clearly, that the Teraphim were considered as tutelar deities, fully compatible with the homage solely due to the Lord; that they were used, by many, as oracles, like the Urim and Thummim, or like the Ark of the Covenant; and that they were deemed sacred and lawful, if but a descendant of Aaron performed the ministerial functions: they implied a transgression of the second, not of the first commandment. Thus we account for the fact, otherwise most strange, that the prophet Hosea enumerates the Teraphim among the boons of which the disobedient Israelites would be deprived (Hosea 3:4); he threatens them with the dissolution of national and of family life; he predicts, that princes and sacrifices will disappear, and together with them their own domestic gods, the Teraphim, who, therefore, have there a political and social rather than a religious import. The prophet does not hesitate to mention them, because they were evidently in his time still considered as the mildest and most harmless form of idolatry. But gradually, when the pure doctrines of Mosaism began to be enforced with greater rigour, the Teraphim were naturally included among the objects of religious aversion; even the author of the Book of Judges, who wrote in the latest times of the monarchy (Judges 18:30), inserted in his truthful narrative a remark of disapproval: "in those days there was no king in Israel, every one did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6); when king Josiah established the strict worship of monotheism, he destroyed among the other idols, the Teraphim also (2 Kings 8:24); and, perhaps, exactly because they were considered as almost innocent images, the later writers were extremely severe in denouncing them: the crime of obstinacy against the Divine will is compared to the idolatry of the Teraphim (1 Samuel 15:23); they are classed among the "detestations and abominations" (2 Kings 13:24); their oracles are described not only as falsehood, but as wickedness; they lead astray those who consult them like sheep which have no shepherd (Zechariah 10:2); and they are attributed to the Babylonian monarch together with his other absurd modes of divination, as the auguries taken from "looking in the liver" (Ezekiel 21:26, 28).

(M. M. Kalisch, Ph. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon camels;

WEB: Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives on the camels,

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