Household Gods

Idols worshiped in ancient Mesopotamia


Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them inside her camel’s saddle and was sitting on them. … So he searched but could not find the household gods. Jacob was angry and took Laban to task. … Now that you have searched through all my goods, what have you found that belongs to your household? Put it here in front of your relatives and mine, and let them judge between the two of us.Ge 31:34–37

Household gods were idols worshiped in every home in Mesopotamia where Jacob’s uncle Laban lived. The Bible records that when Jacob and his family were returning home, his wife Rachel stole her father’s household gods, and that the worship of various idols including household gods was rampant from the period of the Judges to the period of the Kings and even until the Divided Kingdom—Israel in the north and Judah in the south, when God’s law was not respected. Especially in the period of the Judges, a system involving the worship of God was not established, and each of the tribes or each person built high places and offered sacrifices in their own way (Judges 17:1–18:31). However, when prophets sent by God appeared, those idols were destroyed.

When King Saul disobyed God’s comand to completely destroy the Amalekites, the prophet Samuel said that stubborn disobedience to God’s word is like the sin of bowing down to household gods (1 Sa 15:22–23). When Josiah became king, he restored the truth of the Passover and carried out religious reforms; he got rid of the mediums and spiritists, the household gods, the idols and all the other detestable things in Judah and Jerusalem (2 Ki 23:24).

In the Ten Commandments God told the Israelites not to make idols or worship them, but they always committed the wicked act of worshiping pagan idols. Household gods were characteristically portrayed as patron gods. These household gods are often mentioned when it comes to Israel’s idolatry. It seems that household gods were small and portable, considering that Rachel put them in the camel’s saddle and sat on them. However, they grew in size through the period of the Judges, as we can guess.

When Saul sought to kill David, Saul’s daughter Michal helped her husband David escape through a window, and she took an idol (a household god) and laid it on the bed, covering it with a garment and putting some goats’ hair at the head, to give her husband enough time to escape (1 Sa 19:8–17). We can guess that the household god was as tall as a man.

The prophet Zechariah pointed out that the household gods speak deceit and tell false dreams.

The idols speak deceit, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false,…Zec 10:2