April 28, 2015

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

 

PART: III HISTORY OF ISAAC AND JACOB (Gen. 25:19-36:43)

 

Topic #C:  JACOB'S RESIDENCE IN PADANARAM. (Gen. 29:1-30:43)                

 

 


Lesson III.C.7: A New Contract with Laban. (Genesis 30:25-43)

 

 

 

Genesis 30:25-43 (KJV)

 

25 And it came to pass, when Rachel had born Joseph, that Jacob said unto Laban, Send me away, that I may go unto mine own place, and to my country.

26 Give me my wives and my children, for whom I have served thee, and let me go: for thou knowest my service which I have done thee.

27 And Laban said unto him, I pray thee, if I have found favour in thine eyes, tarry: for I have learned by experience that the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake.

28 And he said, Appoint me thy wages, and I will give it.

29 And he said unto him, Thou knowest how I have served thee, and how thy cattle was with me.

30 For it was little which thou hadst before I came, and it is now increased unto a multitude; and the Lord hath blessed thee since my coming: and now when shall I provide for mine own house also?

31 And he said, What shall I give thee? And Jacob said, Thou shalt not give me any thing: if thou wilt do this thing for me, I will again feed and keep thy flock.

32 I will pass through all thy flock to day, removing from thence all the speckled and spotted cattle, and all the brown cattle among the sheep, and the spotted and speckled among the goats: and of such shall be my hire.

33 So shall my righteousness answer for me in time to come, when it shall come for my hire before thy face: every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and brown among the sheep, that shall be counted stolen with me.

34 And Laban said, Behold, I would it might be according to thy word.

35 And he removed that day the he goats that were ringstraked and spotted, and all the she goats that were speckled and spotted, and every one that had some white in it, and all the brown among the sheep, and gave them into the hand of his sons.

36 And he set three days' journey betwixt himself and Jacob: and Jacob fed the rest of Laban's flocks.

37 And Jacob took him rods of green poplar, and of the hazel and chesnut tree; and pilled white strakes in them, and made the white appear which was in the rods.

38 And he set the rods which he had pilled before the flocks in the gutters in the watering troughs when the flocks came to drink, that they should conceive when they came to drink.

39 And the flocks conceived before the rods, and brought forth cattle ringstraked, speckled, and spotted.

40 And Jacob did separate the lambs, and set the faces of the flocks toward the ringstraked, and all the brown in the flock of Laban; and he put his own flocks by themselves, and put them not unto Laban's cattle.

41 And it came to pass, whensoever the stronger cattle did conceive, that Jacob laid the rods before the eyes of the cattle in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods.

42 But when the cattle were feeble, he put them not in: so the feebler were Laban's, and the stronger Jacob's.

43 And the man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses.

 

 

 

Introduction

 

After the marriage of Jacob to the two sisters, the story centered on their struggle with each other in the realm of childbearing.  Now the struggle was between Jacob and Laban until they parted in an uneasy peace.  We have seen Jacob’s arrangements in the matter of his wives; now we must see his arrangements in the matter of his wages.  It is the same old story of planning and scheming in the flesh.


 

Commentary

 

25 And it came to pass, when Rachel had born Joseph, that Jacob said unto Laban, Send me away, that I may go unto mine own place, and to my country.

26 Give me my wives and my children, for whom I have served thee, and let me go: for thou knowest my service which I have done thee.

 

“And it came to pass [after Jacob had fulfilled his second seven-year period of service], when Rachel had born Joseph, that Jacob said unto Laban, Send me away, that I may go unto mine own place.” When Joseph was born something happened to Jacob; it seems to have been a turning-point in his life.  He realized that Mesopotamia was not his home.  His home was far away in the land of promise.  At once he made a great decision, he would get back into the land, the place where God had put his name. His convictions were aroused, and that led to him making a request concerning the future: “Give me my wives and my children.”He now had eleven sons and one daughter[1], and he had more than fulfilled his part of the bargain.  He had earned the right to freedom.  It was time to stop working for Laban” and start building his own future security.  He was willing to leave, without any other compensation for his service than his large family; or any other provision except God’s promise.  He himself could have left at once, since he had complete the seven years of service he owed for Rachel, but if laws similar to Exodus 21:2-4[2] applied also in the area of Haran, then he had no right to take his wives” or children” with him.  This was Laban’s view of the matter too (31:43[3]); but at least “Jacob” could ask for permission to take his family with him.  He had in many ways an equitable claim on Laban’s substance, and it was the will of God that he should be provided from it.

 

 

Verses 27-43: To stifle Jacob’s convictions, all Laban had to do was offer Jacob a raise in pay.  Many a person has been sidetracked from the Lord’s service in the same way.  The devil, however, is a poor paymaster, as Jacob soon discovered.  Laban changed Jacob’s wages ten times, each time in his own favor, we can be sure.  The principle of the poetic justice of God was still operating in Jacob’s life.

 

What did Laban care that Jacob was his own kin, his nephew?  Did he care that he was taking advantage of a weaker man temporarily in his power?  He did not care.  To Laban, Jacob was a mere tool to be used and tossed aside once he had been made to minister to his own personal ambitions.  But wait!  Go back some 14 years in Jacob’s life.  Recall how Jacob treated Esau the day Esau came in weak from the hunt and wanting some of Jacob’s stew.  What had Jacob cared that Esau was his own kin, his very twin?  What had he cared that he was taking advantage of a weaker man temporarily in his power?  He had not cared.  To Jacob, Esau had been a mere tool to be used and tossed aside once he had been made to minister to his own personal ambitions.  Truly, “whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.”

 

Jacob was making his arrangements in the matter of his wages and being cheated again and again.  But he would get his own back before he was through.

 

 

27 And Laban said unto him, I pray thee, if I have found favour in thine eyes, tarry: for I have learned by experience that the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake.

28 And he said, Appoint me thy wages, and I will give it.

29 And he said unto him, Thou knowest how I have served thee, and how thy cattle was with me.

30 For it was little which thou hadst before I came, and it is now increased unto a multitude; and the Lord hath blessed thee since my coming: and now when shall I provide for mine own house also?

 

Crafty “Laban” wasn’t about to lose his son-in-law, especially when he knew that Jacob’s presence had brought to him the blessing of God[4].  Meanwhile, “Laban” wasn’t interested in Jacob’s God; he was interested only in the blessings he received because of Jacob’s God.  “Laban” surely knew of the promises God had made to Abraham and his descendants (12:3[5]), and he wanted to get the most out of them.  This is quite interesting.  You may recall that Abimelech, king of Gerar, found that he was “blessed” when Isaac was in his midst.  Now Uncle “Laban” has discovered that God is with Jacob and has “blessed” him for Jacob’s sake.  So Uncle “Laban” says, but “My boy, don’t rush off; don’t leave me.  I’ve been “blessed,” and I want to raise your wages.” Jacob knows by now that, any time Uncle “Laban” makes a deal, he is the one who will come off the winner.  Jacob has learned this lesson the hard way, and he wants to leave.

 

Note what is said about Jacob’s witness“And Laban said unto him, I pray thee, if I have found favour in thine eyes, tarry: for I have learned by experience that the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake.” What a good testimony that was!  Weak and stumbling though he was, Jacob’s faith combined with his business sense had made its impact.  Laban knew only too well it was not just Jacob’s skill as a business man that made him such a valuable employee, it was his relationship with the Lord. 

 

Now listen to Jacob’s complaining: “The Lord hath blessed thee since my coming: and now when shall I provide for mine own house also?” he is singing the blues!  He is saying, “All I’ve gotten for all this service for you are two wives with their two maids and a houseful of boys.” In fact, he has 11 boys at this point.  What in the world is he going to do?  How is he going to feed them?  He says, “God has “blessed” you and He has prospered you, and I don’t have anything?  I have served you for 14 years because you dealt falsely with me, and you have given me no opportunity of enriching my life, nor have you assisted your daughters.” Here was oriental diplomacy—two Bedouin leaders cautiously on their guard as they negotiated.

 

 

31 And he said, What shall I give thee? And Jacob said, Thou shalt not give me any thing: if thou wilt do this thing for me, I will again feed and keep thy flock.

32 I will pass through all thy flock to day, removing from thence all the speckled and spotted cattle, and all the brown cattle among the sheep, and the spotted and speckled among the goats: and of such shall be my hire.

33 So shall my righteousness answer for me in time to come, when it shall come for my hire before thy face: every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and brown among the sheep, that shall be counted stolen with me.

34 And Laban said, Behold, I would it might be according to thy word.

35 And he removed that day the he goats that were ringstraked and spotted, and all the she goats that were speckled and spotted, and every one that had some white in it, and all the brown among the sheep, and gave them into the hand of his sons.

36 And he set three days' journey betwixt himself and Jacob: and Jacob fed the rest of Laban's flocks.

 

This time, “Jacob” was prepared for his father-in-law, because the Lord had talked to Jacob in a dream and told him exactly what to do (31:1-13).  All “Jacob” wanted for his wages was the privilege of building his own flock of “sheep and goats” from the “speckled and spotted” animals in “Laban’s flocks,” animals that were considered inferior anyway.  These would be separated “three days’ journey” from “Laban’s flock” so that “Laban” could investigate at any time and immediately know whether Jacob was robbing him.This division of the animals would be an easy way to avoid misunderstandings as to who owned which animals (30:33).  Jacob is staking his reputation on his promise that “Laban” will never find any of the white “sheep”or black “goats” in his flocks. He even went as far as saying, if any are ever found, they “shall be counted stolen with me.” Anyone living back then who knew about the contract between Jacob and “Laban” would have said that if “Laban” could now be cheated, it would be what he thoroughly deserves.  We will find by this study that Jacob does not cheat him.  He carries through exactly the terms of the contract which he had proposed to “Laban,” and which “Laban” explicitly accepted.  He was not like “Laban”; he was simply more inventive and clever.

 

Note what is said about Jacob’s wages.  Jacob agreed to continue to oversee Laban’s affairs, but he must be allowed to lay the foundations for his own financial future.  He would go through “Laban’s flocks” and cull out the “brown sheep” and the “speckled and spotted goats.”  He would put those off by themselves.  Those would be a “Laban’s.  That would leave all the solid-colored sheep and goats in a separate flock, the “white sheep” and the “black goats.”  Those would be “Laban’s” too.  The entire existing flock would be “Laban’s”. 

 

Now then, he (Jacob), would not breed from the existing “brown sheep” and “speckled and spotted goats.”  “Laban” could do what he liked with them.  He could remove them to other fields, and entrust them to other hands.  But, all future “brown sheep” born of the “white sheep” and all the “spotted and speckled goats” born of the “black goats” should be Jacob’s, along with any multiplication of their similarly-marked offspring.  In other words, Jacob was willing to start with nothing.  That would give God a chance to bless him in the proposed arrangement and would remove any suspicion of cheating from Laban’s mind.  But it must be agreed that any future “brown sheep and spotted and speckled goats” arising from the solid-colored flocks and herds must be Jacob’s.  In other words, the purebreds will be Laban’s, but the offbreeds, those that are not blue-ribbon stock, will be Jacob’s.  Jacob said, “You just let me have these, and that will be my wages.” That sounds like a pretty good proposition for Laban; and that was the deal they made.

 

On the surface, Jacob’s wage demands seemed curiously stupid to Laban.  Laban must have looked at Jacob as though he were crazy.  Everybody knew that eastern “sheep” were mostly a solid white and rarely brown, and that eastern “goats” were predominantly “black” and rarely “spotted and speckled.”  Yet Jacob was willing to risk his future fortune on odds as long as those?  It was too good a bargain for Laban to resist, though he had some misgivings.  He closed the deal on the spot and, before Jacob could charge his mind, he quickly and secretly sent his servants to cull out and remove from his flocks all the marked “sheep and goats, which Jacob wanted, placed them in the care of his sons, and sent them far away; thereby hoping to prevent there being any more spotted ones born in his own flocks, which he would have to give to Jacob.  Thus he was seeking to ensure that Jacob would have a difficult time acquiring a large heard.  Meanwhile, Jacob had to remain and look after Laban’s flocks.  This act was definitely a violation of the spirit of the agreement, but Jacob could do nothing about it at the moment.

 

As he put “three days’ journey” between Jacob and the culled-out “brown sheep and spotted and speckled goats,” the old Syrian farmer must have shaken his head in perplexity.  He still had Jacob’s testimony ringing in his ears: “So shall my righteousness answer for me in the time to come . . .  every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and brown among the sheep, that shall be counted stolen with me.” There had to be a catch to it somewhere, but Laban, up on all the tricks of the trade and an old hand in skullduggery could not detect it for the life of him. 

 

But Jacob knew what he was doing.  He had no intention of trying to use the brown sheep and spotted and speckled goats he had so painstakingly removed from the flocks and herds and handed over to Laban.  He was going to trust God, work hard and try a trick or two of his own.  He had not served his 14 year apprenticeship with Laban, for nothing.  He had not been born and raised in a family that had marvelous skill in raising flocks and herds, for nothing.  Jacob’s plan was risky.  Nevertheless he was looking out for his own interests, hoping to prosper from this.

 

Jacob seems to have stumbled across Mendel’s Law.  An experienced and observant cattle-breeder, Jacob had no doubt already experimented with selective breeding.  He could not state his discoveries in scientific terms, but he had learned that animals have both dominant and recessive traits.  The dominant trait in “Laban’s flocks” produced mostly “white sheep” but, even starting with a pure white flock, Jacob knew he could produce “brown sheep.”  The same held true for the “goats.”  Starting with “black goats,” he knew eventually he would get “spotted and speckled goats.”  The hidden recessive traits would produce in time a nucleus both of “sheep and goats” from which he could build his own flocks. Jacob trusted too that God, as a token of His power, or by a direct miracle, would be gracious and give him a better percentage of brown sheep, and spotted and speckled goats,” than he might ordinarily expect.  And, being Jacob, he would add a little bit of guile, as well.

 

 

37 And Jacob took him rods of green poplar, and of the hazel and chesnut tree; and pilled white strakes in them, and made the white appear which was in the rods.

38 And he set the rods which he had pilled before the flocks in the gutters in the watering troughs when the flocks came to drink, that they should conceive when they came to drink.

39 And the flocks conceived before the rods, and brought forth cattle ringstraked, speckled, and spotted.

40 And Jacob did separate the lambs, and set the faces of the flocks toward the ringstraked, and all the brown in the flock of Laban; and he put his own flocks by themselves, and put them not unto Laban's cattle.

41 And it came to pass, whensoever the stronger cattle did conceive, that Jacob laid the rods before the eyes of the cattle in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods.

42 But when the cattle were feeble, he put them not in: so the feebler were Laban's, and the stronger Jacob's.

43 And the man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses.

 

Note what is said about “Jacob’s” wiles.  Often he went into the hills with two magnificent flocks, one a flock of pure “white sheep” and the other a flock of jet “black goats.”  There was not a single less-attractive, off-color animal among them.  Laban had taken care of that.  It was now in Jacob’s interest, as well as Laban’s, to make sure that the flocks multiplied rapidly.  The more offspring that could be produced, the higher his chances of getting a start with his nucleus of “colored sheep” and “spotted goats.”

 

The first thing he did seems strange.  He cut some good, stout sticks from nearby hazel, poplar, and chestnut trees (some think they were storax, almond, and ordinary trees).  He peeled those sticks so that naked wood appeared in stripes and bands.  He put these spotted, speckled, and peeled sticks in the “watering troughs[6].”  Why?  Did Jacob believe in prenatal influence?  Possibly he did.  We tend to laugh at such an idea today, but people have laughed at things in the past that later ages have discovered to be true after all[7].

 

Jacob’s peeled sticks belonged in the same category as Rachel’s mandrakes: they were both superstitious practices that had nothing to do with what actually happened.  It was God who controlled the genetic structures of the animals and multiplied the “spotted and striped sheep and goats,” thus increasing Jacob’s wealth very quickly.  At Bethel, God promised to bless Jacob, and he kept his promise (28:13-15[8]); and since Laban had agreed to Jacob’s terms, he could do nothing about the results.  All of those animals belonged to Jacob.

 

It was not long before the flocks and herds began to multiply and the kind of “sheep and goats” Jacob wanted began to show up in unusually large numbers.  Now Jacob went after two things—quality and quantity.  To ensure quality he used his aphrodisiac rods only when the stronger animals were mating.  Then he consistently separated the stronger animals from the weaker ones (which he left for Laban’s flocks) so that presently he began to develop a fine strain of virile, healthy “sheep and goats.”  That was simply employing a sound principle of selective breeding.  To ensure quantity, every time a brown lamb was born or a speckled or spotted kid, he separated it from the rest of the flock.  Those, of course, were his.  He allowed those “sheep and goats” to breed among themselves, thus increasing his chances of getting more of the same kind.  Soon his portion of the flock began to increase greatly—not because of any tricks he had used, but, as he later told Laban, because God chose to bless him (32:10[9]).

 

So we read of Jacob that during the next six years he “increased exceedingly, and had much cattle and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses” (30:43).  As his flocks and herds multiplied, Jacob branched out into other related lines of business.  His native shrewdness helped, so did hard work and sound investment, so did simply being the best man in his field.  But more than anything else, God prospered Jacob; and because God chose to bless him, he soon became a very wealthy man indeed and a power to be reckoned with in the land.  As for uncle Laban, he had nothing to complain about, for he had freely agreed to the arrangement, and he was greatly benefited by Jacob’s services. 

 

Now he was ready to strike out on his own, return to his own land and people, and fulfill whatever purpose God had planned for him.  When he had arrived in Padan Aram twenty years before, all he had was his staff (32:10[10]) and the clothes on his back.  But he had worked hard, suffered much, and trusted God.  Now he had a large family and owned extensive flocks of healthy “sheep and goats,” as well as camels and donkeys and servants to care for all the animals.

 

One thing which makes this story so interesting is that the narrative was not judged by secular standards.  The author believed that Jacob’s triumph was directly linked to his religion.  He describes Jacob as saying to Rachel and Leah, “God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me” (31:9).  Moreover, an angel appears to Jacob and gives him God’s message: “I had seen all that Laban doeth unto thee, I am the God of Bethel, . . . where thou vowedst a vow unto me” (31:12-13).  In other words, Jacob’s strategy and the success it brought him are the result of the commitment he believed God had given to him at Bethel to make him prosperous.  A curious blending of the earthy and the heavenly—a blending which one must recognize to exist in part of the Old Testament and in influences which have flowed from it!  The people of Israel were convinced that there is an intimate relationship between favor with heaven and material well-being in this world.  The positive aspect of that was to give powerful sanction to keen-wittedness and commercial shrewdness, so that the Jew in many practical matters has exhibited an intelligence greater than that of his non-Jewish rival.  It is true that there are qualities inspired by religion—integrity, diligence, faithfulness in common place duties—which may bring this world’s goods as the result. 

 

 

 

 


[1] The writer of Genesis 37:35 mentioned “daughters,” but the word can also refer two daughters-in-law. “All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted . . .” (Genesis 37:35, NIV)

[2] (Exodus 21:2-4, NIV) “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.”

 

[3] (Genesis 31:43, NIV) “Laban answered Jacob, ‘The women are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks. All you see is mine. Yet what can I do today about these daughters of mine, or about the children they have borne?’”

[4] Jacob’s favorite son Joseph would have the same experience of God’s blessing in faraway Egypt (39:1-6).

 

[5] (Genesis 12:3, GNT) “I will bless those who bless you, But I will curse those who curse you. And through you I will bless all the nations.”

 

[6] Watering troughs—usually a long stone block hollowed out, from which several sheep could drink at once, but sometimes so small that only one could drink at the time.

[7] Even today we do not know all the factors involved in the DNA molecular structure of a living creature, nor have we yet mastered all the influences that go together to form individual characteristics.  Perhaps Jacob knew something we still do not know.  We think he was foolish.  Just because a pregnant woman sees an ape and is frightened at the zoo while carrying her child does not mean that child will be ugly. Jacob was nobody’s fool when it came to cattle raising.  He evidently thought the peeled rods were effective, however much we may smile had his “simplicity” today.

 

Many a scholarly page has been written about Jacob’s peeled rods.  We know today, for instance, that certain chemicals can and do have a significant prenatal influence if they reach the embryo or the DNA in the germ cell at the right time.  Perhaps the chemicals in the trees Jacob chose for his rods had some such effect.  For Jacob, we recall, actually put the pealed rods into the troughs that contained the drinking water for the animals.  One such chemical substance is known to have aphrodisiac qualities and has not only been used from ancient times to promote fertility but is still used.  Some authorities claim it as a fact that wiped-streaked rods do act as a stimulus to cattle.  Jacob evidently believed the rods would be effective in producing increased numbers of offspring. 

 

[8] (Genesis 28:13-15, GNT) And there was the Lord standing beside him. “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham and Isaac,” he said. “I will give to you and to your descendants this land on which you are lying. They will be as numerous as the specks of dust on the earth. They will extend their territory in all directions, and through you and your descendants I will bless all the nations. Remember, I will be with you and protect you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done all that I have promised you.”

 

[9] (Genesis 32:10, NIV) “I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps.”

[10] (Genesis 32:10, GW) “I’m not worthy of all the love and faithfulness you have shown me. I only had a shepherd’s staff when I crossed the Jordan River, but now I have two camps.”

Make a Free Website with Yola.