The primary point of this lesson is another example of the sovereignty of God—this time, at work in the life of Jacob and Rachel.
For Rachel, God’s sovereignty is revealed in His choice to finally permit her to become pregnant and give birth to a son for her husband. From the outset, Rachel had been the preferred woman in Jacob’s life. He had extended himself to his uncle/father-in-law, Laban, in order to secure Rachel as his wife. But being the preferred woman did not alter the fact that Rachel, to this point, was barren. Her barrenness was a source of great hurt and personal humiliation. It was indicative of a lack of fulfillment of her purpose. And that hurt was exacerbated by the fact that her sister/rival, Leah, had produced six sons for Jacob. But, in His own time, God allows Rachel to conceive and have a son. Her purpose is fulfilled.
For Jacob, God’s sovereignty is revealed in His choice to bless him with increasing material wealth, even as his uncle/father-in-law, Laban, works to limit his success and continue to exploit him for his own purposes. Despite Laban’s most devious efforts, God incredibly blesses Jacob, setting the stage for him to return home and move to the next stage of the development of God’s people, Israel.
INTO THE LESSON
22-24 And then God remembered Rachel. God listened to her and opened her womb. She became pregnant and had a son. She said, “God has taken away my humiliation.” She named him Joseph (Add), praying, “May God add yet another son to me.”
Rachel was openly jealous of her sister, Leah’s fruitfulness, her ability to provide Jacob with children—primarily sons. Even though Jacob’s affections were focused on Rachel, there could be no denying that Rachel, at this point, was incapable to fulfilling what was perceived to be her wifely purpose.
This reality brought great distress to her. She lashed out at her husband, who, in turn, told her that the one to whom she should direct her grievances was God (Genesis 30:1, 2). In retaliation, Rachel offered up her maid, Bilhah, to Jacob, as a surrogate. Through Bilhah, Jacob has two sons, Dan and Naphtali (Genesis 30:6-8). In response, Leah, provides Jacob with yet another surrogate, her maid, Zilpah. Zilpah gave Jacob two more sons, Gad and Asher (Genesis 30:9-13). This brought the total number of sons of Jacob to 8.
Then, in a bartered arrangement over a superstitious love potion, Leah convinces Rachel to “send” Jacob to her for a night of romance. The result of this encounter is a ninth son for Jacob, Issachar. Later, Leah gave him a tenth son—her sixth—which she named Zebulun. As a way of setting the stage for what we are told in Genesis 34, the writer also informs us that Leah also produced a daughter for Jacob, Dinah (Genesis 30:14-21).
Finally, after 10 sons and at least one daughter, by three different women, Rachel be-comes pregnant and gives birth to Joseph (Genesis 30:20-22). As we know, Joseph becomes central to the faith lineage of this family.
25-26 After Rachel had had Joseph, Jacob spoke to Laban, “Let me go back home. Give me my wives and children for whom I’ve served you. You know how hard I’ve worked for you.” 27-28 Laban said, “If you please, I have learned through divine inquiry that God has blessed me because of you.” He went on, “So name your wages. I’ll pay you.” 29-30 Jacob replied, “You know well what my work has meant to you and how your livestock has flourished under my care. The little you had when I arrived has increased greatly; everything I did resulted in blessings for you. Isn’t it about time that I do something for my own family?” 31-32 “So, what should I pay you?” Jacob said, “You don’t have to pay me a thing. But how about this? I will go back to pasture and care for your flocks. Go through your entire flock today and take out every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb, every spotted or speckled goat. They will be my wages.
The years of service for Leah and Rachel were now complete. Jacob informs Laban that it was time to take his family and return to his homeland. Having fulfilled his obligation to Laban, Jacob was free to go, but Laban was reluctant to see this happen. He had come to realize that his prosperity was the result of Jacob’s presence. If Jacob were to stay, Laban reasoned, it would be on the basis of the profit motive. From Laban’s perspective, it was now time to re-negotiate Jacob’s contract, and Laban asked him to name his terms.
Jacob was in no hurry to do this. He first strengthened his position by underscoring in Laban’s mind the value he would be to him, just as it had been evident in the past. Jacob now had a family to provide for, and thus his wages must be adequate to meet their needs.
Jacob names his terms. He asked that all of the spotted and dark goats and sheep of Laban’s flacks be set aside for him. The white sheep and goats—traditionally considered the more valuable—would remain for Laban. Laban agreed, and that should have been the end of it. Laban would retain ownership of the more valuable livestock, and the chances of that livestock being contaminated with livestock of lesser value would be eliminated as well.
37-42 But Jacob got fresh branches from poplar, almond, and plane trees and peeled the bark, leaving white stripes on them. He stuck the peeled branches in front of the watering troughs where the flocks came to drink. When the flocks were in heat, they came to drink and mated in front of the streaked branches. Then they gave birth to young that were streaked or spotted or speckled. Jacob placed the ewes before the dark-colored animals of Laban. That way he got distinctive flocks for himself which he didn’t mix with Laban’s flocks. And when the sturdier animals were mating, Jacob placed branches at the troughs in view of the animals so that they mated in front of the branches. But he wouldn’t set up the branches before the feebler animals. That way the feeble animals went to Laban and the sturdy ones to Jacob.
Important to the continuity of the story are these verses omitted from the printed lesson. Thus, we explore them here.
Laban shows himself to be a very greedy individual. Rather than honoring the agreement that Jacob struck, he wanted it all. He had the speckled livestock separated before Jacob could do so, and he placed them under the care of his sons, who then moved the livestock out of the immediate vicinity—out of Jacob’s reach. With no spotted livestock to select, it would be impossible for Jacob return home. He would be forced to remain in Laban’s employ for the foreseeable future.
*For those whose god is wealth and power, they can never have enough. This is the great downfall of humanity.
Jacob is undeterred by his plight. Instead, he resorts to a superstitious scheme and device that God permitted to be successful. He employed three techniques:
• The first method Jacob used was peeled poles, which were supposed to have some kind of prenatal influence on the flocks. Jacob supposed that if the flocks had a visual impression of stripes while they were mating and conceiving, the offspring would assume this same form. So, all about the trenches, which served as watering troughs, Jacob placed these peeled poles. The resulting offspring were striped, speckled, or spotted.
• The second phase of Jacob’s plan was to segregate the flocks. The striped, speckled, and spotted offspring—which, according to the agreement, belonged to Jacob—were put off by themselves. The rest of the flock was faced toward those animals which were either striped or all black. According to the myth, by seeing these animals, the rest of the flock would get the idea.
• The third phase was selective breeding. We are told that lambing took place twice during the year, once in the fall and once in the spring. Those born in the fall were thought to be hardier, since they must endure the harsh winter. Jacob placed his peeled poles only in front of the superior animals and not before the weaker. The result was that the strong animals went to him, while the weak went to Laban.
43 The man got richer and richer, acquiring huge flocks, lots and lots of servants, not to mention camels and donkeys.
Surely, Jacob concluded that the increase of his prosperity was due to his shrewd techniques for manipulating the outcome of the mating of the flocks. But there is no scientific evidence to support this.
Each of the three techniques Jacob employed was predicated on the belief that visual impressions at the time of conception affected the outcome at birth. This is simply not true. Nor is there any scientific evidence to support the belief that livestock produced in one season of the year are any sturdier than livestock produced at another season of the year (before you laugh too much, consider all of the hoopla we make over astrology, geographic region, etc., all of which is equally unsubstantiated).
Then, what was the reason for Jacob’s increase? The only answer is that God, in His sovereignty and for His own purposes, intervened in Jacob’s favor. Laban got it right at the outset.
*Never forget that our success is not the product of our schemes, but God’s intervention on our behalf. Thus, to God be the glory!