In Genesis 29:17 we read that Jacob’s wife Rachel was “…lovely in form, and beautiful.” This tells us that Rachel was someone who had a nice figure and was physically attractive. So it would seem that Rachel was a person who had a lot going for her, at least on the outside. In fact, Rachel’s physical appearance probably made her the type of person that others could look at and say, “I wish I was more like her.”
Unfortunately, things weren’t going so well for Rachel on the inside…
“When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, ‘Give me children, or I’ll die!'” (Genesis 30:1).
Like Rachel, there always seems to be a few people in every group who appear to have everything going for them. For instance, some people never seem to have any problems at home or at school or on the job. They don’t have difficulty gaining and keeping real friends or being accepted by others. They never seem to have any trouble with their weight, or their clothes, or their appearance, or anything else for that matter. For some people, life just seems to be so easy- as least as far as we can tell.
It may be tempting to look at such people and think, “I wish that I had it as easy as they do.” But remember that things may not always be as they appear. You see, while some people may appear to have everything together, it’s also true that we don’t know everything that goes on within someone’s life. Even though things may appear to be going well outwardly, some people still struggle with many things inwardly.
For example, there are many people who struggle with a fear of death, or a nagging sense of guilt, or an ongoing feeling of regret, disillusionment, and unfulfillment in life. Of course, you might not know about these inner feelings simply by looking at such people, but they often still exist. The unfortunate truth is that people can sometimes look really good on the outside, but feel still feel empty, miserable, and unfulfilled on the inside. In Rachel’s case, we’re told that “Rachel was very jealous of Leah for having children” (CEV). On the outside, Rachel had two important things going for her…
- She was physically beautiful
- She was also Jacob’s favorite (see Genesis 29:30)
Yet despite these advantages, Rachel was consumed with jealousy on the inside- and anyone who might have looked at Rachel and thought, “I wish I was like her” probably didn’t see that part of her.
“Now Rachel, because she had no children, was full of envy of her sister; and she said to Jacob, ‘If you do not give me children I will not go on living'” (Genesis 30:1 BBE).
If you were following along when we looked Genesis chapter sixteen, you may remember that Abraham’s wife Sarah found herself in a similar situation to the one that Rachel experienced here in Genesis chapter thirty. The problem for Rachel was the same one that Sarah had faced earlier: in the culture of that time, a woman’s sense of worth was often linked with the number of children she had. The more children that a woman conceived, the more respect she gained among others. It was a great shame for a woman to be childless in that society and a husband could actually divorce his wife if their relationship didn’t produce any children.
In Rachel’s case, the fact that her sister Leah was having children with Jacob meant that there was certainly nothing wrong on his part- and that probably made things even more painful for Rachel.
Now even though we are separated from the lives of Rachel and Leah by thousands of years, their experience still has something important to say to us today. You see, it can often be a big mistake to wish that our lives were more like those who seemingly have things better than we do. For instance, a closer look at the inner lives of Rachel and Leah tells the story of two people who seemed to have some really good things, but were still unhappy on the inside…
- Rachel was beautiful and her husband was deeply in love with her, but she didn’t have the honor and respect that Leah had because she didn’t have any children.
- Leah had the honor and respect that came with bearing four children, but she wasn’t as attractive as Rachel and her husband didn’t really love her.
This meant that each sister had something that the other sister really wanted and because of this, neither one was really satisfied. The good news is that the Bible gives us some advice to help avoid this same kind of attitude…
“Each of you should go on living according to the Lord’s gift to you, and as you were when God called you. This is the rule I teach in all the churches” (1 Corinthians 7:17 GNB).
Instead of placing our focus on those things we don’t have, it’s better to focus on the good things that God has already given us. In that way, we can find our fulfillment in doing the best we can with those gifts, skills, talents, and opportunities that God has already provided for us.
“Jacob became angry with (Rachel) and said, ‘Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?'” (Genesis 30:2).
So Jacob basically said to Rachel, “Hey, don’t blame me for the fact that we don’t have any children- I’m not God.” That led Rachel recommend a solution that might sound familiar…
“Then she said, ‘Here is Bilhah, my maidservant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and that through her I too can build a family'” (Genesis 30:3).
Just as Jacob’s grandmother Sarah had done earlier, Rachel told Jacob that she wanted Bilhah to serve as a kind of surrogate mother. According to the custom of that time, any child born to Bilhah under these conditions would be accepted as Rachel’s legal son or daughter. That would allow Rachel to raise a family of her own and help her to avoid the social disgrace that came with not having any children.
“So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife. Jacob slept with her, and she became pregnant and bore him a son. Then Rachel said, ‘God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son.’ Because of this she named him Dan” (Genesis 30:4-6).
This is interesting- why would the act of having her maid serve as a surrogate mother cause Rachel to say, “…God has vindicated me” ? Well, that answer comes next…
“Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, ‘I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.’ So she named him Naphtali” (Genesis 30:7-8).
This tells us that there was a lot more to Rachel’s motivation than simply avoiding the cultural dishonor that went along with being childless in that society. You see, the name Napthali means “wrestling.” (1) This name indicates that Rachel saw herself in some kind of struggle or competition for supremacy with Leah, her sister. But how did Rachel get into this competitive situation with her sister?
Well, remember that Rachel and Leah were each married to Jacob, so they both had to compete for a share of his time and attention. But the real culprit behind this competitive situation was their father Laban, the man the one who engineered their marriages to Jacob to serve his own purposes. Laban simply saw his daughters as human “chess pieces” who could be maneuvered to suit his needs- and the impact of that decision had a negative effect on both his daughters.
(1) “Napthali” Smith’s Bible Dictionary
So Rachel felt that she had moved ahead in this fight for superiority with her sister Leah, but Leah wasn’t ready to give up so easily…
“When Leah saw that she had stopped having children, she took her maidservant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. Then Leah said, ‘What good fortune!’ So she named him Gad. Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. Then Leah said, ‘How happy I am! The women will call me happy.’ So she named him Asher” (Genesis 30:9-13).
Again, it’s important to remember that a large number of children provided a woman with a tremendous amount of honor and respect in that culture. Now that Rachel had two children, it seems that Leah was afraid that she would lose her “advantage” so to speak. So Leah decided to use the same “surrogate mother” approach that Rachel used by giving her maid Zilpah to Jacob as another wife and hopefully adding to the number of “her” children.
We’re told that Zilpah went on to have two children that Leah named Gad and Asher. The name Gad means “fortune” or “luck” (1) and it seems to indicate that Leah felt fortunate or lucky to maintain this advantage over her sister. Leah’s next son through Zilpah was named Asher, a name that meant “happy.” (2) So Leah now had a total of six sons- four sons with Jacob and two others that she “adopted” from Jacob’s relationship with Zilpah.
However, Leah’s statement that “…all the women will say how happy I am” (CEV) indicates that she may have had an unhealthy concern about other people’s opinion of her. Of course, it’s probably a good time to point out that all this hurtful competition would have never taken place if everyone involved in this situation had simply followed God’s original “one man – one woman” design for marriage. But that wasn’t the case, and it wasn’t long before another opportunity came to push this competition a little further…
“During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, ‘Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes'” (Genesis 30:14).
Now someone might read this and say, “Yeah, OK- Reuben found this plant growing in a field. So what? Well, it was thought at that time that the mandrake plant had certain properties that would be very important to Rachel and Leah- and we’ll find out what those properties were next.
(1) “Gad” Easton’s Bible Dictionary
(2) “Asher” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
“During the wheat harvest Reuben went into the fields and found mandrakes, which he brought to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, ‘Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes'” (Genesis 30:14 GNB).
A mandrake was a plant that produced a small yellow or orange colored fruit. In the days of the Old Testament, it was thought that a mandrake plant could be used to help women have more children. So that explains why Rachel was interested in these plants, but Leah wasn’t so quick to give them up…
“But (Leah) said to her, ‘Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?'” (Genesis 30:15a).
It’s easy to sense the hostility between Leah and Rachel in these verses, but there’s something more behind this. You see, Leah actually seemed to believe that Rachel had stolen her husband away from her when the truth was that it was really the other way around. It seems that Leah and Rachel’s intense competition had started to affect their ability to see things as they really were- and that is always a potential danger for anyone who ignores or disregards the directions that God gives to us in His Word.
So Leah clearly wasn’t interested in giving up these mandrakes to her sister. But Rachel wouldn’t take no for an answer and offered to make a deal…
“‘Very well,’ Rachel said, ‘he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.’ So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. ‘You must sleep with me,’ she said. ‘I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.’ So he slept with her that night” (Genesis 30:15b-16).
It’s not too difficult to see why Leah took Rachel up on this offer. You see, Rachel took Leah’s strong desire to be accepted by her husband and used it to get something that she thought would help her get what she wanted- the ability to have children. This was really nothing more than a business arrangement between the sisters and before Jacob even got home from work, Leah went out to tell him, “Hey, I hired you- you’re sleeping with me tonight!”
Since Leah hadn’t conceived any more children, Rachel may have believed that she wouldn’t conceive any more children- that’s why she could feel “safe” in making a deal that allowed Leah to sleep with Jacob. But even what seems like a good plan doesn’t always work out the way we intended, and you can probably guess what happened next.
So Rachel tried to bargain her way into getting what she wanted, but as it turned out, something that she didn’t want to happen was the thing that did happen…
“God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son” (Genesis 30:17).
Rachel’s experience tells us that it’s better to be patient and let God unfold His plan for us rather than try to force a solution using our limited knowledge without any help, direction, or input from God. Remember that the Scriptures tell us, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps” (Proverbs 16:9 NLT). Although Rachel made her plan, she never asked God for His direction. That’s a sure recipe for pain and frustration, two emotions that Rachel surely felt as she watched her sister become pregnant for a fifth time while she remained childless.
“Then Leah said, ‘God has rewarded me for giving my maidservant to my husband.’ So she named him Issachar. Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. Then Leah said, ‘God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons.’ So she named him Zebulun” (Genesis 30:18-20).
The name “Zebulun” means honor (1) or dwelling. (2) In choosing this name for her son, Leah apparently hoped that Jacob would finally give her a place of honor despite the fact that he was really in love with somebody else. But even though Leah gave Jacob six sons, it doesn’t appear that it made him feel any differently towards her.
But Leah’s experience with Jacob serves as an important reminder for people today as well. You see, its not uncommon for someone in a relationship to say, “If I do “X” then maybe he or she will love me” just as Leah did with Jacob. But if you’re hopeful that some external act will cause someone else to love or honor you, then there’s a good chance that you’re going to get hurt, just as Leah obviously was in her relationship with Jacob. You see, external actions should express the love that already exists in a relationship. If you’re in a relationship and you feel that you have to earn someone’s love by doing something, then you should definitely take a step back, pray, and ask God for His direction regarding that relationship.
“Some time later (Leah) gave birth to a daughter and named her Dinah” (Genesis 30:21).
This will be the only mention of Dinah for awhile, but we’re going to meet up with her again in chapter 34. Unfortunately, Dinah’s story doesn’t end very well, but we’ll talk about that when we get there.
(1) “Zebulun” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
(2)” Zebulun” Hitchcock’s New and Complete Analysis of the Holy Bible
“Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, ‘God has taken away my disgrace.’ She named him Joseph, and said, ‘May the Lord add to me another son.’ (Genesis 30:22-24).
This passage begins by telling us that “…God remembered Rachel.” Now whenever someone “remembers” something, it usually means that he or she had forgotten about it first, right? So does this mean that God forgot about Rachel and then suddenly remembered the fact that He hadn’t given her any children?
Well, the phrase “God remembered…” is a Biblical way of expressing God’s decision to begin working again with a person or a group. You might recall that we also saw this same term used in Noah’s life as well. In fact, we often use a similar expression today when we speak of “remembering” someone on his or her birthday or other special occasion. For instance, when you “remember” someone on his or her birthday, it doesn’t mean that you have completely forgotten about that person during the other 364 days of the year- it means that you are going to do something special for him or her on that particular day. So this passage uses a figure of speech to tell us how God was going to do something special for Rachel.
Notice that this Scripture doesn’t say that God immediately allowed Rachel to have a baby- it says that He listened to her first. This should imply something very important because it indicates that Rachel was talking to God in prayer. In other words, God listened to Rachel as she talked to Him about her concerns. This tells us that Rachel finally gave up on the idea of trying to make things happen on her own and brought her needs to God in prayer. This idea is something that the New Testament talks about as well. You see, Philippians 4:6-7 gives us the right path to follow whenever we’re faced with a problem, difficulty, or concern…
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
If you have a need, remember to go to God in prayer and don’t forget to thank Him for His answers. God listened to Rachel and answered her prayers- and He can do the same for you as well.
“She named him Joseph, and said, ‘May the Lord add to me another son’ (Genesis 30:24).
All the children mentioned here in Genesis chapters 29 and 30 will later go on to form what will be known as the twelve tribes of Israel. They will also provide the foundation for the fulfillment of the promises that God made to Abraham in Genesis chapter 12, to Isaac in Genesis chapter 26, and to Jacob in Genesis chapter 28.
Rachel’s son Joseph will also become a very important person in the book of Genesis as well, but his story won’t really get started until we get to chapter 37. For now, Joseph’s birth signals the end of the first part of Genesis chapter 30. The second part of this chapter will focus on some important changes that Jacob wanted to make in his relationship with his employer and father-in-law Laban…
“After Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, ‘Send me on my way so I can go back to my own homeland. Give me my wives and children, for whom I have served you, and I will be on my way. You know how much work I’ve done for you'” (Genesis 30:25-26).
So Jacob had fulfilled his part of the business arrangement that he made with Laban so many years earlier. Remember that Jacob had worked for Laban for fourteen years without any pay in exchange for the right to marry Laban’s two daughters. Now it was time for Jacob to move on and start working for himself and his own family.
Besides, Jacob knew that his time with Laban was never supposed to be a permanent arrangement. You see, Jacob realized that he belonged in the land that God had promised to give to his grandfather, his father, and to him as well. For instance, notice that Jacob specifically said that he wanted to go back to his own country (or homeland), as we’re told in Genesis 30:25. This gives us some insight into Jacob’s thinking because he still considered the place that he had left as his real home, even though he had been gone from there for more than a decade. Of course, that amount of time was probably also long enough to allow Jacob’s brother Esau to get over his anger at the fact that Jacob had tricked him out of his birthright- or at least that’s what Jacob hoped for.
So Jacob expressed his desire to leave, but Laban was ready- and he had a new working arrangement for Jacob to consider. We’ll look at that new proposal from Laban next time.
“But Laban said to him, ‘If I have found favor in your eyes, please stay. I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you.’ He added, ‘Name your wages, and I will pay them'” (Genesis 30:27-28).
If you read this passage carefully, you’ll find that this job proposal gives us an important clue about Laban’s real relationship with God.
Did you notice that Laban specifically told Jacob, “I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you…” (emphasis added). This tells us that Laban was someone who preferred to get his information through divination, or “the practice of attempting to foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge by occult or supernatural means.” (1) As it is used in the passage quoted above, this word “divination” can also mean, “to observe signs,” “to practice fortunetelling,” (2) or to “whisper a (magic) spell.” (3)
Since Laban realized that “the Lord” had blessed him because of Jacob, it seems that he was someone who was at least willing to acknowledge that God existed. But when it came to actually praying and asking for God for His direction, Laban apparently chose to get his guidance though some other spiritual means. (4) In this sense, Laban was similar to those who “believe in God” but also use things like astrology or horoscopes to try and foretell their future today.
The problem is that the Scriptures give us some very clear warnings against getting involved with such occultic activity. For example, Deuteronomy 18:10-12 tells us that it’s wrong to get involved with those people who attempt to contact the dead or other similar things. Another example is found in 1 Chronicles 10:13 where we read that Israel’s King Saul died specifically because he went to a medium with a request to bring the prophet Samuel back from the dead.
So instead duplicating Laban’s mistake, here’s a better suggestion from the Old Testament book of Proverbs…
“…if you want better insight and discernment, and are searching for them as you would for lost money or hidden treasure, then wisdom will be given you, and the knowledge of God Himself.; you will soon learn the importance of reverence for the Lord and of trusting Him.
For the Lord grants wisdom! His every word is a treasure of knowledge and understanding. He grants good sense to the godly- His saints. He is their shield protecting them and guarding their pathway. He shows how to distinguish right from wrong, how to find the right decision every time. For wisdom and truth will enter the very center of your being, filling your life with joy” (Proverbs 2:3-10 TLB).
(1) divination. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/divination (accessed: January 02, 2010).
(2) The Online Bible Thayer’s Greek Lexicon and Brown Driver & Briggs Hebrew Lexicon, Copyright © 1993, Woodside Bible Fellowship, Ontario, Canada. Licensed from the Institute for Creation Research
(3) Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.
(4) The word used for “divination” in Genesis 30:27 can also mean “to learn by experience” and that’s the way that this word is translated in other Biblical versions such as the KJV. So it could be that Laban recognized on his own that God was blessing him through his working relationship with Jacob. However, the next chapter will tell us that Laban also kept small idols or figurines that were supposed to bring him good luck or help foretell the future (see Genesis 31:19). So while Laban may have been able to see for himself that he was being blessed through Jacob’s work, it appears that he used some kind of supernatural source (other than God) to find out how.
“How much of a raise do you need to get you to stay? Whatever it is, I’ll pay it.” (Genesis 30:28 TLB).
Laban was a very clever businessman and he clearly realized that if Jacob was really serious about quitting his job, it was going to cost him a lot of money. So Laban basically said to Jacob, “If you want to stay on, you can name your own salary.” This offer put Jacob in a very interesting position. Remember that even though Jacob had worked for Laban for fourteen years, he still didn’t have any money or possessions. That’s because Jacob traded all the wages that Laban would have paid him during that time for the right to marry Laban’s daughters Rachel and Leah.
So Jacob didn’t have a lot of money but he did have four wives, a lot of children, and the responsibility to feed them, clothe them, and establish a place for all of them to live. So Laban’s job offer must have sounded very attractive to Jacob. On the other hand, Jacob also knew that it could be very dangerous to make a deal with a guy like Laban, especially after the way that Laban took advantage of him and switched the bride on his wedding night.
So let’s see how Jacob responded to this job offer…
“Jacob said to him, ‘You know how I have worked for you and how your livestock has fared under my care. The little you had before I came has increased greatly, and the Lord has blessed you wherever I have been. But now, when may I do something for my own household?’
‘What shall I give you?’ he asked.
‘Don’t give me anything,’ Jacob replied. ‘But if you will do this one thing for me, I will go on tending your flocks and watching over them: Let me go through all your flocks today and remove from them every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb and every spotted or speckled goat. They will be my wages.
And my honesty will testify for me in the future, whenever you check on the wages you have paid me. Any goat in my possession that is not speckled or spotted, or any lamb that is not dark-colored, will be considered stolen'” (Genesis 30:29-33)
This counter offer from Jacob represented the kind of deal that Laban was absolutely certain to agree to, and we’ll find out why next.
“‘How much do you want me to pay you?’ Laban asked. Then Jacob told him: ‘I don’t want you to pay me anything. Just do one thing, and I’ll take care of your sheep and goats. Let me go through your flocks and herds and take the sheep and goats that are either spotted or speckled and the black lambs. That’s all you need to give me'” (Genesis 30:31-31 CEV).
This was an offer that was too good for Laban to pass up. Instead of asking Laban to give him a certain number of animals to start his own ranch, Jacob told Laban that he would continue working for him if Laban agreed to let him keep all the animals that were born with less desirable markings. Since the people of that time generally preferred white sheep and brown (or black) goats, Jacob was basically offering to work for Laban in exchange for all the animals that nobody wanted.
The way that Jacob proposed to do this was by separating all of the black sheep and other off-colored animals into a second group. That would prevent them from mating with the first group and passing on their characteristics to a new generation. So the only animals that Jacob would be allowed to keep were those that were born with spotted or speckled markings- everything else went to Laban. If we were to rephrase this offer in a more technical way, we could say that Jacob was proposing to take all the animals with a recessive gene coloration and give Laban all the animals with a dominant gene coloration. Of course, this offer also had another important side benefit as well…
“In the future you can easily find out if I have been honest. When you come to check up on my wages, if I have any goat that isn’t speckled or spotted or any sheep that isn’t black, you will know that it has been stolen” (Genesis 30:33 GNB).
This arrangement would help to protect Jacob by providing a mistake-proof way of telling the two groups apart. But this also seemed to benefit Laban since the goats were normally solid colored and the sheep were almost always white. So why would Jacob make a proposal that clearly seemed to favor Laban at his own expense? Well, we can say that this offer demonstrated Jacob’s faith in God to provide for him, but there was something else as well- and we’ll look at that “something else” next.
Why would Jacob make a proposal that seemed to favor Laban at his own expense? Well, the next chapter will tell us that Jacob had some “inside information” from God in the form of a dream about Laban. In that dream, God told Jacob that He would act to protect him from Laban’s dishonesty (see Genesis 31:6-12). This gave Jacob the confidence to make this proposal because he knew that God would provide for him in spite of anything that Laban might try to do.
So Jacob offered to take care of Laban’s solid-colored animals in exchange for any speckled or spotted offspring that were born from his flock. This was an offer that Laban couldn’t refuse, but that still didn’t stop him from trying to manipulate the odds in his favor…
“‘Agreed,’ said Laban. ‘Let it be as you have said.’ That same day he removed all the male goats that were streaked or spotted, and all the speckled or spotted female goats (all that had white on them) and all the dark-colored lambs, and he placed them in the care of his sons. Then he put a three-day journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob continued to tend the rest of Laban’s flocks” (Genesis 30:34-36).
For Laban, this must have sounded like an offer that was too good to be true. First, he didn’t have to give up any animals that he didn’t already have. Next, what were the odds that a solid colored sheep would produce offspring that were striped or spotted? This answer is probably not very great, and that explains why Laban immediately agreed to take Jacob up on his offer.
But just to make absolutely sure that he would come out ahead on this deal, Laban tilted the odds in his favor by allowing his sons to watch over all of the off-colored animals. So how would that benefit Laban? Well, there were at least two reasons…
- Laban’s sons were probably not very motivated to work hard and take good care of those animals that were likely to produce offspring that would go to Jacob
- Since there were generally fewer off-colored animals in an average flock, Jacob probably had many more animals to look after. That meant a lot less work for Laban and his sons and a lot more work for Jacob.
Laban then separated the two flocks by a three day journey (about 50-60 miles [80-130km]) so the off-colored group couldn’t breed with the solid colored animals. This meant that Jacob was now on his own with the responsibility of managing a group of animals that were genetically unlikely to benefit him.
Jacob had gained many years of experience in breeding and raising livestock while he worked for Laban and now it was time for him to put that experience to good use. As Jacob began to care for these animals, we’ll find that he decided to use some breeding techniques that had a good scientific basis- and a few that didn’t…
“Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. When the flocks were in heat and came to drink, they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted.
“Jacob set apart the young of the flock by themselves, but made the rest face the streaked and dark-colored animals that belonged to Laban. Thus he made separate flocks for himself and did not put them with Laban’s animals. Whenever the stronger females were in heat, Jacob would place the branches in the troughs in front of the animals so they would mate near the branches, but if the animals were weak, he would not place them there. So the weak animals went to Laban and the strong ones to Jacob” (Genesis 30:37-42).
It seems that Jacob believed that these striped branches would somehow help his livestock to produce streaked or spotted offspring. But notice that this passage doesn’t say that these animals were born with certain characteristics because of what Jacob did. It simply tells us that “…they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted” (emphasis added).
You see, Jacob actions did nothing to affect the genetic characteristics of his livestock even though it may have seemed like a good idea to him at the time. The real reason behind Jacob’s successful breeding program was the fact that God was involved in protecting him and making sure that Laban couldn’t cheat him anymore (see Genesis 31:6-12).
This means that Jacob could have put a striped branch, a skateboard, a bag of potato chips, or anything else out in front of these animals while they mated and it wouldn’t have made any difference. Since God had already decided to help Jacob and protect him from Laban, he was destined to be successful no matter what.
But Jacob did do something that made good common sense- he used selective breeding methods to help improve his herd by mating the stronger animals together and separating the weaker ones. While this was certainly helpful, the most important thing was that God was with Jacob and blessed the results of his work.
“In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and maidservants and menservants, and camels and donkeys” (Genesis 30:43).
This was great for Jacob, but not everyone was happy about his success as we’ll see next.