I’ve always found the passage in Genesis, where Jacob and Laban are setting Jacob’s wages for taking care of Laban’s flocks, to be very confusing. It was hard to tell the difference between who took which sheep, whose sons watched the animals, etc. Has anyone else been confused by this?
Today, we were reading the Torah portion for this week, and now I understand it better. The Holy Spirit showed me the passage in Genesis 30:25-43 in a whole new light, and I got my learn on! I want to share what I learned, but first, let’s refresh our memories on this passage (Genesis 30:25-43).
25Now it came about when Rachel had borne Joseph, that Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, that I may go to my own place and to my own country.
26“Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, and let me depart; for you yourself know my service which I have rendered you.”
27But Laban said to him, “If now it pleases you, stay with me; I have divined that the LORD has blessed me on your account.”
28He continued, “Name me your wages, and I will give it.”
29But he said to him, “You yourself know how I have served you and how your cattle have fared with me.
30“For you had little before I came and it has increased to a multitude, and the LORD has blessed you wherever I turned. But now, when shall I provide for my own household also?”
31So he said, “What shall I give you?” And Jacob said, “You shall not give me anything. If you will do this one thing for me, I will again pasture and keep your flock:
32let me pass through your entire flock today, removing from there every speckled and spotted sheep and every black one among the lambs and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and such shall be my wages.
33“So my honesty will answer for me later, when you come concerning my wages. Every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats and black among the lambs, if found with me, will be considered stolen.”
34Laban said, “Good, let it be according to your word.”
35So he removed on that day the striped and spotted male goats and all the speckled and spotted female goats, every one with white in it, and all the black ones among the sheep, and gave them into the care of his sons.
36And he put a distance of three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, and Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks.
37Then Jacob took fresh rods of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white stripes in them, exposing the white which was in the rods.
38He set the rods which he had peeled in front of the flocks in the gutters, even in the watering troughs, where the flocks came to drink; and they mated when they came to drink.
39So the flocks mated by the rods, and the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted.
40Jacob separated the lambs, and made the flocks face toward the striped and all the black in the flock of Laban; and he put his own herds apart, and did not put them with Laban’s flock.
41Moreover, whenever the stronger of the flock were mating, Jacob would place the rods in the sight of the flock in the gutters, so that they might mate by the rods;
42but when the flock was feeble, he did not put them in; so the feebler were Laban’s and the stronger Jacob’s.
43So the man became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks and female and male servants and camels and donkeys.
The best way that I can explain what I learned today is to paraphrase this passage, and try to explain what I think was going on between Jacob and Laban.
Jacob wants to take his family and go back to Canaan. Laban wants Jacob to stay, because Laban has become wealthy from the Lord blessing him on account of Jacob, and offers to pay Jacob if he (Jacob) will continue to be Laban’s shepherd.
Note: Jacob has already worked for Laban for 14 years; 7 years to pay the wedding price for Rachel, and when Laban substituted Leah in Rachel’s place, Jacob had to work another 7 years to pay the wedding price for the girl he wanted to marry all along. After 14 years of being Laban’s shepherd, all Jacob had to show for his work was two wives, two concubines, eleven sons and one daughter!
Jacob agrees to work for Laban some more, under the condition that Laban pays him only in sheep and goats that are striped, spotted, and speckled – and that Laban does not pay Jacob with any of the flocks that he (Laban) already has. Jacob will be paid from the offspring of Laban’s existing flocks, that were in Jacob’s care.
Laban agrees to these terms, and then he (Laban) separates all the striped, spotted, and speckled animals from his herds. Laban gives these animals to his (Laban’s) sons to care for, leaving only solid-colored animals for Jacob to watch. Laban also takes all the goats that had white in them, but were not solid white.
Then Laban moves all of his striped, spotted, and speckled animals a three-days journey away from Jacob, in order to eliminate the chance of any of Laban’s striped, spotted, and speckled animals mating with the solid-colored animals in Jacob’s care, and maybe producing striped, spotted, or speckled offspring (which would then be part of Jacob’s wages).
Laban thought that he was being slick, that solid-colored animals would only produce solid-colored offspring. How was Jacob supposed to get spotted, striped, and speckled offspring from solid colored parents? Laban thought that striped, spotted, and speckled animals could only produce striped, spotted, and speckled offspring – and that solid-colored animals could only produce solid-colored offspring!
Jacob had told Laban that any solid-colored offspring in his (Jacob’s) care would belong to Laban, and that Laban could even consider those solid-colored offspring to be stolen from him if he found any among the animals in Jacob’s care. Not the first generation, but the later offspring. Jacob would only keep the striped, spotted, and speckled offspring from solid colored parents for himself.
Once Laban has gone away, Jacob peels sticks of wood to look like they were striped. I think that he did this in order to tell God what kind of offspring that he was hoping to get when the solid-colored animals in his care began mating.
Then Jacob made sure that he got the better of the deal by making sure that only the strongest of the animals mated in front of the striped sticks, while the weak and puny animals did not have those sticks in front of them. This way, God continued to bless Jacob in an unlikely way, which ensured Laban could not rightly accuse Jacob of stealing from him (Laban), although Laban tried to do that in Chapter 31!