- Locate the passage
This passage is the natural progression of Jacob’s growing family. This passage of the growth of Jacob’s flocks parallels the previous pericope which chronicled the growth of Jacob’s family. He realizes that he needs to be able to provide for his large and growing family. Appropriately, Jacob begins the conversation with Laban.
The passage is narrative. It records the conversation (negotiation) between Jacob and Laban.
- Determine the structure of the passage
30:25-26 – Jacob desires to return to his home country with his family
30:27-34 – Laban and Jacob negotiate wages for Jacob to continue serving Laban
30:35-36-43 – Jacob’s strategy to manipulate the arrangement in his favor
- Exegete the passage
In this passage, two deceivers collide.
Despite the difficulty of the text regarding Jacob’s crossbreeding of the stronger sheep to manipulate his agreement with Laban in his favor, the text implies the blessing of the Lord on Jacob in fulfillment of His promise (28:20). There is no “reason” why Jacob’s strategy worked. His antics may reflect a superstition much like the previous episode with the mandrakes.
Both Laban and Jacob acknowledge that the Lord had blessed Laban on account of Jacob.
30:25 – Jacob desires to return to his home land. This would fulfill his request of the Lord (28:29) and the promise of the Lord to him (28:13, 15). The promise of God is never in question in this passage. What is relevant is Jacob’s willingness to trust God to fulfill His promise or try to manipulate God’s promise for himself.
The expression, “send me on my way” suggests Jacob’s request to be released from his obligation to Laban on the basis that he had fulfilled his part of the bargain. The phrase, “send me” (“shalachni”) is the same phrase that the servant requested of Laban in 24:54 and should be translated the same in both passages.
30:26 – Despite Laban’s deception of Jacob, Jacob fulfilled his obligation to Laban. He had served Laban 14 years for Rachel and Leah.
- Laban does not question Jacob’s service or his contention that he had fulfilled his obligation.
30:27 – Some English translations add the word “stay” to Laban’s request of Jacob. The word is not in the Hebrew, but is implied in Laban’s statement.
- The condition, “if I have found favor” must have sounded curious to Jacob who had been deceived by Laban.
- Laban recognized that the Lord had blessed him because of Jacob (cf. 30:30)
- Jacob professes to have learned by “experience” that the Lord had blessed him on account of Jacob
- The word “nachash” can be rendered “divination” or “experience.” The context and Jacob’s response in 30:29 (“you know”) suggests that Laban is talking from experience not from having practiced divination. Moreover, since both seem to agree that Laban had a small flock with Jacob arrived and it had grown to a large flock (30:30), it would seem unnecessary for Laban to practice divination to discover the obvious blessing. That attribution of the blessing to the Lord is echoed and confirmed by Jacob in 30:30.
30:28 – Laban offers Jacob a blank check.
- Name your “wages”
- This is the same word that Laban used in 29:15 when Jacob first came to Laban. Jacob negotiated the terms in that case as well. Note the parallel in Gen. 29:15-30 and 31:41-42. In both cases, Laban “changed Jacob’s wages.” Though, despite Laban changing the terms in both cases, the Lord allowed Jacob to prosper.
30:29-30 – Jacob begins the negotiation by highlighting the growth of Laban’s flock in the 14 years that Jacob has served him.
- The Lord has blessed you “since my coming”
- “at my foot.” The implication is that wherever Jacob served (“stepped”) Laban, the Lord blessed.
- Jacob is drawing on Laban’s concern for his daughters. Surely Laban would want his son-in-law to be able to provide for Laban’s daughters.
30:31-36 – Laban repeated his offer. Laban’s question relates to what he can “give” Jacob. Jacob seems to have given this situation some consideration. He rejects the need to be “given” anything. Instead, he will earn his wages.
Thus, the text suggests that the initial speckled and spotted sheep of Laban’s flock were not given into Jacob’s careMathews, Genesis 11:17-50:26, 498-99.. Even though Jacob initially suggested that he would go through the flock and remove the speckled and spotted sheep and goats, it seems that Laban did the actual removing (perhaps to prevent Jacob from falsely claiming them as his own). Note that Laban is the subject of 30:34, so the “he” of 30:35 most naturally would refer to Laban. Moreover, 30:36 says that “he” put three days’ journey between himself and Jacob. This implies that Laban not only separated the flocks and gave them to his sons, but also determined where Jacob would shepherd them.
Thus, Laban has divided his flock (vs. 35 – “that day”) between his sons and Jacob. Laban’s sons were initially given trust of all the speckled and spotted sheep of his flock before this negotiation. Jacob was give the care of all the rest of Laban’s flocks. When the flocks under Jacob’s care reproduced, the speckled and spotted of those would become Jacob’s “wages.” So, initially, Jacob was “given” nothing from Laban. He was completely trusting in the Lord for any future wealth. He trusted that the Lord would allow speckled and spotted flocks to be produced from the non-speckled and non-spotted under his care.
30:37-42 – Jacob’s strategy had three parts to it. First, he developed a strategy which comes across bizarre in the text to procure an initial flock of speckled and spotted sheep and goats. Second, he separated the initial speckled and spotted among the flock and tended those separately. Third, as the stronger (presumably among both sets of flocks that he was overseeing) were mating, he followed the same strategy to ensure that only the strong of the flock would produce speckled and spotted sheep and goats. Thus, the text concludes that over time, Jacob’s herd became stronger and Laban’s became weaker.
The idea of Jacob’s strategy depended on the visual aids that he used. By putting a striped rod in front of the flocks as they mated, the assumption is that they would be more likely to produce striped or spotted flocks.
30:43 – Despite the peculiar strategy that Jacob employed, it seems clear in the text, that the flocks were not blessed due to Jacob’s strategy, but through the blessing of the Lord. Thus, like Abraham (13:2) and Isaac (24:35) before him, Jacob was blessed of God with great wealth.
- Let the structure of the text drive the sermon
- We can be confident that God will fulfill His promise
- Longing for his homeland – the substance of God’s promise
- Desire to provide for his family
- God doesn’t need my help to complete His promise
- My life is designed to be a blessing to others
- Laban recognized that God had blessed him because of Jacob
- Could that be said of us? Does God bless others because of our lives?
- Laban recognized that God had blessed him because of Jacob
- God, in His goodness, may choose to bless us in spite of ourselves
- Jacob’s “schemes” were not the source of his blessing – even Laban knew that the blessings came from the Lord
- God calls us to live our faith in the face of an unfaithful people
- Because Laban was sinful did not give Jacob a right to sin
|↑1||Mathews, Genesis 11:17-50:26, 498-99.|