Here, we continue our study in Genesis.
25After Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, "Send me on my way so that I can go back to my own homeland. 26Give 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."
27But 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." 28He added, "Name your wages, and I will pay them."
29Jacob said to him, "You know how I have worked for you and how your livestock has fared under my care. 30The 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?"
31"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: 32Let 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. 33And 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."
34"Agreed," said Laban. "Let it be as you have said." 35That 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. 36Then he put a three-day journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob continued to tend the rest of Laban's flocks.
37Jacob, 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. 38Then 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, 39they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. 40Jacob 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. 41Whenever the stronger females were in heat, Jacob would place the branches in the troughs in front of the animals so that they would mate near the branches, 42but if the animals were weak, he would not place them there. So the weak animals went to Laban and the strong ones to Jacob. 43In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and maidservants and menservants, and camels and donkeys.
After almost twenty years in Paddan Aram, Jacob's thoughts turn to his real home: "After Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, `Send me on my way so that I can go back to my own homeland'" (vs. 25). Most likely, the birth of Joseph--Jacob's favorite son, by his favorite wife--caused Jacob to want to return to Canaan and claim the blessings promised to him by God.
Laban, however, had other ideas: "If I have found favor in your eyes, please stay. I have learned by divination that the LORD has blessed me because of you. . . Name your wages, and I will pay them" (vs. 27-28). Laban wanted Jacob to stay because he realized (oddly, by divination) that he was being blessed by God through the presence of the godly man Jacob. This happens often: the ungodly blessed by God through the presence of the godly. We see this all around us: the wayward son kept safe by God through the prayers of his godly mother, the worldly husband prospered by God through the prayers of his godly wife, the business enterprise rendered successful by God through the prayers of its godly employees. And just like Laban, so often those who are blessed through the presence of the godly, do not turn to God themselves. Instead of yearning for the presence of God Himself, like Laban, they just desire the continued presence of the godly people through whom they are blessed by God. They do not desire to worship and obey God, but they want to partake in His blessings.
Jacob's stated reason for leaving was so that he may have the fruits of his labor benefit his own family, instead of Laban. He tells Laban: "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?" (vs. 30). Laban desires greatly that he stay, so he offers: "What shall I give you?" (vs. 31). Jacob, the great "heel-catcher", now sees an opportunity. He makes Laban a very reasonable deal. Jacob will continue working for Laban, but "every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb and every spotted or speckled goat" will be Jacob's; the rest will be Laban's (vss. 32-33). This deal was very reasonable for Laban because most of the sheeps and goats were not speckled nor spotted.
Laban, being a husbandman, knew such things could be manipulated, though. He also knew that Jacob, "heel-catcher" that he was, would try to manipulate the balance of speckled and spotted sheep and goats. So, Laban removed the sheep and goats that most likely would produce Jacob's sheep and goats when bred with the others, and "placed them in the care of his sons" (vs. 35).
This did not daunt Jacob. Moses tells us in detail Jacob's scheme to increase his own flocks, while also making them the best and strongest of the herd: "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 that they would mate near the branches, but if the animals were weak, he would not place them there" (Gen. 30:37-42). Just given this, it is difficult to understand (scientifically, that is), how Jacob's flock increased. However, in the next chapter, all becomes clear. Jacob later reveals to Rachel and Leah the true source of his prosperity: "God has not allowed [Laban] to harm me. If he said, `The speckled ones will be your wages,' then all the flocks gave birth to speckled young; and if he said, `The streaked ones will be your wages,' then all the flocks bore streaked young. So God has taken away your father's livestock and has given them to me. In the breeding season I once had a dream in which I looked up and saw that the male goats mating with the flock were streaked, speckled or spotted. The angel of God said to me in the dream, `Jacob.' I answered, `Here I am.' And he said, `Look up and see that all the male goats mating with the flock are streaked, speckled or spotted, for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you.'" (Gen. 31:7-12). It was God who blessed Jacob, and caused more speckled and spotted sheep and goats to be born. Most likely, God gave Jacob the directions in Gen. 30:37-42 concerning the breeding of the sheep and goats. "Self-help and divine help do not exclude one another."[Footnote #1] In the Bible, God often asks the recipient of a miraculous blessing to do something to demonstrate his faith in the promise, and to show obedience for the command of God: Moses had to keep his hands held up in order for the Israelites to defeat the Amalekites (Ex. 17); Naaman had to wash in the Jordan to be rid of his leprosy (II Kings 5); the blind man had to wash the mud made from Christ's saliva out of his eyes in the Pool of Siloam (John 9); etc.
Jacob obeyed, and God blessed him: "So the weak animals wento to Laban and the strong ones to Jacob. In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and maidservants and menservants, and camels and donkeys" (vss. 42-43).
1Jacob heard that Laban's sons were saying, "Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father." 2And Jacob noticed that Laban's attitude towards him was not what it had been.
3Then the LORD said to Jacob, "Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you."
4So Jacob sent word to Rachel and Leah to come out to the fields where his flocks were. 5He said to them, "I see that your father's attitude towards me is not what it was before, but the God of my father has been with me. 6You know that I've worked for your father with all my strength, 7yet your father has cheated me by changing my wages ten times. However, God has not allowed him to harm me. 8If he said, `The speckled ones will be your wages,' then all the flocks gave birth to speckled young; and if he said, `The streaked ones will be your wages,' then all the flocks bore streaked young. 9So God has taken away your father's livestock and has given them to me.
10"In the breeding season I once had a dream in which I looked up and saw that the male goats mating with the flock were streaked, speckled or spotted. 11The angel of God said to me in the dream, `Jacob.' I answered, `Here I am.' 12And he said, `Look up and see that all the male goats mating with the flock are streaked, speckled or spotted, for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. 13I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land.'"
14Then Rachel and Leah replied, "Do we still have any share in the inheritance of our father's estate? 15Does he not regard us as foreigners? Not only has he sold us, but he has used up what was paid for us. 16Surely all the wealth that God took away from our father belongs to us and our children. So do whatever God has told you."
17Then Jacob put his children and his wives on camels, 18and he drove all his livestock ahead of him, along with all the goods he had accumulated in Paddan Aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan.
19When Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father's household gods. 20Moreover, Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him he was running away. 21So he fled with all he had, and crossing the River, he headed for the hill country of Gilead.
Jacob's prosperity caused strife: "Jacob heard that Laban's sons were saying, `Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.' And Jacob noticed that Laban's attitude towards him was not what it had been" (vss. 1-2). Indeed, it must have shaken Laban to look out and see so many strong and healthy speckled and spotted sheep and goats. This strife must certainly have turned Jacob's heart toward his real home and caused him to desire once again to return. It was always, of course, God's will that Jacob return to the promised land. Though Jacob was successful in business, God saw to it that Jacob was never quite comfortable in Paddan Aram. God did not want him to feel at home there. The strife and affliction that Jacob experienced was actually a blessing of God (though I am sure Jacob did not see it as such!). "So the Lord often better secures the salvation of His people, by subjecting them to the hatred, the envy, and the malevolence of the wicked, than by suffering them to be soothed with bland address. It was far more useful to holy Jacob to have his father-in-law and his sons opposed, than to have them courteously obsequious to his wishes; because their favour might have deprived him of the blessing of God."[Footnote #2] And it is the same with us. God does not want us to be too comfortable in this world. If we were, we would never long for our true home and inheritance in heaven.
Jacob now was ripe and well-prepared for the command of God: "Then the LORD said to Jacob, `Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you'" (vs. 3). What a blessing that God tells us to move ("Go back to the land"), and then also promises to be with us as we obey ("...and I will be with you"). We learn in this episode, through His guidance of Jacob, much about how God often guides us. God guided Jacob in three steps: Jacob felt in his heart the desire to return to Canaan (30:25), the circumstances furthered his desire to leave (31:1-2), God confirmed with His command that Jacob's desire was His will (31:3). "This is ever the way of God's guidance; the conviction of the spirit within, the Word agreeing with it in principle, and then outward circumstances making action possible. When these three agree, we may be sure of right guidance."[Footnote #3] Significantly, the divine command came last, once the way was prepared.
Jacob could not just get up and leave, though. He had to get his wives' consent. He could not be sure that they would even want to leave with him. They would be leaving the only home they knew. They would be leaving their flesh and blood to strike out to a land hundreds of miles away. And would Jacob be able to provide for them in that land? After all, he came to Paddan Aram with nothing. So, Jacob brought Rachel and Leah out to the fields, "where his flocks were". He talked with them out there, presumably so that they would not be overheard, also so as to be among the flocks to remind them of his prosperity. To convince them, he told them that God was responsible for his prosperity, despite Laban's unfairness. This would serve to allay any fears that the women might have concerning Jacob's future ability to support the family. If God is supporting us, we have no fear wherever we may go. He can bless anywhere. Jacob also told them that it was God Himself who wanted him to return to Canaan.
The women unhesitatingly agreed to leave with Jacob. This says a lot about the character of Laban. His own daughters had no desire to stay with him, but rather, readily agreed to relocate hundreds of miles away to a land they had never seen.
And so Jacob gathered all his possessions together and left. Unfortunately though, "when Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father's household gods" (vs. 19). How sad it would be to have a god that someone could steal! This is the folly of all idolatry: gods that can be stolen. In these days and times, for the most part (at least in America), a less overt sort of idolatry is practiced. People worship money, worship power, worship family ties, worship self, worship worldly pleasure. But these forms of idolatry are as absurd as Laban's: gods that can be stolen.
How sad also it would be to have a god made of human hands! The Lord, through Isaiah, speaks on the foolishness of such idolatry:
"The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in the form of man, of man in all his glory, that it may dwell in a shrine. He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. It is man's fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, `Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.' From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, `Save me; you are my god.' They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so that they cannot see, and their minds closed so that they cannot understand. No-one stops to think, no-one has the knowledge or understanding to say, `Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?' He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, `Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?'" (Isaiah 44:13-20).
You say, "Ah, no one practices this sort of idolatry anymore." But wait. So many people do not like the truth of the Living God, and so make a god in their own image, how they want god to be. They hate God's law so they make a god that approves of their pet sin, whether it be fornication, or homosexuality, or greed, or drunkenness, etc. They despise Christ's sacrifice, so they make a god who will save anyone who is right in his own eyes. They scorn the holiness of the Lord, so they make a god who will save anyone and everyone. And so on. So we see, the rejection of the True and Living God necessarily leads to irrationality: to worshiping gods that can be stolen, to worshiping gods made by men.
It was sad and destructive for Rachel to bring her idolatry to the promised land. Later, it is suggested (see Gen. 35:2) that the idolatry was partly responsible for the horrible goings-on in Genesis 34. All idolatry is destructive, and leads to death. We must be careful to not be like Rachel and try to enter the promised land with luggage full of the idols of the world.
1. Keil & Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. I, pg. 295.
2. John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, Vol. II, pg. 162.
3. W. H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis: A Devotional Commentary, pg. 288.