Well thank you for checking out this verse by verse Bible study podcast, my name is Randy Duncan, and in this episode we will be covering Genesis chapter 30.
As a reminder, in the last episode, we discussed Jacob being manipulated by Laban, so that he has ended up working for Laban for 14 years now and marrying both Leah and Rachel. And we talked about the various dynamics in play throughout that whole situation.
But we come now to the point where Jacob approaches Laban and says it is time for him to return to his homeland. And so with that, we begin chapter 30
30 When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” 2 Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” 3 Then she said, “Here is my servant Bilhah; go in to her, so that she may give birth on my behalf, that even I may have children through her.” 4 So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife, and Jacob went in to her. 5 And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. 6 Then Rachel said, “God has vindicated me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son.” Therefore she called his name Dan. 7 Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. 8 Then Rachel said, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed.” So she called his name Naphtali.
So Rachel has not been able to have children. And she says to acob, “Give me children or I shall die”. This is simply hyperbole to express her extreme greif. In Rachel’s mind, life would not be worth living without children. In this ancient culture, there was a certain shame that society attached to childlessness. In fact, even the 1902 Jewish Encyclopedia noted that “to be without child is regarded as the greatest curse”. And so she says to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die’! Ironically, and here is a spoiler alert, Rachel will die in childbirth in chapter 35!
And so how does Jacob respond to Rachel? Probably could have chosen his words more carefully, and seemingly with more compassion. Jacob responds by asking Rachel, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” Piece of advice for you men out there…I wouldn’t recommend responding like that! Although Jacob is technically correct, this sort of short, rhetorical response seems to come across as a bit insensitive.
And so what does Rachel end up doing? Just like Sarah did, she resorts to offering Bilhah as a concubine to her husband. We have already discussed this device of concubinage in an earlier episode, so I won’t go over that again. But Jacob apparently goes along with the plan, sleeps with Bilhah, and she gives birth to a son. Although she is not the birth mother, Rachel will be the one that would actually raise the child, sort of like an adoptive parent today. And she says “God has vindicated me, and heard my voice and given me a son”, so she names him Dan, which comes from a root word, Din (deen), that means to judge or vindicate.
Same thing happens again. And Bilhah conceives and bears Jacob a second son, Naphtali
The text tells us that “Then Rachel said, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed.” So she called his name Naphtali. SO first of all, here we see recorded the birth of Jacob’s son, Naphtali. But notice something else. Rachel was so upset at not having children that she said her life was not worth living. But she was now already raising and loving and nurturing Dan. But apparently that was not enough. Because she says after this son was born that she has “wrestled with her sister and prevailed”, which is why she names the child Naphtali, which comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to contest”.
And so we see Rachel’s true attitude exposed here. It wasn’t enough to have a child to love and to raise. She was in competition wth her older sister. It is actually sad that people can have an attitude like this. To harbor this sort of jealousy, and to try to outdo one another. But it also reveals human nature.
9-13 – 9 When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took her servant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. 10 Then Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11 And Leah said, “Good fortune has come!” so she called his name Gad. 12 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. 13 And Leah said, “Happy am I! For women have called me happy.” So she called his name Asher
Well Leah has stopped having children herself, so not to be outdone by her sister, she too now gets in on the concubine act, and offers Jacob her servant Zilpah as a wife. Zilpah ends up giving birth to Gad and Asher. By the time this is over, four of Jacob’s twelve sons will be born through concubines.
14-18 – 14 In the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” 15 But she said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” Rachel said, “Then he may lie with you tonight in exchange for your son’s mandrakes.” 16 When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “You must come in to me, for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he lay with her that night. 17 And God listened to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18 Leah said, “God has given me my wages because I gave my servant to my husband.” So she called his name Issachar
So here we have this strange episode where Leah’s son Reuben was out in a field and found some mandrakes and brings them to Leah. Rachel then approaches Leah and asks for the mandrakes. But Leah responds by saying “you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” Ooh, shots fired!!
But, did you catch the self-righteous irony there? Leah accuses Rachel of stealing her husband, when in fact, it was actually Leah who did that to Rachel. So the exact opposite is true! And you think that this only started within our recent political & social environment! Everybody blaming someone else, everybody playing the victim. No, unfortunately, this has been the case from the very beginning with people, going all the way back to the Garden, with Adam blaming Eve, Eve blaming Satan. Never, never underestimate people’s ability to rationalize!
Now, a word about mandrakes. In the ancient world, mandrakes were used as an aphrodisiac. There was a belief that the mandrake plant had the power to increase sexual desire and induce pregnancy. In fact, Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty and sex was called “The Lady of the Mandrake”
So what is happening here is that these two sisters, who are in this sort of rivalry, reach an agreement that meets both their needs. Leah has children, but not the love of her husband. Rachel has the love of her husband, but no children. Leah desires love and recognition from Jacob, Rachel desires children. And so they reach this deal, where Leah will give the mandrakes to Rachel in exchange for Rachel allowing Jacob to sleep with her that night.
So that evening when Jacob comes in from the field, Leah meets him, and tells him what’s up. She tells him “You are to sleep with me, for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes”. Understand, Leah was so desperate for love, that she resorts to hiring her own husband to sleep with her for the night! It is honestly both sad and pathetic. But Jacob, once again it seems, does as he is told
And as we will see, Leah gives birth to two more sons and a daughter without the mandrakes, while Rachel, with the mandrakes, will go three more years with no children. So much for the power of the mandrake! And so much for folklore and superstition!
As a result of that night, Leah ends up pregnant and giving birth to another son, Issachar.
19 And Leah conceived again, and she bore Jacob a sixth son. 20 Then Leah said, “God has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will honor me, because I have borne him six sons.” So she called his name Zebulun. 21 Afterward she bore a daughter and called her name Dinah. 22 Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. 23 She conceived and bore a son and said, “God has taken away my reproach.” 24 And she called his name Joseph, saying, “May the Lord add to me another son!”
So Leah gives birth to another son, and names him Zebulun. Notice what Leah says here too. She says that “since I have borne Jacob six sons, now he will honor me”. That word “honor” in Hebrew means to raise, to exalt, and so once again reflects Leah’s yearning for her husband’s attention. But remember, Leah has had to hire her husband Jacob to achieve what she hopes will bring her what she desires, which is his love and affection. You would think by now that Leah would have already realized that no number of children would cause Jacob to fall in love with her. Love doesn’t work that way! Love can’t be manipulated or coerced like that. It must be freely given.
Leah then gives birth to a daughter, Dinah. Or as it’s pronounced in the Hebrew, (Dee-nah’). This is the only named daughter of Jacob, and perhaps she is named here because she will appear again in the terrible events that occur in chapter 34.
In verse 22 we see a sudden transition from Leah to Rachel, when it tells us that God remembered Rachel, and listened to her, and opened her womb. Now when the Bible says that “God remembered”, it doesn’t mean that God had previously forgotten. God doesn’t forget like we do. It simply means that God decided to act. Rachel finally gives birth to a son, and names him Joseph, which of course, will go on to become one of the most recognized and revered people in all of scripture. And he will be the focus of several upcoming chapters in the book of Genesis
This then completes the birth narrative, and so the focus now shifts back to Jacob and Laban
25 As soon as Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country. 26 Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, that I may go, for you know the service that I have given you.” 27 But Laban said to him, “If I have found favor in your sight, I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you. 28 Name your wages, and I will give it.” 29 Jacob said to him, “You yourself know how I have served you, and how your livestock has fared with me. 30 For you had little before I came, and it has increased abundantly, and the Lord has blessed you wherever I turned. But now when shall I provide for my own household also?”
So after the birth of Jospeh, Jacob approaches Laban and says, “let me return to my home”. Jacob has now fulfilled all of his obligations to Laban. Now that God has blessed him and Rachel with the birth of Joseph, it is now time to prepare for his journey back home. And so he formally asks leave of Laban to take his wives and children, and return to his homeland. Remember, it has now been 20 years since Jacob left his home, fleeing his brother Esau and finding a wife. Remember what Jacob’s mother told him, “Flee to Laban’s house for a number of days, until your brother Esau’s anger subsides”. Well those few days have now turned into 20 years!!
Notice the verbiage that Jacob uses when talking to Laban here. Jacob tells Laban that “I have served you”. In the Hebrew, that word for serve is actually repeated three times in this one verse. So Jacob is characterizing his time with Laban as one of servitude.
And how does Laban respond? Well, Laban being Laban, he of course wants Jacob to stay. I think there is something important here to notice. Just as the Egyptians tried to keep Israel enslaved, Laban tries to prevent Jacob’s return to his homeland. Do you see the foreshadowing here? And just as Israel will leave the oppression and servitude of Egypt and return home, so will Jacob leave Laban and return to his home. Both Israel and Jacob began their servitude with nothing, they will both leave the land with riches.
So Laban tells Jacob that he has been blesse by God on account of Jacob. He says he learned this through divination. Now divination was forbidden in Israel, because it presumes that spiritual forces other than God control the world. Some commentators interpret this as Laban simply saying that ‘I have learned by experience” that God has blessed me on your account. But either way, Laban acknowledges that God has blessed him on account of Jacob and so he is not about to let him just leave that easily.
And even though Laban admits to God’s blessings upon him through Jacob, his confession does not lead to a change in his heart. There is no conversion. He continues to try and cheat and manipulate Jacob for his own gain.
There is a lesson here. Intellectual knowledge, intellectual ascent, does not necessarily result in a change of heart. Knowing something to be true doesn’t always result in a change of lifestyle. Knowing that God exists doesn’t always drive people to lead a better or more moral life. Satan “knows” the truth, in fact, much better than you or I do, but what good is that doing him? Just knowing something in and of itself is useless. It’s what you do with that information that matters.
Learning and hearing about Jesus, and realizing you cannot escape the truth claims of Christianity does not result in people converting, and placing their trust and faith in Jesus! I wish it was that simple. But you know its not. In fact, Romans 1:21 tells us “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
So Laban straight out tells Jacob, Name your wages and I will pay it! In other words, name your price! How much will it take? However much it is, I will pay it! You see, Laban is always focused on the material things. He is focused on the money. There’s always an angle with Laban, and its always about the money.
Jacob responds by reiterating how much Laban has been blessed on his account, but also asks “at what point should I provide for my own household?” Good question, Jacob. And so the conversation continues.
31-36– 31 He said, “What shall I give you?” Jacob said, “You shall not give me anything. If you will do this for me, I will again pasture your flock and keep it: 32 let me pass through all your flock today, removing from it every speckled and spotted sheep and every black lamb, and the spotted and speckled among the goats, and they shall be my wages. 33 So my honesty will answer for me later, when you come to look into my wages with you. Every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats and black among the lambs, if found with me, shall be counted stolen.” 34 Laban said, “Good! Let it be as you have said.” 35 But that day Laban removed the male goats that were striped and spotted, and all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had white on it, and every lamb that was black, and put them in the charge of his sons. 36 And he set a distance of three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, and Jacob pastured the rest of Laban’s flock.
And so again, Laban asks Jacob, “What shall I give you?” Jacob responds by telling Laban, you sall not pay me anything! But if you do this one thing for me, I will again pasture your flock. So Jacob doesn’t want Laban’s money. He offers to take care of the flocks for Laban, and his only payment would be that he would keep any of the spotted and speckled sheep or lamb, and every black lamb, and those would be his wages.
Jacob also tells Laban that later on, when Laban comes and checks out the flock that Jacob has, if any of them are not speckled or striped, then Laban should consider those as stolen.
Now, a couple of things about Jacob’s proposal here. Normally in the Near East, goats are either black or dark brown, and sheep are white. But Jacob is saying his wages would be only those abnormally colored sheep and goats. Normally, the wages for a shepherd would be around 20% of the flock, and rarely, if ever, would the speckled population of the flock be that high. So Jacob is offering Laban quite a deal here because these varieties, thse speckled and striped flock, were very rare. And so Laban readily agrees to this deal since he believes he is getting a real bargain.
But once again, Laban is going to be Laban. A good bargain isn’t enough for this greedy man. So what does Laban do? He goes and removes all of the striped and speckled from among the flock, gives them to his sons, and sends them away so there is no chance for Jacob for them to breed with the other flock. In fact, Laban sends them a three days journey away! So Jacob is starting with no abnormally colored flock. Don’t you just love Laban?! Everybody’s favorite uncle!
One other observation I would make here. Most of us were taught in high school about basic genetics and inheritance and Gregor Mendel, who is called the father of genetics, and then also random variation and Charles Darwin with his theory of evolution and so forth. Both of these men lived in the 1800s.
But notice that thousands of years ago, both Jacob and Laban already knew about genetics and inheritance and variation. And I’m sure these two men weren’t special in that regard. It would have been common knowledge for any shepherd, just as it has been for any farmer, that the characteristics of animals that are born depend on the characteristics of the animals that are breeding. I mean, this is shepherding 101!
Laban certainly understood it quite well, which is why he goes and removes all of the abnormally colored flock and sends them away, so they wouldn’t be around to breed, and so the likelihood of any abnormally colored flock being born would have been extremely low! And thus, he would owe Jacob very little. Again, you gotta love Laban! Or, as they would say in a lot of Baptist churches in the south, Bless his heart!
So to finish out the verses here in chapter 30, 37-43 read…37 Then Jacob took fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the sticks. 38 He set the sticks that he had peeled in front of the flocks in the troughs, that is, the watering places, where the flocks came to drink. And since they bred when they came to drink, 39 the flocks bred in front of the sticks and so the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted. 40 And Jacob separated the lambs and set the faces of the flocks toward the striped and all the black in the flock of Laban. He put his own droves apart and did not put them with Laban’s flock. 41 Whenever the stronger of the flock were breeding, Jacob would lay the sticks in the troughs before the eyes of the flock, that they might breed among the sticks, 42 but for the feebler of the flock he would not lay them there. So the feebler would be Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s. 43 Thus the man increased greatly and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys.
So what in the world is this all about? Well, there are various thoughts and interpretations of what is actually going on here. It tells us that Jacob took fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees, and made peeled white streaks in them. BTW, a plane tree is similar to a sycamore tree. But Jacob exposes the whites of the sticks. But he places these sticks that he had peeled in front of the watering troughs where the animals came to drink and also to breed.
There is a thought that each of those plants used contained toxic substances used in the ancient world for medicinal purposes, which could have had an effect on quickening the estrous cycle in the animals so that they would more readily breed.
Another thought is that it is no more than superstition, similar to the mandrakes that Rachel thought would help her become pregnant.
But we know that Jacob also practices selective breeding techniques here. Again, thousands of years before scientists were able to explain the actual genetic mechanisms. Jacob may not have been able to break out a microscope and see the dominant and recessive genes, but he certainly was experienced with the visual outcomes, just as any farmer or shepherd would have been.
But either way, we know that the result was brought about by God’s sovereignty and his blessing of Jacob.
Verse 43 tells us that Jacob increased greatly, and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys. The assumption here is that Jacob simply bartered and traded his strong sheep and goats to acquire these additional possessions. This is the climax of this chaper and of this scene. Jacob grew exceedingly prosperous. The Hebrew word for “grew” here means to “break out”, and is the same verb used back in chapter 28 for God’s promise at Bethel, demonstrating that the promise had been fulfilled.
As a reminder, it is also important to see that Jacob, who will soon have his name changed to Israel by God, comes into a foreign land with nothing, works as a servant, and then leaves the land to return home with great possessions through God’s blessings. Does that sound familiar at all? It should, because it foreshadows Israel’s servitude in Egypt.
God’s transformation of Jacb’s character is now well underway. Jacob has been on the receiving end of the same sort of deception he was a part of with his father Isaac. He is being humbled. He will return to the land of Israel, not the land of Isaac or Jacob. But before he is fit to do so, it will require God to change his character.
And you know that sounds a lot like what Jesus does for us. There’s not a prerequisite, there are no requirements that your character be perfect before you place your faith and trust in Jesus. Jesus will meet you where you are. In fact, if you’re waiting until you are worthy of Jesus to come to Him, you’ll never make it. It doesn’t work like that. If youre waiting until your “good enough”, well, spoiler alert, you’re never going to be good enough. That’s the bad news
The good news is that’s what the Gospel is all about. The good news is that even though youre not good enough, and you never will be, that your sin has separated you from God, Jesus came to bring you back into a right relationship with God. That’s what the cross is all about. That’s what the Gospel is all about. And all you have to do is accept the offer by confessing your sin, and placing your faith and trust in Jesus, and begin following him. And when you do that the Bible tells us in
2 Cor 5:17, that “ Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.