37 And Jacob took him rods of green poplar, and of the hazel and chestnut tree; and pilled white strakes in them, and made the white appear which was in the rods.
38 And he set the rods which he had pilled before the flocks in the gutters in the watering troughs when the flocks came to drink, that they should conceive when they came to drink.
40 And Jacob did separate the lambs, and set the faces of the flocks toward the ringstraked, and all the brown in the flock of Laban; and he put his own flocks by themselves, and put them not unto Laban’s cattle.
41 And it came to pass, whensoever the stronger cattle did conceive, that Jacob laid the rods before the eyes of the cattle in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods.
42 But when the cattle were feeble, he put them not in: so the feebler were Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s.
43 And the man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses.
I had always read these verses as saying that goats who conceived while looking at striped sticks would give birth to striped children, which sounded superstitious and unscientific. Reading this again, though, I noticed it said that Jacob put the poplar, hazel, and chestnut sticks in the watering trough, which seems to suggest that they were being used for medicinal qualities to strengthen the goats as they conceived.
But he did not place them before all the cattle, only the ones that belonged to him. Furthermore, verse 40 shows that Jacob did not let his livestock mate with Laban’s, most likely to preserve the recessive gene that caused mottles or stripes in their coats. Thus, Jacob was able to artificially increase the number of speckled goats above the others, and he made them stronger and healthier at the same time.
I was wrong in my past readings of these verses. Jacob was employing shrewd tactics that were based upon a logical procedure, and as a result he came to exceed his own father-in-law.
35 And he removed that day the he goats that were ringstraked and spotted, and all the she goats that were speckled and spotted, and every one that had some white in it, and all the brown among the sheep, and gave them into the hand of his sons.
36 And he set three days’ journey betwixt himself and Jacob: and Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks.
Here we have two small verses that show a subtle, but significant shift in Jacob. He has agreed to continue tending to his father-in-law’s flocks, but first he removes all the cattle that belong to him and moves three day’s journey away. Thus Jacob is still here under Laban’s umbrella, but also he is not. He is physically and financially creating a space to be his own person.
And also notice to whom he is entrusting the goats and sheep that now belong to him: his sons. If Jacob is going to make it as the head of a household, he is going to need the help of the whole household. This is a family affair, and Jacob’s sons are going to have to step into Jacob’s position so that he may ascend to something higher.
And this gives an interesting background to a coming story of Jacob’s sons shirking their sheep-herding responsibilities and young Joseph being sent to monitor their activities.
29 And he said unto him, Thou knowest how I have served thee, and how thy cattle was with me.
30 For it was little which thou hadst before I came, and it is now increased unto a multitude; and the Lord hath blessed thee since my coming: and now when shall I provide for mine own house also?
32 I will pass through all thy flock to day, removing from thence all the speckled and spotted cattle, and all the brown cattle among the sheep, and the spotted and speckled among the goats: and of such shall be my hire.
33 So shall my righteousness answer for me in time to come, when it shall come for my hire before thy face: every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and brown among the sheep, that shall be counted stolen with me.
34 And Laban said, Behold, I would it might be according to thy word.
Jacob had wanted to leave Laban’s employ, and Laban instead told him to name his price and stay. Rather than declare a clear sum, Jacob proposed a transaction of uncertain quantities. He would continue to care for and increase Laban’s herd, and after doing so he would separate all of the speckled and striped cattle for himself. If that happened to be a hundredth of the flock he would only have a hundredth, if it was half he would have half.
Laban heard the offer and he agreed. In time he would realize that that was a very poor decision. He had signed a blank check, and Jacob would use cunning tactics to siphon much of the man’s wealth into his own pocket. Laban would have been far better off to just let Jacob go when he first requested it.
And that reveals an important failing in Laban’s reasoning. He saw that Jacob was blessed of God, and he wanted to manipulate that gift for his own benefit. But we should not try to contort the vessels of God to our own will. We will end up worse off than we were before.
25 And it came to pass, when Rachel had born Joseph, that Jacob said unto Laban, Send me away, that I may go unto mine own place, and to my country.
26 Give me my wives and my children, for whom I have served thee, and let me go: for thou knowest my service which I have done thee.
27 And Laban said unto him, I pray thee, if I have found favour in thine eyes, tarry: for I have learned by experience that the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake.
28 And he said, Appoint me thy wages, and I will give it.
Jacob came to this land alone, but now he had become head of a great household. He came here without occupation, but now he had become the master of the cattle. All of his work in the field, though, had gone to the dominion of his uncle Laban. Jacob had become powerful, but Laban was the one that had been made rich.
Thus, Jacob had reached the pinnacle of what he could be while still under Laban’s trappings. This role had grown too small for him, and the time for living underneath another man’s shadow had passed. After many years, he was finally ready to leave this chapter for a new one.
But where Laban graciously extended his protection over Jacob when he arrived in want, he proved clingy when Jacob wanted to leave. Only now, when his nephew was on the cusp of leaving did he suggest paying Jacob for his work. To me that seems incredibly insulting, but as we will see, the situation turns to Jacob’s favor in the end.
22 And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb.
23 And she conceived, and bare a son; and said, God hath taken away my reproach:
24 And she called his name Joseph; and said, The Lord shall add to me another son.
At long last the Lord saw fit for Rachel to conceive a child of her very own. After watching her sister and the two handmaids be able to what she could not, miraculously her womb was opened, and she gave birth to a son.
And Joseph is to become a mighty man, the greatest of all his brethren. Of course, it will be a long road before he realizes that, and first his brethren will despise and betray him. And it has occurred to me that Joseph might have always been the odd-one out because of his unique heritage. There were six sons born of Leah, two of Zilpah, and two of Bilhah. Thus, every one of the boys had at least one blood brother, except for Joseph.
Joseph would be the one and only son of Rachel until many years later. And having been born after all the other ten, he was surely much younger than the first ones. And that’s not all, there is also the fact that he was the favorite son, born of the favorite wife. Thus, there were many factors to isolate Joseph and make him despised of by his brethren, and it is little wonder that he ended up in such a complicated situation with them later on.
14 And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, Give me, I pray thee, of thy son’s mandrakes.
15 And she said unto her, Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband? and wouldest thou take away my son’s mandrakes also? And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with thee to night for thy son’s mandrakes.
17 And God hearkened unto Leah, and she conceived, and bare Jacob the fifth son.
19 And Leah conceived again, and bare Jacob the sixth son.
21 And afterwards she bare a daughter, and called her name Dinah.
This incident of Rachel trading a night with Jacob for Reuben’s mandrakes is very similar to Esau giving up his birthright for Jacob’s mess of pottage. All Rachel wanted was to have a nice fruit, but she ended up extending her sister’s branch beyond her own.
It’s also interesting to note that previously Leah “had left bearing,” but now she was fertile once more. I can’t help but think that this would have been a particularly hard thing for Rachel to witness. Her sister that had initially been able to have children finally came into the same state of no longer being able to, only to have that ability returned to her out of the blue. Leah had twice received that which Rachel longed for even once!
But this humbling experience was the last one Rachel had to endure before finally receiving her own blessing. And while she would never bear as many sons as her sister, she would give birth to the choicest of them all.
9 When Leah saw that she had left bearing, she took Zilpah her maid, and gave her Jacob to wife.
10 And Zilpah Leah’s maid bare Jacob a son.
11 And Leah said, A troop cometh: and she called his name Gad.
12 And Zilpah Leah’s maid bare Jacob a second son.
13 And Leah said, Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed: and she called his name Asher.
Leah bore children, Rachel couldn’t so she had Bilhah bear children, and now Leah has her maid Ziplah bearing children, too. As I mentioned before, Rachel had to adapt to the unknown, and now we have Leah changing tactics, too.
And as for Jacob, all he had sought was one wife but now he had four! No doubt his life was a world away from anything he expected it would be while he was still living in his father’s household.
And what stands out to me out of all this is the futility of human plans. It frankly doesn’t matter what any of us think is going to happen in our lives, what will occur is only what God has already laid out for us. Even those who deny God’s purposes for themselves end up playing into His larger plan anyway.
It’s a hard thing to fully give up the reins to God, in fact that’s something I realize I still struggle with to this day. But if He’s the one calling the shots anyway, then life will feel a whole lot smoother as soon as I give up the illusion of control and just go with God’s flow.
6 And Rachel said, God hath judged me, and hath also heard my voice, and hath given me a son: therefore called she his name Dan.
7 And Bilhah Rachel’s maid conceived again, and bare Jacob a second son.
8 And Rachel said, With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed: and she called his name Naphtali.
Rachel may have been prevented from having children directly, but God did allow her backup plan to work. Bilhah was able to conceive, and Rachel was as joyous to welcome her handmaid’s sons as if they had been her very own. What a turnaround from when she despaired to Jacob that she would die if she could not have any children!
Rachel despaired because she had been fighting for something that just wasn’t going to work out. In each of our lives there are these matters that don’t go according to plan, losses that have to be accepted. So long as Rachel persisted in her original path, she was only going to make herself more and more frustrated. Rachel instructing Jacob to take Bilhah to wife shows that she was finally surrendering those original plans and accepting things as they really were. It was only then, after being humbled and reformed, that she was able to find success.
And so it is with each of us. We all have times of trying to fit our square-peg dreams into our round-hole realities. We have our agenda, and we relentlessly pursue it, even when things stubbornly refuse to work out how we want. Eventually we have to be broken enough to let the old dream go and find out what divine role we were actually meant to fulfill.
1 And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die.
2 And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?
3 And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.
4 And she gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto her.
5 And Bilhah conceived, and bare Jacob a son.
Rachel begged Jacob for children, but all he could do was wring his hands and say that it wasn’t up to him. Nothing on his end was preventing her conception, it was the will of God, and Jacob was just as powerless to change that as she was.
Finally, Rachel did accept that her situation was not about to change, so she knew that she must adapt to it instead. She did not give up her ambition to be a mother, but she did find other methods to accomplish it.
And sometimes this sort of resourcefulness is all that remains for us. We might pray and seek heavenly blessings, but for whatever reason God sometimes answers “no” or “not yet.” Then, if possible, it is up to us to provide our own solutions, though only if they are still moral and honorable.
Rachel elected to have her handmaid to bear the children in her stead. It may not have been the exact solution that she had hoped for, but it worked, and at long last her branch of the household was filled with the sound of children.