Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
Genesis 30: 29-43
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?” 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.
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.
This is the story of how Jacob got the better of Laban in his wage negotiation. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And he (Jacob) said unto him (Laban), Thou knowest how (literally, what) I have served thee, and how thy cattle was with me—literally, and what thy cattle has been (or become) with me, i.e. to what a number they have grown.
For it was little which thou hadst before I came,—literally, for little (it was) was to thee before me; i.e. not in place, ἰναντίον ἐμοῦ (LXX.), but in time, i.e. before my arrival—and it is now increased—literally, broken forth (cf. Genesis 30:43)—unto a multitude; and the Lord (Jehovah) hath blessed thee since my coming (literally, at my foot, i.e. wherever I have gone among your flocks): and now when shall I provide (literally, do) for mine own house also?
And he (Laban, unwilling to part with so profitable an assistant) said, What shall I give thee? He was apparently prepared to detain Jacob at his own terms. And Jacob said, Thou shalt not give me anything. Jacob did not design to serve Laban gratuitously, but chose rather to trust God than Laban for recompense (Wordsworth, Gosman in Lange); or he may have meant that he would have no wages of Laban’s setting, but only of his own proposing (Hughes). If thou wilt do this thing for me (accede to this stipulation), I will again feed and keep thy flock—literally, I will turn, I will tend thy flock, I will keep (sc. 2).
Jacob initially tells Laban that he does not want wages paid overtly. He offers instead to continue tending Laban’s flocks if Laban allows him to claim the undesirable part of said flocks for his own personal possession.
He outlines the specifics of what he wants in verse 32 as we see in Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(32) The speckled and spotted cattle (sheep).—In the East sheep are generally white, and goats black or brown. Jacob, therefore, proposes that all such shall belong to Laban, but that the parti-coloured should be his hire. By “speckled” are meant those sheep and goats that had small spots upon their coats, and by “spotted,” those that had large patches of another colour. Besides these, Jacob is to have all “brown cattle,” that is, sheep, for the word “cattle” is usually now confined to kine, which was not the case 200 years ago. This translation is taken from Rashi, but the word usually signifies black. Philippsohn says that black sheep are seldom seen in the East, but that sheep of a blackish-red colour are common. In Genesis 30:35 we have another word, “ring-straked,” that is, having the colours in stripes. This is never the case with sheep, but goats often have their coats thus definitely marked.
In verse 33, Jacob asserts that the deal will verify his own righteousness. We see more on this in a note from The Pulpit Commentaries:
So shall my righteousness (literally, and my righteousness) answer for me (or bear testimony in my behalf) in time to come,—literally, in the day, tomorrow; meaning in the future (Gesenius) rather than the day following (Delitzsch)—when it shall come for my hire before thy face. Either,
(1) for it (my righteousness) shall come, concerning my wages, before thy face, sc. for consideration (Calvin); or,
(2) when thou shalt come to my reward, connecting “before thy face” with the previous clause (Chaldee, Rosenmüller, Ainsworth, Lange); or,
(3) when thou shalt come to my wages before thee (Murphy), or to inspect it (Kalisch). Every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and brown among the sheep, that shall be counted stolen with me—and therefore to be delivered up to thee.
And Laban said, Behold, I would it might be according to thy word. Jacob’s chances of obtaining speckled animals by this arrangement were so small that Laban, with his customary selfishness, had no difficulty in closing with the offered bargain. As originally proposed by Jacob it seems to have been an honest desire on his part to commit the question of wages to the decision rather of God’s providence than of his kiss-man’s greed. That at this time Jacob’s mind “had already formed the whole fraudulent procedure by which he acquired his wealth” (Kalisch) does not accord with the statement subsequently made.
Jacob basically says that Laban can come inspect his flocks and if he finds any who are not discolored, Laban can consider those as stole and then take them for himself. Laban agrees to these terms.
Ellicott says the following regarding the actual removal of the livestock regarded as Jacob’s wages:
(35) And he removed.—The question has been asked whether it was Jacob or Laban who made the division, and whether Jacob was to have all such sheep and goats as were parti-coloured already, or such only as should be born afterwards. The authors of the Authorised Version evidently thought that Laban himself removed all speckled sheep and goats, and kept them; but the Hebrew is by no means so much in favour of this view as their own translation. Thus, in Genesis 30:32 they insert “of such” in italics; the Hebrew distinctly says, And it shall be my hire: that is, every one speckled or spotted shall be mine, the singular number being used throughout. Next, in Genesis 30:33 they translate, in time to come: according to this, if the particoloured sheep and goats at any time produced white or black lambs, as they generally would, such would revert to Laban; the Hebrew says, My righteousness shall answer for me to-morrow. Jacob was to make the selection at once, but the next day Laban was to look over all those put aside, and if he found among them any white sheep, or black or brown goats, he was to regard them as stolen—that is, not merely might he take them back, but require the usual fine or compensation.
And gave them into the hand of his sons.—It has been assumed that these were Laban’s sons, on the ground that Jacob’s sons were not old enough to undertake the charge; but as Reuben was twenty-six, this was not the case. Jacob’s flocks would have fared but badly if they had been entrusted to Laban’s sons, nor could he, six years later, have escaped, had his property been in their keeping, without Laban being immediately aware of it.
In the next section though, we see Jacob takes actions which skew this deal toward his advantage. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And Jacob took him rods of green poplar—literally, a rod (the singular being used collectively for rods) of לִבְנֶה, (from לָבַן, to be white, meaning either the) poplar (LXX; in Hosea 4:13; Vulgate, Kalisch) or the storax fresh green—and of the hazel—לוּז, the hazel tree (Raschi, Kimchi, Arabic, Luther, Furst, Kalisch) or the almond tree (Vulgate, Saadias, Calvin, Gesenius, ‘Speaker’s Commentary’)—and chestnut tree;—עַרְמוֹן, the plane tree (LXX; Vulgate, et alii), so called from its height—and pilled white strakes in them (literally, peeled off in them peeled places white), and made the white appear (literally, making naked the white) which was in the rods.
And he set the rods which he had pilled before the flecks in the gutters (רִחָטִים; literally, the canals or channels through which the water ran, from a root signifying to run) in the watering troughs (שִׁקֲתוֹת, i.e. the troughs which contained the water, to which the animals approached) when the flocks came to drink, that they should conceive (literally, and they became warm, in the sense expressed in the A.V.) when they cams to drink—this was Jacob’s first artifice to overreach Laban.
Ellicott explains these two verses this way:
37) And Jacob took him rods . . . —Jacob’s plan was to place before the ewes and she-goats at breeding time objects of a speckled colour, and as he put them at their watering-place, where everything was familiar to them, they would, with the usual curiosity of these animals, gaze upon them intently, with the result, physically certain to follow, that many of them would bear speckled young.
Poplar.—Really, the storax-tree (styrax officinalis). “This,” says Canon Tristram, “is a very beautiful perfumed shrub, which grows abundantly on the lower hills of Palestine.” The word occurs elsewhere only in Hosea 4:13, and the idea that it was the poplar arises solely from the name signifying white; but this epithet is even more deserved by the storax, “which in March is covered with a sheet of white blossom, and is the predominant shrub through the dells of Carmel and Galilee” (Natural History of the Bible, pp. 395, 396).
Hazel.—Heb., luz (Genesis 28:19), the almond-tree (amygdalus communis). Dr. Tristram (Natural History of the Bible, p. 358) says that he never observed the true hazel wild in Southern or Central Pales·tine, nor was it likely to occur in Mesopotamia. The almond is one of the most common trees in Palestine.
Chesnut tree.—Heb., armon, the plane-tree (platanus orientalis). “We never,” says Dr. Tristram (p. 345), “saw the chesnut in Palestine, excepting planted in orchards in Lebanon; while the plane-tree, though local, is frequent by the sides of streams and in plains.” The tree is mentioned again in Ezekiel 31:8.
(38) In the gutters . . . —Heb., in the troughs at the watering-places. So virtually all the versions; and see Exodus 2:16, where the word rendered here “gutters” is rightly translated troughs. The idea that there were gutters through which to pour the water into the troughs is utterly modern, but all travellers describe the fixed troughs put for the convenience of the cattle round the wells.
Jacob’s actions help to ensure that many of the newborns will be speckled. We see in verse 39 that the plan worked. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And the flocks conceived (ut supra) before the rods, and brought forth cattle ringstraked, speckled, and spotted. The fact is said to have been frequently observed that, particularly in the case of sheep, whatever fixes their attention in copulation is marked upon the young. That Jacob believed in the efficacy of the artifice he adopted is apparent; but the multiplication of Parti-colored animals it will be safer to ascribe to Divine blessing than to human craft.
After the plan works, we see the fallout.
Continuing with The Pulpit Commentaries:
And Jacob did separate the lambs (i.e. the speckled lambs procured by the foregoing artifice he removed from the main body of the flock), and set the faces of the flocks toward the ringstraked, and all the brown in the flock of Laban (this was Jacob’s second artifice, to make the speckled lambs serve the same purpose as the pilled rods); and he put his own flocks by themselves, and put them not unto Laban’s cattle—so that they were not exposed to the risk of producing offspring of uniform color.
And it came to pass, whensoever the stronger cattle did conceive, literally, in every healing of the cattle, the bound ones, i.e. the firm, compact sheep, “the spring flock” (Luther), which, being conceived in spring and dropped in autumn, are supposed to be stronger than those conceived in autumn and dropped in spring; but this is doubtful—that Jacob laid the rods before the eyes of the cattle in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods. Jacob’s third artifice aimed at securing for himself a vigorous breed of sheep.
But when the cattle were feeble,—literally, in the covering (sc. with wool; hence weakening) of the flock, which took place in autumn—he put them not in (partly to prevent the introduction of feeble animals amongst his parti-colored flocks, but partly also, it is thought, to avoid prematurely exciting Laban’s suspicion): so the feebler were Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s.
It is easy at this point in the text to assign a negative view of Jacob. He seems to be deceiving Laban. However that deception seems to only be made possible by the fact that Laban has allowed Jacob to do all of the work himself. Jacob may be engaging in deception but Laban, or his household at least, seems to be engaging in laziness. As Jacob is the one who made Laban wealthy, and as it may be likely that the fourteen years of service were far more valuable than was customary for the “purchase” of his wives, it seems in some ways fair that he takes the bulk of that earned wealth for himself. I suppose this is all in how you look at it. Jacob is an interesting figure throughout his life in that respect. This engagement with Laban mirrors the feelings brought forth regarding his dealings with Esau and Isaac.
We see thus in Ellicott how Jacob ultimately fared.
(43) The man increased exceedingly.—Heb., broke forth, as in Genesis 30:30. Wool, as the chief material for clothing, is a very valuable commodity in the East, and by the sale of it Jacob would obtain means for the purchase of male and female servants and camels. The latter were especially valuable for purposes of commerce, in which Jacob evidently was actively engaged, and whence probably came his chief gains.
Perhaps not too surprisingly, Jacob – as he once did with Esau after a successful deception – is forced to flee.