Genesis 30:25-43 “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. Give 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.’ But Laban said to him, ‘If I have found favour in your eyes, please stay. I have learned by divination that the LORD has blessed me because of you.’ He added, ‘Name your wages, and I will pay them.’” [and so on to verse 43]
You can easily spot a simple division of style in this passage, how it divides into two halves, the first ten verses consisting of dialogue alone, and the second half (which is nine verses in length) consisting of description and action alone. You will also see the personalities structuring this section, that after Rachel has given birth to Joseph there are just two men involved here, son-in-law Jacob and father-in-law Laban. No one else is mentioned by name. You will also see the absence of God from this passage. Both men refer to him in passing as the author of the blessings they have received during the past fourteen years (verses 27 & 30), but in fact the Lord is marginalized from this entire incident. Two men are talking business; an old contract has come to its end and a new contract is being discussed, each man seeking the most favourable terms for himself. One is a deceiver, and the other a deceiver of a deceiver, and at the end the former will become a deceiver of a deceiver of a deceiver. Initially they give every appearance of being gracious, reserved in their language, concerned for one another’s welfare. They seem to be fair and friendly as a father-in-law and son-in-law should be in their personal dealings with one another, but the truth of the matter was that all that was cosmetic, that neither man trusted the other, or cared very much for the other. Each was trying to outfox the other. The contract of dismissal was settled, but both men were shrewd men and each sought to outdo the other with reference to another contract. The saddest fact of all was that one man was an Old Testament Messiahist who had seen the Lord and heard his voice. He had seen a revelation of angels ascending and descending a staircase to heaven, but it had not impacted him in matters of business dealings, personal relationships and a future hope.
Bill Baldwin judges that the passage is complicated and difficult to follow. Parts of it are obscure and a little confused, because Jacob is a complicated man and difficult to follow. His actions are at times very mysterious and almost senseless. The story makes us long for a clean uncomplicated story of a clean uncomplicated Man. In other words, this incident makes us long for the history of One who resolutely focused on the promises of God and forsook everything else. This chapter encourages us to yearn for the simplicity and integrity of Jesus Christ, great Jacob’s greater son.
- JACOB REQUESTS.
Jacob comes to Laban and asks that he may now return to his own place (vv. 25&26). The initiative comes from Jacob. Laban has conveniently forgotten what the exact year was . . . “mere details.” He wasn’t going to bring up the subject of the end of Jacob’s contract. He will expect Jacob to work hard six days a week, but he is not going to tell him that the second period of seven years has now been completed. Every extra day of service he can get from Jacob he’s going to get from him. Jacob had dwelt as a stranger in a strange land in the household of his father-in-law for too long. He seems to be itching to leave him and return to the land of his birth empty handed because he cannot forget Canaan. He asks for nothing from Laban except his wives and children. “Send me on my way,” (v.25) he says, and he demands no further remuneration. He simply wants to go home. He has fulfilled all his father-in-law has asked of him; every obligation has been fulfilled. He doesn’t want Laban to claim that he was responsible for enriching Jacob’s life. “You know how much work I have done for you” (v.26). And Jacob had worked and his father-in-law was now a wealthy man. In beginning these new negotiations Jacob seemed to want nothing at all from Laban. He wanted out! He had the promised land and all its riches, and he had a son by his beloved Rachel, Joseph, who was in the line of inheritance. It was time to go home, not only because of bad experiences he had had with his father-in-law, not only because he wanted to be close to his mother and father before they died, but because he wanted to straighten things out with his family. There are lots of loose ends in the land of promise, many caused by his own folly, and Jacob needed to deal with them. God is preparing Jacob to become head of the covenant and all that is important enough for him to be ready and eager to leave Haran with just the simple, bare necessities that the journey demanded. How glorious it would have been if it had ended here, with Laban agreeing, and Jacob returning to the land of promise, just as God had sworn. So he makes his request to his devious father-in-law.
Laban’s response is to ask Jacob to reconsider it; “Please stay,” he says (v.27). He acknowledges that his new riches have come to him through all the activity of Jacob. Jehovah himself, he claims, has assured him of that. Laban can easily use the name of Jehovah but there is little of the life of Jehovah in Laban’s heart – just like politicians customarily do when they want the vote of the righteous. They will adopt a reverent tone of voice and appeal to their own sincerely held religion. But if Laban truly believed that the living God was Jehovah and he had blessed him (v.27) then he should pack up his tents and gather his family and servants and flocks and herds together and travel alongside Jacob to the promised land. If people are being sincere when they say that they “admire our faith” then let them
come and put their trust in the God whom we have learned to trust. Let Laban turn his back on this place and turn from all his earthly goods, if necessary, and embrace the glorious living God. Let him seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Instead of that Laban tries to stop Jacob going. “Please stay!” If Jacob stayed then his God stayed too, the one who had made him rich through Jacob so that he would become even richer. “Please stay! It is much to my advantage that you stayed.” The Lord could become the genie answering Laban’s get-rich wishes. Laban wanted this powerful Lord in the way that his friends kept those Baal idols on a shelf just inside the door which they touched for luck as they came in and went out. Jacob’s God protected people and he could prosper them, so “Please stay!”
Thus Laban pleaded with Jacob, “Name your wages, and I will pay them” (v.28). Such a deal; he dangled before Jacob many camels, a percentage of the flocks, lands and springs he could choose for himself as his wages for staying. Jacob could name his price because standing in his slip stream Laban would benefit from the blessings the Lord would bring on Jacob. This is another time of temptation for Jacob. Luther said that one of the three great influences for making a man of God would be the trials that the Lord brought into his life; the word of God, prayer and trials – setting trials right up there, alongside those familiar first two means of maturing us on our pilgrimage to glory.
How is Jacob going to respond? Will he take a stand after all these years and say, “I don’t need anything from you. I have the Lord and his promises to me and my children. He will bless and protect me. The land he has promised me henceforth will be our land. He will supply all our needs. I am simply asking you kindly as the father of my wives, Rachel and Leah, to let me part from you in peace.” Oh may Jacob respond like his grandfather Abraham responded to the king of Sodom not to take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that was his. He wanted no pagan in the land of Canaan to claim that he had made Abraham rich. The seed of the serpent must never be given a chance to boast that it had given the seed of the woman an easy life.
- JACOB NEGOTIATES.
Go Jacob! Pack up and go! Return to the Promised Land. Walk back there. God has promised he’ll take you back. The shoes on your feet won’t wear out. You will lack for nothing on the journey. You have no need of Laban. You have no need to live one day longer outside your home in Canaan there in the presence of God. But, alas, Jacob began to think when he heard the enticing words, “Name your wages and I will pay them” (v.28). It must have been hard for Jacob to be the only Christian in the place; no Sabbaths, no meeting place, no fellowship, no preaching, no other believers to consult with, just himself in the oppressive, materialist, pagan atmosphere of Laban’s household. Then Jacob began to turn over Laban’s offer and buy into Laban’s understanding of God. Jacob even brings in God as he speaks to his father-in-law, and reminding him that “the Lord has blessed you wherever I have been” (v.30). Of course it is material blessings he is thinking of, not the blessing of knowing the God who is and is not silent. See what Jacob is saying? “If I were not here with my special relationship with God, you’d be a poor goat-herd.” What is this? Is God just a cash cow to be milked? Is he inviting Laban to employ him so that together they will conspire to take God for all that God will give them? Jacob is seriously thinking of postponing his trip back to the Promised Land in order to get wealthy by tending the flocks of Laban for another period. Yes he is, because you see what happens next? Jacob actually negotiates. He presents to Laban four arguments for a good deal, for a good settlement. Is there something more here? Is this all serving some master plan?
i] Jacob’s hard work. “You know how I’ve worked for you” (v.29). It was simply a matter of fact. He was no slouch. He was physically strong, and he could point out to his wives, “You know that I’ve worked for your father with all my strength” (Gen 31:6), and at that time he had said to his father-in-law, “This was my situation. The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes. It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household” (Gen. 31:40&41). Laban couldn’t deny it. Jacob was not slothful in business. Let’s all work hard at our callings. If we are students let us pray for a passion for study. If we are preachers let us work at our pulpit preparation and our pastoring and our evangelism and our counseling and our praying. John Piper has said, “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.” Ligon Duncan quoted his mother as often saying to her family, “You may be smarter than me, but I’ll outwork you.” Then let us all outwork and outlove and outserve one another
ii] Jacob’s care for the animals. “You know . . . how your livestock has fared under my care” (v.29). Laban could not deny that he was a brilliantly effective shepherd. He could say to his father-in-law, “I have been with you for twenty years now. Your sheep and goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten rams from your flocks. I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself. And you demanded payment from me for whatever was stolen by day or night. This was my situation:” (Gen. 31:38-40). Jacob once could cheat and deceive with the worst of men, but this was one area of his life where he maintained utter integrity, his care of the flocks. In his work he was not only competent, he was a man of integrity. Jacob’s work as a sheep man could bear the closest scrutiny. Then there was another argument that Jacob brought to Laban:
iii] Jacob’s increase of Laban’s flocks. He says to Laban, “The little you had before I came has increased greatly,” (v.30). Jacob had brought much profit to Laban; the flocks and servants have multiplied immensely. Laban once had his younger daughter looking after a single flock of sheep and she was dependent on men removing a stone cover from a well. Maybe then Laban couldn’t afford servants. What would she have done if a bear or a lion had attacked the sheep? Now he had men abiding in the fields keeping watch over his flocks by night. Jacob came in like a whirlwind. Laban’s life was bisected by his son-in-law’s arrival. His life consisted of before Jacob and after Jacob. He had cheated Jacob; he had tricked him and dealt unfairly with him and yet Jacob served his father-in-law well. Let’s not be man-pleasers; let’s work for our employers as unto the Lord. Then there was another argument for a good wage:
iv] Jacob’s responsibility for his large and growing family. “Now, when may I do something for my own household?” (v.30). He had four wives, eleven sons and a daughter. He had servants and dwellings to maintain. The budget for food for the seventeen of them each day was great. It was time for him to move on from providing for Laban’s household to sustaining his own. A man who fails to provide for his household is wor
se than an infidel. That was the message he passed on to Laban in the negotiations for a new contract.
So Jacob is actually prepared to postpone his journey back home to the Land of Promise and at a price tend Laban’s flocks once more. Jacob is now a free man. The fourteen years of servitude have come to an end. But Jacob is voluntarily and persuasively enslaving himself once again! When Laban said, “Name your wages” then it was irresistible to Jacob, and it has been irresistible to many Christian people. They have compromised their faith; they have compromised their convictions; they have crossed lines they never imagined they could ever have crossed once they heard the voice of Mammon saying, “Name your wages.” Sunday work, absence from the place of worship, resignation from office in the church, going to places they would never once have gone – they have been bought by wealth. How hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. What Laban offered seemed to Jacob more attractive than what God had to offer him. What he could get out of this world seemed worth having more than the riches of heaven. Oh Jacob you have been tested again and found wanting.
So what did Jacob propose? What was his price for staying and working for Laban? It is quite incredible, and it is not at all what you would expect after that preamble. This was Jacob’s suggestion – as I understand it. He said this, “if you will do this one thing for me, I will go on tending your flocks and watching over them: Let me go through all your flocks today and remove from them every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-coloured lamb and every spotted or speckled goat. They will be my wages” (vv.31&32). Now then, how could they be Jacob’s wages? It seems to me to be this; that if all the piebald sheep are removed so that they cannot mate with the white sheep, and Jacob is tending only the white sheep then, in the future, it seems unlikely that anything speckled or spotted or dark-coloured whether lamb or goat would be born from these white flocks, but if they did then they would belong to Jacob. He will tend the white flocks, but even they are not his, they are Laban’s, and all the white lambs born to them will be Laban’s. His wages bill will be simply every dark and speckled animal born to a white ewe. How odd! But Jacob has a plan. Jacob is going to take Laban for most of his sheep. He is going to teach his father-in-law a lesson he will never forget. Don’t mess with Jacob!
Jacob seems to be setting out on the path to penury. He appears to have made a fearful rod for his own back – that this should be the meager price he requires from his father-in-law for staying and working with his flocks. Do you understand? He will begin by removing from the flocks of white sheep (which he will tend) all the dark-coloured and piebald animals and they will be Laban’s. Jacob will simple tend a flock of white rams and ewes and a flock of white goats, but all the white sheep born to this white flock will automatically be handed over to Laban. Jacob’s wages will be all the dark and piebald sheep and goats born from white flocks. It seems a crazy deal. He deliberately limits the possibility of numerical growth. Jacob seems to be behaving as Gideon the judge was to act when he cut down the size of the thousands of men who volunteered to fight with him against the Midianites. Remember how Gideon challenged them, “Who is trembling with fear?” And then dismissed 22,000 scared men of the 30,000 volunteers and they returned home. Then he took the 8,000 to the river and all those who stuck their heads into the cool current and sucked up the water were told to go home; only those who cupped the water in their hands could stay, and that left Gideon with 300 men. He shrank and shrank his force of 30,000 men to a hundredth of its size, but this little band still triumphed over the Midianites.
Jacob reminds me of Elijah on Mount Carmel. After the prophets of Baal had failed to command fire to fall down from heaven to devour their sacrifice Elijah poured water all over his sacrifice so that it drenched everything and filled the trench around the altar. Yet the fire fell and consumed all the sacrifice and licked up the water. So just as Jacob’s grandfather Abraham had allowed young Lot to choose where he wanted to take his sheep and Abraham would take the less attractive pastures so Jacob said to his father-in-law, “I will tend the flocks of white sheep and goats, and my wages for staying here and working for you will be this, that I keep all the piebald and speckled sheep and goats that are born to them. All the white ones coming from them can be yours. If you find in my flock a white sheep then you can consider that one of my servants has stolen it from your flock and you can take it back.”
- LABAN ACCEPTS.
Then in verses 34 through 36 we see Laban leaping at this proposal. What a bargain! He had been paying Jacob far more than this already, and he clearly thinks that he’s got the best end of the agreement, and he gets some wheels turning that further protect and promote his own interests. Notice that he does three things spelled out in these three verses, 34, 35 and 36, to guarantee he will get vast herds from this arrangement and his son-in-law tiny herds.
i] Laban takes charge of removing all the non-white sheep (v.35). This was contrary to the agreement that Jacob had made with him. Remember Jacob had said “Look, I’m an honest man, I’ll go through your flocks and I’ll separate the speckled and spotted from the white. I’ll cull these mongrels, and then you just come and check my flocks, and you won’t find a single non-speckled or spotted beast among them. They will all be white. If you find a speckled animal, then you can just consider it as having been stolen, and you take it back pronto because you can take me at my word. I’ll be honest with you.” But what does Laban immediately do? He goes out and he culls the sheep himself. That day he did it, while the ink was still wet on the contract Laban was out separating the speckled beasts from the white beasts. He was a real man of the world wasn’t he, trusting no one, not even his son-in-law. Oh that we did good works as speedily as men of the world do evil works! That’s the first way Laban protected his interests.
ii] Laban puts his own sons in charge of the flocks (v. 35). He’s not going to leave this in the hands of Jacob and his servants. His sons – shady background figures – are going to get involved. They are there keeping their eye on their brother-in-law, watching him like hawks. They are going to make sure that everything that goes on is absolutely kosher so that they can report back to Dad.
iii] Laban puts a great distance between his flocks and Jacob’s (v.36). Laban thinks that Jacob’s strategy will be to interbreed Laban’s speckled and spotted mongrel rams and billy goats with the white sheep and goats in order that the lambs and kids born will frequently be speckled and spotted animals. So he puts a three-days’ distance between his flocks and Jacob’s flock because he doesn’t trust Jacob. There’s not a piebald sheep to be seen for miles. He doesn’t want the smallest chance of prosperity coming to his son-in-law and his daughters and all his grandchildren. He thinks that t
he only way that Jacob can make anything from this deal will be if Jacob cheats. Men of the world are utterly inconsistent. A few hours earlier Laban was saying aloud to Jacob, “The Lord has prospered me because of you.” Now, however, it’s a very different tale. Laban thinks that the only possible way that Jacob might prosper from this scheme is through cheating. “Name your wages and I will pay them,” he had promised, but now he is out to see that those wages are as miserly as possible. He wants to keep Jacob from prospering. Laban thinks he has secured all his bases and the only way that Jacob can get rich is by violating the crazy proposal that Jacob has made.
- JACOB RESPONDS.
This is one of the most curious incidents in Scripture. Jacob seems to be in a corner, but he thinks he knows ways in which these white sheep can produce young that are streaked or speckled or spotted. He cuts branches from different trees, poplar, almond and plane, and he peels back the bark in strips, not totally off the wood, and he exposes the white inner wood. Then Jacob places the peeled branches in the water troughs so that they were directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink, speckled and spotted branches, speckled and spotted! Then when they were in heat he also arranged it that they mated in front of these peeled branches, speckled and spotted, speckled and spotted. Think speckled and spotted. The result of this strange activity was that the lambs and kids that were born were streaked or speckled and spotted. Then Jacob kept these piebald sheep to themselves and they further mated resulting in more speckled and spotted lambs. Then he made the rest of his white flock face these mongrel coloured animals to think “speckled and spotted,” when they were in heat and they gave birth to speckled and spotted lambs. That went on for a time, but in addition Jacob paid special attention to the more robust and strong ewes: “Whenever the strongest 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,” (v.41). He didn’t do that with the other weak white sheep that belonged to Laban. They gave birth to weak lambs for Laban, but the strong and coloured lambs were all Jacob’s.
What is all this about? It’s like the mandrakes that Rachel humiliated herself to eat. It is primitive magical folklore. Mandrakes looked like little babies; you ate them and you conceived babies! It is superstition and Jacob knew that about Rachel’s futile diet, saying to Rachel, “Am I in the place of God who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” Now he is doing the same thing. Make them mate in front of speckled and spotted stuff and they will bear speckled and spotted offspring! It is all so desperate. Why hadn’t Jacob said “No” to Laban’s offer and headed back to the Land of Promise? Why didn’t he trust God and pray to God about this corner he was in? What he was doing was worthless in producing in a white flock a high percentage of piebald sheep. It is easy enough to seize on this passage and mock it for its belief in a pre-scientific superstition, but the Bible is not teaching that prenatal genetic influence comes by surrounding animals with coloured, and speckled, and spotted objects. It merely tells us Jacob was a child of his time, and he really thought it would do the trick, that such a sight during pregnancy would leave its mark on the embryo of the animal, and Jacob’s wife Rachel thought that eating mandrakes would make her pregnant.
Stripping bark off these branches, and placing them before these sheep, or surrounding them with piebald sheep didn’t do one bit of good, not a bit, however, many people believed it, yet for howsoever many decades it didn’t make a single white sheep produce a speckled lamb – not one! Let Jacob save himself the effort of cutting down branches and peeling patterns of bark from them and setting them up by the wells and driving the sheep to face them. It did no good at all. The whole idea was hokum.
Think of the thousand year medieval period, 500 to 1500, before the renaissance and the reformation, before the appearance of modern science. How many weird and wonderful practices were Christians involved in. Even the professing church got involved. This was the period when relics – the toenails of Mary – flourished, and holy wells, and holy water. Mother church was as guilty as Jacob of looking away from God and looking to vain superstitions for prosperity and healing. Yet God still blessed his remnant, and helped those baby Christians during that time in spite of the weakness of their faith. What strange remedies they believed would heal them and yet God chose to bless those remedies. Our 21st century professing church is bad in other ways. It can water down and distort the truth and yet the blessing of God will be on the truths that are preached about his Son. That never justifies unholy means. Results and growth are not what indicate the blessing of God. Success accompanied Jacob’s schemes, but that success did not approve them.
Here we see Jacob the old deceiver, prominent again. He set this all up to get one up on his father-in-law. What Laban thought was a sure winner turned out to be a sure loser because Jacob had this heist all worked out to get one over on Laban and make himself a rich man. When you are a child you find it hard to hide your sins. In the Old Testament the children of God are often childlike in their deception and falsehood. Their sins are there for everyone to see. Jacob was a torn and divided man; his flesh was lusting against his spirit and his spirit was lusting against his flesh. The good that he would he didn’t do and the evil he should not have done he did. Let Jacob use his skill and authority to persuade his father-in-law to abandon his gods and come with him to the Land of Promise and end his days there, not take away all his flocks.
- YET GOD BLESSES.
“In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and maidservants and menservants, and camels and donkeys” (v.43). Vast riches! Camels, amongst the first in human history, 2000 years before Christ, the first time in the history of mankind for camels to be domesticated, and Jacob had them. Was he rich! It was like saying to day that someone has a fleet of Rolls Royce limousines. Yet God blessed Jacob’s trickery! That blessing never sanctioned evil means. God blessed him because he said he would and he stayed loyal to his promise through Jacob’s ups and downs. What Jacob should not have done and yet did God worked for the prospering of this patriarch, but poor Jacob was robbed of the true benefit of prosperity. Instead of his thinking, “I simply did God’s will and trusted in the Lord and how he has blessed me,” Jacob was thinking, “Wasn’t I brilliant in getting one over on my father-in-law! I’ve made myself a rich man.” He thinks that his manipulation of these animals was a cooperation of him and God. No. It was all of God. His fooling around with poplar poles and bark did nothing to make Jacob rich. God chastised Laban for the dirty trick he played on Jacob and on his own daughters. God did make Jacob rich, but he added restlessness and sorrow (as the next chapter shows), but when we trust him, and should he make us rich with blessing, then no sorrows are added. Using devious means to get wealthy only subtracted from the divine blessi
Moses is telling this incident 600 or so years later to the children of Jacob as they are entering the land that God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their seed. “Look how small and humble were our origins. Just one man of that generation, Jacob, and he was superstitious and slow of heart to do all that God had told him. He was influenced by Jehovah, but he was also influenced by the culture he lived in – as we are. He went to Laban and said, “Let me go,” as Moses went to Pharaoh and said to him, “Let my people go.” But the people hadn’t gone far from Egypt before they wanted to go back. “Your faith is like Jacob’s faith,” Moses is telling them. They sort of wanted the Promised Land, but they also wanted peace and prosperity without a long journey not even minding returning to Goshen in the heart of Egypt. They looked to the God of Sinai, yes, but they also looked to a golden calf, just like your father Jacob looked to Jehovah but also to poles of wood set up near the watering holes. Yet God is blessing. He blessed Jacob and he blessed the children of Jacob centuries later. Though he chastened them for their unbelief he brought them into the Promised Land.
Israel needed a better identity; a better Jacob. Israel needed Christ. He wasn’t a child of his time. He rejected the superstitions of the scribes and the Pharisees. How they would have loved him to have become a Pharisee and work for them and with them, but he turned from them and trusted in his heavenly Father. Though he must suffer through trusting in him he set his face steadfastly to Jerusalem. Jacob should have set his face like a flint to go home to the Land of Promise
This is what you are in Christ. In him you have decisively rejected the earthly and set your sight on Mount Zion above. So don’t compromise and negotiate with the world and its offers and its ideas. You may grow rich and increase in goods and have no physical needs at all, but you will not know who to thank for the blessings you are enjoying. Look to God as the giver of heavenly promises, promises that have been won by Christ. He is even now in Mount Zion above and is at its very heart, in the midst of the throne of God with all power in heaven and on earth. Call upon him there, forsaking all else.
The greatest blessing Jacob had had was at Bethel, seeing the Lord and hearing him speak, and so this same Lord of the manger, the cross, the tomb and the throne should be at the centre of our lives. How could Jacob act and think as he did when he had heard the voice of God and seen his glory? How can we think and act as we do when we have surveyed the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died? Yet we do; we Christians can be deceivers. Our privileges are far greater than Jacob’s. The youngest New Testament Christian is more blessed than the oldest Old Testament believer. So let us walk in the light of Christ, believing that what he offers is better than all the riches of the world. When he says, ‘Go!’ then go and when he says, ‘Trust’ then trust in him. Do not imitate Jacob; the Lord does not need your tricks; you will only boast and then deprive yourself of the fountain of life which is our Saviour from whom all blessings flow.