Gen. 30:25-43, Jacob and Laban and the sheep

Discussion in '2000-02 Archive' started by Helen, Jul 3, 2002.

  1. Helen

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    Aug 29, 2001
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    This is a story which inspires much ridicule by non-believers. And in good part this is because it is not understood. There is a lot of word play involved and as such, the meaning of what really happened may be lost to us.

    First we see that after Joseph was born, Jacob wanted to take his growing family and leave Laban and go back to his own homeland. He had worked hard for Laban, and enough was enough.

    Laban, on the other hand, was not about to let a good thing go! He begs Jacob to stay, and says he learned by divination that the Lord has blessed Laban because of Jacob. So Laban tells Jacob, "Name your wages."

    Divination is forbidden by God. Whether or not that was a formal law at that point we don't know, but we do know that none of the patriarchs indulged in it, and that their relationship to someone in the spirit world was to God and God alone. At the very least what can be said about Laban here is that he was not totally faithful to the God of Abraham and Isaac. He was quite contaminated by the world. We can see this in his deception of Jacob regarding wives.

    Nevertheless, Jacob agrees to stay and safeguards his wages by saying that he will take the speckled and spotted sheep and goat and every dark colored lamb -- and if he has one that is not of that description, Laban may consider it stolen.

    Laban quickly agrees and immediately, without Jacob knowing, removes all those of his herds that would belong to Jacob, puts them in his sons' care, and moves them a three day journey away. Thus, before he even starts work for Laban, Jacob has been cheated of his wages.

    It is at this point things seem to get weird. Jacob is still willing to work for Laban. Was it because he refused to break his word? We don't know. But what he did, the text says, was to take branches from different kinds of trees, peel the bark off in strips so that the white showed, place them in the troughs, and then the flocks would see them as they drank and would mate in front of the branches. Then they would bear young that were speckled or spotted.

    This sounds like Jacob was practicing some kind of occult junk himself. There is a very good chance that he wasn't at all. In the Hebrew, both the word "Poplar" (one of the types of wood used) and "white" (the white stripes when the bark was peeled back) were take-offs, or puns, on the name of Laban. So it would not matter what the sheep or goats saw, but what Jacob, the others helping him, and GOD saw! This may very well have been an appeal to God for justice -- justice left in the hands of God and a refusal by Jacob to try to take matters into his own hands.

    Many commentators speak of Jacob using occult tactics or deceptive tactics here, but I personally wonder if that is what was really happening. Was this an appeal to God?

    It may have been, for God honored it. Jacob would mate the stronger sheep and goats in front of the peeled sticks and they would then bear the spotted and speckled lambs and kids. Only God could have done this, and God does not honor the occult.

    At any rate, it is something to think about that could not be there in the English but which was there in the Hebrew. Translations are difficult, and one of the most difficult parts is to have to choose between meaning and literal word for word translation. And no matter which the translator chooses, something is bound to get lost in the process. Idioms often don't come through and can get lost with time. Puns and word plays are almost impossible to translate. This is why digging as deep as we can is really a lot of fun and sometimes turns up some real nuggets of information which help make sense of things that seemed strange before. This may be one of those times.

    The chapter ends with the mention that Jacob did not just grow prosperous, but grew exceedingly properous, accumulated men and women servants, large flocks, camels, and donkeys. This is another point in favor of the real meaning of what Jacob had been doing. The Lord honors those who honor Him. That is a standard and recurring theme in the Bible.
  2. Clint Kritzer

    Clint Kritzer
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    Oct 10, 2001
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