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6. Jacob’s Children and His Increasing Wealth (Continued) (30:1-43)

1, 2. When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob children, Rachel became jealous of her sister and said to Jacob: Give me children, or else I die. And Jacob’s anger against Rachel was kindled and he said: Do I stand in God’s place, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?

The sequence of time is not necessarily being followed very strictly throughout this account. For, surely, it would seem quite unreasonable to suppose that Rachel never experienced a trace of envy until Leah had borne four sons. The likelihood is that already when Leah’s first, or at least her second, son had been born, Rachel’s jealousy put in its appearance. So the closing verses of the preceding chapter apparently grouped together the first four births for convenience’ sake. Nowhere does the author claim to follow a strict sequence in his narrative. Yet, on the other hand, lumping together a series of kindred happenings is always permissible and in this case particularly expedient.

Rachel, the well-beloved, finds her secure position less satisfactory than it once was. Desire for offspring is a healthy and a natural desire. In childbearing woman fulfils her destiny. But Rachel’s jealousy is not excusable and her impatience far from harmless, for both in the last analysis question the wisdom of God. Her impatient demand is positively sinful, though it very accurately reflects her spiritual state. 2.805In the chosen race God was making it very apparent that human ambitions and human devices were not going to carry on the line of promise and furnish the desired offspring. Strong, indeed, must have been Rachel’s jealousy and impatience to dictate so unreasonable a demand and to back it up with the contention that she would die unless her wish were granted. The participle methah, as is frequently the case, points to a future event: "I shall soon die," moritura ego (K. S. 237 d). In the phrase methah ‘anokhî, the threatening methah is in the emphatic position (K. S. 239 g).

2. Jacob’s anger is justifiable, for his wife has given vent to a foolish and a sinful utterance. She certainly has every reason to know better than to speak thus. Therefore Jacob very properly reminds her that conception and the bearing of offspring lie in the will and the power of God alone, who is here designated as ’elohîm, because to ’elohîm creative works are to be attributed. The rhetorical positive question, "Do I stand in God’s place?" is the equivalent of a direct negative claim (K. S. 352 a): I am not in God’s place. Tachath in the sense of "in the place of" appears also in 2:21; and 22:13. It is by no means a superstitious notion on Jacob’s part when he ascribes fruitfulness or its absence to divine will and control. Here is simply another instance of the deeper insight characteristic of the patriarchal religion. "Fruit of the womb" for children is a characteristic, as well as expressive, Hebrew idiom.

The expedient adopted in v. 30:3 indicates that Keil is right in charging Jacob with lacking capacity to comfort his wife, inasmuch as he at the time, apparently, was not sufficiently strong in faith to bring the problem before God in prayer together with his wife. Isaac’s example (25:21) should have taught him what was to be done in such a case, and, surely, 2.806Jacob had learned from his mother about that incident. Again, the miscarriage of Abraham’s plan when Sarah substituted Hagar should have taught Jacob the inadequacy of the plan that was being devised. Jacob still appears as a man who has quite a bit to learn.

3, 4. And she said: There is my handmaid Bilhah; go in unto her, that she may bear children upon my knees, that so I too may build up a family through her. So she gave him Bilhah, her handmaid, to wife, and Jacob went in unto her.

The expression found in Hebrew, "Behold, my handmaid," is like our: "There is my handmaid." This demonstrates the variety of translations that must be made of the interjection hinneh. "Go in" is the usual euphemism for sexual intercourse. If Bilhah is to "bear children upon the knees" of Rachel, that is simply another way of saying that Rachel will take the children her maid bears and set them upon her own knees and treat them as her own. It may also be that setting the children upon the knee was a formal mode of the adoption of such children. The handmaid’s wishes were not consulted in the matter. She was originally bestowed upon her mistress at the time of the marriage of the mistress, partly in view of the possibility of the barrenness of her mistress, that then the mistress might give the handmaid to her husband. So did Sarah, and so Rachel, and so Leah. The expression "build up a family through her" is borrowed from Meek’s admirable translation of the statement which in the original merely says: "that I may be built of her." This possibility of translation grows out of the fact that the word for "house," or "family" in Hebrew has the root banah, "to build." In mimménnah the agent is introduced by min (K. S. 107).

4. It is no credit to either Jacob or Rachel that this device is resorted to. God’s institution of the order of marriage is ignored. The lesson taught to 2.807Abraham is not heeded. Human expedients are trusted in rather than God’s blessing.

5, 6. And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. And Rachel said: God has vindicated me and has hearkened also to my voice, and has given to me a son. Wherefore she called his name Dan (Vindication).

As far as securing its immediate object is concerned, this new union was indeed successful—a son is born. Some faith must be ascribed to Rachel. She too, in spite of what she said in a rash utterance in v. 1, recognizes that children are the gift of God. This foster child may be looked upon as a means whereby God has vindicated her. Though dîn does primarily mean "judge" (A.V.), in a case such as the one before us the judging is meant in the sense not of pronouncing sentence but of securing one’s rights for him, jemanden sein Recht finden lassen (K. W.). In other words, Rachel was relatively justified in expecting that she as really the one destined to be Jacob’s wife would be privileged to bear her husband children. She believes that God, in giving success to the substitute expedient adopted, has vindicated her right publicly. By her explanation she indicates that both she and her sister had with chaste desire made this a matter of prayer. Now she says: "God has hearkened also to my voice," i. e. as well as to Leah’s. She does not rise to the level of Leah’s earlier utterance, who (29:32) ascribes her offspring to the faithful God, Yahweh. Rachel thinks of God only as the Creator and Source of life, Elohim. The higher covenant issues involved do not seem as yet to be discerned by her. In the Hebrew the relation of dan ("vindicator" or "vindication") to dîn, "vindicate," is quite apparent. To extract from v. 6 the meaning: "God brought judgment upon me, but now has heeded," etc., is made impossible by the name dan2.808("judge") which would in that case commemorate not the deliverance but the preceding disfavour.

7, 8. And Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid, conceived and bore a second son to Jacob. And Rachel said: Wrestlings with God have I wrestled together with my sister and I have prevailed, and she called his name Naphtali (Wrestling).

Though it goes without saying that Bilhah is "Rachel’s handmaid," yet the appositional statement is inserted to indicate that she bore a son only in her capacity as a maid. He did not count as her own, nor was the disposal of his lot in her hands. Where the previous verses indicated how strenuous contentions with her sister were, this verse (v. Ge 30:8) makes is still more apparent. On the one hand, though, indeed, it merely looks like rivalry between two sisters, there is a higher element involved on the part of both: they strive with one another in rivalry and with God in prayer. This is what Rachel means by her remark, "wrestlings with God have I wrestled together with my sister." In the expression naphtûley ‘elohîm the construct relationship represents a prepositional relationship which immediately afterward in the case of the sister is expressed by the preposition ‘îm. To regard the use of the divine name in this connection as merely a device for expressing a kind of superlative, as does K. S. (3091), is the shallow approach of rationalism. That such a construction may replace the prepositional construction is apparent from K. S. 336 d. "Wrestlings with God," however, in the last analysis are wrestlings for God’s mercy. We may wonder that one and the same situation may present such a tangle of jealousy and faith; but the soul’s workings are often just such a tangled thing. The name given to the son, "Naphtali" ("Wrestling"), preserves the foster mother’s sentiment for later consideration. They who find fault with some of 2.809these names as not being strictly etymological forget what popular etymologies are in the habit of doing: they work very freely with words.

A peculiar side light falls on the critical method at this point. The critical verdict is that in JE the names are usually bestowed by the mother. The verdict of history is: when the mother has particular reason for doing so, she gives names to her children. Circumstances, not authors, explain this fact.

The untenable exegesis of rationalism furnishes one of its best contributions on this verse, when Meek renders: "It was a clever trick that I played my sister, and I succeeded too." There was at least a measure of reason behind translations which rendered: "It was a veritable God’s bout," in the sense of a superhuman struggle. But "clever trick" can never be deduced from naphtulim by any legitimate device, to say nothing of the questionable attitude of such a statement as a whole.

9-11. When Leah saw that she had ceased from bearing children, she took Zilpah, her handmaid, and gave her to Jacob for wife. And Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid, bore Jacob a son. And Leah said: Good Luck! and she called his name Gad (Luck).

Leah might have continued without resorting to the devise employed by her sister to secure children had it not been for the fact that she herself ceased bearing children. When this, however, happened she followed in her sister’s footsteps and gave Zilpah to Jacob for wife. When v. 10 repeats that it was Zilpah, "Leah’s handmaid," who did the bearing, this again emphasizes, as did v. 7, that only in this capacity does her childbearing come into consideration.

11. The significant name given to the son in this case is gadh, "luck" or "fortune" —based on the foster mother’s exclamation on the occasion of his birth, when 2.810she said begadh, "with luck" or "in luck" —an ellipsis for, "we acted with" or "we are in luck." To us it seems that "good luck," as an exclamation, well covers the case. It is true that this necessitates adopting the textual reading followed by the Greek translators and by Jerome. But still this reading seems simpler than bagadh, which the marginal reading (keri) alters to ba’gadh —"fortune has come." An exclamation is more natural here than the formal statement.

Since Leah nowhere else gives indications of polytheistic leanings, and since Jacob surely would have tolerated no names for his children that were allusions to Aramaean or other divinities, we believe that the interpretation which draws upon the fact that there was a god of luck, Gad, has absolutely nothing to do with our case. Besides, how unnatural to call a child by the very name of the god of luck! Interpretations that claim this to be the source and the import of the name are attempts to degrade and to make light of the patriarchal religion.

12, 13. And Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid, bore Jacob a second son and Leah said: Good fortune, for daughters shall call me fortunate—and she called his name Asher (Fortune).

Zilpah has the same measure of success: she too has two sons. Leah’s sentiments on the occasion are so much the same as in the previous instance that the name of Asher is practically only a synonym of Gad, as is also indicated by dictionaries. K. W. gives Glueck as the meaning for both. Only, of course, the motivation of the name must needs be a bit different. Here it is derived from the fact that Leah exclaims: "Daughters shall call me fortunate" — the verb being ’asher in the piel stem, ’ishsherûnî. Leah alludes to the well-known custom that in lands where many sons are deemed the finest gift a wife can bestow upon her husband, daughters will naturally extol a mother of 2.811whom such praise can be spoken. To be consistent, Procksch invents the idea that "Asher" must be the name of a Canaanite-Aramaean divinity, masculine to the feminine "Asherah."

14, 15. And Reuben went out in the days of the wheat harvest and found mandrakes in the field and brought them to Leah, his mother. And Rachel said unto Leah: Please, give me some of the mandrakes of thy son. And she said to her: Is it not enough that thou hast taken my husband away from me, that thou wouldest take my son’s mandrakes also? And Rachel said: Therefore he shall lie with thee tonight for thy son’s mandrakes.

Rivalry and jealousy in the bigamist’s household continue even though the two wives are sisters, or perhaps all the more on that account. One object of the narrative, without a doubt, is thus to portray the evils of bigamy in a drastic fashion. The major purpose, of course, is to show how the fathers of the twelve tribes came into being. For though on the human level petty jealousies and the natural longing for offspring are the things that are chiefly in evidence, on the divine level the forebears of the chosen race are being called into being, and the basis is being laid for the rapid increasing of the seed of Abraham.

By this time Reuben may have been a lad of about four years, just old enough to toddle out into the field after the reapers. Childlike, he gathers what especially attracts the eye, the yellow berries of the mandrake about of the size of a nutmeg. The Hebrew knows them as dûda’îm, which according to its root signifies "love-apples." The ancients and, perhaps, the early Hebrews, too, regarded this fruit as an aphrodisiac and as promoting fertility. Had that thought not been involved here, this innocent episode could hardly have given rise to such a clash between the sisters. Reuben, as little children will, presents 2.812the mandrakes to his mother. Rachel, present at the time and much concerned as usual about her sterility, thinks to resort to this traditional means of relieving the disability and asks for "some of the mandrakes" (min —"some of") of Reuben. She had hardly thought that this harmless request would provoke, such an outbreak on her sister’s part. For Leah bitterly upbraids her with not being content to have withdrawn her husband from her, but, she petulantly adds, Rachel even wants to get the mandrakes of her son Reuben. Apparently, her hope that her husband would love her after she had born several sons (see 29:32) had not been fully realized. Childless Rachel still had the major part of his affection. Quite unjustly Leah charges Rachel with alienation of affection where such affection had perhaps never really existed. Leah still was being treated with more or less tolerance. So Leah certainly begrudges her sister the mandrakes, lest they prove effective and so give her sister a still more decided advantage. Yet the English idiom, "is it not enough," etc.? is not quite the same as the Hebrew which says: "is it a little thing that," etc.? We follow Luther for an easier idiom.

Rachel desires to preserve peace in the household and so concedes to yield the husband to her sister for the night in return for the mandrakes which she nevertheless purposes to eat. The frank narrative of the Scriptures on this point makes us blush with shame at the indelicate bargaining of the sisters—one of the fruits of a bigamous connection.

The efforts of critics to make the text appear at variance with itself here draw attention to the fact that nomads are said to be harvesting grain ("wheat harvest"). However, the contention is obviously unwarranted. It is not said that the nomads did the harvesting; and, surely, no one would deny the possibility of their using the expression "wheat harvest" 2.813to mark a definite season of the year even if they themselves did no harvesting. In any case, it may be only the author’s remark, used to fix a particular season when, as his readers knew, mandrakes usually ripened. Or may not the lad have followed along in the fields of some neighbours, farmers, and gathered his mandrakes? Where several possibilities suggest an easy explanation, critics select the one best suited to their constructions and treat it as the only one: "the agricultural background shows that the episode is out of place in its present nomadic setting" (Skinner). Without good reason K. C. makes lakhen concessive—"nevertheless." Besides, on occasion the patriarchs sowed and reaped (26:12), perhaps also in Mesopotamia.

16. And Jacob came from the field toward evening and Leah went forth to meet him, and she said: To me shalt thou come in, for I have indeed hired thee for my son’s mandrakes. So he lay with her that night.

Jacob’s lot cannot have been a very happy one. To an extent he was shuttled back and forth between two wives and even their handmaids. Almost a certain shamelessness has taken possession of Jacob’s wives in their intense rivalry. Leah almost triumphantly claims him as a result of her bargain, as he comes in from the field. The Beth in bedhûdha’ey is the Beth of price.

17, 18. And God hearkened unto Leah, and she conceived and bare Jacob a fifth son. And Leah said: God hath given me my reward, because I gave my handmaid to my husband. And she called his name Issachar (Reward).

For all the jealous and indelicate bickering on Leah’s part there must, nevertheless, have been also a measure of faith, for she had called upon God in her distress, and her cry cannot have been without 2.814faith, for "God hearkened unto Leah, and she conceived," etc.

Yet the jealous struggles that went on day by day had dragged Leah down to a lower level than the one she had first occupied when she had attributed her offspring to "Yahweh," the God of covenant grace (29:32). Now she merely regards him as ’Elohim, the God of power over his creatures. She actually believes that when she so humbled herself as to grant her handmaid to her husband for offspring’s sake, God recognized her sincerity and is now rewarding her for it. Truth and error blend in that opinion. God may, indeed, have recognized her humble unselfishness. But God does not sanction bigamous proceedings, much as a certain age may condone them. The name "Issachar" embodies Leah’s idea; for the simplest analysis of the form is still the one which sees the name as a compound of yesh and sakhar ="there is reward." This explanation would account for the otiose "s" or "sh," consistently found in the writing of the Hebrew name; as a Keri perpetuum. A parallel to this name is found in Jer. 31:16.

19, 20. And Leah conceived again and bore a sixth son to Jacob. And Leah said: God has bestowed an excellent gift on me; now my husband will dwell with me, for I have borne him six sons. And she called his name Zebulon (Dwelling).

The second period of fertility into which Leah enters results in two more sons. Her statement resulting in the naming of the child offers a kind of a pun. For the first word: "God has bestowed an excellent gift on me" operates with the verb zabhadh, "to present"; with the cognate object it literally means "present a present." Now as the result of the zabhadh Leah expects her husband will zabhal ("dwell") with her. This derivation makes the double propriety of the name Zebulon very apparent.

2.81521. Afterward she bore a daughter and called her name Dinah.

This statement is inserted at this point because it prepares most appropriately for the events of chapter 34. We know from 37:35; 46:7, 15 b that Jacob had other daughters. There was no occasion for making reference to them at this point. In fact, Dinah may actually have been born shortly after the sixth son. The name Dinah is about the same in meaning as Dan and could mean "Vindication."

22-24. And God remembered Rachel and God hearkened unto her and opened her womb. And she conceived and bore a son and she said: God has taken away my reproach. And she called his name Joseph (May he add) saying: May Yahweh add for me another son.

Criticism offers some strange reasoning on the verb "remembered." Only P is supposed to use it. So entirely mechanical is a man’s style supposed to be that so common an idiom is supposed to be P’s exclusive property. Critics actually believe J could not have said: "God remembered." Such remembering, zakhar, in cases such as these involved "granting requests" (B D B).

By this statement ("God remembered") the author indicates that Rachel’s conception was not due to the mandrakes but to the omnipotent power of God, who is the Author of all life. In any case, the story has advanced several years beyond the point where the mandrakes were eaten. Yet Procksch claims without sufficient evidence that the birth of Joseph must originally have stood in connection with the mandrake episode.

23. Quite humbly Rachel, who early in her marriage may have been a more or less haughty and self-sufficient personage, now gives God the glory and rejoices that He "has taken away" her "reproach." 2.816Sterility brought reproach, as though God had deemed a wife unworthy of children. Rachel still stands on the lower level of faith when she makes this remark, for she thinks only of the sovereign power of God. Yet her experience of divine help raises her faith to the higher level where she asks for grace from the faithful covenant God Yahweh: "May Yahweh add for me another son."

24. A double thought plays into the name Joseph: it incorporates both of Rachel’s remarks. For yoseph may count as an imperfect of ’asaph, "to take away." Or it may also count more definitely as imperfect (Hilfil) of the verb yasaph "to add." We must admit this to be very ingenious. But why deny to a mother a happy ingenuity on the occasion of her greatest joy? Why try to inject the thought of a confusion of two sources?

25, 26. And it came to pass that when Rachel had borne Joseph, that Jacob said to Laban: Let me go that I may depart to my place and to my country. Give me my wives and my children for which I have served thee and let me go; for thou knowest what service I have rendered unto thee.

From what is here said it appears that Joseph must have been born at the end of the fourteen years of service. However, it must also be remarked here that apparently there is no attempt made to report the birth of Jacob’s sons in a strictly consecutive fashion. If that were the case, seven years would never have sufficed for eleven children. Apparently, the children born of one mother are listed in a group in order to dispose of all of them at once, except in the case of Leah where about a year may have elapsed between the birth of the fourth and the fifth son. Whitelaw summarizes the· possible sequence as concisely as it may be put when he says: "The six sons of Leah may have been born in the seven years, allowing one year’s 2.817complete cessation from pregnancy, viz. the fifth; Bilhah’s in the third and fourth years; Zilpah’s in the beginning of the sixth and seventh; and Rachel’s toward the end of the seventh, leaving Dinah to be born later." So by this time Jacob’s family was almost complete as to numbers, and he might well think of looking to the establishment of an independent home. The birth of Joseph had rounded out the one gap which had been felt till now.

"Let me go" is a bit stronger in the original and could be rendered, "send me away" or "dismiss me." "My place and my country" are mentioned side by side in the sense where we sometimes refer first to a more definite then to a more general object; therefore we could render: "that I may go to my place, and in general to my country." For even after Jacob comes to his native country he will not confine himself strictly to his "place," for he is a nomad and must wander about.

26. Since Jacob had pledged himself to seven years of additional service for the possession of Rachel, he could not strictly call his whole family his own until the second seven years were fulfilled. He now wants Laban to acknowledge the fulfilment of his contract by giving him his wives and his children that he might depart. In a sense all had been Laban’s or at least under Laban’s acknowledged jurisdiction. Laban is asked to admit that this is cancelled. Jacob’s experience with Laban has not been such as to make Jacob desirous of staying with him any longer. Jacob realizes that the service he has rendered during all these years was in an eminent sense marked by faithfulness, so he remarks, "thou knowest what service I have rendered to thee." Jacob implies that what he has done will bear closest scrutiny and must be acknowledged to be a faithful performance of his own part of the agreement. There is no obsequiousness 2.818about Jacob’s attitude, no diffidence. He knows his father-in-law must be dealt with firmly. On the other hand, he also knows how to treat him with becoming respect.

27, 28. And Laban said unto him: If I have found favour in thy sight I have consulted the omens and find that Yahweh hath blessed me for thy sake. Besides he said: Fix the wages I am to pay thee, and I will pay them.

Laban is quite deferential to this son-in-law whom he respects for his character and his success. He begins with the somewhat elaborate oriental courtesy: "If I have found favour in thy sight" — an ellipsis. Perhaps it involves a courteous protest like, "please don’t talk about leaving," or else the conclusion might run, "tarry" (A.V.). In any case, the superstitious old fellow had surmised right along that Yahweh was granting blessings to Jacob’s endeavour. Now recently he had "consulted the omens" (ni (ch) cháshtî), and they had pointed to the same conclusion. What heathen device Laban had resorted to in consulting the omens cannot be determined. But the act as such does reveal a departure from the true service of God and practically stamps him as an idolater. His reference to God as Yahweh is merely a case of accommodating himself to Jacob’s mode of speech. Laban did not know Him as such or believe in Him. Any man with even a measure of insight could have determined without augury what Laban claimed had been revealed to him by augury. Jacob’s faithful service of Yahweh was not kept hidden by him.

28. Laban is ready to go almost any limit to retain a man whose services have been so advantageous to himself. Laban is an eminently selfish man. He makes Jacob a proposition which at once substantially alters Jacob’s status. From the position of a bound servant he is raised to that of a partner who 2.819may freely dictate his own terms. Now, indeed, such an offer is not to be despised, for it puts Jacob in a position where he can build up a small fortune of his own and so removes him from the necessity of returning home practically a penniless adventurer, though a man with a good-sized family.

29, 30. And he said to him. Thou thyself knowest what service I have rendered thee and how thy cattle fared under my care; for it was but a little that thou didst own before I came, but it expanded tremendously and Yahweh let blessings follow wherever I went. And now when am I to provide for my own house also?

Apparently, before Jacob began to take steps to leave Laban had never admitted that he owed his newly won prosperity to Jacob. Since he admits at least so much, Jacob improves the situation by driving home that point and emphasizing it. Again he tells Laban that he is very well aware of the type of service his son-in-law has been rendering: this is the emphasis conveyed by the statement "thou thyself knowest." Jacob adds as a particular illustration how well Laban’s cattle have fared. For in the case of nomads practically their entire wealth consisted in cattle. The phrase ’ittî must mean "under my care," or literally "with me." Apparently, Laban had had but indifferent success before. Jacob frankly tells Laban that Laban had "but a little" before his coming, lephanay (literally: "before my face or presence"). A change must have been apparent at once upon Jacob’s arrival, for from that time onward Laban’s wealth "expanded tremendously" (larobh —"unto a multitude"). But it would ill behove this true follower of Yahweh’s to ascribe such wealth to himself. Here is his opportunity roundly to confess his faith in Yahweh’s blessing, and he does it in no uncertain terms: "Yahweh let blessings follow wherever I went." This last statement 2.820really reads: "Yahweh blessed me upon the foot." Now leraghlî, "to my foot," usually means "after me," as 1 Sam. 25:42; Hab. 3:5 show. From this it follows, if blessing go after him, blessings attend wherever he goes. Where such is the case, a very high measure of blessings is certainly being bestowed. The rest of Jacob’s argument now runs modestly as follows: I have done all in my power to provide for you and have done my work very successfully; "when am I to provide for my own house also?" The fairness of the demand can hardly be questioned.

31-33. And he said: What shall I give thee? And Jacob said: Thou shalt not give me anything. Yet I will again pasture thy flocks; yea, and guard them, if thou wilt do for me this thing: I shall pass through thy entire flock today removing from it every sheep that is speckled and spotted and every one of the lambs that is black, and the spotted and speckled among the goats; that shall be my pay. Then my righteousness shall answer for me on any future day, if thou shalt come upon my hire before thee; everything that is not speckled or spotted among the goats or black among the lambs, it shall count with me as a thing stolen.

By his question, "What shall I give thee?" Laban admits that Jacob is quite justified in asking for a substantial flock for himself and appears quite ready to give it on the spot. Jacob knows the niggardly disposition of his father-in-law and that he will rue very shortly having parted with any of his goods. So Jacob says: "Thou shalt not give me anything" (me’û’mah, second last syllable accented because the ultima is an old case ending, S. G. 90 f). Yet Jacob will do the work of a shepherd (’er’eh —"I will pasture") "yea, also guard them," i. e. use the best of caution in all his work on one condition which he is about to state, v. 32, 33. The plan suggested puts the 2.821possibility of acquiring wealth entirely in the providence of God. Jacob does not know whether it will please God to have him acquire wealth. Now to understand what follows it must be borne in mind that sheep are normally white in the Orient (cf. Ps. 147:16; Song 4:2; 6:6Dan. 7:9); goats are normally black or brown-black (Song 4:1b). The exceptions to this rule are not numerous. Yet Jacob will take only the exceptions. If he is to acquire wealth according to God’s will, the Almighty Disposer of events must grant it. This was a fine act of faith on Jacob’s part. He cast himself wholly upon God’s mercy.

32. Jacob proposes to go through all the flocks in person and separate that very day every one of the abnormally coloured sheep or goats, i. e. the naqôdh, covered with smaller spots, or "speckled," and the talû’, marked by larger spots, or "spotted." Though he says, "that shall be my pay," yet this remark must be held against his initial statement: "Thou shalt not give me anything" (v. 31). Jacob is not now changing his mind. He merely means all future speckled or spotted lambs and goats shall be my pay. He actually asks for nothing at the outset. Haser is an absolute infinite used as an accusative of relation expressing mode (G. K. 113 h, K. S. 402 b).

33. Jacob expects that from time to time suspicious Laban will come, bent on investigating. Jacob expects to have a very clear case in such an event; for either flocks consist of such as are normally coloured, or they do not. One glance will always suffice to tell whether Jacob is dealing fairly or not; in other words, "my righteousness shall answer for me on any future day." If anything appears in Jacob’s flocks "not speckled or spotted," that is to be dealt with as "a thing stolen," that is to say, Laban may promptly remove it and claim it for his own. The issue will be very clear-cut. Deceit will be out of the question. 2.822With good reason, at least from this point of view, Jacob chose such a basis of division.

Jacob cannot be charged with tempting God in this case and, as it were, seeking to induce God to work a miracle for him. For when Jacob was still at Bethel, God had promised to care for him; and since his arrival in Canaan Jacob had had ample tokens of divine favour. He may, therefore, well commit the issues entirely to God. We repeat, Jacob’s proposition to Laban was a fine act of faith.

34. And Laban said: Right; let it be as you say.

Laban is only too ready to close with an offer such as Jacob’s. Hen, "behold," expresses a kind of eagerness, like our exclamation of assent "right." The Hebrew wish is really a bit more formal than our translation indicates, for it says: "would that it might become according to thy word."

35, 36. And on that day he removed the striped and spotted he-goats and all speckled and spotted she-goats and all that had white on them, and all the black among the sheep and put them in the care of his sons. And he put a distance of a three days’ journey between himself and Jacob; but Jacob tended the rest of Laban’s flock.

Verse 35 can mean only this, that Laban himself did the separating of the ones that were to be kept apart from the rest, yet v. 32 Jacob had stipulated that he himself would take care of that work. Laban’s interference indicates his mistrust of Jacob, not a warranted mistrust but the mistrust of a man who is himself not to be trusted. Whatever promptings of generosity Laban may have felt at the time when he stood in danger of losing the valuable services of Jacob, these promptings are all dissipated as soon as he sees that the son-in-law will continue in his service. Two other indications of mistrust on Laban’s part are that 2.823he puts the abnormally coloured under the care of his sons, lest Jacob tamper with them and perhaps use them for breeding purposes, where, of course, the chance of abnormal offspring would be proportionately greater. The original agreement had no such proviso in it: Jacob had always been treated as perfectly competent and dependable for the care of any part of the flock. But Laban’s conduct and attitude become downright insulting when he gives a third indication of mistrust in putting "a distance (Hebrew "way") of a three days’ journey between himself and Jacob." Had Jacob not displayed a fine tolerance at this point, he might well have been tempted to sever connections with Laban on the spot in spite of any agreement that might have just been made.

It is true, the enumeration in v. 35 is not complete, but everyone understands that the ones not mentioned are to be supplied in thought. A number of new terms appears here, apparently the ones that were used at this point by the contracting parties to define more closely the terms previously used. So "striped" (’aquddîn) appears for the first time, for, indeed, the "striped" are neither "speckled" nor exactly "spotted," and yet Jacob must have had them in mind originally. So, too, the "she-goats" are separately mentioned, though there could have been no thought of exempting them. Likewise, "all that had white on them" must have been included in any reasonable definition of what was to be included in this group. Hannôtharoth, plural, agrees ad sensum with the collective singular tso’n (K. S. 334i).

37-39. And Jacob took fresh rods of poplar, almond, and plane trees, and peeled white stripes on them, laying bare the white part of the rods; and he laid these rods which he had peeled in front of the sheep in the gutters of the watering troughs to which the sheep came to drink. And they were 2.824in heat when they came to drink. So the cattle bred before the rods and the cattle bare striped, speckled and spotted.

The bargain relative to Jacob’s wages, as it was originally made, was actually an act of faith on Jacob’s part. But when Laban’s several acts of mistrust came to light, it seems Jacob was somewhat shaken from his resolution to make an issue of faith of the whole matter; and so on his part he resorted to tricky devices in order to be assured of success. Mistrust lies behind Jacob’s devices.

If now biologists raise the issue that prenatal influence cannot determine the colour of sheep or of goats, as far as we can discern, they must add the qualifying statement: "as far as their observation goes." Here seem to lie certain problems with which they have not sufficiently grappled. Though, indeed, there may be curious superstitions on the part of people in reference to some of these matters, yet as the Biblical record here runs, its meaning without a doubt is that Jacob’s crafty device helped determine the colour of the lambs and the goats. The observations of the ancients, backed by the experience of many moderns, seems to confirm the practicability of the device here described.

Quite another question is the one of the ethics of Jacob’s act. Here it must be conceded that when Jacob originally made his bargain, he certainly meant that the varicoloured sheep and goats were to be his, but only those that would be born under perfectly normal circumstances. If Laban’s acts led him to feel that certain schemes are thereby justified, Jacob is in the wrong in thinking so. True, the text says nothing of the sort, but then the issue is sufficiently clear without a statement of the text, and 31:9 does not conflict with our claim as we shall presently show. Certain extenuating circumstances, however; certainly 2.825appear in this case, which, if they do not justify Jacob, at least lessen his guilt.

Jacob’s device, then, as here described is to lay peeled rods of trees that peel more readily than others and show a particularly white surface after peeling—the white "poplar" as the name libhneh ("white") indicates, the lûz, or "almond" and the ’ermôn, or "plane tree," whose bark naturally peels off in large slabs—to lay these in the troughs where the sheep drink during the breeding season. Breeding took place with these speckled or spotted objects before the eyes of the she-goats and the lambs. Now, especially the lamb is said to be susceptible to the things seen at the time of copulation or during the period of gestation by way of having the effects of such sight passed on to the offspring. And yet, certainly, another influence must be allowed at this point. Surely, man cannot so definitely control nature. Biologists admit the possibility of prenatal influences that they have not yet fully discerned. One such influence in this case was the overruling providence of God which in an unequal contest between two men gave the advantage to the one who was relatively innocent. In v. 37machsoph is a verbal noun, like an absolute infinitive (G. K. 117 r). Again, pitstsel petsalôth gives an instance of a cognate object. In v. 38 the collective singular tso’n has a plural verb. In v. 39yechemû ("they bred") is masculine but is quite naturally replaced by a feminine teladhnah ("they bore") with again the collective tso’n a subject for both.

40. And the lambs Jacob set apart and set the faces of the flock toward the striped and all the black in Laban’s flock and he made separate herds for himself and did not put them together, with Laban’s flock.

Here many insist that the thought of the verse is an impossibility. How, they ask, could the cattle under 2.826Jacob’s care see Laban’s flock, a three days’ journey distant? Without a doubt, the author is not guilty of any such absurdities. For the understanding of the verse it must be remembered that Jacob had Laban’s flock— the white sheep and the black goats—that is, the normal colour. Laban had Jacob’s flock—all the abnormally coloured. The preceding verse had mentioned "the striped, speckled, and spotted" that were born. These v. 40 groups together under the term "lambs." These were to go under Laban’s care according to contract, so they are called Laban’s flock by anticipation. These "lambs" are not at once taken over by Laban, but, no doubt, the shepherds would wait until they were weaned and had gotten old enough to be moved some distance away. But as long as Jacob had them under his own care he made a separate unit of them as much as possible and would so pasture all of Laban’s sheep that were under his care that he "set the faces of the flock toward the striped and the black" in the expectation that this sight, an unusual one, would impress itself on the white flock in advance and so prepare the influence that would be intensified later by the peeled rods. With this interpretation the second half of the verse agrees, except that "Laban’s flock" is now used to refer not to the flock Laban tended but to the flock which he owned but which Jacob tended. Everyone understands how the expression "Laban’s flock" would continually be used in two senses as long as the arrangement they had agreed upon remained in force.

41, 42. And it came to pass whenever the sturdier cattle were breeding, Jacob would place his rods before the eyes of the cattle in the drinking troughs in order that they might have breeding heat among the rods. But when the flocks showed feebleness, he did not lay out (his rods). As a result, 2.827the more feeble were Laban’s, and the sturdier, Jacob’s.

In v. 41 the converted perfects equal the frequentative imperfects, even as the imperfect of v. 42yasîm is frequentative (K. S. 401 p, 367 e, G. K. 112 ee). Since the flocks bore twice a year, apparently Jacob’s experience had taught him that those born in the fall were the "sturdier" or hardier. He so adjusted his device that it would react upon these and omitted to use it "when the flocks showed feebleness" (B D B). But for v. 42 one might argue that he, indeed, employed the device, but the text as such says nothing of its effectiveness. It must be conceded that v. 42 states that his device proved effective; but again we add: only in the providence of God.

43. And the man became exceedingly rich and had large flocks and handmaidens and servants and camels and asses.

The Hebrew says: "the man burst out exceedingly exceedingly." Our translation catches the import of the statement, though in a less colourful fashion. To take care of the ever increasing flocks a multitude of servants became necessary, and camels and asses as well, for keeping in touch with the various movements of the flock and for moving from place to place with the nomadic establishment. God had fulfilled His promise of 28:15 beyond what Jacob could ever have anticipated. Observe rabbôth, plural adjective with tso’n, singular collective (K. S. 346 d).


Important as the revelation of this chapter may be from several points of view, again it does not happen to be suited for use in the pulpit. For without a doubt, no man would care to lay bare the rivalries between Rachel and Leah as recorded v. 30:1-24. Still less adapted to sermonic use is v. 37-43. That would leave v. 25-36, which again would fall under the same general heading as 26:12-17: "The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich."

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