Read Genesis 30:25-43
In Genesis 29:1-24 we explored the emotion of jealousy and talked about how it’s an emotion that brings out the opposite of love. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy… It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking… (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7) Love hopes for the success of others. You root for the success of those you love. When I’m jealous of someone I root for him or her to fail. We also talked about misplaced expectations. There’s a tendency to put upon our spouses, or bosses, or parents, or whoever, expectations that really belong upon the LORD and the LORD alone. Rachel blamed Jacob for her lack of children when in reality, Jacob was fertile. Rachel’s hope, Rachel’s focus belonged with the LORD. Keeping her eyes on Him instead of blaming Jacob or hating Leah would have resulted in great blessings — for Rachel.
Put your hope in God, not people because it is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in people. (Psalm 118:8 NLT) (see previous post on Genesis 30:1-24)
We left off with Rachel giving birth to Joseph. Right after that Jacob approaches Laban and says, It’s time for me to go home.
Jacob remains focused on the promised land. A great example for me and for you. Yes Jacob had things to do in Haran, and he had to focus on those things put before him there by God, but ultimately he knew that when the days of his service were up, he had to go to the promised land. Likewise, you have things to do here on earth, and you need to focus on what God puts here before you, but, like Jacob, you must not put your roots in here. When the days of your service here are up, the promised land is your ultimate destination — heaven.
Jacob continues, Go ahead and give me my wives and my kids that I’ve earned by serving you all these years and I’ll be on my way. You know all that I’ve done for you.
Matthew Henry points out that Jacob doesn’t request any provision from Laban here. Henry says, “Those that trust in God, in his providence and promise, though they have great families and small incomes, can cheerfully hope that he who sends mouths will send meat. He who feeds the brood of the ravens will not starve the seed of the righteous.”
But Laban has recognized how Jacob’s service has resulted in great prosperity for Laban, so, out of love for himself, not out of love for Jacob, he says, Please stay. I dabbled in some divination the other day and learned that the LORD has blessed me because of you. So name your wages and I’ll pay them. Please stay. (We know from the next chapter that Laban worshiped idols, so it’s not too surprising that here we find Laban dabbling in divination )
Jacob reminds him, You know how well I’ve performed for you and how your herds have prospered under my care. You didn’t have much when I got here but now look at you.
Like Jacob, you and I are to be a blessing to those around us, wherever we find ourselves. Even if those around you, or around me, are less than gracious toward us.
Jacob continues, The LORD has blessed you wherever I’ve turned my attention. But now, I’d like to do something for my own family and household.
What do you have in mind? Laban asked.
Here’s the deal, Jacob replies. Just do this one thing for me — I’ll keep taking care of your flocks but let me go through all of your livestock today and separate out every speckled and spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb and every spotted or speckled goat. And that’s it. That’s all I ask. That will be my wages. And my integrity will be proven whenever you check on the flocks, because you’ll be able to verify the wages you’ve paid me. Any goat of mine that’s not speckled or spotted, any lamb of mine that’s not dark you’ll know doesn’t belong to me.
I’m all in! Laban said. Let’s do it.
But that same day Laban removed all the male goats that were streaked or spotted, and all the speckled or spotted female goats, and all the dark lambs, and he had his sons take them three days journey away from Jacob while Jacob continued to care for the rest of Laban’s sheep and goats.
Here we have Laban and Jacob, two con men, each one trying to out maneuver the other.
So Jacob does something strange here. He takes fresh cut branches from poplar, almond, and plane trees and makes stripes on them by peeling strips of bark away, exposing the inner wood. Then he puts these striped sticks in the watering troughs. Then he tries to make sure that the animals mate in front of the troughs with the branches in them. When they bare young they’re streaked, speckled, or spotted.
From there Jacob begins a selective breeding process where he takes the strongest of the animals and also those with spots or streaks and breeds them with each other, thus producing a great number of strong, healthy, spotted, and streaked livestock. The selective breeding results in animals without streaks or spots producing weaker and less healthy offspring, and these, of course, go to Laban. Jacob’s flocks gradually increase in number until, eventually, he’s the owner of a huge multitude of healthy and strong animals. And by trading sheep and goats from his great droves he becomes rich, owning not just the flocks but also male servants, female servants, camels, and donkeys.
I could speculate all day about what Jacob’s use of striped sticks means, but anything I can find that anyone offers on the topic strikes me as little more than a guess. Very briefly, my own guess is that Jacob’s efforts with the striped sticks were similar to my son Gabe’s efforts when he was helping me build our deck railing. He was just a grade schooler. He pounded nails, yes, and I was blessed by his effort, definitely, but it didn’t have much to do with the outcome. That being said, I don’t think we’re going to learn the definitive answer to this little mystery this side of heaven.
More importantly, what you can learn, is what to do when you find yourself in a situation where your options are limited.
What you can do:
David was another person in the Bible who found himself in a situation with serious limitations.
David had it in his heart to build a house, a temple, for the LORD his God. So David checks in with Nathan, God’s prophet, and tells him what he’s thinking. Nathan Initially tells David that God is with him and to do whatever is in his heart. But that night the LORD spoke to Nathan and told him that it was not to be. The reason was because David was a man of war who had shed much blood. God had it in His mind for Solomon to build His temple. (1 Chronicles 7-10 and 2 Samuel 7:1-7)
So what does David do?
David gave orders to assemble the foreigners residing in Israel, and from among them he appointed stonecutters to prepare dressed stone for building the house of God. He provided a large amount of iron to make nails for the doors of the gateways and for the fittings, and more bronze than could be weighed. He also provided more cedar logs than could be counted, for the Sidonians and Tyrians had brought large numbers of them to David.
David said, “My son Solomon is young and inexperienced, and the house to be built for the LORD should be of great magnificence and fame and splendor in the sight of all the nations. Therefore I will make preparations for it.” So David made extensive preparations before his death. (1 Chronicles 22:2-5)
Rather than focusing on what he couldn’t do, David focused on what he could do, and then he did everything he could.
Jacob finds himself in a somewhat similar situation. The same day he seals the deal with Laban for Jacob to keep all the striped and speckled animals, Laban makes off with everything striped and speckled. Can’t you just imagine how many people might respond in this situation? Can’t you just hear it? “Man, I was ripped off.” “What’s the point, what chance do I have if my boss is a cheat?” “How am I supposed to earn a living under these conditions?” Some may have even felt justified in retaliating against Laban by cheating themselves. But we’re never justified in bad behavior by bad behavior done to us. Jesus is very direct in his commandment for you to do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:31)
So what did Jacob do? Rather than focusing on what he couldn’t do, Jacob focused on what he could do, and then he did everything he could. Jacob had been a shepherd his whole life. For decades Jacob had kept his father’s flocks and over the last fourteen years that he cared for Laban’s flocks, Jacob had further developed his knowledge and skills. I believe it pleases God when we develop ourselves in our work. Throughout scripture, God calls into service to Him, those who are already industrious in their work. Moses was caring for his father-in-law’s sheep when God called him from the burning bush, Elisha was busy plowing a field when Elijah called him, Peter was busy as a commercial fisherman when Jesus called him. (Exodus 3:1, 1 Kings 19:19, Matthew 4:18) Whatever your vocation is — master it. Jacob used his skill for fourteen years to bless Laban. Now he’s using his skill to provide for his family. Rather than focusing on how Laban was cheating him, he used his knowledge of the selective breeding process to build strong and healthy herds for himself. I’m sure it was slow going at first. It could have happened much faster had Laban not made off with all the spotted and speckled animals. But gradually, over time, Jacob was successful.
Rather than focusing on what you can’t do, focus on what you can do, then do all you can.
That’s what Jacob did.
That’s what David did.
You can too.
So whatever you (can) do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.
25 After Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me on my way so I can go back to my own homeland. 26 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.”
27 But Laban said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, please stay. I have learned by divination that the LORD has blessed me because of you.” 28 He added, “Name your wages, and I will pay them.”
29 Jacob said to him, “You know how I have worked for you and how your livestock has fared under my care. 30 The little you had before I came has increased greatly, and the LORD has blessed you wherever I have been. But now, when may I do something for my own household?”
31 “What shall I give you?” he asked.
“Don’t give me anything,” Jacob replied. “But if you will do this one thing for me, I will go on tending your flocks and watching over them: 32 Let me go through all your flocks today and remove from them every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb and every spotted or speckled goat. They will be my wages. 33 And my honesty will testify for me in the future, whenever you check on the wages you have paid me. Any goat in my possession that is not speckled or spotted, or any lamb that is not dark-colored, will be considered stolen.”
34 “Agreed,” said Laban. “Let it be as you have said.” 35 That same day he removed all the male goats that were streaked or spotted, and all the speckled or spotted female goats (all that had white on them) and all the dark-colored lambs, and he placed them in the care of his sons. 36 Then he put a three-day journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob continued to tend the rest of Laban’s flocks.
37 Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. 38 Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. When the flocks were in heat and came to drink, 39 they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. 40 Jacob set apart the young of the flock by themselves, but made the rest face the streaked and dark-colored animals that belonged to Laban. Thus he made separate flocks for himself and did not put them with Laban’s animals. 41 Whenever the stronger females were in heat, Jacob would place the branches in the troughs in front of the animals so they would mate near the branches, 42 but if the animals were weak, he would not place them there. So the weak animals went to Laban and the strong ones to Jacob. 43 In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and female and male servants, and camels and donkeys.