IIT UBF - University Bible Fellowship at IIT




God Blesses for a Purpose

Date: Sep. 23, 2018

Author: Bob Henkins

Genesis 30:25-43

Key Verse: Genesis 30:42-43

So the weak animals went to Laban and the strong ones to Jacob. In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and female and male servants, and camels and donkeys.

Let’s take a look at verses 25-26 where our passage starts today. “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.””After Joseph’s birth, we get a time marker. It’s been 14 years, Jacob’s tired and he wants to go back to see his family. Thus far, Laban has used Jacob and gotten a lot of work out of him. In current terms, the median household income is $59K over 14 years that’s worth about $826K Jacob paid for 2 wives. Jacob fulfilled his end of the bargain. He worked those 14 years, without trying to cheat Laban, but now he’s fulfilled his obligations, and he’s ready to leave. So, Jacob does what a good son-in-law should do, he asks to leave. During my study, I found an interesting note: Jacob’s request next mentions his wives and children specifically (v. 26). According to Mosaic law, a Hebrew slave who receives a wife from his master must upon gaining freedom relinquish her and her children to the master (Exod 21:4). Now I know that this law didn’t exist yet and it wouldn’t be applicable to Jacob since he was not a slave but maybe this was a practice they did.

Laban really doesn’t want to lose Jacob. Take a look at v 27-28. “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.”” We almost see Laban scrambling here. He doesn’t want Jacob to go, so he ignores Jacob’s request and makes a counter offer instead. He reveals to Jacob that he uses divination. This means that Laban has been consorting with demons. Divination is the practice of attempting to foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge by occult or supernatural means. One might ask, why was he using divination in the context of Jacob? What was he really trying to find out? We don’t know exactly what he found out but the fact that he practiced divination is somewhat startling. What is interesting is that Joseph acknowledges that he had access to such sorcery (44:5, 15). However, one thing is clear, Laban shouldn’t be connecting divination to the Lord. Sadly, Laban only cares about the material things he’s been getting because he’s been around Jacob. He isn’t concerned for his daughters nor his grandkids but his money. Laban’s not a true believer, he’s probably more of a polytheist, one who believes in many gods, but because he’s been close to Jacob, the blessings have rubbed off on him. The reason this happens is because God promised to bless Abraham and his offspring which includes Jacob. God said that He would bless those who blessed him.

So how does he respond, take a look at 29-30. “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?”” Jacob had heard those words before, he didn’t want to fall for Laban’s trick again. He was very specific this time when he made his request. The way Jacob responds so quickly to Laban, you kind of get the feeling he knew what Laban was going to say. Even so, Jacob doesn’t play his hand too quickly. He agrees with Laban’s assessment of his hard work and plays it up. Jacob makes three points in his reply. First, Jacob downplayed Laban’s original net worth as “little” while at the same time he’s doubling down on his efforts to “increase it greatly”. Second, Jacob agrees with Laban’s theological assessment of the situation, but he takes it a step further and adds that “wherever” Jacob was the herd numbers increased. And finally, Jacob hits home with the words “but now” which brings his argument to his climax with a forceful rhetorical question, when is it my turn”. You’ve had your turn, when’s mine?

““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 mego 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 mein 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.”” Wealth, in those days was measured by the number of animals you owned. Jacob knew that so he asked for some resources so that he could have a “starter” herd. Jacob was pretty smart and knew Laban, wouldn’t give away his prime animals, so he asked for the speckled, spotted, or black sheep and goats, which were the rejects of the flock. Jacob knew that, that’s why he said, “Don’t give me anything”. Neither of these guys trusted each other, so Jacob came up with a way to prove his integrity and prevent any false accusations and insure that nobody was cheating. Laban couldn’t believe his ears! Jacob is offering to take the rejects of the flock, and work for practically nothing. Laban sees himself getting more good years of quality labor from Jacob. It’s a deal he can’t refuse!

From these verses 35-36, Laban’s deceit comes into full view. “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.” If Laban’s intentions weren’t clear before, they are now. No matter what Jacob proposed, Laban had no intention of fulfilling their agreement, even if it was to take the reject flock. So, when Jacob asked if HE could go through Laban’s flock and take the rejected animals, Laban makes a preemptive strike and acts first by going secretly, without Jacob’s knowledge, and takes whatever would have gone to Jacob and he sends them far away with his sons. Laban doesn’t want Jacob to get rich off of him so he hides them from Jacob hoping to ensure his victory. Laban sure was a shrewd man. And I wondered, “Why didn’t Jacob complain when he saw that all the ones that were supposed to go to him were gone?” But we’ll see, Jacob is a shrewd man himself. And he doesn’t make this deal because he’s stupid. He makes it, because he has a few tricks up his sleeve. He’ll start with nothing if he has to, at least now the battle has begun. Laban put a three-day buffer zone between the animals hoping that none of the animals would wander into contact with each other. This tactic, however, backfired on him, because it freed Jacob from the oversight that might have hindered his schemes.

So what was Jacob’s plan take a look at verses 37-42. “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.”Jacob uses a mating practice that doesn’t make sense to us. He’s acting upon the belief in his day that what a mother sees during her pregnancy will affect her offspring. For example, if she sees stripes during her pregnancy, she will bear striped offspring; and if she sees spots, she will bear offspring with spots. So, he peels strips of bark off of these logs so they looked striped. It’s a crazy concept, but goes with it. From what I’ve read, there’s no scientific evidence that just by looking at these different colored trees and things, that it would any impact on what type of goat or sheep was born. But I guess there is scientific evidence that what Jacob did would actually stimulate the goats and sheep and make them go into heat more frequently. Maybe, since Jacob worked with his father’s flock, and then Laban’s flock for the past 14 years, there’s a good chance that he had a basic understanding of genetics, and that the animals had both a recessive and dominant gene and it was just a matter of getting the recessive to come out. Anyway, once he starts getting some of these goats and sheep that are spotted he starts separating them from the others, and he starts what might have been the first instance of selective breeding ever recorded in history. And he makes sure that the stronger, healthier sheep and goats were breeding with the spotted and speckled ones, and eventually, Jacob has a herd of sheep and goats that were strong, and he’s made sure that the ones that were all one color, were the weaker ones.

It's amazing Jacob went there with nothing and walks out with everything and there wasn’t a thing Laban could do about it. Verse 43 says, “In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and female and male servants, and camels and donkeys.”By building massive herds of small cattle, Jacob could trade and purchase servants and camels and donkeys. In particular, the possession of camels shows that the man was exceptionally rich, since these animals were rare and costly. At the end here, we see an ironic twist. In the beginning, Laban was the wealthier man, blessed because of Jacob’s actions. But now, after making his nephew stay, and trying to take advantage of him, Laban becomes the poorer man because of Jacob’s actions. After going through this passage, we might be tempted to think that Jacob got rich because of what he did, but in truth it was because of what God did for Jacob. In a couple of chapters, we’ll see that Jacob fully acknowledges this. However sometimes we may be tempted to think the same thing, that it’s our efforts that make a difference when it is really God Himself who does the work. Now, don’t get me wrong. God doesn’t reward laziness. We’re responsible for our actions, but if we think that it’s only our hard work that produces results, we’re kidding ourselves like Jacob did. The Bible makes it very clear, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (Ja 1:17)

Our own self-effort cannot save us from sin. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.” Our self-effort can’t get us into heaven. We think it’s our efforts that produce results when all along its God doing the work. Jesus said, “… apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5). So, we must live our lives in daily dependence upon God, otherwise, we’re just expending our energy in a frustrating, wasted effort.

The Lord is faithful to his promises, protecting and providing for Jacob. The Lord even accomplished this outside Jacob’s home land, just as he had done with Abraham and Isaac, proving again that God can do whatever he wants, wherever he wants, whenever he wants. In the same way, he blessed the Hebrew slaves when they left Egypt (Ex 12:36). By transforming poverty into wealth at the expense of the powerful, the Lord carried out his plan while undoing the unjust treatment of his people. Remember the promise made to Abraham, “Whoever curses you I will curse” (12:3c). This passage reveals that neither superstitious beliefs nor human interference can hinder God’s will. God blessed Jacob simply because he wanted to, not because of what Jacob did, likewise God frustrated Laban’s hostility no matter what he did.

But it wasn’t just the promise of blessing, God was also helping Jacob to return to the promised land. Through Jacob’s vow, God had promised to bring Jacob back home. However, he still had to go through Laban to get there, and that wasn’t easy. Laban wasn’t a hostile enemy where Jacob had to raise an army to fight him, he was family, so he had to use a different tactic to be free. And what we see here is how God blesses for a purpose, and it was God’s purpose to bring Jacob back to the promised land.

I found it interesting that in this passage we see three similar parallel stories with struggle, Jacob & Laban, the Israelite slaves & Egypt, and us & sin. Jacob struggled with Laban, the slaves struggled with Pharaoh, and we struggle with sin. And often God uses hardship to produce fruit in us. And as we struggle to live right, we store up for ourselves treasures in heaven. When we take a closer look at each of these three stories, another commonality among the is the oppressed group leaves with the wealth of the other group. Jacob came with nothing and left with enormous wealth, the Israelites were slaves and left with a vast amount of gold. And when we conclude our life of faith we will enter into the Kingdom of God where we will receive an inheritance that can never perish spoil of fade that’s been waiting for us there in heaven. This is possible because of the grace of God through the sacrifice of his one and only son Jesus.

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