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.
(Genesis 30:25-43 NIV)
After having eleven children, Jacob was feeling the need to go out on his own and not be a hired hand any longer. He had served his uncle Laban faithfully for many years and had fulfilled all of his obligations to him. Now he needed to think about taking care of his own family.
So Jacob went to Laban and asked his permission to leave and go back to his homeland. Laban recognized that he had become wealthy because of Jacob; he admitted to Jacob the Lord had shown him via divination (most likely via a dream or general sense of where his prosperity was coming from).
Laban ignored Jacob’s request for his wives and children, and asked Jacob what it would take for him to stay on for a while more. Jacob repeated his request to do something for his own household, not Laban’s. Again, Laban ignored Jacob’s request and asked Jacob what he wanted in order to stay.
Can you imagine this awkward conversation? Jacob wanted to be respectful to his uncle, but asking for his blessing to leave and go back to his homeland. Laban, looking out for himself, asks Jacob what he could give Jacob in order for Jacob to stay a while longer. The formula had worked for 14 years – 7 years for each daughter. What could Laban give Jacob that would contractually keep Jacob in his employ?
Jacob knew that this was to Laban’s way of controlling him, and he would be years further down the road with no more to show for his efforts than what he had now, which was nothing.
So Jacob offered a different option: Jacob would keep all the animals with striped, spotted, and speckled markings, while Laban would keep all the solid color animals. This would be a way for Jacob to build a herd of sheep and goats while still tending Laban’s animals. Laban agreed to the proposition, likely thinking that he clearly had the upper hand in this deal, and he would continue to gain wealth at the expense of Jacob.
We can surmise that the majority of Laban’s flocks were a solid color, not mottled with stripes, spots, or speckles. The striped, spotted, and speckled sheep and goats were likely a small percentage of Laban’s flock, so Laban thought that pattern would continue.
Jacob was willing to take the off-colored sheep and goats as a way to build his own herd. So Laban separated the solid-color animals from the others, and put a three-day journey between his herds and Jacob’s fledgling flock.
Verses 37-42 might be hard to understand in our modern culture. According to scholars, people in Jacob’s day believed that the experiences a mother had while carrying her baby, whether human or animal, would influence the outcome of their offspring. So if Jacob exposed the mottled branches of these trees to the flock during their breeding time, the outcome would be mottled (striped, spotted, and speckled) sheep and goats.
But even more importantly, Jacob practiced selective breeding of the herd. He only set out the branches when the stronger sheep and goats were present. And our modern understanding of genetic traits tells us that striped, spotted, and speckled colored animals produce more striped, spotted, and speckled animals – solid colored animals were now the minority, not the majority. The flock may have looked like a mismatched, rag-tag bunch of calico-colored animals, but the Lord was using Jacob’s humility and hard work to bless him.
Verse 43 sums up this time – the Lord was keeping His promise to bless Jacob and prosper him greatly. While it might seem that Jacob was back to his old ways and manipulating his way to success, in Chapter 31 we’ll see that Jacob gives God the glory for his success.
May we be willing to work hard and work with what the Lord provides, knowing that He honors our faithfulness and is ultimately the reason behind our success.
Soli Deo Gloria (glory to God alone).