Genesis 30:25-43 ~ 20080316 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
We have been following Jacob the Patriarch. His story began when God chose him to be the recipient of his gracious promises before he was born. We have followed him through his scheming and deceiving to try to accomplish God's purposes in his own power, until he had to flee home to escape the wrath of his brother. We watched as God showed up and made unconditional promises to Jacob, and Jacob in return offered to make God a deal. We saw Jacob as he arrived at uncle Laban's, and God began discipline Jacob to refine his character. Jacob the deceiver was himself deceived by his own uncle who swapped the firstborn daughter in place of the younger favorite daughter on Jacob's wedding night. Jacob had to serve an additional seven years in return for the woman he wanted. Then we saw prayerless Jacob reduced by his wives to a commodity to be traded in their pursuit to outdo each other in securing descendants. Today we come to lesson #3 in God's school of character development.
We remember that Jacob had agreed to serve Laban seven years for Rachel. At the end of that time, he came to Laban and said “give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” [29:21]. Laban tricked him and he was compelled to serve an additional seven years for the wife he wanted. Now after 14 years of service, his demand to Laban is “give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, that I may go”. He had put in his 14 years. He repeats the word serve 3 times in his statement – I served you... you know the service with which I served you – to emphasize that he had assumed the role, not of a son-in-law, but of a servant to Laban. Now he was demanding his wages.
Laban replies that he really doesn't want Jacob to leave. 'I talked to my friends the demons and the demons told me that you're good for business so I want to keep you around. What Laban is involved in here is expressly forbidden in God's law:
In the next chapter we see Rachel stealing her dad's teraphim – his household gods or idols. Laban was not only a crooked businessman, but an idolater and he sought the advice of demons in his decision making. Laban was a very spiritual man. But being spiritual is not the same thing as being godly. Many people today have a form of spirituality, but unless your spirituality consists in a relationship with the one true God on the basis of the one Mediator Jesus Christ and his finished work on the cross, then that spirituality is dangerous and demonic. The demons told Laban that YHWH had blessed him because of Jacob. That was true. What Laban found out from divination was true information. Satan will give you accurate information if it will serve his purposes. Laban was a man who worshiped the god of money more than anything else. Laban pursued a relationship with Jacob not so he could get to know who Jacob's God was, but so he could profit from the blessing that God had promised to Jacob. Laban was not interested in knowing God; he was only interested in securing God's favor and gifts to his own advantage. We are warned:
So the enemy gladly gave him information that would further his pursuit of his god of wealth at the expense of his soul.
Jacob reminds Laban of his work ethic, and the benefit Laban received from his service. When Jacob arrived, Laban had little. It was undeniable that Laban's livestock had done extremely well under Jacob's care. Jacob uses the same language God used when he promised blessing back in 28:14; 'you shall spread abroad'; here it is translated 'increased abundantly'; the Hebrew literally reads 'burst forth'. Jacob points to YHWH as the source of the blessing, and he connects the blessing with God's promise to him at Bethel. God has indeed followed Jacob with blessing wherever he turned, but because he is in the service of Laban this blessing has been transferred to Laban. Jacob sees the need to provide for his own family as a responsible husband. We would think that this would be a priority for Laban to see that his daughters and grandchildren are well cared for. But his greed and selfishness have clouded his moral vision. Jacob appeals to the need to care for his own family which has suffered during these last seven years of service.
Laban had offered earlier for Jacob to name his wages. Again he asks Jacob to name his price. Jacob's answer is shrewd and wise. He appeals to Laban's greed – you don't have to give me a thing. I'll take the second-rate defective sheep and goats for my wages. Sheep were typically solid white and goats were typically solid black. Any variations were abnormal and unusual. The percentage of these types of animals would certainly be small. Jacob has learned the character of Laban, so his offer presupposes that Laban is going to come to periodically investigate the flocks. Laban is a crook at heart and as such is suspicious that everyone else is also out to rip him off. Jacob's solution will make evident that he is honest; any animals of the standard coloration that are found in his herds will be considered stolen. This arrangement was designed to appeal to Laban, and it did.
Laban agreed to Jacob's offer, but he changed the details of the agreement right from the start. Jacob had said that he would do the separating of the abnormal from the plain and those abnormal animals would be his starting flock. Instead, Laban himself does the separating, and he takes the abnormal animals as his own and separated them by a three day journey, so there would be no possibility that Jacob would practice selective breeding to increase his profit. Jacob is left again with nothing, and with a flock of completely white sheep and completely black goats. For Jacob to raise up a herd of abnormal animals from an entirely pure breeding stock would take a very long time, so Laban has secured Jacobs free labor almost indefinitely, and has done nothing to compensate his children and grandchildren. But Jacob won't be outdone.
This is peculiar and has been misunderstood by many. What Jacob is doing here is attempting to manipulate the breeding outcome by visual stimuli. It was thought that a vivid sight during pregnancy or conception would leave its mark on the embryo. If this were a true principle, you'd want to get rid of your zebra striped bedspread, or you'll have some interesting looking kids! Jacob was attempting to manipulate the appearance of the flock by his elaborate process of peeling sticks and placing them in front of the breeding animals. The amazing thing is that it seemed to work, so he kept on doing it. This was a method that proved effective to secure speckled and spotted sheep and goats for Jacob. In fact, it seems he worked it out to a science – he would only use the sticks with the strong animals so the stronger offspring would be his and the weaker would be Laban's. It was so effective that it says 'the man increased greatly and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys.'
This method of breeding was so effective for Jacob that he had huge flocks, and was able to trade some of his profits for servants and camels and donkeys. He was prospering beyond his wildest dreams. And all because he had learned the secret of peeling sticks!
We can identify with Jacob on so many levels. God is such a good gracious God that he wants to be identified as the God of Jacob – he is even God to sinners and manipulators like Jacob. Jacob thought he had finally gotten the upper hand on his uncle Laban and figured out a foolproof method to get the flocks to produce just what he wanted. He got the formula down and was able to implement it effectively. We are people who want a formula. We want steps to follow. We to know the tricks and tips that will make things work. There are plenty of companies that capitalize on this natural human tendency -'we have figured out the secret trick to getting spots out of laundry or getting a sexy body or a happy marriage or a better golf swing or financial freedom – just send us your money and we'll tell you how'.
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I really don't think God is sitting in heaven waiting for people to find this website so they can learn the secret tricks to getting their prayers answered. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely believe prayer is more powerful than we realize – James said:
and Jesus said:
We desperately need to be people of prayer and there is much more that we can learn about prayer and praying effectively. And there are good books and good websites that can help us greatly. But our tendency is to reduce it to a formula – if I do these three things, then I will see answers. If I follow this secret method then God is obligated to do what I tell him. Jacob had it figured out. He had his peeled sticks. And it worked! He could write a testimonial – 'how peeled sticks changed my life – peeled sticks secured my financial freedom and led to success in all my business ventures'. Jacob had the method down and the method worked – or so it seemed. If we look in the next chapter, Jacob himself explains what he had learned through the process. Look at 31:5-12 to see how Jacob's testimonial to the peeled stick method actually reads:
Jacob here acknowledges that the peeled sticks had nothing to do with it – God has been with me; God did not permit him to harm me; God has taken away Laban's livestock and given them to me. God said 'I have seen all that Laban is doing to you' so all the flock bear striped, spotted and mottled. Jacob was learning his lesson, and he was beginning to see that God will accomplish his purpose through us and sometimes in spite of us and what we do. We may think we have figured out the method and our method is working, but God may be working in spite of our method. God may be fulfilling his promises and accomplishing his purposes in spite of our formula and our steps and our peeled sticks. Jacob didn't have to barter for the birthright; God had promised it to him; Jacob didn't have to steal the blessing; God would have delivered it to him. Jacob didn't have to follow some sneaky breeding practices; God had promised to bless him. Jacob was slowly learning the lesson that God is sovereign and fully able to keep his promises without our help.
When we think that we have figured out the method and have the corner on spirituality and special access to God, it leads to arrogance and spiritual pride, and looking down with pity on others who have not yet arrived at the spiritual maturity that we have attained.
God's promises to Jacob at Bethel were unconditional. God had promised to be with Jacob. God had not promised an easy road for Jacob, and Jacob's road was unbelievably rocky – he was deceived and lied to and tricked, his family life was a disaster, he was penniless after 14 years of hard labor, and then when he began to prosper financially, his uncle continually changed the terms of the agreement. When God blessed him in spite of his own efforts and in spite of his cheating uncle, this brought with it hostility from Laban and his sons and he ends up again on the run in the next chapter. But God was indeed with him. God had promised not to leave him, and God had made good on his promises. These were twenty years of hard lessons for Jacob, but at the end of it he was able to say 'the God of my father has been with me.' Every bump in the road, every setback and discouragement and disappointment and failure was placed there by the sovereign hand of a good God to teach me and change me and mold me and shape me for my good, and he has never left my side. We too can have the confidence that this God, the God of Jacob is our God. Jesus said:
Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.