Genesis 30:25–31:16

Genesis 30:25–31:16

A change of mind for Jacob comes with the birth of Joseph (Gen 30:25): he desires to return to his homeland. But Laban is not too pleased about the planned departure of Jacob and his tribe, the source of all his, Laban’s, prosperity. Jacob makes a request that his wages be the rarer multicolored sheep and goats that he would breed out of a normal monochrome flock (30:32–33): no deception here. In fact, Jacob adduces his “honesty/righteousness” explicitly, as he sets penalties on what would happen if the wrong kind of animal were to be found in his flock (30:33). So we see a transformed patriarch, not the deceptive one who stole his brother’s blessing. This is further demonstrated in Jacob’s reply to Laban’s “What shall I give you?”—“You shall give nothing to me” (30:31)! This is surprising from a man who, thus far, had only sought to get, by whatever means possible, from everybody around.

No more deception.

No doubt acutely conscious of God’s hand in his affairs (see below), Jacob does not remain passive. He works determinedly and, even against such an obviously double-dealing foe as Laban, Jacob eschews deception, which, at an earlier phase of his life, would have been his modus operandi. Overall the narrative of Jacob’s husbandry of the flocks is cryptic and difficult to decipher (30:37–42): all we can say is that Jacob worked hard at his breeding enterprises over a long period of time (while Laban tried to cheat him time and again, 31:7). In the final reckoning, most of the animals become “striped” and “speckled” and end up with Jacob (30:39, 41–42). It is almost as if Laban’s flocks were transformed into Jacob’s. The latter’s strategies are neither deceitful nor accomplished in stealth. Whatever might have been the scientific (or pseudo-scientific) explanation for Jacob’s success, ultimately Jacob “increased” (30:43), as Laban had, earlier (30:30), and as Jacob had been promised by God that he would (28:14).

No more deception, but hard work.

Almost all of the words used to depict Jacob’s increase in 30:43 are borrowed from similar depictions of his ancestors’ prospering (24:1, 35; 26:3, 12). In other words, what had happened to Abraham and Isaac was true of Jacob, too—his wealth, just like his predecessors’, was a result of divine blessing. In the end, all of Jacob’s prosperity was God’s work, as Jacob would explicitly acknowledge (31:7, 9, 11–13). In fact, even Laban’s blessing through Jacob, is attributed by the latter to God (30:30).

No more deception, but hard work, resulting in blessing.

Jacob’s prosperity does not make him popular with his uncle and his family (31:1). Laban’s attitude was not friendly “towards/with him” (31:2). The prepositional phrase “towards/with him” is perfectly balanced by “towards/with you” (31:3)—Yahweh’s attitude towards Jacob. The foe is against him, but deity is for him. In aligning himself to the will of God, Jacob is on God’s side (or better, God is on Jacob’s side). When Laban’s sons accuse Jacob of “making” (same verb as “do”) his wealth from “all that” was their father’s (31:1); the response of the angel of God to Jacob is appropriate: he had seen “all that” Laban had “done” to Jacob (31:12). As if in echo, Rachel and Leah exhort Jacob to “do” “all that” God had commanded (31:16). Clearly right is on Jacob’s side. God’s sovereignty is on view again in 31:7b which literally reads, “but God did not give [grant] him to do evil towards me.” Instead God “gave” (31:9) Jacob Laban’s livestock. All this goes to show that what happened, in/with/through Jacob’s industry in Genesis 30, was not the outcome of any magic or deception, but of divine providence. So the two stories in this pericope, 30:25–43 and 31:1–16 complement each other. God works in tandem with faithful obedience on the part of his people.

No more deception, but hard work, resulting in blessing that is acknowledged by the “blessee.”

Perhaps a fuller expression would be:

God sovereignly works to bless his children, as they work responsibly, even in adverse conditions.

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