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Deeper Commentary

Gen 30:1 When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister. She said to Jacob, Give me children, or else I will die- Proverbs often alludes to historical portions of the Hebrew Bible, and Prov. 30:15,16 surely alludes here; the barren womb says "give!" and will never be satisfied. I suggested throughout Gen. 29 that God intended Jacob to marry Leah and return in peace to the eretz, but instead he became obsessed with Rachel, the vivacious but unspiritual beauty. He dreamed for 7 years of hard labour about marrying her, and instead of returning home with Leah, he agreed a further 7 years labour for Rachel. And now it turns out she is barren, and she seems to have little love for Jacob. She would've had to play a conscious part in the deception at the wedding ceremony when she was replaced with Leah. And Jacob's domestic life becomes really awful, married to two sisters, with the younger bitterly jealous of the older. And that was surely exactly how Jacob had been with Esau, seeking by all means to get equal to him, taking the birthright and then deceiving Esau out of the blessing of the firstborn. Rachel clearly blames her infertility upon Jacob, and unlike Rebekah, doesn't bring God into the situation; although fertility is from God (1 Sam. 2:6).

Gen 30:2 Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, Am I in God’s place, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?- Jacob saw the infertility as coming from God, and insisted Rachel was wrong to blame him for it; after all, he had had children by Leah her sister, and Rachel's suggestion he sleep with her maid was a tacit recognition that Jacob was fertile and the problem was with her. These words of Jacob were surely remembered by Rachel, and she quoted them to her son Joseph when she finally did become fertile; for he alone uses this Hebrew phrase in comforting his brothers that he is not going to judge or punish them, as he [like Jacob] was not "in God's place" (Gen. 50:19). Joseph learnt from the story of his mother's previous barrenness that we are not in God's place; and in practice, this helped him in the psychologically gigantic task of forgiving his brothers and not seeking to judge them.


Gen 30:3 She said, Behold, my maid Bilhah. Go in to her, that she may bear on my knees, and I also may obtain children by her- Jacob should have been aware from the situation with his grandfather Abraham and Hagar that this was unwise; Sarah's suggestion to Abraham brought nothing but grief and family feuding, and it was clearly a lack of faith in the Divine promises. But Jacob wouldn't learn from that, and again went along with the suggestion of the woman in his life. He failed to learn from his mistake in listening to his mother's idea about deceiving Isaac into blessing him. It could be that Rachel was in fact alluding to the example of Sarah as a precedent (Gen. 16:2); whereas the spiritually perceptive would have seen this as an example which ought not to be followed.


Gen 30:4 She gave him Bilhah her handmaid as wife, and Jacob went in to her- The woman slept with was considered a "wife", which was why Laban was at such pains to get Jacob to sleep with Leah at the wedding ceremony. if Jacob had remained with Leah as the Divine provision, he would not have slipped into polygamy let alone marrying two sisters; nor would he know slip further into the immorality of having children outside marriage. Once he had agreed to this with Rachel, he was going to have to with Leah.

Gen 30:5 Bilhah conceived, and bore Jacob a son- Conception is portrayed as being of God, and although all the circumstances surrounding this were unspiritual, clearly God worked through it in order to create the basis for His future people of Israel.


Gen 30:6 Rachel said, God has judged me, and has also heard my voice, and has given me a son. Therefore called she his name Dan- Rachel felt that God hearing her voice was Him judging her. The prayer of the poor is judged by God in His response to them (Ps. 10:7,8). Coming boldly before the throne of grace in prayer is again judgment seat language (Heb. 4:15). Our attitude to God in prayer now will be our attitude to Him at the judgment; we are 'bold / confident' before Him now, and we can be 'bold' then (1 Jn. 2:28). Before the throne of grace we find grace to help (Heb. 4:16); whereas we will “find” [s.w.] mercy in the day of judgment (2 Tim.1:18). Each time we receive grace to help before the throne, we are anticipating the judgment day scenario.

But did God really judge and justify Rachel through this? I'd say this was just her imagination. We note however that in :1,2 she had left God right out of the question, but now Rachel brings God into it, and even prayed for the child to be conceived. But her naming of it "Dan", Divine judgment, seems rather bitter. She may have meant that God was judging her sister somehow, as the next child refers also to her wrestling with her sister (:8); or liking to imagine that God judged her faithful to Him just because she had suggested her husband sleep with another woman.


Gen 30:7 Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid, conceived again, and bore Jacob a second son- As Leah had apparently stopped having children, maybe because Jacob stopped sleeping with her, Rachel was apparently set on getting an equal or greater number of children. And so the use of Bilhah was not just a one off situation but was intended to be ongoing. The race for numbers is reflected in Leah then getting Jacob to sleep with her maid, and naming the first child "A troop comes!" (:11).


Gen 30:8 Rachel said, With mighty wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and have prevailed. She named him Naphtali- Naphtalijah, the wrestling of Yah. "Mighty" is literally elohim, and the parallel with the 'Yah' form is another nail in the coffin of the hypothesis that there were different source documents for Genesis, one using Yahweh and the other elohim. The name suggests that her struggles with her sister were her struggles with God; and the whole idea is lived out in Jacob's wrestling with an Angel, which was effectively his wrestling with Isaac, Laban and Esau. We sense that the women named their sons in reflection of their obsession with the male baby race, as they desperately vied to be the one who produced the most boys. The names reflect how they wished to see things, rather than how they were in reality. For Rachel hardly "prevailed" just because her maid had another son. Leah had more male sons at this point and 'won' the race to get the most. It's an example of where people drag "God" into their interpersonal struggles; her struggle with her sister became a struggle with God. She may not have "prevailed" as she meant, in a human sense. But the similarities with Jacob's wrestling with God continue when we realize that "prevailed" is the same word used of how Jacob did "prevail" over "God" in the form of the Angel he wrestled with (Gen. 32:25,28). He started off trying to force his way upon God, but because he repented, he did in another sense prevail over the Divine judgment which was what Jacob deserved; Jacob prevailed over God in that he asked for grace and was granted it, and in this he becomes our example (Hos. 12:4 s.w.). Rachel's struggle with God perhaps went according to the same pattern.


Gen 30:9 When Leah saw that she had finished bearing, she took Zilpah, her handmaid, and gave her to Jacob as a wife- This is recorded from the viewpoint of Leah (see on Gen. 29:35); she actually did bear more children. But the Bible at times records things from the viewpoint of the subjects of the narrative, without correcting their limited perspectives. Which is why we have the language of demon possession in the New Testament.


Gen 30:10 Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid, bore Jacob a son- As noted on :12, she gave Zilpah to Jacob "as a wife", but the inspired record still calls her "Leah's handmaid". For that is who she was, and Jacob's behaviour with these women was not really moral.


Gen 30:11 Leah said, How fortunate! She named him Gad- Or, "a troop cometh!" (AV), which is how Jacob understood the name in Gen. 49:19. As noted on :7, the race for numbers is reflected in Leah  getting Jacob to sleep with her maid, and naming the first child "A troop comes!". The names of the sons who were to be the basis of the people of God, Israel, were anything but spiritual. And yet God works through such unspirituality to form His people, as He does to this day. Indeed "Gad" was a local deity (as in Is. 65:11); even Leah, the more apparently spiritual, was caught up with paganism at this time. Perhaps Jacob alludes to this in his final comment upon Gad; that he would be overcome by a troop rather than leading a troop, although he would overcome at the last (Gen. 49:19).


Gen 30:12 Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid, bore Jacob a second son- Although Leah gave Zilpah to Jacob "as a wife" (:9), the Divine commentary is that she remained Leah's handmaid. God worked through a situation which was hardly moral, just as He does today.


Gen 30:13 Leah said, Happy am I, for the daughters will call me happy. She named him Asher-
The Lord’s mother constantly quoted and alluded to Old Testament scripture. All this reflects the level of spiritual ambition to which Mary attained. Her self-perception went beyond that of Leah to whose words she alludes (“all women call me fortunate / blessed”, Gen. 30:13 LXX). Elisabeth had said the same: “Blessed are you among women” (Lk. 1:42). But Mary perceives that all generations, not just all contemporary women, would call her blessed. So when Mary spoke of all generations calling her blessed, her mind was here in  Gen. 30:13: "the daughters [i.e. future generations of them] shall call me blessed" , and yet at the same time on Zilpah the servant maid [cp. Mary the handmaiden] bearing Asher [happy]. These women were seen by Mary as representatives of her. And yet Leah was mistaken in thinking that all would call her "blessed" because her servant girl had got pregnant again, and she now had the lead in numbers of children compared to her sister. The one who would be called "blessed" by all was not her, but Mary; the real seed was the Lord Jesus, not these sons who were being born as part of a race for superiority between two bitter sisters in a polygamous marriage.

Gen 30:14 Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother, Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes- The evidence seems to be that until he left home, Jacob was influenced by the idolatrous thinking of the surrounding world. For the next 20 years, he more tacitly went along with these things being practiced in his family. The mandrakes used by Leah were not just aphrodisiacs, but were believed to have the magical ability to induce fertility. This pagan nonsense was believed by Leah and Reuben, and tacitly gone along with by Jacob- although God worked through these wrong ideas, apparently uncorrected, in order to bring about His purpose. And yet from these mixed up women God built the house of Israel.

The love apples were understood to induce a man to sleep with a woman. This would suggest that Jacob had stopped sleeping with his wives, perhaps in response to their endless desire to keep trying to get pregnant in their race for numbers of children, when both had fertility problems and both had already produced children for Jacob, even if fictively in Rachel's case. This again shows how low Jacob was brought; he had signed away 14 years of his life due to his obsession with Rachel, impatiently asking Laban to give him Rachel so that he might sleep with her (Gen. 29:21). But now he didn't sleep with her.

We note it was Reuben who brought the mandrakes, and it was also Reuben who slept with Rachel's maid Zilpah (Gen. 35:22). Perhaps this was done at Rachel's bidding, in order to notch up another pregnancy; perhaps Reuben had fallen out with his mother Leah and was as it were on Rachel's side at the time. This is where jealousy and lack of spirituality lead- to a downward spiral of behaviour which affects more and more people.

Gen 30:15 She said to her, Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes, also?- One is hard pushed to find women-only scenes in contemporary literature written during Biblical times. The women are presented in terms of the men with whom they inter-relate. Yet Elizabeth and Mary are recorded as having a conversation with no male present (Lk. 1:39-45); and there are other such passages in Scripture (Gen. 19:32,34; 30:14,15; Ex. 2:1-10; Jud. 5:28-30; Ruth 1:6-2:2; 3:16-18; 4:14-17; 2 Kings 5:2,3). The narrative of the women at the tomb and the resurrection is another example (Lk. 23:55-24:4). In all these passages, the reader is invited to share the woman’s perspective.

It could be that the "She said to her" is Rachel talking, not Leah (although the AV translates otherwise), complaining that Reuben had actually stolen her son's mandrakes and taken away her husband. In this case, Rachel was also not being slept with at this time, hence she too wanted the mandrakes. She taunts Leah that Jacob is "my husband" whom Leah has "taken away"; perhaps Jacob came to love Leah more, because she had produced more children for him than Rachel. At least, Rachel perceived it that way. I have argued throughout Gen. 29 that God intended Jacob to marry Leah and return to the promised land; his obsession with Rachel made his path home so much harder. If indeed he did become more attached to Leah, then this would really demonstrate that all too late, he was accepting God's rightness in the matter.

If the speaker is Leah, then the complaint that Rachel had 'taken away' her husband is harder to understand. Maybe she legalistically held to the idea that as she was the firstborn, and married Jacob a week before Rachel did, therefore she was the legitimate husband. This is the kind of contorted reasoning that arises out of family jealousy and stress. It was no secret that Jacob loved Rachel and had agreed to marry her, but Laban and Leah had played a cruel deception on Jacob, with Leah clearly wanting Jacob and also in love with him. So Leah can hardly complain that Jacob loved Rachel more than her.

Rachel said, Therefore he will lie with you tonight for your son’s mandrakes- This could be mocking, as if to say "Jacob really loves me, not you; he'll only sleep with you for the mandrakes, not because he loves you". And so we have yet another insight into the endless feuding between the two, with every word and action being twisted and used as a source of conflict. The Hebrew can also be translated, as GNB: "Rachel said, "If you will give me your son's mandrakes, you can sleep with Jacob tonight"". This would indicate that Rachel placed huge faith in the power of the coveted mandrakes to make Jacob sleep with her; clearly his love for her had abated, a far cry from serving seven years to have sex with her, as Gen. 29:21 implies.

Gen 30:16 Jacob came from the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, You must come in to me; for I have surely hired you with my son’s mandrakes. He lay with her that night- The language of "hire" is used in :18, where Leah bitterly suggests she feels like a prostitute, hired by God to have sons. And here she implies she is treating Jacob as a male prostitute. This was how far love went right out of the whole situation, because Jacob didn't follow God's direction- which was to marry Leah and return to the promised land. The scene is so reminiscent of Jacob's father Isaac walking in the field, apparently one evening, and meeting Rebekah, in a love marriage that only Heaven could have arranged. The same Hebrew words are used in Gen. 24:65. But this meeting with Leah was for Jacob similar but tragically different; tragic, for a man so clearly dominated by a desire to replicate his parents' relationship. 

Gen 30:17 God listened to Leah, and she conceived, and bore Jacob a fifth son- Maybe Leah prayed to God and He heard, and her attempt to use the mandrakes was just a surface level thing, and the essence was her prayer. Or it could be that God looked with pity at the whole situation with the mandrakes, and 'heard' the whole situation as if it were Leah's prayer to Him. Because God responds to our spirit, our overall situation, sometimes He does things which seem to be an answer of prayers which were not properly believed in by the person who prayed. Examples include: Gen. 30:16,17; Ex. 14:10,11 cp. Neh. 9:9; Ps. 31:22; Lk. 1:13. Presumably the Father reads circumstances as prayers, even though the believer's faith in their actual verbalized request may be weak.


Gen 30:18 Leah said, God has given me my hire, because I gave my handmaid to my husband. She named him Issachar- Although she apparently prayed and God heard her (:17), Leah's attitude is so wrong. She considers that God has rewarded her for allowing her maid to sleep with her husband, when this was immoral. The idea of being given her "hire" is however decidedly cynical; she feels as a  prostitute, paid by God, who later gives her a dowry (:20). Yet despite this unspirituality, God listened to her and gave her conception (:17). This is His grace, focusing upon the positive, and patiently bearing with our anger and immaturity. G
od saw through all this (the bitterness of post natal depression?), through her recourse to using mandrakes to induce fertility... and God discerned the real faith in her. And this God is our God, who likewise bears with our Christian hypocrisy.

We note that the women named the children themselves, which was unusual at the time; and the names reflected their struggles and feelings. One gets the impression that Jacob was a distant father and wife, at least at this stage, finding the domestic scene unbearable and staying out at night with the flocks (Gen. 31:40).

Gen 30:19 Leah conceived again, and bore a sixth son to Jacob- Notice "son". We read only of their male children, apart from Dinah, which is just the female form of "Dan". But surely there were daughters born as well, but the women didn't count them in the race to produce as many sons as possible for Jacob and thereby to acquire the ascendancy in domestic life.


Gen 30:20 Leah said, God has endowed me with a good dowry-
We note the metaphor becomes somewhat more respectful than when she spoke earlier of God giving her her "hire" as if she was a prostitute used by God (:18). But she still mixes her metaphors, suggesting that the gift of sons from God was in fact a dowry paid, and a high price too.

Now my husband will live with me, because I have borne him six sons. She named him Zebulun-  “Now will my husband live with me” surely implies that Jacob and Leah had effectively split up. He wasn't sleeping with her, hence the use of aphrodisiacs on him. And yet including Dinah, Leah managed to produce at least seven children in 7 to 14 years. This is why her fruitfulness became proverbial in later Israel. It would have been evidence enough that Leah had been the wife intended for Jacob and not Rachel; it was his insistence on forcing that through which led to so much grief.

 

Jacob was under the one man: one woman ideal of Genesis; and yet he evidently didn't take this too seriously. His mad infatuation with Rachel meant that he thought nothing of polygamy. The idea of accepting one's married circumstances for the sake of principle was obviously foreign to our Jacob. Many aspects of the Mosaic Law were already in place before it was pronounced to Moses; the prohibition on marrying a second wife who was the sister of the first wife could well have been known among God's people in Jacob's time, seeing that it was a precept based on the principles of Eden (Lev. 18:17,18). "It is wickedness" was God's comment to Moses, and there is no reason to think that His essential moral judgment on this kind of thing has ever changed much. Yet Jacob thought nothing of breaching this command, and committing this "wickedness". Leah's reaction to Jacob's evident favouritism for Rachel was to become obsessed with having children. When she failed to conceive, she panicked that she was barren, and therefore asked Jacob to have intercourse with her servant Zilpah in order to produce children. During the early years of her marriage, she produced 6 sons and 1 daughter. This indicated not only an incredible fertility, but also a high womanly status in those times, seeing that she produced so many more sons than daughters. The fact none of her children died in babyhood was also remarkable for the times. Her fertility became proverbial in later Israel (Ruth 4:11). And yet despite this evident fecundity, whenever she thought she had failed to conceive, she asked Jacob to have intercourse with Zilpah. Despite knowing her fertility, Jacob did so. It seems he sacrificed basic principles in order to placate a neurotic wife who, it would seem, he didn't care too much for anyway, seeing he made it plain he had never wanted to marry her in the first place (Gen. 29:25,31). The whole sense that we get is that his relationship with Zilpah was unnecessary, and he was far too casual in his attitude to it. “Now will my husband dwell with me” (Gen. 30:20) surely implies that Jacob and Leah had effectively split up. The evidence that Leah bore seven children in seven years is evident from the chronology of Jacob's life, reflecting as it does the traumatic Jacob, Rachel, Leah relationship.

Gen 30:21 Afterwards, she bore a daughter, and named her Dinah- As noted on :19, their obsession was with bearing sons in order to acquire dominance in the family. Even "Dinah" is just the female form of her son Dan. She probably bore other daughters, but only Dinah is mentioned because of her later significance in the narrative.


Gen 30:22 God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her, and opened her womb- In :1,2, Rachel is presented as not having God on her horizon at all. But the misery of the whole situation maybe led her to pray to her husband's God. Or it could be that she didn't specifically pray, but rather God took pity upon her, reading the whole sad situation as prayer, and responded to her. Psychologically, it appears sometimes true that when a barren woman adopts a child, she then becomes fertile. But the stress here is that the pregnancy was from God, no matter what psychological processes were at work. And yet again we find the language of the day being used- her "womb" was opened, when it was her tubes not her womb that was opened. Just as the language of demons is used in the New Testament, so here the limited scientific perspective of the time is reflected in the narrative; because God is concerned with relationship and communication with people, rather than purist truth for the sake of it.


Gen 30:23 She conceived, bore a son, and said, God has taken away my reproach- As noted on :22, Rachel was brought through her domestic misery, in her case being the loser in the race to produce sons, to turn to God. Initially she lacked this dimension (see on :1,2). Her comment here is tacit recognition that her idea of getting Jacob to sleep with her maid did not in fact resolve her misery, it didn't take away her reproach. The idea of "reproach" occurs nearly 100 times in the Old Testament, mainly reflecting a fear of reproach or shame. It was and is so important in Middle Eastern society.


Gen 30:24 She named him Joseph, saying, May Yahweh add another son to me- Rachel's use of the Yahweh Name, when initially she didn't have God on her horizons much at all (see on :1,2), is all reflective of how through the endless Divine patience, Rachel herself grew in spirituality. Even though she was so attached to her father's idols that she stole them when she finally left home. Yet "Joseph" can also mean 'one who takes away', and this would have been in reference to how she felt now her reproach at being barren was taken away (:23).



Gen 30:25 It happened, when Rachel had borne Joseph, that Jacob said to Laban, Send me away, that I may go to my own place, and to my country- Jacob seems to have seen Rachel giving birth as the sign that he could now return home in peace. But this was a self-assigned signal. I explained throughout Gen. 29 that he ought to have married Leah alone, and returned with her to his country. It is commendable that after 20 or 40 years, Jacob still sees the eretz as "my place... my country". His heart was in the land of promise. However, "my place", Jacob's particular maqom, often used of a sanctuary or altar, may have in his own mind referred to Bethel, where he intended to build a house or sanctuary for God if indeed he returned to his father's house in peace. Maqom is used three times in Gen. 28:11 alone, and often throughout the record of Bethel in Gen. 28.

We note that it is twice recorded that Isaac "sent away" Jacob (s.w. Gen. 28:5,6). Now, Jacob wants to be "sent away" by Laban. We get the impression of a man who needed direction; which might explain why he remained to long with Laban. He ought to have returned to the eretz in faith in the promise that God would bring him back there; and yet he was perhaps lacking in initiative, perhaps the result of "living in tents" with his parents and being dominated by his mother.

When Jacob asks Laban to allow him to leave, he uses very similar words to those used by Eliezer when he asked Laban's family to let Rebekah leave to go marry Isaac:


Eliezer in Gen. 24

Jacob in Gen. 30

"Send me back" (shallehuni) 24:54

"Send me away" (shalleheni) 30:25

"Let me go (shallehuni) that I may go (w'eleka) to my master" 24:56

"that I may go (w'eleka)... let me go (w'eleka)" 30:26

Laban's blessing of Rebekah 24:60

Laban's blessing of his grandchildren and daughters 31:55

The servant "went his way (wayyelak)" 24:61

"Jacob went on his way" (32:1)

 

Intentional or not, the inspired record strives to bring out the similarities. The lesson is that culturally, Jacob was very much his mother's son- just as those raised Christian today may be culturally Christian, and yet not truly accept their parents' God as theirs until they pass through the valley of the shadows, the school of hard knocks. See on Gen. 28:7.

 

Gen 30:26 Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, and let me go; for you know my service with which I have served you- See on Gen. 25:31. The suggestion could be that Laban effectively kept Jacob's wives and children within his encampment, refusing to honour the agreement regarding serving for them. It could be that Laban had further manipulated Jacob by demanding he serve also for the children. It was a way of keeping a person in endless servitude; and yet Jacob had been promised that the elder would serve him, the younger. His extensive experience of servitude was surely to help him fuller appreciate what this promise meant. And Laban's continual deceit of him regarding what was rightfully his... taught him what he had done to Esau.

Genesis was written by Moses primarily for the wilderness generation. So much in the story of Jacob would have demonstrated the wisdom of the various laws that generation were given- to release servants after the seventh year (Ex. 21:2), and especially the command not to marry two sisters (Lev 18:18) nor for a polygamist to have a "hated" [loved less?] wife (Dt. 21:17).

Gen 30:27 Laban said to him, If now I have found favour in your eyes, stay here, for I have divined that Yahweh has blessed me for your sake- We see here the mixture of paganism and spirituality which was apparent amongst all of them. Laban "divined", by paganism, that there was the blessing of Yahweh in all this. Anyone who used enchantment [s.w. "divined"] was to be killed under the Mosaic law (Lev. 19:26; Dt. 18:10), and it's hard to think that God's basic morality was radically different before the law was codified by Moses.

We have here a primary fulfilment of the promise that Abraham's seed would be a blessing to the nations; for Laban was blessed because of his association with the seed. Laban is presented as a "foreigner" in relation to Jacob; see on Gen. 31:15). And the covenant promises we likewise have received have their primary fulfilments in this life, as well as the promise of eternal inheritance in the future Kingdom of God on earth. And yet the grace of it all is that at the time, Jacob was largely still in unbelief. He had been promised that he and his seed would be a blessing to those of north, south, east and west; and straight after that promise he continues his journey to the east and is a blessing to those there (Gen. 28:13-15; 29:1). See on :39.


Gen 30:28 He said, Appoint me your wages, and I will give it- We recall how initially, it was Jacob who offered the terms of wages to be given. Clearly Jacob is now in the ascendancy, with Laban desperate for him to stay. Jacob reasons in the typical Eastern way: 'I intend to do this, but if you pay me that, then I will not do so, at least not straight away'. Perhaps Jacob took some time to think about the possibilities, coming up with the mad idea of increasing his wealth by pagan practices if he could obtain large numbers of spotted animals.


Gen 30:29 He said to him, You know how I have served you, and how your livestock have fared with me- The repeated idea that "You know I have served you" (:26) may be referencing some claim by Laban that Jacob had actually not finished his service and owed him more time.


Gen 30:30 For it was little which you had before I came, and it has increased to a multitude- The allusion is to the promises to Abraham about multiplication and blessing, and that there would be blessing for those who blessed his seed. Laban had hardly blessed Jacob, and yet Jacob perceives now that the fulfilment of those promises is by grace; for even Laban had picked up some of the promised blessing. "Before I came" is Heb. "at my footsteps" which reflects again how Jacob feels now in the ascendency over Laban, and is sensing that the elder (Laban) is serving the younger (Jacob) by Divine blessing, according to the promises to Abraham.

 

Yahweh has blessed you wherever I turned. Now when will I provide for my own house also?- Jacob saw God as the one who gave physical blessing; he saw the promises of Divine blessing as primarily about material blessing. He missed their basic import, which was of forgiveness and the Kingdom (Acts 3:26,27).


Jacob thought that God had blessed Laban in fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises, simply because Laban's flocks had greatly increased; he saw the "blessing" as physical prosperity. He was sharing the over-physical view of the promises which his father Isaac held, who mentioned the promised blessing as essentially concerning material blessings in this life (Gen. 28:3,4). As with David and Solomon, the weakness of the parents was repeated in the child. This perception of the promises as only for his personal, physical benefit was clearly evidenced in the way in which he was so bent on obtaining the birthright from Esau.


"Now when will I provide for my own house also?" Jacob slyly asked Laban, and on this pretext spent then next six years using some pagan myth about cattle breeding to take Laban's cattle from him and amass them for himself. What he came to think of as "his flock" (Gen. 31:4) was a reflection of his mad materialism; he used all his (considerable) human strength to achieve it, and then turned round and said he had only been serving Laban with it (Gen. 31:6). Yet these very words are alluded to in 1 Tim. 5:8 as an example for faithful men to copy; indeed, Paul says, if you don't do as Jacob did, you're worse than a pagan! We see here the great focus of God upon what is positive in a person, just as elements of Sarah's bitter and sceptical words are quoted in the New Testament with approval. And yet the Spirit through Paul also recognized the weak side of Jacob; "evil men... deceiving and being deceived" (2 Tim. 3:13) is a sure reference to Jacob.

Gen 30:31 He said, What shall I give you? Jacob said, You shall not give me anything. If you will do this thing for me, I will again feed your flock and keep it- Jacob asks not for wages, but for Laban's spotted cattle. Perhaps Jacob was beginning to think more of his grandfather Abraham, for "You shall not give me anything [because God has blessed me]" was the spirit of Abraham after his victory near Damascus (Gen. 14:23). He may well also have been sardonically alluding to Laban's words that he 'could not give' Jacob his younger daughter Rachel despite his having served for her (Gen. 29:26).


Gen 30:32 I will pass through all your flock today, removing from there every speckled and spotted one, and every black one among the sheep, and the spotted and speckled among the goats- Stipulating the terms of his own contract recalls how Jacob did likewise when offering to work seven years to marry Rachel. The similarity is such that it would seem Jacob is here trying to get equal with Laban for the deception done to him. He is seeking to deceive Laban, as Laban deceived him. But he later wouldn't wish Esau to so take revenge for the deception he had performed, and would've remembered this with shame. Jacob believed that through some pagan ritual, he could increase the numbers of the spotted animals; and perhaps he also had some idea to get them to breed unspotted offspring if they conceived in front of white rods. This has no truth to it and yet God worked through it. We must look for the positive in others, and like the Lord in His attitude to demons, bear with them and recognize faith when we see it. God worked through the pagan superstitions of Jacob regarding the speckled animals, and through the wrong beliefs of Rachel and Leah regarding their children… in order to build the house of Israel. He didn’t cut off His dealings with men at the first sign of wrong understanding or weak faith or mixed motives.

This will be my hire- Leah has just used this word in claiming that one of her pregnancies was her "hire" from God (:18 s.w.). All of them had the idea that good and wise behaviour led to directly related reward or "hire". Such justification by works was and is a way of feeling good about ourselves. Jacob was yet to learn the reality of grace; that it's not about measure for measure. The wages of sin are contrasted with the free gift or grace of God in Rom. 6:23 and elsewhere.


Gen 30:33 So my righteousness will answer for me hereafter, when you come concerning my hire that is before you. Every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and black among the sheep, that might be with me, will be counted stolen- See on Gen. 25:31. This attitude that he could bring about the fulfillment of God's promises through his own efforts was the outcome of Jacob's self-righteousness; see on :32. This is clearly shown when he says that his righteousness had caused his cattle to increase, although he later came to see that this increase of cattle was due to his receipt of the promised Divine blessing (Gen. 32:10). The RSV renders "righteousness" as "honesty"; Jacob had been far from honest in his life, and although he was intimating to Laban that he was going to gain from this because of his honesty / righteousness, Jacob does come over as very hypocritical and self-righteous. Jacob's plan was to use a pagan myth to multiply his initial flock of speckled and spotted goats and black sheep. "Black sheep" had the same connotations in those days as the term has even today; the flock of Jacob / Israel were black sheep, and yet God blessed and multiplied them and they became the foundation of His people.

Gen 30:34 Laban said, Behold, let it be according to your word- The idea could be as the AV implies, 'You must be joking, I wish it might be so advantageous for me!'. Jacob was aiming to multiply his numbers of black sheep, which were despised by other shepherds and surrounding society, to such a degree that he would redefine and change the negative perception of black sheep and spotty goats. And he succeeded; as in a wider sense the Father did likewise through His work with black sheep and spotty animals.


Gen 30:35 That day, he removed the male goats that were streaked and spotted, and all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had white in it, and all the black ones among the sheep, and gave them into the hand of his sons- It's hard to know whether this refers to Laban or Jacob. If to Laban, then he was removing even the spotted animals so that Jacob would have even fewer of them to start off with, hence Jacob accuses Laban of deceit in this matter (Gen. 31:7). Yet despite this, from the tiniest group of black sheep and spotty goats... God's purpose of blessing worked out, just as it does today, despite all Jacob's misunderstandings and wrong attitudes.


Gen 30:36 He set three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, and Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks- The last phrase shows that despite Laban removing even the spotted animals, Jacob acted with integrity in still feeding Laban's flocks. Although he had not been honest in the past, Jacob was learning integrity.


Gen 30:37 Jacob took to himself rods of fresh poplar, almond, plane tree, peeled white streaks in them, and made the white appear which was in the rods- Jacob’s superstitious use of mandrakes and poplar rods was used by God to fulfill the physical aspect of the promised blessing; he used "white" rods to take power from Laban, the "white" one ["poplar" and "Laban" are related words in Hebrew], and to give him white animals- and God worked through it. Poplar had pagan associations (s.w. Hos. 4:13); Jacob was acting according to paganic beliefs and yet claiming it would be Yahweh's blessing of him. He later came to see how wrong he was, and that the increase had not been due to the paganism but alone due to Yahweh's actual blessing (Gen. 32:10). "Almond" is luz, the name of the place where God had first appeared to him and promised him blessing (Gen. 28:19); again we see a hopeless mix of paganism and tokenism along with his awareness of Yahweh's promises, wishing to make those promises come true through his paganic rituals. The streaks in the rods were supposed to encourage the streaked animals to bear prolific numbers and quality of streaked offspring if they looked at them whilst mating. This has no truth in reality, although similar myths about looking at certain colours or images during intercourse are around to this day in some parts of the world.

Gen 30:38 He set the rods which he had peeled opposite the flocks in the gutters in the watering-troughs where the flocks came to drink. They conceived when they came to drink- The idea was as in some primitive cultures today, that by looking at something at the time of intercourse, the offspring will become like it. He wanted his spotted animals to produce more spotted offspring; and then through the procedure of :40-42 to produce white offspring (although :33 might preclude that view), and so he made them conceive whilst looking at white peeled poplar rods, which would've been "streaked" in the sense that there was some white and some dark showing on the rods.


Gen 30:39 The flocks conceived before the rods, and the flocks produced streaked, speckled, and spotted- See on :38. The flocks conceiving in front of the rods / poles surely has reference to the concept of the pagan asherah poles, before which worshippers had sex. Jacob was clearly influenced by this wrong idea- and yet God patiently worked with him through it. Jacob appears to have had the idea that what a female thinks about or has before her eyes at the time of labour or conception, will affect the child. And so he peeled stripes off the rods so they appeared 'ringstraked', or striped- in the belief that if the female cattle gave birth or conceived looking at them, then the offspring would be striped too, like the striped rods. However, the connection with the asherah poles suggests that Jacob's beliefs were associated with pagan fertility myths, rather than faith in Yahweh the God of his fathers. Mic. 1:5 explicitly links Jacob's sin with idolatry. Jacob's superstitious ideas about the cattle mating were used by God to teach Jacob that He would bless him physically, as a prelude to the more important spiritual blessings which Jacob was later to value. There is no biological truth at all in what he did. Jacob wasn't specifically corrected for his paganism; later he must have realized the depth of God's grace in still working through him at this time, still giving him blessing. God blessed the whole thing so that it worked, apparently confirming Jacob in it by a vision (Gen. 31:10-12). God will go along with things which are poorly motivated and even incorrect- but in order to finally teach that it was all nonsense, and His gift of grace shines through it all. We have been introduced to this whole mixture of paganism and Yahweh's involvement in :27, where Laban's pagan 'divination' was used by Yahweh. And now we are reading of how Jacob's pagan ideas were likewise used by Yahweh, to bless him.

Gen 30:40 Jacob separated the lambs, and set the faces of the flocks toward the streaked and all the black in the flock of Laban: and he put his own droves apart, and didn’t put them into Laban’s flock- Although initially Laban had separated many of the spotted and speckled and put them in his own flocks, Jacob still had the job of looking after them. Perhaps the idea is that Jacob made his black sheep look at the white sheep in Laban's flock, which he had at his disposal as he cared for them. His theory was that the offspring of black sheep whilst mating would be speckled if they conceived whilst looking at white sheep. This has no truth to it, but God used it to provide Jacob with great fertility and blessing of speckled animal offspring. We recall that "Rachel" means "ewe lamb", so perhaps the idea was that he was using the Rachel situation, under God's hand, to still produce blessing.


Gen 30:41 It happened, whenever the stronger of the flock conceived, that Jacob laid the rods before the eyes of the flock in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods- The "stronger" may refer to the flocks who were more strongly in heat, and the "feeble" those who were less in heat. The peeled rods would have secreted gum and resin which were thought to be aphrodisiacs. The situation here is introduced by Leah using mandrakes to get Jacob to sleep with her and to induce her fertility; the mandrakes didn't give fertility, God alone did. And yet God worked through this bunk science and quasi-faith to give blessing. And again here. The "stronger" or more virile animals were Jacob's because they had been supposedly influenced by the aphrodisiacs from the rods; but as we learn in Gen. 31:10-12, the blessing was from God and not from that.


Gen 30:42 But when the flock were feeble, he didn’t put them in. So the feebler were Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s- The idea is not the "the feeble cattle..." were not put in. Rather, those who had less virility at the time because they had not been put into intense heat by the supposed aphrodisiac effect of the rods. As noted on :40, although initially Laban had separated many of the spotted and speckled and put them in his own flocks, Jacob still had the job of looking after them. He did them no harm and didn't steal them. He simply didn't operate his pagan trick on them; and his cattle brought forth stronger animals than those of Laban, for whom he didn't place his striped rods in their troughs. And so relatively speaking, Jacob's flocks were stronger than Laban's.

The blessing was due to God not the rods (Gen. 31:10-12). But the flocks would have been stressed by the separation made by Laban (:40). The differing behaviours of pure white and spotted animals when the group is under stress has been studied, and it has been found that the spotted will become dominant and more virile, and the unspotted less so. This on a human level may have been behind the blessing experienced. An academic article in the Russian Journal of Genetics: Applied Research, 2011 confirms this, and actually quotes this passage in Genesis 30 as confirmation for what was observed by academics at the University of Novosibirsk, Russia: "Stress can induce piebaldness in progeny. We are able to test this statement not only experimentally, but in natural conditions. Animals with white spots are always present in the water vole population that we have been studying for many years. We regularly assessed the level of stress in this population. Indeed, the assumption that in years with higher stress more white spotted animals would be born was confirmed. Then we found that the spotted animals are more resistant to stress and outperform unspotted animals in reproduction in stressful years" (Mikhail Anatolievich Potapov, 'Evolutionary ecology of animal fertility: Five decades of studies of reproduction as a link between generations' in Russian Journal of Genetics: Applied Research · July 2011).  


Gen 30:43 The man increased exceedingly, and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkey- This indicated to him that the promise to him at Bethel was coming true (Gen. 28:14). "The man" hints that Jacob was very human in all this. He used his newfound wealth from the spotted animals, and his redefinition of the value of black sheep, to buy servants, camels and donkeys. We recall how both Abraham and Isaac are recorded as being materially blessed straight after they had lied about their wives. Likewise, the use of paganism, folklore and bunk science to increase his wealth was not exactly spiritual; but God worked through it to bring about the primary fulfilment of the promises to him. Just as He so graciously works with us.