And it came to pass, when Rachel had born Joseph,—either at or about the expiry of the second term of seven years. Jacob's family now consisted in all of eleven sons and one daughter, unless Dinah's birth occurred later in the next term of service (Keil). Since these were all born within seven years, the chronological cannot be the order observed by the historian in recording the events of the preceding paragraphs. Rather the births of the children are arranged in connection with the mothers from whom they sprang. Hence the possibility of acquiring so large a family in so short a time. The six sons of Leah might be born in the seven years, allowing one year's complete cessation from pregnancy, viz; the fifth; Bilhah's in the third and fourth years; Zilpah's in the beginning of the sixth and seventh; and Rachel's toward the end of the seventh, leaving Dinah to be born later (cf. Keil in loco)—that Jacob said unto Laban (if not immediately, certainly soon, after Joseph's birth), Send me away (meaning that Laban should permit him to depart), that I may go (literally, and I will go) unto mine own place, and to my country—to Canaan in general, and to that part of it in particular where he had formerly resided (cf. Genesis 18:33; Genesis 31:55).
Give me (suffer me to take) my wives and my children, for whom I have served thee, and let me go (literally, and I will go): for thou knowest my service which I have done thee—implying that he had faithfully implemented his engagement, and that Laban was aware of the justness of his demand to be released from further servitude.
And Laban said unto him (having learnt by fourteen years' acquaintance with Jacob to know the value of a good shepherd), I pray thee, if I have found favor in thine eyes (the clause is elliptical, the A. V. rightly supplying), tarry: for (this word also is not in the original), I have learned by experience—literally, I have divined; not necessarily by means of serpents (Gesenius, Wordsworth, 'Speaker's Commentary'), or even by consulting his gods (Delitzsch, Kalisch), but perhaps by close observation and minute inspection (Murphy, Bush). The LXX. render οἰωνισάμην; the Vulgate by experimento didici—that the Lord—Jehovah. Nominally a worshipper of the true God, Laban was in practice addicted to heathen superstitions (cf. Genesis 31:19, Genesis 31:32)—hath blessed me (with material prosperity) for thy sake.
And he said, Appoint me thy wages. Literally, distinctly specify thy hire upon me, i.e. which I will take upon me as binding. Laban's caution to be clear and specific in defining the terms of any engagement he might enter into was much needed, and would doubtless not be neglected by Jacob, whose past experience must have taught him he was dealing with one who, in respect of covenants and contracts, was eminently treacherous. And I will give it.
And he (Jacob) said unto him (Laban), Thou knowest how (literally, what) I have served thee, and how thy cattle was with me—literally, and what thy cattle has been (or become) with me, i.e. to what a number they have grown.
For it was little which thou hadst before I came,—literally, for little (it was) was to thee before me; i.e. not in place, ἰναντίον ἐμοῦ (LXX.), but in time, i.e. before my arrival—and it is now increased—literally, broken forth (cf. Genesis 30:43)—unto a multitude; and the Lord (Jehovah) hath blessed thee since my coming (literally, at my foot, i.e. wherever I have gone among your flocks): and now when shall I provide (literally, do) for mine own house also?
And he (Laban, unwilling to part with so profitable an assistant) said, What shall I give thee? He was apparently prepared to detain Jacob at his own terms. And Jacob said, Thou shalt not give me anything. Jacob did not design to serve Laban gratuitously, but chose rather to trust God than Laban for recompense (Wordsworth, Gosman in Lange); or he may have meant that he would have no wages of Laban's setting, but only of his own proposing (Hughes). If thou wilt do this thing for me (accede to this stipulation), I will again feed and keep thy flock—literally, I will turn, I will tend thy flock, I will keep (sc. 2).
I will pass through all thy flock today,—wrongly rendered παρελθέτω πάντα τὰ πρόβάτα σου (LXX), gyra per omnes greges tuos, but "to remove," the verb being in the inf.—all the speckled and spotted cattle, and all the brown cattle among the sheep, and the spotted and speckled among the goats. Since in Oriental countries sheep are commonly white and goats black, the number of speckled and spotted animals (i.e. sheep with little spots and largo patches of black, and goats with little or large points of white, in their hair) would be unusually small. And of such shall be my hire—i.e. the dark-spotted or entirely black sheep and white or white-speckled goats were to be Jacob's reward (Knobel, Delitzsch, Keil, Lunge), which was to be subsequently increased by whatever speckled animals might appear among the one-colored flocks; but it seems more probable that Jacob only claimed the latter, and, both to make the bargain more attractive to Laban and to show that he wanted nothing from Laban but only what God might be pleased in accordance with this arrangement to bestow, he suggested that the flocks and herds should be purged of all such speckled and spotted animals to begin with (Tuch, Baumgarten, Kurtz, Rosenmüller, Kalisch, Candlish; Murphy, 'Speaker's Commentary,' Clarke, Bush).
So shall my righteousness (literally, and my righteousness) answer for me (or bear testimony in my behalf) in time to come,—literally, in the day, tomorrow; meaning in the future (Gesenius) rather than the day following (Delitzsch)—when it shall come for my hire before thy face. Either,
And Laban said, Behold, I would it might be according to thy word. Jacob's chances of obtaining speckled animals by this arrangement were so small that Laban, with his customary selfishness, had no difficulty in closing with the offered bargain. As originally proposed by Jacob it seems to have been an honest desire on his part to commit the question of wages to the decision rather of God's providence than of his kiss-man's greed. That at this time Jacob's mind "had already formed the whole fraudulent procedure by which he acquired his wealth" (Kalisch) does not accord with the statement subsequently made.
And he—Laban (Rosenmüller, Keil, Delitzsch, Kalisch, Murphy, et alii); Jacob (Lange)—removed that day (that the smallest possible chance of success might remain to his nephew) the he-goats that were ringstraked (striped or banded) and spotted, and all the she-goats that were speckled and spotted, and every one that had some white in it, and all the brown among the sheep,—four sorts of animals were to be removed:
—and gave them into the hand of his (Laban's or Jacob's, ut supra) sons.
And (as if to insure the impossibility of the two flocks mingling and breeding) he set three days journey betwixt himself (with his sons and the parti-colored animals) and Jacob: and Jacob fed the rest of Laban's flocks—out of which he was to pay himself as best he could in accordance with the contract.
And Jacob took him rods of green poplar—literally, a rod (the singular being used collectively for rods) of לִבְנֶה, (from לָבַן, to be white, meaning either the) poplar (LXX ; in Hosea 4:13; Vulgate, Kalisch) or the storax fresh green—and of the hazel— לוּז, the hazel tree (Raschi, Kimchi, Arabic, Luther, Furst, Kalisch) or the almond tree (Vulgate, Saadias, Calvin, Gesenius, 'Speaker's Commentary')—and chestnut tree ;— עַרְמוֹן, the plane tree (LXX; Vulgate, et alii), so called from its height—and pilled white strakes in them (literally, peeled off in them peeled places white), and made the white appear (literally, making naked the white) which was in the rods.
And he set the rods which he had pilled before the flecks in the gutters ( רִחָטִים ; literally, the canals or channels through which the water ran, from a root signifying to run) in the watering troughs ( שִׁקֲתוֹת, i.e. the troughs which contained the water, to which the animals approached) when the flocks came to drink, that they should conceive (literally, and they became warm, in the sense expressed in the A.V.) when they cams to drink—this was Jacob's first artifice to overreach Laban.
And the flocks conceived (ut supra) before the rods, and brought forth cattle ringstraked, speckled, and spotted. The fact is said to have been frequently observed that, particularly in the case of sheep, whatever fixes their attention in copulation is marked upon the young. That Jacob believed in the efficacy of the artifice he adopted is apparent; but the multiplication of Parti-colored animals it will be safer to ascribe to Divine blessing than to human craft.
And Jacob did separate the lambs (i.e. the speckled lambs procured by the foregoing artifice he removed from the main body of the flock), and set the faces of the flocks toward the ringstraked, and all the brown in the flock of Laban (this was Jacob's second artifice, to make the speckled lambs serve the same purpose as the pilled rods); and he put his own flocks by themselves, and put them not unto Laban's cattle—so that they were not exposed to the risk of producing offspring of uniform color.
And it came to pass, whensoever the stronger cattle did conceive, literally, in every healing of the cattle, the bound ones, i.e. the firm, compact sheep, "the spring flock" (Luther), which, being conceived in spring and dropped in autumn, are supposed to be stronger than those conceived in autumn and dropped in spring; but this is doubtful—that Jacob laid the rods before the eyes of the cattle in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods. Jacob's third artifice aimed at securing for himself a vigorous breed of sheep.
But when the cattle were feeble,—literally, in the covering (sc. with wool; hence weakening) of the flock, which took place in autumn—he put them not in (partly to prevent the introduction of feeble animals amongst his parti-colored flocks, but partly also, it is thought, to avoid prematurely exciting Laban's suspicion): so the feebler were Laban's, and the stronger Jacob's.
And—as the apparent result of the triple stratagem, though vide supra, Genesis 30:38, and cf. Genesis 31:12—the man increased exceedingly,—literally, broke forth greatly (vide verse 80)—and had much cattle, and maid-servants, and men-servants, and camels, and asses—like Abraham (Genesis 13:2) and Isaac (Genesis 26:13, Genesis 26:14). Thus far the historian simply narrates the fact of the patriarch's priority, and the steps which to it, "without expressing approbation of his conduct or describing his increasing wealth as a blessing from God. The verdict is contained in what follows (Keil).
Jacob and Laban, or craft versus greed.
I. JACOB'S RESPECTFUL REQUEST OF LABAN. At the close of fourteen years harsh and exacting service, Jacob desires permission to take his wives and children and return to Canaan. The motives which induced him were probably—
1. The termination of his contract, which released him from a servitude both galling and oppressive.
2. The remembrance of God's covenant, which had assigned him the land of promise as his true inheritance.
3. The joy occasioned by the birth of Rachel's child, whom he seems to have regarded as the theocratic heir.
4. A desire to provide for his now rapidly-increasing household.
II. JACOB'S SELFISH HINDRANCE BY LABAN. That Jacob's uncle and father-in-law was unwilling to acquiesce in his departure and solicitous to retain him was due to—
1. His appreciation of Jacob's qualities as a flock-master. Jacob felt he could appeal to "the service he had done" for the past fourteen years.
2. His discovery of a latent connection between Jacob's presence and his own augmenting prosperity. Laban, poor enough before his nephew's arrival, had shrewdly noted that the day of Jacob's coming had been the day of fortune's turning in his favor, and that, wherever his clever "brother" went, flocks and herds broke out beside him.
3. His secret hope of effecting easy terms with Jacob. Though ostensibly willing to take him at his own price, he was clearly calculating that he would not have much difficulty in over-reaching the man whom already he had cheated in the matter of his daughters.
III. JACOB'S REMARKABLE CONTRACT WITH LABAN. He agrees to serve a third time with Laban on condition of receiving all the speckled and spotted, ringstraked and brown, animals that Laban's flocks might produce, after all- of those sorts had been previously removed.
1. The proposal of such a singular condition on the part of Jacob was an act not of folly, but of faith, being tantamount to a committal of his cause to God instead of Laban.
2. The acceptance of it on the part of Laban was a pitiful display of greed, and a proof that the bygone years of prosperity had both awakened in his soul the insatiable demon of avarice and extinguished any spark of kindly feeling towards Jacob that may have once existed in his breast.
IV. JACOB'S CUNNING STRATAGEM AGAINST LABAN.
1. The nature of it. This was the employment of a triple artifice:
2. The success of it. That Jacob's stratagem did not fail is apparent; but how far it was due to the particular expedient employed cannot be so easily determined. That impressions made upon the minds of sheep at rutting time affect the fetus seems a well-established fact; but the extraordinary rapidity with which brown and speckled animals were produced appears to point to the intervention of a special providence in Jacob's behalf.
3. The rightness of it. That in what Jacob did there was nothing fraudulent may be inferred from the fact that he acted under the Divine approval (Genesis 31:12), and made use of nothing but the superior knowledge of the habits of animals which he had acquired through his long experience in keeping sheep.
V. JACOB'S ULTIMATE ADVANCEMENT OVER LABAN. This comes out with greater prominence in the ensuing chapter; the present notices his amazing prosperity. "The man increased exceedingly;" and, in spite of Laban's craft and avarice come blued, eventually eclipsed him in the possession of flocks and herds.
1. The attractive influence of home, both temporal and spiritual.
2. The danger of material prosperity—exemplified in Laban.
3. The wisdom of trusting God in all things, even in secular callings.
4. The value of all kinds of knowledge, but especially of the best.
5. The advantage of having God upon our side in all our bargains—notably when dealing with the selfish and mean.
6. The right to use all lawful means to preserve our interests—particularly against such as would invade them.
7. The possibility of the last outstripping the first—in the Church as well as in the world.
HOMILIES BY R.A. REDFORD
Jacob's history an illustration of the blending together of the natural and the supernatural in God's dealings.
"And the man increased exceedingly," &c.
I. The PROMISE TO GUIDE, protect, and bless fulfilled in connection with the employment of ordinary faculties and instrumentalities. Jacob's craft partly natural, but in this instance specially assisted that he might be helped in an emergency. The "supplanter" in this case represented the better cause.
II. HUMAN DEVICES only apparently, and not really, thwart the purposes of God. Jacob represents the people of God. The victory is appointed them. Their interests must be served by the kingdoms of this world, though for a season the advantage appears on the side of the mere calculating, selfish policy. The true wisdom is that which cometh from above.
III. INCREASE in the best sense is God's promise. It will be sent as he wills and when he wills, but will be found the true answer to prayer and the true manifestation of love. On all that belongs to us the blessing rests. Spiritual prosperity carries with it all other. Though the individual may be called to suffer for the sake of the community, the promise to the Church must be fulfilled. "It is our Father's good pleasure to give us the kingdom." "The meek shall inherit the earth."—R.