1 Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, “Jacob has taken all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has gained all this wealth.” 2 And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before. 3 Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.”
4 So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah into the field where his flock was 5 and said to them, “I see that your father does not regard me with favor as he did before. But the God of my father has been with me. 6 You know that I have served your father with all my strength, 7 yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times. But God did not permit him to harm me. 8 If he said, ‘The spotted shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore spotted; and if he said, ‘The striped shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore striped. 9 Thus God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me. 10 In the breeding season of the flock I lifted up my eyes and saw in a dream that the goats that mated with the flock were striped, spotted, and mottled. 11 Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am!’ 12 And he said, ‘Lift up your eyes and see, all the goats that mate with the flock are striped, spotted, and mottled, for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred.’” 14 Then Rachel and Leah answered and said to him, “Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house? 15 Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and he has indeed devoured our money. 16 All the wealth that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children. Now then, whatever God has said to you, do.” – Genesis 31:1-16 ESV
Once again, Jacob finds himself with more enemies than friends, all because of his own self-serving actions. Nearly two decades earlier, Jacob had been forced to flee Beersheba because his older brother wanted to kill him for having stolen his birthright and blessing. Now, Jacob discovers that his brothers-in-law are furious because he has managed to abscond with the majority of their father’s flocks. Through a rather stranger process of selective breeding and what appears to be a healthy dose of luck, Jacob amassed a sizeable flock of speckled, spotted, and black sheep. And this unexpected transfer of wealth has left Laban’s rightful heirs furious. Their brother-in-law has cheated them out of their inheritance.
“Jacob has robbed our father of everything!” they said. “He has gained all his wealth at our father’s expense.” – Genesis 31:1 NLT
This should all sound eerily familiar. Nearly 20 years earlier, Esau had expressed his own frustration after having discovered that his twin brother, Jacob, had not only left him with no claim to their father’s inheritance but had stolen his blessing as well.
“No wonder his name is Jacob, for now he has cheated me twice. First he took my rights as the firstborn, and now he has stolen my blessing. Oh, haven’t you saved even one blessing for me?” – Genesis 27:36 NLT
It’s quite obvious that Jacob never read Dale Carnegie’s classic work, How To Win Friends and Influence People. His penchant for self-promotion coupled with his uncanny talent for deception resulted in great success as well as a growing list of enemies. When Laban and his sons finally realized what Jacob had done to them, it was too late. He had robbed them blind. And recognizing their anger, Jacob knew it was time to go. He seems to have operated by the old American proverb: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” But while that adage promotes brave action in the face of difficulty, for Jacob it meant “run for your life.” Things had heated up, so it was time to go – again.
But somewhere along the way, Jacob received a word from God. All the while Jacob had been building his earthly empire by less-than-honest means, the Almighty had been watching and waiting. Now, God provides His young covenant partner with divine confirmation that the time has come for him to return to Canaan.
“Return to the land of your father and grandfather and to your relatives there, and I will be with you.” – Genesis 31:3 NLT
So, Jacob called his two wives and informed them of his plan to leave Haran. He begins by recounting the many ways in which their father had taken advantage of him over the years.
“I have noticed that your father’s attitude toward me has changed. But the God of my father has been with me. You know how hard I have worked for your father, but he has cheated me, changing my wages ten times. But God has not allowed him to do me any harm.” – Genesis 31:5-7 NLT
Jacob is painting himself as the victim and staking out the moral high ground by claiming to have God on his side. And while all that he says is true, it still has a slightly dishonest and deceitful feel to it. Jacob positions himself as fully innocent of any wrongdoing. He insists that it never really mattered what criteria Laban established for their agreement because God would have ensured that the outcome was in Jacob’s favor.
“For if he said, ‘The speckled animals will be your wages,’ the whole flock began to produce speckled young. And when he changed his mind and said, ‘The striped animals will be your wages,’ then the whole flock produced striped young. In this way, God has taken your father’s animals and given them to me.” – Genesis 31:8-9 NLT
He wasn’t guilty of stealing Laban’s flocks. God had done it all. And, once again, while there is a ring of truth to Jacob’s claim, he appears to be using God to justify his own actions. But this is where Moses discloses an important, as-yet-unrevealed aspect of the story. It seems that Jacob had received another divine encounter in which he was given detailed instructions from God. It’s difficult to ascertain exactly when this conversation between Jacob and the angel of the Lord took place but Jacob indicates that it occurred sometime “during the mating season” (Genesis 31:10 NLT).
One night, as Jacob had been shepherding Laban’s flocks, he had a dream in which it seems he received the idea for breeding the speckled and spotted sheep.
“The angel said, ‘Look up, and you will see that only the streaked, speckled, and spotted males are mating with the females of your flock. For I have seen how Laban has treated you. I am the God who appeared to you at Bethel, the place where you anointed the pillar of stone and made your vow to me. Now get ready and leave this country and return to the land of your birth.’” – Genesis 31:12-13 NLT
This is the first time that Jacob has divulged this information. Notice that the angel doesn’t explain to Jacob how the vision will take place. Perhaps the angel had given Jacob the idea about placing the multicolored branches in the water troughs. This would provide a plausible explanation for Jacob’s actions, and portray the entire process as nothing less than a supernatural miracle orchestrated by God Himself.
So many times in Scripture, God performs His extraordinary activities on earth by using common, everyday objects. He used Moses’ shepherd’s staff to turn the water of the Nile into blood.
“Look! I will strike the water of the Nile with this staff in my hand, and the river will turn to blood. The fish in it will die, and the river will stink. The Egyptians will not be able to drink any water from the Nile.” – Exodus 7:17 NLT
That very same staff would be used to create a plague of frogs.
“Raise the staff in your hand over all the rivers, canals, and ponds of Egypt, and bring up frogs over all the land.” – Exodus 8:5 NLT
And when it came time for the people of Israel to return to the land of Canaan, God ordered Moses to use that same wooden staff to part the waters of the Red Sea.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the people to get moving! Pick up your staff and raise your hand over the sea. Divide the water so the Israelites can walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground.” – Exodus 14:15-16 NLT
So, it takes no stretch of the imagination to consider that God had been the one to give Jacob the idea to use the “striped” branches.
Then Jacob took some fresh branches from poplar, almond, and plane trees and peeled off strips of bark, making white streaks on them. Then he placed these peeled branches in the watering troughs where the flocks came to drink, for that was where they mated. And when they mated in front of the white-streaked branches, they gave birth to young that were streaked, speckled, and spotted. – Genesis 30:28-30 NLT
God had miraculously used the “striped” branches to produce striped sheep. And, as always, God had a purpose for performing this inexplicable miracle in such an unlikely manner. It brings to mind the words of Isaiah prophesying the coming Messiah of Israel. In Isaiah 53, Moses presents the Messiah as the suffering servant, describing the gruesome death He would face as Israel’s Savior. He opens by describing the Messiah as being “like a young plant” (Isaiah 53:2 ESV).
Then Isaiah records in great detail the excruciating and humiliating suffering of this “young plant.”
He was pierced for our offenses,
He was crushed for our wrongdoings;
The punishment for our well-being was laid upon Him,
And by His wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT
But the Hebrew word translated as “wounds” is חַבּוּרָה (ḥabûrâ), which can also be translated as “stripes.” Now, look closely at what Isaiah is saying. The “striped” young plant would be used to bring healing and restoration to the wandering sheep.
All of us, like sheep, have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the wrongdoing of us all
To fall on Him. – Isaiah 53:6 NLT
Now, look closely at verse 37 of Genesis 30.
Jacob took fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the sticks. – Genesis 30:37 ESV
The Hebrew word for “fresh” can also be translated as “new.” These were tender young shoots that Jacob “striped” and placed in front of the sheep. And the result was many offspring. Now, look back at Isaiah’s prophecy.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring… – Isaiah 53:10 ESV
God performed a miracle. He guided the “wandering” Jacob and showered him with undeserved blessings. And the means by which God performed this miracle points to the future blessing that God will shower on the descendants of Jacob in the form of the “tender young shoot” – Jesus Christ. He will be “the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:10 ESV). He will be “a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jeremiah 23:5 ESV). And He will come from the line of Judah, one of the 11 sons of Jacob born while he lived in Haran.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.