GENESIS - CHAPTER 30
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
30:1. “And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die.”
Rachel’s desire for children indicates the nature of the believer’s new spiritual life. It can’t be satisfied with a barren state, it must be producing spiritual fruit. It can only be grieved when it is made the reluctant witness of the believer’s worthless efforts to achieve Christlikeness by means of legalistic morality.
”Give me children, or else I die.” This reminds us of what is written in James 2:26 “... faith without works is dead.”
30:2. “And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?”
In the physical realm certainly Jacob was not to blame for Rachel’s barren state, but the same does not hold true in the spiritual realm.
Spiritually, Jacob here represents the believer occupied with mere legalistic morality (Leah); dwelling in bondage to self-righteous pride (Laban); and living outside of Canaan (this speaks of disobedience). There can be no spiritual fruit in such a life, and it is the believer (here represented by Jacob) who must bear the blame, for it is by his own choice that a believer lives in such a state.
Rachel’s physically barren state was ordered by God so that we might learn necessary spiritual lessons, but in the spiritual realm fruitlessness is never God’s will.
30:3. “And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.”
A profession that has no other basis than cold orthodoxy (as represented by Leah) can’t produce Christlikeness in a believer’s life; but Bilhah, the representative of mere outward ceremonialism is equally powerless to produce true spiritual fruit. A believer may be blameless as to his observance of every outward ceremony - baptism, regular attendance at the Lord’s table, faithful in attending every Church meeting, liberal in his giving, diligent in Christian work, etc., - all without being spiritual.
In her despair Rachel may have thought that there was no other way for her to be multiplied than through Bilhah. How often we make the same mistake of thinking that observance of mere ceremony is spirituality! Joseph, type of Christ, can’t come from Leah, or Zilpah, or Bilhah: he must come through Rachel who typifies the expression of Jacob’s new spiritual life.
30:4. “And she gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto her.”
Jacob continues to represent the believer in the school of God, learning that Christlikeness doesn’t come from occupation with legality in any shape or form. Since Bilhah represents legal ceremonialism, Jacob’s union with her represents a believer’s becoming more punctilious in his observance of outward religious forms.
30:5. “And Bilhah conceived, and bare Jacob a son.
30:6. “And Rachel said, God hath judged me, and hath also heard my voice, and hath given me a son: therefore called she his name Dan.”
This union, however, produced not Joseph, but Dan judging: a judge. But in this we may detect some spiritual progress. Dan here portrays that state of spiritual growth where the believer begins to exercise judgment in regard to his own life. Without self- judgment spiritual progress is impossible.
30:7. “And Bilhah Rachel’s maid conceived again, and bare Jacob a second son.”
This continues to emphasize a believer’s occupation with mere religious forms and ceremonies.
30:8. “And Rachel said, with great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed: and she called his name Naphtali.”
The first part of Rachel’s statement “with great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister,” points to the conflict that must always exist between legalism and true spiritual life. The second part, however, “I have prevailed,” is the declaration of a mistake frequently made by the believer who thinks that attendance to outward form is the same as spirituality. Rachel will not have prevailed until she herself brings forth Joseph, nor will the believer have prevailed until he has brought forth Christ in his own life, that is, until others see Christ in his life.
Naphtali means my wrestling: my tortuosity, and his coming after Dan demonstrates that the normal results of self-judgment (Dan) are that wrestling and struggle must inevitably follow. No man who has judged himself can go on complacently satisfied with legalistic profession and mere outward ritual.
30:9. “When Leah saw that she had left bearing, she took Zilpah her maid, and gave her Jacob to wife.”
Satan is a relentless foe who will use every means in his power to keep his prisoners. Rachel’s attempt to produce children through her maid represents activity of the new nature, and Satan knows that the judgment (Dan) and wrestling (Naphtali) resulting from that activity may well result in the complete emancipation of the man in whose life the judgment and wrestling are taking place. If Satan can’t keep a man from trusting Christ, his next step is to keep that believer from the enjoyment of the liberty that rightly belongs to the man in Christ. The present activity of Leah pictures Satan’s attempt to keep a believer in bondage to mere loveless morality.
We have noted already that Zilpah represents the worthless profession of the unconverted legalistic moralist. Jacob’s receiving her as his wife therefore, points to a believer’s becoming occupied with profession, even though the only fruit in his life is what results from cold, legalistic morality.
30:10. “And Zilpah Leah’s maid bare Jacob a son.”
The only sons who really count are those who come from Rachel, so though this son borne by Zilpah may have the appearance of being true spiritual fruit, he is found after all to represent simply what results from the profession of the believer whose outward life seems irreproachable, but in whose heart is lacking the love for Christ which alone gives value to both prof-ession and works.
30:11. “And Leah said, A troop cometh: and she called his name Gad.”
Gad means an invader: a troop: fortune. He represents what frequently results from the profession of the man busy with works and attendance to legalistic ritual, but without love for Christ. Attention to ceremonial ritualism and morality is very attractive both to the natural man, and to the carnal believer. It appears to give the unbeliever an opportunity to do something towards accomplishing his own salvation. It was this spirit that characterized the nation of Israel in the days of Christ, and it is the same spirit that characterizes much of professing Christendom today. That which offers man a ritual to gratify the senses, and a morality that affords him an opportunity to work his way to heaven, will always produce “troops.” Crowds will flock to the place that offers such a religion. But they are “invaders” among the ranks of true believers, for they lack the one thing essential - faith in Christ that produces love for Him and for His people.
The carnal believer may also produce much loveless religious activity, and the birth of Gad represents such a state in Jacob’s life.
30:12. “And Zilpah Leah’s maid bare Jacob a second son.”
This speaks of continued occupation with mere loveless profession.
30:13. “And Leah said, Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed: and she called his name Asher.”
Asher means happy, but for Leah he represented happiness anticipated, but never realized. Profession, morality, work, observance of ceremonial ritual - all of these things may seem to hold out the promise of happiness, but they all prove to be to the man who trusts in them instead of in Christ what Asher was to Leah: happiness hoped for but never experienced.
30:14. “And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, Give me, I pray thee, of thy son’s mandrakes.”
Mandrakes are known also as love-apples, so named from the belief that they induced fertility.
We have seen that sons represent the activity of a man’s will, just as daughters represent its passivity. Reuben therefore, points to the activity of Jacob’s will; but since he is Jacob’s firstborn he represents the activity of the will acting in response to the impulse of the old nature.
”... in the days of wheat harvest.” Wheat, in Scripture, always has a good connotation. It is a symbol of Christ. He is the corn of wheat that fell into the ground and died (Jn 12:24). Believers are also represented by wheat, e.g., the parable of the wheat and the tares in Mt 13. That same parable interprets for us also the symbols of the harvest and of the field, “the field is the world... the harvest is the end of the age” (Mt 13:38-39). Reuben’s going to the field in the days of wheat harvest therefore, points to some experience in Jacob’s life, some activity of his will resulting from the impulse of his old nature, at a time that was at or near the end of an epoch in his experience.
Certainly that epoch marked by servitude to Laban was coming to an end, and the counterpart in the spiritual realm is the time when the believer is drawing near to the end of his worthless servitude to self-righteous pride, legalistic morality, observance of empty religious ritual, etc.
This is another example of God’s overruling, and using even our mistakes to accomplish His own good purposes in our lives. Jacob’s error was to be used of God to separate the wheat (Jacob) from the tares (Laban and his house).
Reuben’s going to the field and finding mandrakes there, speaks of a believer’s turning to the world to take from it some expedient that seems to offer hope of producing spiritual fruit. His bringing the mandrakes to his mother Leah teaches that this is a picture of the old nature bringing something of the world to be used by cold, loveless morality (Leah), in an attempt to produce spiritual fruit. Since Leah, as Jacob’s wife, represents that part of his spiritual life that is occupied with mere legalistic morality; and Reuben, as Jacob’s firstborn son, the activity of his will in the service of the old nature, the lesson being taught here is that as a man begins to learn the worthlessness of legalism and empty religious ritual, he tends to turn back to the world, in the hope of finding there what loveless religious form fails to provide. But it is still the activity of the old nature in the service of morality without genuine love for Christ.
Since this represents a time in the believer’s life prior to his complete deliverance from bondage to legalism, his true spiritual life (represented by Rachel) must inevitably be affected, for it must not be forgotten that it is the man himself who has control over his spiritual life, and not his spiritual life that has control over him. Rachel therefore, “... said to Leah, Give me ... of thy son’s mandrakes.” The inevitable result of a believer’s wrong thinking must be that even the expression of his true spiritual life will reflect his error. Rachel, too, is tempted to resort to worldly expedient, and in doing so, teaches us that when a man seeks to use law-keeping as a means of being made righteous, he brings the expression of his true spiritual life into the same bondage.
30:15. “And she said unto her, Is it a small matter that thou hast taken away my husband? and wouldest thou take away my son’s man drakes also? And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with thee tonight for thy son’s mandrakes.”
Rachel represents the expression of Jacob’s new nature; and Leah, the expression of his old nature. The discussion between them here portrays the conflict that must always exist between the two. The lament of the old is, “... thou hast taken away my husband,” and this is indeed what happens at conversion: a bond is forged between the believer and his new spiritual life, which replaces that which had formerly existed between him and the old spiritual life. (It is to be remembered that the natural man has also a spiritual life, as is evidenced by the fact that he has an innate need to worship something). As there was a relationship between Jacob and Leah that continued after his marriage to Rachel, so does the relationship continue between the believer and his old spiritual life; but there is no love connected with that relationship. Love belongs only to the relationship that exists between the believer and his new spiritual life. Jacob loved only Rachel who was the expression of that new life.
The enmity of the old nature is expressed in Leah’s charge “thou hast taken away my husband.”
The folly of resorting to worldly methods to accomplish spiritual ends is demonstrated here in Rachel’s laying herself open to the further charge, “and wouldest thou take away my son’s mandrakes also?” Spiritual ends can never be accomplished apart from spiritual means. That true spirituality may sometimes be guilty of employing wrong means, however, is demonstrated in Rachel’s offer, “he (Jacob) shall lie with thee to night for thy son’s mandrakes.” Worldly methods must always have the result portrayed here. As this dubious scheme separated Jacob and Rachel, so must every such worldly expedient separate the believer from a proper relationship with the expression of his true spiritual life. This is the price that must be paid when we undertake to do for ourselves what should be left in God’s hands.
30:16. “And Jacob came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, Thou must come in unto me; for surely I have hired thee with my son’s mandrakes. And he lay with her that night.”
That Jacob should be coming out of the field is what might be expected in the context of this passage. The field represents the world, and Jacob’s returning from it at evening (the whole day has been spent in the field) is a picture of a believer whose life is occupied with worldly things rather than spiritual. Accordingly he is met by Leah, the wife who represents mere morality, and there isn’t even the pretense of love connected with this relationship, “I have hired thee with my son’s mandrakes.” It is an accurate portrayal of the relationship existing between loveless morality and the man who attempts to produce Christlikeness by works without love for Christ: it is nothing more than a business transaction, and will never accomplish the desired objective. Jacob here represents the man who has not yet learned that law-keeping has nothing to do with his being justified. Accordingly he must turn from Rachel, whom he loves, to embrace Leah whom he doesn’t love. This is the picture of a believer giving to law-keeping, time and energy that should be given to his true spiritual life to produce true spiritual fruit rather than unspiritual good works.
30:17 “And God hearkened unto Leah, and she conceived, and bare Jacob the fifth son.’
As always when a believer occupies himself with morality, there is what seems to be spiritual fruit, but neither is this son to be Jacob’s heir. He is Issachar, not Joseph.
There is significance connected with his being Jacob’s fifth son through Leah. Five is the number of responsibility. The legalistic believer is represented here by both Jacob and Leah, the wife who represents the spiritual life of his old nature. That old nature never ceases to be Satan’s servant. It will deceive even a believer into thinking that its spiritual activity is really the spiritual activity of his new nature, and that spirituality can be bought in exchange for a specified amount of service to morality. The believer still in bondage to law-keeping believes that he has fulfilled his responsibility when he has rendered to the service of morality the price determined by mere human wisdom.
30:18. “And Leah said, God hath given me my hire, because I have given my maiden to my husband: and she called his name Issachar.”
The spiritual lesson is very well conveyed by the meaning of Issachar’s name he will be hired: he will bring reward: there is reward. Everything describes the attitude of the believer still clinging to the wrong idea that law-keeping has some part to play in his justification: good works are the price that he thinks must be paid. Everything connected with Issachar savors of a legalistic business transaction. Leah had hired Jacob with the mandrakes, and she felt that she had been given this son because she had given her maid to Jacob. With the legalistic moralist spiritual things are little different from earthly: everything has its price.
30:19. “And Leah conceived again, and bare Jacob the sixth son.”
This was the last son borne by Leah, and it is significant that he was her sixth, the number of man, of weakness, of failure, of sin, and falling short of seven, the number of completeness and perfection. Mere legalistic morality must always fall short of the perfection which a holy God requires. God bestows the perfection of Christ as His gift to the believer. It can’t be bought.
30:20. “And Leah said, God hath endued me with a good dowry; now will my husband dwell with me, because I have borne him six sons: and she called his name Zebulun.”
Leah’s estimate of a good dowry was six sons. The mere moralist fails to perceive his own shortcoming, just as Leah failed to see that six fell short of God’s perfection as represented by the number seven. And still the thought of purchase pervades the passage, but her hope that these six sons will purchase Jacob’s love is doomed, as must be the hope of all who expect to be justified by any means other than faith in Christ.
Zebulun means dwelling, and as Leah’s anticipated happiness was linked to his birth so is the legalistic moralist’s anticipated happiness linked to his good works. It is by those works that he hopes to dwell for ever in heaven.
30:21. “And afterwards she bare a daughter, and called her name Dinah.”
This daughter was the last of Leah’s children, and it is significant that her name means judgment. She was Leah’s seventh child, and as such represents the inevitable end of the attempt to produce Christlikeness (spirituality) by means of good works without love for Christ. The end of such a path must always be judgment.
In spite of having borne Jacob these six sons and one daughter (the seven picturing all that legalistic morality can do), Leah remains unloved and separated from Jacob. In this, God would teach sinners the folly of attempting to be justified by works without faith in Christ, as He would also teach saints the folly of attempting to produce spirituality without love for Christ.
30:22. “And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb.”
As long as we insist on doing for ourselves, God will leave us to prove the worthlessness of our own efforts. It is only as we are brought to an end of ourselves, and are willing to cast ourselves upon Him, that He will come in and do everything for us.
In Jacob’s being permitted to beget seven children through Leah, God is teaching us that as long as we rely on self-effort we cut ourselves off from His help and blessing. All the while Jacob was begetting children through Leah, Rachel was barren. As long as we depend on morality and law-keeping there can be no spiritual fruit.
As soon as Leah’s childbearing stops, God listens to Rachel’s cry. As soon as we abandon self-effort, and cry out to God, He will take up our cause and do for us all that we can’t do for ourselves. We must learn that by ourselves we can’t produce spirituality: God alone can, and He will, as soon as we abandon our own efforts to produce it through law-keeping.
30:23. “And she conceived, and bare a son: and said, God hath taken away my reproach.”
Now that the expression of the spiritual life of the old nature (Leah) has ceased its activity, the expression of the new spiritual life (Rachel) becomes fruitful. It is the activity of the old nature that prevents the fruitfulness of the new.
30:24. “And she called his name Joseph, and said, The Lord shall add to me another son.”
At last the true heir has come. After all the wasted years during which Jacob had begotten six sons and one daughter through Leah (the representative of the spiritual life of his old nature), Joseph (type of Christ) comes through Rachel (the expression of Jacob’s new nature).
Spirituality is not produced in us as the result of loveless adherence to a moral code. It is produced in our lives as the result of our union with a spirit of loving submission to God’s will. Joseph came from the union of Jacob and Rachel, the beloved wife whose name a ewe speaks of submission to the divine will.
Joseph means let him add, and he represents, not only Christ, but in the meaning of his name, he represents also the increasing spiritual fruitfulness of the man in whose life the words of Ga 2:20 are fulfilled, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me.”
In the birth of Joseph we see the typical fulfillment in Jacob’s life of that which Paul so earnestly desired for the Galatians, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Ga 4:19).
The typological warning against the believer’s involvement with legalistic works, given us in this part of Jacob’s life, is the same warning sounded by Paul in Ga 5:1, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”
”... the Lord shall add to me another son.” That other son was Benjamin, also a type of Christ. Joseph is a type of Christ in rejection and suffering, dying to make atonement for our sin, and living in us here on earth, with His glory obscured by the flesh in us. Benjamin, however, represents the Christ Who will come in power and glory to execute judgment, and establish His glorious millennial kingdom. He is a figure of the Christ who will be seen in us eventually when there is nothing of the flesh to obscure the outshining of His perfections.
30:25. “And it came to pass, when Rachel had borne Joseph, that Jacob said unto Laban, Send me away, that I may go unto mine own place, and to my country.”
It isn’t difficult to read the spiritual lesson of Jacob’s desire now to be quit of his servitude to Laban. The believer who has learned the worthlessness of mere legalistic morality, and who has begun to “put on Christ,” can no longer continue to be the servant of self-righteous pride. As Jacob desired to return to his own place and his own country, so does the spiritual believer desire to return to his own place and country. That place is where there is complete acceptance of God’s will, no matter how adverse outward circumstances may seem to be, and that country is heaven. Earth has no longer attraction for the spiritual man. He passes through this world as a pilgrim and stranger on his way to his “own country.”
30:26. “Give me my wives and my children, for whom I have served thee, and let me go: for thou knowest my service which I have done thee.”
This speaks of the spiritual believer’s desire to have no part of his life in bondage to the self-righteous pride which Laban represents.
Since Leah represents the expression of the spiritual life of the old nature, it may seem strange that Jacob should desire to take her and her children with him in addition to Rachel and Joseph. We must remember, however, that since the spiritual part of man, saved and unsaved alike, has to do with what is essentially abstract, its sphere of operation is the mind, from which it may go on to express itself in words and deeds. We recognize also that even in the natural man, not all of his mental activity is evil. In many scientific areas, for example, there has come from the minds of unsaved men much that is good.
The lesson of Jacob’s taking Leah with him, as well as Rachel, may be that the spiritual man brings under God’s control, not only his true spiritual life, but also that part, which for lack of a better description, we may call the spiritual life of his old nature. Every activity of the mind or spirit, that which has to do with the mundane, as well as that which is purely spiritual, must be under God’s control. It is the typical expression of 1 Co 10:31 “Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God,” and of Col 3:17, “Whatsoever ye do ... do in the name of the Lord.” There should be no part of the life that is not subject to God. Leah and her children, as well as Rachel and Joseph, must be taken out of Laban’s house.
”... for whom I have served thee.” Those long years of bondage to Laban would not have been necessary if Jacob had not foolishly taken matters out of God’s hand, and undertaken to manage affairs himself. He could have received Rachel, as Isaac had received Rebekah, without either the servitude or the trickery that resulted in his being married also to Leah. It is by similar self-will that we frequently multiply our troubles.
30:27. “And Laban said unto him, I pray thee, if I have found favor in thine eyes, tarry: for I have learned by experience that the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake.”
As has been noted already, Laban is an instrument of Satan, and in his attempt to retain Jacob, we have a picture of Satan’s determination to keep even believers in bondage to the pride of self-righteousness. Here, however, he presents himself, not as the roaring lion, but in his disguise as an angel of light. This master of strategy adapts his tactics to the need of each situation, but the spiritual ear can detect the voice of Satan in Laban’s honeyed words. As might be expected from one who represents self-righteous pride, Laban’s appeal is to Jacob’s pride. He will flatter the slave by implying that the slave has become the master, “I pray thee, if I have found favor in thine eyes, tarry,” and he will feign an acknowledgement of God, “the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake.”
Escape from the bondage of self-righteous pride is not an easy matter.
30:28. “And he said, Appoint me thy wages, and I will give it.”
The past continues to be the pattern of the future. To win Rachel, Jacob had entered into seven years of bondage, and then found those seven years extended, through Laban’s trickery, to fourteen. The bait that has been successful once may be successful again. Laban dangles another prize before Jacob’s eyes. He holds out the prospect of virtually unlimited wealth, by continuing to make it appear that Jacob has become the master: he is offered freedom of choice as to his wages. Shrewd Laban knew that no matter what wages Jacob took, he (Laban) would still be enriched, for he spoke truth when he said, “the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake.
Satan’s subtle cunning in making the slave appear to be the master, of leaving him to choose his own wages, still lures sinners down to hell, and saints into disobedience that robs them of reward at the Bema.
“Appoint me thy wages, and I will give it.” Satan can afford to appear generous, for what man prizes are the worthless baubles of earth whose true value will be revealed both at the Bema and at the great white throne.
30:29. “And he said unto him, Thou knowest how I have served thee, and how thy cattle was with me.”
Jacob’s language betrays his resentment of the service he has rendered Laban; and whether it be an awakened sinner, or a reawakened saint, the result must be the same: each must regret the service rendered to Satan.
30:30. “For it was little which thou hadst before I came, and now it is increased into a multitude, and the Lord hath blessed thee since my coming: and now when shall I provide for mine own house also?”
Laban’s enrichment through Jacob is the demonstration of the truth that unbelievers are blessed by the presence of believers dwelling among them. The greatest blessing is that they hear the Gospel. In addition, a comparison of Christian and non-Christian countries reveals, that by every humanitarian standard, the people in the Christian country are better off.
“... when shall I provide for mine own house?” Jacob was aware that through the service he had rendered, Laban’s house had been built up, while his own had been impoverished. This must be the experience of every awakened man. He learns that in serving self-righteous pride, he has impoverished himself spiritually.
”... when shall I provide?” Jacob’s concern was not with method, but with time; and we would do well to heed the lesson. Time gone can’t be recalled. He is a wise man who uses his time with eternity in view. Jacob’s question to Laban is one each man might well address to himself, “When shall I provide, not for my earthly house, but for what will be my eternal dwelling?” God’s answer is, “Behold, now is the accepted time” (2 Co 6:2). For the sinner, now is the time to be saved. There may be no tomorrow. For the saint, now is also the time to lay up treasure in heaven. For him too, there may be no tomorrow.
30:31. “And he said, What shall I give thee? And Jacob said, Thou shalt not give me anything: if thou wilt do this thing for me, I will again feed and keep thy flock.”
Laban continues to play the role of the master whose only concern is the welfare of his servant, though as the sequel reveals, he was concerned only with his own gain. It isn’t difficult to see in Laban a picture of Satan.
Jacob’s reply “Thou shalt give me nothing,” is the typical representation of the change that occurs when a believer comes to the end of his servitude to the pride of self-righteous morality. He is no longer slave to that master, and will therefore, accept from him no wages.
“I will again feed and keep thy flock.” This implies a new beginning. He would return to what he had been doing, but it would be on a completely different basis. The believer, awakened to the error of a service that lacked love as its impulse, may continue to do the same things, but it is now a service impelled by love for Christ, and therefore, service of a completely different character.
To an observer it might have seemed that Jacob was continuing to do what he had been doing for years, but he wasn’t. In the past he had been building up Laban’s house, and impoverishing his own: now he was building up his own. Now he was carrying out God’s commands, and in doing so, was being made rich. He who would be rich in those things that have eternal value must also obey God.
How do we know that he was carrying out God’s commands? The answer is found in chapter 31:10-12. It was God Who had instructed him as to the proposal made to Laban concerning the ringstraked and spotted animals.
“... I will again feed and keep thy flock.” He would be doing the same work, but from a different motive. His feeding and keeping of a flock point to a service on behalf of others. In Jacob’s continuing this work, we learn the lesson that it is possible to be rendering what looks like service to others, when, in fact, we are really serving self-righteous pride. Service has value in God’s sight only when it is impelled by love for Christ. Jacob’s shepherding in the past had been profitless. It had value only from that moment when he rendered the service to God and not to Laban.
30:32. “I will pass through all thy flock today, removing from thence all the speckled and spotted cattle, and all the brown cattle among the sheep, and the spotted and speckled among the goats: and of such shall be my hire.”
It was God of course Who had instructed him in this, and from a human viewpoint it was folly, for in that day most sheep were white; and goats, brown: the exception was rare.
“...of such shall be my hire.” The profitless years that had resulted from his own mismanagement of his life were perhaps, what induced Jacob to submit to God’s control. Whatever the reason, he does place himself in God’s hands, and unlikely though God’s way might seem to human reasoning, it did make Jacob rich.
The perversity of human nature is such that we fear to leave ourselves in God’s hand, when, in fact, the truth is that we should fear to take ourselves out of His hand.
30:33. “So shall my righteousness answer for me in time to come, when it shall come for my hire before thy face: everyone that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and brown among the sheep, that shall be counted stolen with me.”
It is possible that something of self-righteous pride still clung to Jacob, but a truer interpretation of his statement may be that he recognized that righteousness in its highest sense consists, not of a man’s deeds, but of his faith in God. “Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness” (Jas 2:23). Weak though it may have been, there is no doubt that Jacob had faith in God.
How uncomplicated our lives would be if we only had faith to leave our affairs in God’s hand! Much of our needless concern stems from having our eyes on His methods rather than on the God Who often uses strange methods to make “all things work together for good to them that love Him” (Ro 8:28).
Unlikely though it was from a human viewpoint that there would be many ringstraked and spotted animals among the flocks, Jacob was willing to leave the matter of his wages with God, and the result revealed that his confidence wasn’t misplaced. The God Jacob trusted “is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph 3:20).
30:34. “And Laban said, Behold, I would it might be according to thy word.”
Laban must have been incredulous, but none-the- less delighted. Only a fool, or a man submissive to God (and in the estimation of the world they are the same), would make such a seemingly foolish offer. It was Laban, however, who was the fool, and so is every man who leaves God out of his reckoning. Lot made a similar mistake when he choose the plain of Jordan without consulting God. It was probably with secret gloating that Laban piously declared, “I would it might be according to thy word.” Little did he realize that the God he cared little about would begin from that day forth to take from him his flocks and herds, and give them to Jacob. The unbeliever is similarly unaware that the God he ignores is even now making preparation to take his possessions from him and bestow them upon the believer. This world, which contemptuous unbelief regards as its own, is soon to be given to the saints.
30:35. “And he removed that day the he goats that were ringstraked and spotted, and all the she goats that were speckled and spotted, and everyone that had some white in it, and all the brown among the sheep, and gave them into the hand of his sons.”
To give himself every advantage, and deprive Jacob of any, Laban immediately removed all of the off-color animals, and gave them to his sons, so that Jacob began without a single animal that could be classified as his.
There are two lessons in this. First, it is futile to contest with God. In spite of his efforts, Laban found himself powerless either to increase his own flocks or to diminish Jacob’s. Second, if God is going to do for us, everything that might even resemble self-help must be taken away, so that He alone shall have the glory. If these off-color animals were to be the recompense of Jacob’s faith, then there must be no suggestion that nature had any part in it. This is an unchanging principle governing God’s dealings with men. Man can’t be saved while he clings to anything that might even remotely suggest that he himself contributed something to it.
As with every man who sets himself in opposition to God, Laban, in removing the off-color animals, unwittingly did what he never intended: he laid the basis for the glorification of God. Out of nothing, God would multiply Jacob’s flocks and herds. God will be glorified, either in the salvation of the repentant sinner, or in the destruction of the unrepentant rebel. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee....” (Ps. 76:10).
Pharaoh is another example of a man who could have glorified God by humble submission, but who chose instead to pursue a path of rebellion that culminated in a destruction that glorified God.
30:36. “And he set three days journey betwixt himself and Jacob; and Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks.”
In this separation, Laban unwittingly continued to demonstrate a Scriptural principle. Three is the number of resurrection, and it is the believer’s standing on resurrection ground that sets him apart from the unbeliever.
It is significant that it was Laban who initiated the separation. In this, God would teach us that it is by his own choice man occupies a place that is separate from blessing.
Jacob’s continuing to feed the rest of Laban’s flocks presents him in a better light than possibly anything else that has been recorded of him. It is a picture of a believer, submissive to the divine will, ministering to others, for as has been noted already, sheep may represent believers; and the goats, unbelievers. Outwardly his work was no different from what it had been, but there was a difference: now he was impelled by a vastly different motive. He was in communion with God again, and what had formerly been profitless labor in the service of self-righteous pride, would now bring him enrichment. It is the demonstration of the difference between the service of the legalistic moralist seeking to be justified by works, and the willing service of the believer whose work is the expression of his love for Christ.
30:37. “And Jacob took him rods of green poplar, and of the hazel and chestnut tree; and pilled white strakes in them, and made the white appear which was in the rods.”
It is maintained by some that the color of animals can be affected by such prenatal influences, but it is very doubtful whether this is anything but superstition. The determination of that question, however, is not important. What is significant is the spiritual lesson being taught. It is clear from Ge 31:10-12 that God had instructed Jacob to choose the off-color animals for his wages, but there is no indication that He had instructed him to employ any means to procure the multiplication of such animals. It would appear therefore, that this expedient was nothing less than the evidence of Jacob’s lack of complete faith in God. And what he did is what we ourselves also do. He felt that he must give God some help in the accomplishment of His purposes. God doesn’t need our help, nor is He glorified by it: all He requires of us is a quiet simple faith in His omnipotence.
Jacob’s willingness to accept the ringstraked and spotted animals showed that he had faith in God, but the expedient he employed showed that he also had some measure of faith in himself. His spiritual education was not yet complete. He had yet to learn to trust God completely.
There is undoubtedly some spiritual lesson connected with his use of rods from poplar, hazel and chestnut trees, but I regret being unable to determine what that lesson may be.
30:38. “And he set the rods which he had pilled before the flocks in the gutters in the watering troughs when the flocks came to drink, that they should conceive when they came to drink.”
This continues to emphasize Jacob’s dependence on human expedient to accomplish divine purposes, but the spiritual lesson isn’t necessarily limited to this. It may be perhaps that those rods or branches are types of Christ, as was Aaron’s rod that budded, Nu 17:8, for example. Their being from three different kinds of trees may point to Christ in resurrection. The removal of the bark in spiraling strips to expose the white may point to the revelation of His righteousness that results from occupation with the written Word. Their being placed in the troughs at the watering places may be symbolic of the fact that He is revealed to those who come to drink of the water of the Word. And the fact that the flocks conceived when these rods were before their eyes as they came to drink, may be the symbolic annunciation of the truth that there will be spiritual fruitfulness in the life of the man who drinks from the well of the Word, and whose vision is filled with Christ. It should not be forgotten that Jacob, as a shepherd of those flocks, may represent a believer ministering to others, and the multiplication of the off-color (peculiar) animals may indicate the increase of believers (a peculiar people) as a result of that ministry.
30:39. “And the flocks conceived before the rods, and brought forth cattle ringstraked, speckled, and spotted.”
Faith recognizes that God, not because of Jacob’s strategy, but rather in spite of it, caused the animals to bear ringstraked, speckled, and spotted offspring. And as it is in the realm of the natural, so is it also in the realm of the spiritual. If we have been correct in our spiritual application of the previous verse, then the spiritual lesson continues to be stressed here also: Christlikeness results from having Him before our eyes as we drink the water of the Word.
30:40. “And Jacob did separate the lambs, and set the faces of the flocks toward the ringstraked, and all the brown in the flock of Laban; and he put his own flocks by themselves, and put them not unto Laban’s cattle.”
As well as using the pilled rods in hope of influencing the color of the offspring, Jacob also employed a more likely tactic: he separated the off-color males, and permitted the females to breed only with them. Thus by selective breeding he increased the numbers of his own flocks and herds, though we may be sure that this expedient was no more necessary than the first. It was by God’s power that Jacob’s flocks were multiplied, and Jacob’s resorting to human expedient simply advertised his own lack of complete trust in God.
In this, as in so many other things, Jacob and Abraham stand contrasted. In chapter 14:23 Abraham refused the riches offered by the king of Sodom, saying, “I will not take anything that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abraham rich.” Jacob, on the other hand, would take some credit to himself, and in doing so, rob God of glory.
Continuing, however, to view Jacob’s methods as being analogous of things in the spiritual realm, we may learn another lesson. Since the white sheep and black goats were Laban’s, though shepherded by Jacob, they may represent those who are the children of self-righteous pride. In the separation of the off-color animals from these others, and the increase of the former resulting from this separation, we are being taught perhaps that separation from evil is necessary for spiritual growth.
30:41. “And it came to pass whensoever the stronger cattle did conceive, that Jacob laid the rods before the eyes of the cattle in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods.”
Not only did Jacob attempt, by his own efforts, to increase the numbers of his own flocks and herds, he attempted also to produce animals of better quality. This may continue to point to the truth that spiritual strength is another result of separation from evil.
30:42. “But when the cattle were feeble, he put them not in; so the feebler were Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s.”
It shouldn’t be forgotten that all of these things practiced by Jacob were known and practiced by most, if not all, the people of that day. Laban therefore, was probably using exactly the same methods, but the fact that it was Jacob’s flocks alone that were increased, tells us that means, without the power of God’s Spirit, are useless. While God may be pleased sometimes to use means, He doesn’t need them any more than He needs our help. With God it is as He Himself has declared, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts” (Zech 4:6).
We would save ourselves many an anxious hour if we kept that constantly before us. And we would be delivered from the pride of self-importance if we remembered that while God may deign to use us, it is not because He needs us, for we can do nothing apart from the power of the Holy Spirit.
30:43. “And the man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants and camels, and asses.”
The literal increase that came to Jacob, following the birth of Joseph is symbolic of the spiritual increase that comes to the man who “puts on Christ” (Ro 13:14). It is by obedience that we “put on Christ,” and there is no other way to be blessed.
Cattle, sheep and goats are all types of Christ, and Jacob’s having “much” of them is a picture of a believer’s having much of Christ.
It is significant that the maidservants are placed before the menservants. Here, as throughout Scripture, the female represents submission of the will, as the male represents its activity. This unusual order therefore, may be to teach us that blessing comes to the man who is first submissive to the divine will, and then active in carrying it out.
The placing of the camels before the asses may be designed to teach a lesson in connection with our bodies. The wild ass represents the body as the instrument of the old nature to gratify its lusts without any form of restraint. The tame, bridled ass, still represents the body as the instrument of the old nature, but now under at least some measure of moral restraint. The activity of the “wild ass” is seen in the life of the profligate who gratifies every lust; that of the “bridled ass,” in the life of the moral but unconverted man living under the restraints imposed by society or his religion.
The body is to be kept under control, and restrained from serving the lusts of the old nature, as Paul writes, “But I keep under (under control) my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Co 9:27).
The camel also represents the believer’s body, but the emphasis is not upon its being restrained from serving sin, but rather upon its being used to serve the new nature.
The best way to restrain the body from serving sin is to keep it active in the service of God. With the believer who is happy and busy in the Lord’s service his body is represented by the camel rather than the ass.