Genesis 30: Jacob’s Wives Give Birth to More Children; Jacob Swindles Laban 


Hebrew-English Text

I. Summary

Bilhah gives birth to Dan and Naphtali, Zilpah gives birth to Gad and Asher, Leah gives birth to Issachar and Zebulun, and, after acquiring mandrakes from Leah, Rachel gives birth to Joseph. Jacob informs Laban that he has served his time and is ready to leave, and Laban allows him to take any brown sheep and multi-colored goats. Jacob figures out how to breed these animals from Laban’s flock and grows very wealthy.

II. Photo

Jacob asks Laban for brown and multi-colored animals: “Let me pass through your whole flock today, removing from there every speckled and spotted animal — every brown sheep and every spotted and speckled goat. Such shall be my wages.” (v. 32)

III. Select Verses

22: Now God remembered Rachel; God heeded her and opened her womb.

31-43: He said, “What shall I pay you?” And Jacob said, “Pay me nothing! If you will do this thing for me, I will again pasture and keep your flocks: let me pass through your whole flock today, removing from there every speckled and spotted animal — every dark-colored sheep and every spotted and speckled goat. Such shall be my wages. In the future when you go over my wages, let my honesty toward you testify for me: if there are among my goats any that are not speckled or spotted or any sheep that are not dark-colored, they got there by theft.” And Laban said, “Very well, let it be as you say.”  But that same day he removed the streaked and spotted he-goats and all the speckled and spotted she-goats — every one that had white on it — and all the dark-colored sheep, and left them in the charge of his sons. And he put a distance of three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob was pasturing the rest of Laban’s flock. Jacob then got fresh shoots of poplar, and of almond and plane, and peeled white stripes in them, laying bare the white of the shoots. The rods that he had peeled he set up in front of the goats in the troughs, the water receptacles, that the goats came to drink from. Their mating occurred when they came to drink, and since the goats mated by the rods, the goats brought forth streaked, speckled, and spotted young. But Jacob dealt separately with the sheep; he made these animals face the streaked or wholly dark-colored animals in Laban’s flock. And so he produced special flocks for himself, which he did not put with Laban’s flocks.  Moreover, when the sturdier animals were mating, Jacob would place the rods in the troughs, in full view of the animals, so that they mated by the rods;  but with the feebler animals he would not place them there. Thus the feeble ones went to Laban and the sturdy to Jacob. So the man grew exceedingly prosperous, and came to own large flocks, maidservants and menservants, camels and asses.

IV. Outline

1-8. Rachel provides Jacob offspring through Bilhah

    1. Rachel complains to Jacob about her barrenness

    2. Jacob pushes back, saying it is in god’s control

    3-4. Rachel gives Jacob her servant Bilhah to produce offspring

    5-6. Bilhah gives birth to a son and Rachel names him Dan because Yahweh has “judged” (dan) her

    7-8. Bilhah gives birth to a second son and Rachel names him Naphtali because she has had godly “twists” (niftalti) with her sister but prevailed

9-13. Leah provides Jacob offspring through Zilpah

    9. After seeing Bilhah give birth, Leah gives her servant Zilpah to Jacob for offspring

    10-11. Leah names Zilpah’s first son Gad (fortune)

    12-13. Leah names Zilpah’s second son Asher (happiness/blessing) 

14-21. Leah gives birth to two more sons and a daughter

    14a. Reuben finds mandrakes in the field

    14b-15. Rachel trades her night with Jacob for Leah’s son’s mandrakes

    16. Leah sleeps with Jacob

    17-18. Leah has a fifth son and names him Issachar as a “reward” (sekhar) for giving Zilpah to Jacob

    19-20. Leah has a sixth son and names him Zebulun because Jacob will “exalt” (yizbeleni) her for providing six sons

    21. Leah has a daughter named Dinah

22-24. Rachel gives birth to a son

    22. Yahweh opens Rachel’s womb

    23-24. Rachel names her first son Joseph because Yahweh has “gathered in” (’asaf) her shame

25-43. Jacob swindles Laban as he prepares to leave Haran

    25-26. Jacob tells Laban he is ready to go home with his wives and children 

    27-34. Laban agrees to let Jacob leave with any brown sheep or multi-colored goats

    35-36. Jacob removes the said goats, gives them to his sons, and seperates them from Laban’s flock by a distance of three days

    37-39. Using white rods as visual stimulation, Jacob breeds multi-colored goats from amongst Laban’s animals

    40. Using brown sheep as stimulation, Jacob breeds brown sheep from Laban’s animals

    41-42. Jacob would only do this with the strong offspring, thereby leaving the weak to Laban

    43. Jacob grew wealthy, owning great flocks, slaves, and riding animals

V. Comment

Three notes:

  • It is only after Rachel gives birth that Jacob is ready to return home. This might be coincidence, meaning Rachel gave birth at exactly the seventh year of her marriage, which was the fourteen year mark of Jacob’s stay. It might also be a sign of Jacob’s love for Rachel, meaning he was only ready to leave once she gave birth.
  • The last episode of this chapter, in which Jacob breeds a strong flock for himself, is both fascinating and perplexing. As Gordon J. Wenham points out, it is helpful to recall that sheep are normally white and goats are normally black, so the speckled, spotted, and brown animals Jacob takes are neither white nor black. Jacob’s breeding tactics rely on the assumption that the color of the children are determined by the color that the parents saw during intercourse. Also, using a more scientifically explainable method, Jacob mates the strong animals amongst themselves, thereby creating a strong group of offspring. He also mates the weak animals amongst themselves, thereby creating a weak group of offspring.
  • As Wenham points out, “This story [about the flocks] has always given listeners and readers a great sense of satisfaction. The mean old cheat Laban at last meets his comeuppance at the hands of his nephew Jacob, whom he had so unkindly cheated out of Rachel on his wedding day.” (260)

VI. Works Used

Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50 (Grand Rapids, Michigan : Zondervan, 2000).

(see “Commentaries” page)

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