READING: Genesis 30
The stage is set for some major sibling rivalry between Rachel and Leah! Jacob has married both of them, but loves Rachel. God intervenes to compensate Leah for that lack of love by opening her womb and giving her four sons. Chapter thirty opens with an argument between Rachel and Jacob concerning her inability to conceive. Then begins the customary bearing of children through the wives' maids as concubines, so that by the end of this account Leah has six sons, Bilhah (Rachel's maid) has two sons, Zilpah (Leah's maid) has two sons, and Rachel herself has one son. Eleven sons in all. There is at least one daughter also, Dinah. She is mentioned because she will be involved in a major event that will happen later (chapter 34).
Mandrakes were thought to induce fertility. Rachel bought them from Leah but still remained barren. Only God could open her womb.
Once Jacob had worked off his debt of labor to Laban, he decided it was time to return to Canaan. He was ready to leave his cheating uncle, who kept changing his wages (see 31:7). But Laban had recognized that God was blessing Jacob, and through Jacob, he was receiving blessing himself. So he sought to keep Jacob around and offered to let Jacob name his own wages. Then Jacob made an offer Laban couldn't refuse. Jacob would take all the speckled and spotted sheep and goats and leave Laban the "perfect" ones. Laban was sure he would keep Jacob dependent upon him, because his flocks would be worth a lot while Jacob's would be worth little.
However, Jacob had other plans! He used the prenatal influence of the rods as well as selective breeding to increase his own flocks. It isn't clear how the rods affected the sheep, but here are a couple of explanations I found.
"Jacob placed partially stripped branches from certain trees in the watering troughs to stimulate the animals to reproductive activity." (Ryrie)
"He set up streaked rods before the ewes at the watering places, that the coloring of the young might be subject to prenatal influence. It is an established fact, declares Delitzsch, that white lambs can be guaranteed by placing a multitude of white objects about the drinking troughs (New Commentary on Genesis). Jacob also separated the spotted and striped lambs and kids from the herd, but kept them in plain view of the ewes, that they might be influenced." (Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p 34)
Although Jacob used these techniques to increase his flocks while decreasing Laban's, he also attributes his success to God (see 31:7, 9). God has prospered Jacob and made him very wealthy in preparation for his return home. Tuesday, we will begin Jacob's journey back to Canaan.
Although Jacob was not willing to count God as his own LORD, he does see the hand of God at work in his life. He is aware that God is keeping His part of the bargain (28:20-21). God has blessed him with sons, is providing great wealth for him, and protecting him from Laban's schemes.
Yet, family relationships for Jacob are very strained and unhappy. The women are truly constant rivals of each other. Like Rebekah, they each want to be in control, and they both want to have the upper hand. That would have created an incredible amount of strife in their family!
No matter how we try to manipulate things, God is always the one who is in control. He keeps His unconditional promises of blessing regardless of the behavior of the one(s) He is blessing. God's actions are not controlled by man.
LORD, you are the God who is in control, and you will bless whom you choose to bless. Help me to trust in you rather than try to manipulate events on my own. You have blessed me abundantly! I recognize that these rich blessings are from your hand and I thank you for them. In the name of the richest blessing of all, Jesus, Amen.