We’re studying Genesis 30:22-32 & 43 for Sunday, November 25. It is a continuation of the unfolding story of Jacob. Here are my notes on the text:
BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT: Last week, we left Jacob coming to terms with his vision of a ladder reaching to heaven, as he was on his way to stay with his uncle Laban and away from his brother Esau.
This week, we’re picking up the ongoing story after Jacob has married both his cousin Leah and his cousin Rachel, as a result of his uncle’s deception, and fathered 10 sons and one daughter by three women: his first and less-loved wife Leah, and two servants, Bilhah and Zilpah. Only his first- and best-loved wife, Rachel, has so far had no biological children of her own. That’s about to change.
CLOSER READING: God [Elohim] remembers, heeds, and opens the womb of Rachel; Rachel refers to God’s activity in the next couple of verses, saying that God [Elohim] has “taken away” her reproach, and asking YHWH to add another son to her family. Laban, in v29, also mentions YHWH, saying that YHWH has blessed him because of Jacob – which he knows by divination, a practice we suspect YHWH frowns on!
God isn’t heard from or mentioned for the rest of this episode. In an example of great timing, YHWH will show up again in the next chapter, to tell Jacob to leave Haran, right after Jacob hears his cousins, Laban’s sons, muttering about how he’s gotten rich at their father’s expense (Genesis 31:3).
Instead, the rest of the chapter is devoted to the complex struggle between Laban and Jacob over property.
Jacob makes the move to leave Haran immediately after Rachel gives birth to Joseph. Rashi tells us this is because Joseph is the opponent of Esau (see Obadiah 1:18). Jacob asks Laban to send him away – which is a common verb, but in this case, might be evidence that Jacob has taken on the status of an indentured servant, and is asking for release, and maybe for a parting endowment in the process.
The negotiation between Jacob and Laban revolves around the word give. Jacob begins by asking Laban to give him [Jacob] his [Jacob’s] wives and children (v26). Laban twice (vv28, 31) asks Jacob what he [Jacob] wants him [Laban] to give him [Jacob] for wages. Jacob insists he doesn’t want Laban to give him anything, but to do something for him …
And then Laban gives everything Jacob has asked for – the striped and speckled breeding stock and the brown lambs – to his sons and sends them a three day’s journey away, evidently with the idea of keeping the them out of Jacob’s hands (v35).
Jacob, for his part, takes branches of poplar, almond and chestnut and sets about using folk magic to increase his flock (vv37-42). Since his uncle clearly has no intention of giving him anything at all.
So, the man – and why is Jacob referred to here as “the man”? – prospers – literally, “breaks out” – exceedingly. In Hebrew, the phrase translated “exceedingly” is striking: meod meod would be like our saying something like “a LOT a lot.”
And his fortunes are not restricted to the increase of the sheep and goats. He is specifically said to have maidservants, menservants, camels, and donkeys – all of which, presumably, have to have been acquired through trade, and which establish him as in the same category as Abraham and Isaac, a patriarch with an extensive household.
So verse 43 emphasizes Jacob’s vastly better-off material situation in several ways. And, the way the story is told, this good fortune seems to be a direct result of Jacob’s … clever practices, although we can probably assume (thanks to Uncle Laban’s divination) that YHWH is on the case when it comes to blessing, too.
The whole situation is at least a little ambiguous. How clearly will Jacob be able to determine whether God has kept God’s side of the bargain Jacob tried to make back in chapter 28? Considering how much effort Jacob has had to put in to this whole enterprise? And how much opposition he’s had to overcome? I don’t like to speculate on the psychology of Biblical characters, but it seems possible that someone in Jacob’s situation might be tempted to consider himself a “self-made man.”
We readers, presumably, don’t face the same temptation. At least, not when it comes to Jacob.