Genesis 30:25-31:2 “Jacob’s Prosperity, Part 2”

Posted on November 13, 2011. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bryan E. Walker



Introduction: I appreciate brother Wayne for standing in for me last week and introducing this passage to you. As strange as this passage sounds to us today, this is a key passage in Moses’ outline and a key message toIsrael in his day. This passage is not about how to breed goats. It is all about God keeping his covenant with Jacob and the hope that gives the Israelites of Moses’ day. Because God kept his covenant with Jacob, you and I can trust him to keep his covenant in Christ with us. In our text we see how Jacob prospers despite his cheapskate father-in-law. While there are some good moral/ethical teachings in this passage- the value of consistent hard work for Jacob- the text is focused primarily on the prosperity that God gives to Jacob.

A good New Testament verse that would show us this idea is Phil.3:7-11 “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith- that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share  his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead.”

 I.                   Laban Tries To Swindle Jacob, 30:25-36

    1. A.     Jacob Requests To Leave Laban’s Service, 30:25-26
    2. B.     Laban Wants Jacob To Stay and Work for Wages, vv.27-28
      1. 1.      But Laban said, “If I have found favor in your sight” v.27- Like he did with Abraham’s servant, and like Pharaoh with Israel, he is trying to delay Jacob’s departure. He succeeds, but loses his wealth to Jacob in the process. He does not deal with Jacob’s request, he makes a counter offer. The word for sight is ‘ayin, eyes.Hamilton points out, p.282, “Fourteen years earlier Leah’s eyes were mentioned; now Jacob’s eyes are mentioned.”
      2. 2.      I have learned by divination- divination was forbidden to Israel in Lev.19:26; Deut. 18:10,14. This is an occultic practice. Again, the Bible is not here teaching that the practice worked nor is it being recommended. Moses is faithfully reporting a sinful practice of Laban’s. Gordon Wenham disagrees with the translation and says it should read, “I have grown rich” (p.255). Mathews, p.496, explains this wide diversity of translations by pointing out that the key word in dispute in the sentence is nahas but the Akkadian word is nahasu and would mean “to become wealthy, prosper”, which fits in this particular context. However, Mathews also points out, “That he practiced divination should not be startling, however, since we know that Joseph had access to the paraphernalia of such sorcery (44:5,15). If so, here is another example of the many crossassociations between the Jacob and Joseph narratives. Yet one must hear everything that this huckster says cautiously, for we do not know it this is a fabrication. What is striking is Laban’s casual connection of divination with the Lord, for divination was one of the sorcerer’s arts strictly forbidden in the law…Another irregularity is the use of divination at all to discern the source of his prosperity.” I will side with the ESV and NIV translators on this one because, while it may be a bit odd for Laban to resort to divination at this point in the story and the Akkadian word may make more sense, it is in keeping with Laban’s character to do this and it is in keeping with Moses’ writing style to introduce a word here, that will be used later of Joseph. It also makes a good preaching point for Moses as he forbids the practice outright.
      3. 3.      Apply- when I was a kid I remember being with other kids in our Baptist youth group and someone had a Ouija board and brought it to a couple of youth functions or simply at their house. We also tried a séance once on an RA camp out. Where was the adult supervision? Nothing weird happened, but Christian kids have no business playing around like that. Today I know there are people who claim Christ who read their horoscopes daily or who have visited mediums to get their palm read or fortune told. Unbelievable! There is an increase in occultism and witchcraft in the last 30 years inAmerica and it seems to indicate that as Christianity has declined, occultism and other world religions, are filling the void.
      4. 4.      the LORD has blessed me because of you- this goes straight back to 12:1-3 and God’s promise to Abram that he would be a blessing to others and that those who blessed him would be blessed and those who cursed him would be cursed. Laban is clearly stating that he has received a blessing and is implying that he may even know of God’s covenant with Jacob. The blessings of prosperity are taken away as he mistreats Jacob.
      5. 5.      Can you think of other occasions in Genesis where people have prospered by being close to the Patriarchs? 21:22f; 26:28f;14:19; 39:5, 23.
      6. 6.      Apply-The difference in the West from all the rest is the Judeo-Christian foundation Western Civilization has. It is no accident that the West is reeling in financial trauma now, as we have abandoned our Judeo-Christian faith and worldview. Our foreign policy is turning away from support forIsrael and we will suffer for it. When you look at the difference in prosperity, infrastructure, education, culture and the arts betweenIsrael and the Palestinians, Jordanians, Syrians and Egyptians you can see this principle from Genesis come alive. Although the Jews who have rejected their own Messiah, Jesus Christ, for 2,000 years, are lost spiritually and headed for hell unless they repent and believe in Jesus, the Lord’s hand is still upon them for His purposes and this ancient principle of prosperity for those who bless Abraham and his descendants.
      7. 7.      Name your wages- Laban makes a bold claim here, which he apparently does not intend to keep. Waltke states, p.419, “Laban is always focused on economics. His statement has haunting echoes of the first deal he offered Jacob. The reader should anticipate that he intends to deceive Jacob again.” It is like saying, “What do I owe you?” Jacob had worked these 14 years for his wives, he owns no property, so if he leaves now, he has 4 wives and 12 children, but no wealth to take care of them with. Laban essentially has Jacob in a tough spot and Jacob cannot leave at this point.


  1. C.     Jacob Wants To Provide for His Own Household, vv.29-30
    1. 1.      you yourself know how I have served you- Jacob is confronting Laban with the fact that, while the Lord has indeed blessed Laban because of Jacob, Jacob has worked hard for Laban; he has served him well. Here we see the first sign of Jacob’s integrity. He is boldly challenging Laban to contradict him; Jacob has served faithfully. Wenham says, p.255, “but to say merely that ‘the LORD has blessed me because of you’ (v27) is an understatement. ‘The few that you had…have teemed and increased, and the LORD has blessed you wherever I have gone’ (v30). Here Jacob alludes to the promise made to him in 28:14 that his descendants would ‘spread’ or ‘teem’. The gist of his remarks is: ‘If God has done so much for you as the result of my work, surely you can now do something for me, or at least let me do something for my family.”
    2. 2.      how your livestock has fared with me- as a herder/shepherd/rancher Jacob has been fulfilling the mandate given to Adam and Eve in Gen. 1:28 to subdue the animals, and he has been successful.
    3. 3.      What should be happening here is that Laban should have given his son-in-law, daughters, and grandchildren, a large enough gift to get him started on his own household. Instead they are negotiating over wages.
    4. 4.      the LORD has blessed you wherever I turned- this is about the first godly thing we have heard Jacob utter in the form of a testimony to someone else.
    5. 5.      Apply- Col.3:23 “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” When we work at our jobs, we need to work in light of Col.3:23 AND Gen.12:2-3. There is a sense in which we, the spiritual descendants of Abraham, children of God through the work of Christ and the power of the Spirit, should be experiencing the blessings God promised Abraham. That includes being a blessing to those around us and that means at work. Christians ought to be the best workers.RedeemerChurch should have a reputation amongst employers and customers who know us so that they would say, “Send us some more of those Redeemer Christians to work here!” We need to be conduits of God’s favor to those with whom we work, like Jacob.
    6. D.    Jacob and Laban Negotiate, vv.31-33
      1. 1.      What shall I give you?- Wenham is skeptical of Laban being willing to give Jacob anything, ibid., “Laban’s question…sounds reasonable and open, but in fact he has already indicated that he will not give Jacob a farewell present.”
      2. 2.      You shall not give me anything- Jacob is not asking for a gift, even though as a son-in-law it would be appropriate. This phrase actually points us back to Abraham dealing with the king ofSodom after he had rescuedLot and the Sodomites in14:21,23. Abraham did not want to be enriched by the generosity of the king ofSodom. So too, here, Jacob wants nothing from his crooked father-in-law and has another way to start his family off- work, and the grace of God.
      3. 3.      let me pass through all your flocks today removing from it- Did Jacob expect to immediately take the variants from the flocks and herds to begin his own operation? Wenham and Mathews take the view that  Jacob’s plan was to do what Laban eventually did, separate out the speckled and spotted and black so that Jacob would start off with zero. A better answer is that Jacob intended on taking the OFFSPRING from these goats and sheep. This makes sense because of Laban’s reaction in sending all these spotted animals away with his sons.
      4. 4.      Jacob’s breeding plan- normally the sheep were white and the goats black or brown in that part of the world at that time. What Jacob is proposing is that he will take out the less than 20% variants from the flocks and herds. This will make Jacob’s herds clearly different from Laban’s, thus giving some legal protection for Jacob; it will be easy to identify the two different herds/flocks. Waltke writes, p.419, “Normally the hire of a shepherd is 20% of the flock, and rarely, if ever, would the speckled population be such a large percentage.”
    7. E.     Laban Tries To Swindle Jacob, vv. 34-36
      1. 1.      Laban said, ‘Good!’- Laban agrees so readily because he thinks the terms favor him.
      2. 2.      But that day Laban removed the …striped and spotted…and all that were speckled…and every lamb that was black- whatever Jacob expected, Laban acted to thwart and cheat Jacob once again. He gives the variant herds to his own sons and sends them a three day’s journey away. How now will Jacob prosper?
      3. 3.      The Main Point is enhanced by Laban’s cheating- in the end God gets the greater glory for blessing Jacob because of Laban’s cheating. From Laban’s point of view, there was no way Jacob could prosper, but Laban is warring against the LORD at this point. God has a covenant to keep with Jacob!
      4. 4.      An application- when people act unethically or illegally against us, we can get angry at their sinful behavior, but we should realize that perhaps the Lord has allowed this to happen so that we are sanctified and He is glorified as we respond in faith. This is turning the other cheek, forgiving our brother 70×7.


  1. II.                Jacob Tries To Swindle Laban, 30:37-43
    1. A.     Jacob’s Breeding Program, vv.37-43
      1. 1.      The use of the trees with peeled bark does not in any way alter goat or sheep breeding and genetics, and must have been merely a folk custom. Ancient man did have some ideas of genetics and did intelligently breed animals and plants to produce desired traits. Jacob clearly ascribes his success to the Lord in 31:10ff. So what is going on here?Hamilton says that “Jacob’s rods function much as do Rachel’s mandrakes. It is not the mandrakes that produce fertility, and it is not Jacob’s white rods that produce the right kind of offspring for Jacob- although perhaps that is what Jacob wanted Laban to think.” (p.284). “The flock tended by Jacob had only monochrome animals in respect of phenotype. As regards genotype, however, a third were pure monochromes (homozygotes) and two-thirds were heterozygotes (who contained the gene of spottedness). By crossing the heterozygotes among themselves, Jacob would produce, according to the laws of heredity, twenty-five percent spotted sheep. Thus he multiplies his flock. Jacob has displayed ingenuity; he has not practiced deception.”
      2. 2.      The use of the term for the poplar tree, libneh, along with the word for white, laban, along with his father-in-law’s name, Laban, provides a humorous wordplay at Laban’s expense
      3. 3.      I believe that the use of the striped stakes was a ruse to throw off Laban, who might have been superstitious and not as good of a goat breeder as Jacob.
      4. 4.      the feebler would be Laban’s and the stronger Jacob’s- Jacob not only bred the animals for coloration but for strength as well. This shows that over a period of about 6 years, Laban did not supervise his herds well and he allowed Jacob’s breeding plan to drain Laban’s flocks and herds.
      5. 5.      Thus the man increased greatly- Wenham uses the term “teemed” again pointing back to 28:14 and the fulfillment of God’s promise to Jacob. This is a huge point that Moses is making! Here is another promise of God to Abraham, Isaac and now to Jacob which is being kept. In Jacob you have the many offspring and also prosperity. Abraham and Isaac had more wealth, but only the few offspring. Wenham writes, p.257, “Indeed the phraseology here closely echoes12:16, ‘Abram…acquired sheep, cattle, donkeys, slaves slave-girls, she asses, and camels.’ Jacob became as rich in exile in Paddan-Aram as his grandfather had become inEgypt. Now that he has made his fortune, he is in a much better position to leave than he was at the beginning of the episode.” The presence of camels in the list of Jacob’s animal herds indicates great wealth for only the most prosperous of herdsmen could afford to raise camels.
      6. 6.      Apply- the WRONG application would be to use this text to try to prove the Health&Wealth Gospel of the Name It and Claim It TV Preachers. God’s primary concern is for his glory and your holiness not your health, wealth and success in this life. That being said, there is an historical trend of those who follow Christ prospering in general. If you follow Christ and work hard, are frugal and generous, honest, punctual and work as unto the Lord, you will tend toward prosperity.


  1. III.             Jacob Prospers at Laban’s Expense, 31:1-2
    1. A.     The Sons of Laban
      1. 1.      Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, – While Laban may not have been attentive to what was going on with the flocks and herds, Laban’s sons were, and they were not happy about it. Notice that in vs. 1 Jacob “heard” and in vs. 2 Jacob “saw” that trouble was coming his way.
      2. 2.      Apply- did Laban’s sons have a legitimate grievance with Jacob? Was not Jacob abiding by the agreement he had with his father in law? Had not Laban abused Jacob? NOTICE: Those who are outside the covenant will frequently be upset, hateful and offended at the prosperity which God grants to those inside the covenant. We can see this in today’s politics. There is the politics of envy that seeks to promote class warfare inAmerica. The green eyed devil of envy is a problem whether it is two women competing for babies, or men competing for goats, or spoiled college kids camping out on Wall Street complaining about the rich. This continues a theme of “obstacles” to the covenant that we have seen with such characters as Lot, the king of Sodom, Pharaoh, the kings of the east, Ishmael, Esau, etc.
      3. 3.      Laban did not regard him with favor as before- the cheapskate realizes he has been outfoxed by his son-in-law and he is not happy with it.

Conclusion: This section is not about how to breed goats. This is a central point that Moses is making right alongside the large section dealing with the births of Jacob’s children. God is keeping his gracious covenant with Jacob, despite Jacob’s man flaws and his possible belief in superstition about breeding animals. This is a message of encouragement forIsrael in the wilderness as they are the heirs of Jacob and of God’s covenant. They too were cheated out of their wages for generations inEgypt, but now God is going to prosper them. God is proven trustworthy and gracious, his word is sure, his covenant will not fail.

For the Christian, we have a solid hope for our salvation because we see how God maneuvers things for his glory, the keeping of His Word. Our hope does not depend on our man made schemes, but on Christ alone. A practical lesson we get is that the world is going to be opposed to the gospel covenant, even though they may recognize the blessings that come to those who keep the covenant, and those who befriend the ones in the covenant. The Christian response is to work hard and follow the golden rule while giving God the glory and trusting in Him. Some success in this world is seen for those who follow Christ, but this should not be misinterpreted to mean that God is obligated to prosper us in this life.


Boice, James Montomery. Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, Volume 2, Genesis 12:1-36:43. Zondervan:Grand Rapids, MI. 1985 (pp.312-317).

Calvin, John. Genesis, in the Geneva Series of Commentaries, translated and edited by John King, two volumes in one. Banner of Truth Trust:Carlisle,PA 1847 (originally published in Latin 1554). Vol.2, pages 134-149.

Duguid, Iain M. Living In The Grip Of Relentless Grace: The Gospel In The Lives Of Isaac & Jacob. P&R Publishing:Phillipsburg, NJ 2002 (pp.77-91).

Hamilton, Victor P. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, The Book of Genesis Chapters 18-50. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company:Grand Rapids,MI 1995 (pp.269-278).

Luther, Martin. Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 26-30,Luther’s Works, Volume 5, translated by George V. Schick and Paul D. Pahl, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan and Walter A. Hansen. Concordia Publishing House:St. Louis,MO 1968 (pp.313-363). These lectures were given by Luther in 1541-1542.

Mathews, Kenneth A. The New American Commentary, Volume 1B, Genesis 11:27-50:26. Broadman & Holman Publishers:Nashville, TN. 2005. (pp.472-490).

Ross, Allen P. Creation & Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis. Baker Academic:Grand Rapids,MI 1998 (pp.517-529.)

Waltke, Bruce K. Genesis: A Commentary. Zondervan:Grand Rapids,MI 2001 (pp.416-423.)

Wenham, Gordon J. Word Biblical Commentary Volume 2, Genesis 16-50. Word Books, Publisher:Dallas,TX 1994 (pp.250-269.)



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