When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” Genesis 30:1
When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. Leah had given birth to four sons. In biblical times, being barren was considered a reproach and was accounted as a severe punishment among the Hebrews. Although Rachel was the wife that Jacob loved, Rachel envied her sister Leah.
Jacob became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” Genesis 30:2
According to Psalm 127:3, “Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him.” Children are God’s gifts. They are a heritage and a reward from God and are to be counted as blessings. Jacob was angered by Rachel’s words, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” Rachel blamed her childlessness on Jacob, which was unreasonable, since he had given proof that he was not infertile. Jacob responded that it was not him but God who kept her from having children.
Then she said, “Here is Bilhah, my servant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and I too can build a family through her.” Genesis 30:3
Following the example of Jacob’s grandmother Sarah, who gave her Egyptian Hagar handmaiden to Abraham, Rachel gave her servant Bilhah to Jacob to bear children for her. Having been persuaded by Rachel, Jacob took Bilhah her handmaid to be his wife. According to the customs of those times, a servant’s child belonged to her mistress. Instead, Rachel should have followed the example of Jacob’s parents, Isaac and Rebekah. Although Rebekah had been barren for 20 years, Isaac did not do as Abraham his father did and take a second wife to have children by her. Instead, Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife and the LORD answered his prayer.
So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife. Jacob slept with her, and she became pregnant and bore him a son. Then Rachel said, “God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son.” Because of this she named him Dan. Genesis 30:4-6
Dan was the 5th son of Jacob and the 1st child of Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid. Dan means “judge”. Rachel believed that God rolled away the reproach of her barrenness through the birth of a son by Bilhah. Rachel had assumed that God judged her and found her guilty and therefore she was childless. After the birth of Dan, Rachel supposed that God had judged her again but vindicated her by giving her handmaiden a son.
Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.” So she named him Naphtali. Genesis 30:7-8
The name Naphtali means “wrestling.” Naphtali was the 6th son of Jacob and the 2nd by Bilhah.
When Leah saw that she had stopped having children, she took her servant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. Then Leah said, “What good fortune!” So she named him Gad. Genesis 30:9-11
Although Leah had personally birthed four sons for her husband Jacob, she was so caught up competing with her sister for her husband’s favor, that she also gave her maid servant to her husband to bear children. The name Gad means “good fortune” or “troop”. Through Zilpah, Leah now had a 5th son and boasted of her troop.
Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. Then Leah said, “How happy I am! The women will call me happy.” So she named him Asher. Genesis 30:12-13
The name Asher means “happy.” Asher is the 8th son of Jacob and the 2nd son by Zilpah.
During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.”
But she said to her, “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?”
“Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.” Genesis 30:14-15
How ironic that Leah accuses Rachel of taking away her husband, when in fact, Leah deceived Jacob into marrying her in the first place. Mandrake is the common name for members of the plant genus Mandragora belonging to the nightshades family. Ancients used it as an anesthetic. Used in small quantities like opium, it excites the nerves, and is a stimulant. Mandrakes contain chemicals that can act as hallucinogens and/or hypnotics. Mandrake is also translated as love-apple.
So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. “You must sleep with me,” she said. “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he slept with her that night.
God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son. Then Leah said, “God has rewarded me for giving my servant to my husband.” So she named him Issachar. Genesis 30:16-18
The name Issachar (Hebrew -rkXXy) means “hire” or “reward.” Leah paid for her husband’s services. Leah believed that God rewarded her for giving her servant Zilpah to Jacob. Issachar was the 9th son of Jacob and the 5th by Leah his first wife.
Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. Then Leah said, “God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons.” So she named him Zebulun. Genesis 30:19-20
The name Zebulun means “exalted”. Leah hoped that she would be treated in an exalted fashion by Jacob for bearing him six sons. Zebulun was the 10th of the sons of Jacob and 6th and last son of Leah.
Some time later she gave birth to a daughter and named her Dinah. Genesis 30:21
According to Genesis 37:35 and Genesis 46:7, Jacob most probably had other daughters, but only Dinah is named in the Scriptures. Dinah is the female version of the name Dan meaning “judgment”. Dinah’s name is probably recorded here because a significant future incident to place involving her that is detailed in Genesis 34.
Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” She named him Joseph, and said, “May the Lord add to me another son.” Genesis 30:22-24
Had God forgotten Rachel? Speaking of God as “remembering” Rachel is a literary device known as an anthropomorphism. God is speaking as if he were merely a man. God had never actually forgotten Rachel, for God never forgets anything. God demonstrated in a tangible way that he remembered her plea to no longer be barren. Although Rachel felt herself abandoned by God, God was waiting for the perfect time for her to conceive and bear a child. Her delay in birthing a child and her competition with Leah eventually resulted in Jacob having twelve sons which became the twelve tribes of Israel.
The name Joseph means “Yehovah has added”. Rachel desired that the LORD would give her another son as well. Joseph was Jacobs’ 1st son by Rachel and the 11th of his sons.
After Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me on my way so I can go back to my own homeland. Give me my wives and children, for whom I have served you, and I will be on my way. You know how much work I’ve done for you.” Genesis 30:25-26
As long as Rachel was childless Jacob ran the risk that Laban could refuse to release her to return with him to Canaan or Rachel refusing to leave her home in Upper Mesopotamia. Now that she was bound to him through their child and his fourteen years of service were completed, Jacob determined that it was safe to ask Laban to let him return to his homeland with his wives, his concubines, and his children by the four Aramean women.
But Laban said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, please stay. I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you.” He added, “Name your wages, and I will pay them.”
Jacob said to him, “You know how I have worked for you and how your livestock has fared under my care. The little you had before I came has increased greatly, and the Lord has blessed you wherever I have been. But now, when may I do something for my own household?” Genesis 30:27-30
Laban knew from experience that Jacob was a gifted shepherd. Laban discovered, by the pagan practice of divination, that he had prospered because the LORD was with Jacob. Divination was a method of consulting pagan gods and imparting knowledge, usually through the dissection and observation of the organs of a sacrificed animal. In order to keep Jacob from leaving, Laban makes Jacob an offer that he couldn’t refuse by saying, “Name your wages.”
“What shall I give you?” he asked.
“Don’t give me anything,” Jacob replied. “But if you will do this one thing for me, I will go on tending your flocks and watching over them: Let me go through all your flocks today and remove from them every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb and every spotted or speckled goat. They will be my wages. And my honesty will testify for me in the future, whenever you check on the wages you have paid me. Any goat in my possession that is not speckled or spotted, or any lamb that is not dark-colored, will be considered stolen.” Genesis 30:31-33
The flocks of sheep in the Near East are usually white and the goats are usually solid black or brown. For his wages Jacob asked for the rare colored animals – the speckled or spotted goats and the dark-colored lambs.
“Agreed,” said Laban. “Let it be as you have said.” That same day he removed all the male goats that were streaked or spotted, and all the speckled or spotted female goats (all that had white on them) and all the dark-colored lambs, and he placed them in the care of his sons. Then he put a three-day journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob continued to tend the rest of Laban’s flocks. Genesis 30:34-36
Laban agreed to Jacob’s terms knowing that the dark-colored lambs and the goats that are speckled, spotted and streaked are in the minority. To “stack the deck” in his favor, Laban removed the animals that should have rightfully been Jacob’s starting flock. Knowing that dark-colored sheep and speckled, spotted and streaked goats have a greater chance of producing offspring with the same coloring, Laban removed them to ensure that Jacob was less likely to have any breeding stock which might produce the rarer colored animals. Laban weeded from among the flock all the sheep not totally white and all the goats not wholly black or brown. In addition, he gave those animals to his sons, separating those flocks from Jacob by a three day journey to ensure that there would be no intermingling and interbreeding with Jacob’s solid colored animals.
Laban thought this was a great deal, because it is known that usually the spotted goats and sheep will have spotted progeny, but if you remove all the spotted ones, then how are you going to get spotted baby goats and sheep? If you get spotted, their numbers will be very small. Jacob had observed during more than 60 years of herding for his father Isaac and 14 years for his uncle Laban that this is the case. If you only have solid colored rams and ewes then rarely will they have spotted, speckled or streaked kids. But Jacob had a plan.
Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. When the flocks were in heat and came to drink, they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. Genesis 30:37-39
Those who practice Jewish mysticism known as Kabbala attribute Jacob’s peeling of the branches as a way of eliciting spiritual energy. They claim that Jacob was drawing divine consciousness into physical reality. Wiccans believe that branches have magical properties. But we shall discover that Jacob’s actions were neither mysticism nor witchcraft.
Urinary calculi or “water belly” is a common metabolic disease of male sheep and goats. The disease occurs when calculi (stones), usually comprised of phosphate salts, lodge in the urinary tract and prevent urination. Lack of water and water sources that are high in minerals are also contributing factors. Although Jacob provided Laban’s sheep with water in drinking troughs, the sheep and goats were three days away from their usual watering holes. The rams and he-goats were in danger of developing blockages that would lead to urinary tract infections. Poplar tree bark provides several medicinal qualities. One of those natural medicinal agents is salicin. Salicin is a precursor of salicylic acid (the main ingredient in aspirin). Because of salicin, poplar bark contains anti-inflammatory properties and is also an antipyretic (fever reducer). Poplar can also reduce mineral imbalance. Jacob added the poplar bark to the drinking water of the flocks in his care to keep the male sheep and goats from getting “water belly” and kept them healthy for breeding.
A number of medicinal uses are known in folk medicine for the plane trees including dietary, gynecological and gastrointestinal aids. The medicinal preparations are made from the leaves and the bark of the oriental plane. Just as poplar bark would benefit the rams and he-goats, the bark from the plane trees would be beneficial to reproductive system of the ewes and nanny goats.
The Indian almond tree is native to both India and the Middle East. Many people believe that almond improves fertility and its aroma stimulates passion in women. The Bible specifies that the peels of the bark of the trees were fresh. An aroma from the fresh bark of the rods of the trees of almond may cause the livestock to go “in heat” and mate more often to become more fruitful.
The almond bark also contains tannin. Recent studies have demonstrated that drinking products containing tannins can affect the genetic functioning of the individuals, manifested by changes in the DNA that produces cancer. One theory is that we may also deduct by logic that the tannin in the almond bark may have caused mutations that could be manifested as “spotted” skin color in goats and sheep.
Professor Scott B. Noegel in his treatise, “Sex, Sticks, and the Trickster in Gen. 30:31-43: A New Look at an Old Crux.,” offers a quite different explanation concerning why Jacob took various branches and peeled them:
When we read Gen. 30:39a, “When the flocks were in heat and came to drink, they mated in front of the branches”– the passage depicts Jacob employing the rods not as a fertility symbols or an aphrodisiac, but rather as a type of “phallus fallax” (an artificial male organ used to deceive the ewes and she-goats). Professor Noegel asserts that the proper translation of the verse is that they mated “on the branches” and not “in front of the branches.” Therefore Jacob allowed only the animals which he did not want to sire offspring to “become heated upon the rods.”
To make matters difficult for Jacob, Laban singles out for himself all of the goats that might produce speckled, spotted, and dark-colored young for Jacob. Laban takes them from Jacob’s portion of the animals but not from his own portion. We learn later in Genesis 30:40 that Jacob possesses a few oddly colored animals among Laban’s flock. Thus, Laban’s action leaves Jacob with speckled and dark-colored he-goats, striped and brown she-goats (which must belong to Laban) speckled and spotted male lambs, and speckled and spotted ewes, as well as some dark-colored lambs, presumably of both sexes. From this pool Jacob must produce his desired flocks.
Herders and veterinarians acquainted with the breeding patterns of sheep and goats are well aware that while in estrus (when they are in heat), ewes often are inclined to rub their vulvas on trees or sticks. Using Laban’s distance to his advantage, Jacob peels white streaks into the poplar rods. Because the poplar was fresh, the white streaks were clearly visible. Interestingly, J. Skinner identified the wood used for the rod as “styrax officinalis” so-called from its exuding a milk-like gum. The purpose of the mock phalluses in Gen. 30:37 is clear, Jacob uses them to alter the breeding pattern of Laban’s flocks, and thus increase his wages at Laban’s expense.
And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. Genesis 30:39b
Since the animals brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted young, the animals that mated on the branches must have been Laban’s dark-colored she-goats. They, of course, did not bear any offspring. Conversely, only the few speckled and spotted ewes, and the striped she-goats that were not placed near the rods, brought forth young. From these, Jacob took for himself the spotted and speckled ewes, and the spotted and speckled he-goats
Jacob set apart the young of the flock by themselves, but made the rest face the streaked and dark-colored animals that belonged to Laban. Thus he made separate flocks for himself and did not put them with Laban’s animals. Whenever the stronger females were in heat, Jacob would place the branches in the troughs in front of the animals so they would mate near the branches, but if the animals were weak, he would not place them there. So the weak animals went to Laban and the strong ones to Jacob. Genesis 30:40-42
Then Jacob separated the new born that were speckled, spotted or brown from the sheep and goats of the original herd that belonged to Laban. The Hebrew expression used in Genesis 30:40 translated as, “made the rest “face” the streaked and dark-colored animals” is more accurately translated that Jacob stationed them behind Laban’s animals in a position more conducive to mating.
The key to Jacob’s success was that he exploited Laban’s striped and dark-colored sheep to produce his wages.
In addition, Jacob distinguishes from Laban’s flock those sheep which bred early (stronger) and those which bred late (weaker) and allows only the former to mate against the poplar rods. Thus, Laban receives an abundance of feeble animals.
Unlike the theories of magic and aphrodisiac, which fail to explain why Jacob would put Laban’s stronger animals within sight of the rods if he thought they would provide fertility, the interpretation proposed here provides an answer. Jacob allows the stronger of Laban’s animals to mate upon the rods so that they produce no young, while allowing the weaker of Laban’s flock to produce without interruption. This naturally resulted in a proliferation of Laban’s weaker animals. As Gen. 30:42 informs us, “the feeble ones went to Laban and the sturdy to Jacob.”
Since Laban’s animals and Jacob’s animals would not have been confused (they were distinguished already in 30:32), Jacob’s sturdier animals in 30:42 cannot have been obtained from Laban’s flocks. Instead, the mention of Jacob’s sturdier animals must refer to those animals that resulted from natural reproduction among his own flocks.
In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and female and male servants, and camels and donkeys. Genesis 30:43
Whether the proliferation of Jacob’s flocks was attributed to genetic mutations caused by the tannin enriched drinking water or by having Laban’s she-goats mating on peeled branches, Jacob’s success was not due to magic or Hebrew mysticism but the result of the scientific disciplines of animal husbandry and genetics.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10
Laban was an idolater who practiced divination, while Jacob had made a solemn vow that if he returned safely to his father’s household then the LORD will be his God. In spite of Laban’s concerted efforts to thwart Jacob’s success, Jacob grew exceedingly prosperous and his flocks became numerous because the LORD was with him.