SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS)-Week 18 Genesis 30:25-31:55

Welcome to the SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS). This week we will be discussing Genesis** 28:10-30:24 **. Since the discussion can turn into a very broad and hijackable thread, we would like the following rules to be adhered to:

  1. These SDMBWBS threads are to deal with the books and stories in the Bible as literature. What I’m hoping to achieve is an understanding of the stories, the time in which they were written, context, and possibly its cultural relevance.

  2. While it is up to the individual to choose to believe or disbelieve any portion, that is not to be the discussion of the thread. If you must, please choose to witness/anti-witness in Great Debates.

  3. The intention is to go through the Bible from front to back in order. While different books are needed to be referred to in order to understand context, please try and keep the focus on the thread’s selected chapter(s)/verse(s).

  4. Since different religions have chosen which books to include or omit, the threads will use the Catholic version of 46 Old Testament Books and 27 New Testament Books. It’s encouraged to discuss why a book was included/omitted during the applicable threads only. BibleHub, as far as I know, is a good resource that compiles many different versions of the verses into one page.(Also the SDMB Staff Reports on Who Wrote the Bible). Please feel free to use whatever source you want, including-and even more helpfully-the original language.

  5. Hopefully we can get through these threads with little to no moderation. A gentle reminder that if a poster comes in and ignores these rules, please use the “report post” function instead of responding.

Links to previous threads:
Genesis 1:1 to 2:25
Genesis 3
Genesis 4
Genesis 5-6
Genesis 7-9:17
Genesis 9:18-10:32
Genesis 11
Genesis 12-13
Genesis 14-15
Genesis 16
Genesis 17
Genesis 18-19
Genesis 20-22
Genesis 23-24
Genesis 25
Genesis 26:1-33
Genesis 26:34-Genesis 28:9

Jacob’s Flocks Increase

25 After Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me on my way so I can go back to my own homeland. 26 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.”

27 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.” 28 He added, “Name your wages, and I will pay them.”

29 Jacob said to him, “You know how I have worked for you and how your livestock has fared under my care. 30 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?”

31 “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: 32 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. 33 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.”

34 “Agreed,” said Laban. “Let it be as you have said.” 35 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. 36 Then he put a three-day journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob continued to tend the rest of Laban’s flocks.

37 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. 38 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, 39 they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. 40 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. 41 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, 42 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. 43 In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and female and male servants, and camels and donkeys.
Genesis 31

Jacob Flees From Laban

31 Jacob heard that Laban’s sons were saying, “Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.” 2 And Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him was not what it had been.

3 Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”

4 So Jacob sent word to Rachel and Leah to come out to the fields where his flocks were. 5 He said to them, “I see that your father’s attitude toward me is not what it was before, but the God of my father has been with me. 6 You know that I’ve worked for your father with all my strength, 7 yet your father has cheated me by changing my wages ten times. However, God has not allowed him to harm me. 8 If he said, ‘The speckled ones will be your wages,’ then all the flocks gave birth to speckled young; and if he said, ‘The streaked ones will be your wages,’ then all the flocks bore streaked young. 9 So God has taken away your father’s livestock and has given them to me.

10 “In breeding season I once had a dream in which I looked up and saw that the male goats mating with the flock were streaked, speckled or spotted. 11 The angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob.’ I answered, ‘Here I am.’ 12 And he said, ‘Look up and see that all the male goats mating with the flock are streaked, speckled or spotted, for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land.’”

14 Then Rachel and Leah replied, “Do we still have any share in the inheritance of our father’s estate? 15 Does he not regard us as foreigners? Not only has he sold us, but he has used up what was paid for us. 16 Surely all the wealth that God took away from our father belongs to us and our children. So do whatever God has told you.”

17 Then Jacob put his children and his wives on camels, 18 and he drove all his livestock ahead of him, along with all the goods he had accumulated in Paddan Aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan.

19 When Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father’s household gods. 20 Moreover, Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him he was running away. 21 So he fled with all he had, crossed the Euphrates River, and headed for the hill country of Gilead.

Laban Pursues Jacob

22 On the third day Laban was told that Jacob had fled. 23 Taking his relatives with him, he pursued Jacob for seven days and caught up with him in the hill country of Gilead. 24 Then God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream at night and said to him, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.”

25 Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country of Gilead when Laban overtook him, and Laban and his relatives camped there too. 26 Then Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done? You’ve deceived me, and you’ve carried off my daughters like captives in war. 27 Why did you run off secretly and deceive me? Why didn’t you tell me, so I could send you away with joy and singing to the music of timbrels and harps? 28 You didn’t even let me kiss my grandchildren and my daughters goodbye. You have done a foolish thing. 29 I have the power to harm you; but last night the God of your father said to me, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’ 30 Now you have gone off because you longed to return to your father’s household. But why did you steal my gods?”

31 Jacob answered Laban, “I was afraid, because I thought you would take your daughters away from me by force. 32 But if you find anyone who has your gods, that person shall not live. In the presence of our relatives, see for yourself whether there is anything of yours here with me; and if so, take it.” Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the gods.

33 So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two female servants, but he found nothing. After he came out of Leah’s tent, he entered Rachel’s tent. 34 Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them inside her camel’s saddle and was sitting on them. Laban searched through everything in the tent but found nothing.

35 Rachel said to her father, “Don’t be angry, my lord, that I cannot stand up in your presence; I’m having my period.” So he searched but could not find the household gods.

36 Jacob was angry and took Laban to task. “What is my crime?” he asked Laban. “How have I wronged you that you hunt me down? 37 Now that you have searched through all my goods, what have you found that belongs to your household? Put it here in front of your relatives and mine, and let them judge between the two of us.

38 “I have been with you for twenty years now. Your sheep and goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten rams from your flocks. 39 I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself. And you demanded payment from me for whatever was stolen by day or night. 40 This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes. 41 It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household. I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times. 42 If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you.”

43 Laban answered Jacob, “The women are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks. All you see is mine. Yet what can I do today about these daughters of mine, or about the children they have borne? 44 Come now, let’s make a covenant, you and I, and let it serve as a witness between us.”

45 So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46 He said to his relatives, “Gather some stones.” So they took stones and piled them in a heap, and they ate there by the heap. 47 Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha, and Jacob called it Galeed.

48 Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” That is why it was called Galeed. 49 It was also called Mizpah, because he said, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other. 50 If you mistreat my daughters or if you take any wives besides my daughters, even though no one is with us, remember that God is a witness between you and me.”

51 Laban also said to Jacob, “Here is this heap, and here is this pillar I have set up between you and me. 52 This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not go past this heap to your side to harm you and that you will not go past this heap and pillar to my side to harm me. 53 May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.”

So Jacob took an oath in the name of the Fear of his father Isaac. 54 He offered a sacrifice there in the hill country and invited his relatives to a meal. After they had eaten, they spent the night there.

55 Early the next morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then he left and returned home.

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Is that a typo in 31:31 and 31:35 saying gods instead of goods?

I’ll be putting up something later. I’m still home sick from work.


No typo. Rachel stole Laban’s idols. Obviously, the Bible does not see them as “gods” in the sense of having any power, just that Laban regarded them as “gods.” Just as the phrase “You shall have no other gods before me” does not imply that there are genuinely other powers outside of the Biblical G-d, creator of heaven and earth.

P. S., feel better, Prof.

Feel better, Prof P!

CHA 30

V 26: The episode begins with Jacob asking (v 25) to “go back to my own homeland” The land is now HIS place, his home. To Isaac, it was still a place of wandering and nomadic existence. The covenant of the land is extremely important to the biblical author(s), and will echo time and again. This is their land, promised by God, and they may wander or be exiled but will return. (Obviously, this will also have importance some 2500 years later with the establishment of the modern state of Israel.)

For those believing in multiple authors: vv 29-43 are the J-version of Jacob’s prosperity, which is due to his own ingenuity. The E-version will appear in 31:10ff, where Jacob’s prosperity is due to God’s direction. For those believing in a single Author, the later version is Jacob’s retelling that attributes his success to God.

So, the plot here (30:29-43) is that Jacob offers to take all the brown or speckled sheep and all the white goats. Sarna (JPS Genesis) says that in the Near East, goats are generally brown or black while sheep are generally white. The sheep with dark-colors and the goats with white speckles would be a small minority, that Jacob demands as wages. Thus, Jacob is NOT trying to cheat Laban. Laban agrees, thinking he’s getting a bargain. And he then tries to cheat Jacob, by pulling out that small group (speckled sheep and white goats) and moving them far away. Despite that, Jacob manages to manipulate the breeding and prosper.

First, a minor word-play: in verse 35, “every one that had white on it,” the Hebrew word for white is laban, a play on the name Laban. I’m not sure how to read this: a sarcastic comment that Laban’s ethics are far from “white”? A joke that Jacob is beating Laban at his own game?

Second, a reminder that the promise to Abraham included that his descendents would prosper, so we see that happening here as it had with Isaac.

Third, on a scientific level, Jacob has the sheep mate under branches, so they are partly shaded and so produce speckled offspring. This is the folklore notion that acquired characteristics can be inherited, and is not consistent with modern genetics. I offer two comments: (1) the text is literature and poetry, not science, and what is important is that Jacob prospers, regardless of the method; and (2) in the retelling of the story, Jacob implies that this was miraculous and due to God’s intervention.

Finally, on the deeper literary/thematic/philosophic side: we again have a substitution. Jacob tricked Isaac by substituting himself for Esau. Then Jacob is himself tricked/cheated by Laban, first when Leah was substituted for Rachel (Gen 29:23ff) and now with the goats and sheep. As I’ve mentioned before, the Pentateuch shows a strong sense of justice: as you have done to others, so shall be done to you. Jacob is a trickster, and so is (in his turn) tricked (and will be tricked again later in the Joseph story.)

Jacob here tells Rachel and Leah of his grievances against their father Laban. He tells the story in a way that attributes the success to God rather than his own ingenuity.

In 31:13, God communicates with Jacob in a dream for a second time. Jacob has two dreams: the earlier ladder/stairway and now the goats. Coming in a few chapters: Joseph will encounter three sets of two dreams each (he has two, the butler and baker have one each, and Pharaoh has two.) Jacob doesn’t interpret the dreams (and they’re pretty direct, so no interpretation is really needed) but Joseph’s dreams will be slightly veiled, and he will need to interpret the symbolism. It’s interesting that dreams seem to occur in pairs.

God tells Jacob to return to his land. It’s yet another instruction to move, to walk. We saw many such with Abraham, and later with Rebekah, and now with Jacob. In the book of Genesis, this is the main metaphor for allegiance to God: walk, go, move, search and pursue, for God is not rooted in one place.

In v 18, it’s clear that Jacob must not only return to his land, but to his father, to show him that the blessing worked.

In v 19 ff, Jacob again gets into thievery and trickery. Laban is a cheat, and his daughter is married to Jacob the trickster, and a tangle of deceit. The verb “to steal” appears several times this section. It’s the same verb that will later appear in the Ten Commandments, as one of the thou-shalt-not’s. Here, for instance, v 26, “you’ve deceived me” (NIV), the literal translation is “stole my heart” [remember that the ancients thought the heart was the seat of thought, so it’s “stealing my mind.”] … which includes the pun that *lav[/io] “heart” echoes Laban, and ’arami “the Aramean” echos R-M-H “to cheat.” Laban the heartless cheat has had his own heart stolen.

In 31:36, Jacob finally complains to Laban, after twenty years of taking it on the chin. His pious protestation has only one flaw: Jacob IS a trickster and thief, but in v 38 he tells the truth. In v 43, what Laban says is true (they’re his daughter and flocks) but Jacob won them fairly. This was NOT a deal where Jacob cheated.

In v 50, Laban knows the family and that Abraham mistreated Hagar, so it is reasonable for him to worry that Jacob might mistreat his daughters (especially Leah.)

In v 42 , the term “Fear of Isaac”: the Hebrew is an obscure word that probably means something like “terror” (rather than the usual word for fear that carries the connotation awe.) It could mean “The One whom Isaac fears” or “The One who Caused Isaac to Terror”. Jacob does seem to understand his father Isaac here, that God is a Terror to Isaac who was almost slaughtered.

The story with Laban ends with the word makom “place” in 32:3, as it began with the repeated word makom in the dream-ladder story.

Well, there are those who believe that, over the course of when the earlier stories were written, the thinking changed on whether G-d was just the best god or if he was one of a kind.

Also, I think this inclusion is a masterful stroke for the literature side of things. Jacob, who later becomes Israel, winds up having clung to false gods, and all that due to the person he loved the most. It seems to foreshadow God’s relationship with Israel.

Certainly by the time of the final redaction (say, around 500 BCE or thereabouts) the belief was that he was the only God, but the texts were sacred as they stood, so often left with the ambiguous use of “gods.”

In this context, however, the usage is interesting in Hebrew, and the NIV misses it:
v 30: Laban asks “why did you steal my gods.”
v 31: Jacob says back, “anyone who stole your gods shall not remain alive”
v 32: Jacob did not know Rachel had stolen them [the NIV says “stolen the gods” but that’s not accurate, it’s “stolen them.”]
v 34: Rachel had taken the terafim – the Hebrew word is different from the word “god(s)” in the prior verse, and is usually translated “idols” or (NIV) “household gods”
v 35: He searched, but could not find the terafim idols/household gods

So, when Laban is speaking, he says “gods.” Jacob answers him in kind, “your gods.” But when the text is narrating, it says “idols.” A subtlety that is lost in the NIV. The speakers may call them “gods,” but the final text editor calls them “idols.” I.e., Laban may think of them as “gods,” and Jacob is answering politely, but we as readers understand they aren’t.

(BTW, I didn’t find this in a source – I didn’t look hard – it’s my own reading.)

That’s pretty sweet. Did you read that straight from the Hebrew, or is there a translation you like to use that does a better job getting at the original language used?

This is the one I’ve been waiting for because I’ve always been confused by it. It fits into a common folk tale trope where the clever poor person makes what seems a ridiculously modest request of a rich stupid person, but the request turns out to bankrupt the rich person. I just don’t get what the trick is. Something with poplars? Laban takes all the speckled/streaked goats away from Jacob, which shows he understands how genetics works on some level. Yet Jacob manages to breed speckled goats anyway. How?

I use the JPS translation, and also Everett Fox’s, but I read this particular bit straight from the Hebrew. No translation can ever capture the full depth of the Hebrew. My example is back from creation (Gen 1), when the “ruach of God hovers above the waters.” The word ruach in Hebrew means both spirit and breath and wind. No translation can capture all those meanings, English is much too precise and has too large a vocabulary.

Quick summary: Jacob makes a modest request (the speckled sheep), Laban tries to cheat him by hiding the speckled sheep; Jacob outwits Laban by clever breeding. The problem for us moderns is that the clever breeding is that Jacob had white sheep mate under some tree branches, which meant they were “speckled” by the shadow of the leaves. This caused the offspring of that mating to be speckled. Genetically impossible, but in the grand folktale tradition.

New thread for Genesis 32.