“And the man (Jacob) increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses.”
Fourteen years Jacob labored faithfully for Laban, and through his labors Laban’s possessions prospered immensely. At Bethel God had told Jacob, “And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest.” God remained faithful to this promise; all through the years of Jacob’s service for Laban in whatever work he engaged it flourished. But to Laban was all the increase. The terms under which Jacob worked had been that for fourteen years of labor he would receive the two daughters of Laban in marriage. Laban pushed these terms to the end. Though he increased beyond the greatest expectation, Laban relented from the harshness of his agreement not one iota.
Patiently and faithfully Jacob kept his contract; but, quite naturally, no sooner was this done, than his thoughts turned back to the home of his father and the promised land of Canaan. The loveless presence of Laban held for him no attraction; while, in the land of his fathers, the promise of God awaited. To Laban he said, “Send me away, that I may go unto mine own place, and to my country. Give me my wives and my children, for whom I have served thee, and let me go: for thou knowest my service which I have done thee.” These words afforded no pleasure to Laban, for he could not escape the fact that all of his prosperity came through Jacob. It was a hard thing for him to admit, and surely he had never expressed it before. It would have satisfied him more if he could have ascribed it to himself. But the facts were perfectly evident; and, even more, he had consulted a magical oracle which guided by the hand of God affirmed it. Now, because he knew it was true, and hoping to regain the favor of Jacob, he, with tones of false benevolence, admitted it. “I pray thee,” he said to Jacob, “if I have found favor in thine eyes, tarry: for I have learned by experience (or I have divined RV) that the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake . . . Appoint me thy wages, and I will give it.”
Laban having admitted it, Jacob was not one to let him forget. So as to impress the truth upon Laban, Jacob elaborated on what had been said. “Thou knowest how I have served thee, and how thy cattle was with me. For it was little which thou hadst before I came, and it is now increased unto a multitude; and the Lord hath blessed thee since my coming.” Laban was a Godless man; that Jacob knew. Laban having admitted that all that he had was from God, Jacob did not neglect the opportunity to impress it upon his mind.
Jacob, however, was desirous of having some possessions of his own with which he could provide for his family. He gave to Laban the terms under which he could continue to care for his flocks. It was a most unusual contract which he offered to make. He told Laban that he would pass through the flocks and separate from among them all the cattle that were not of solid color, all that were speckled and spotted. They would be placed in a flock by themselves and would constitute his possession. Thereafter, any cattle which were born as spotted and speckled in the flocks of Laban would constitute Jacob’s wages. Furthermore, should any solid colored cattle be found in Jacob’s flocks; they would be counted as stolen and returned to the flocks of Laban. This was a most unusual offer because it was known by Jacob as well as by Laban that the sheep and goats raised by them were never, with rather rare exception, anything but solid white or solid blackish-brown. A solid color was their dominant characteristic.
From a human point of view it was a rather foolish proposition which Jacob offered to Laban. There seemed to be little likelihood that he would receive sufficient payment for his work. Jacob realized, however, that twice before he had made contracts with Laban. Each time he had thought that the wages were sufficient, and each time Laban had pressed the terms to his own advantage. Jacob no longer trusted Laban, and he no longer trusted his own discretion. Jacob was beginning to learn the folly of relying upon his own wisdom. Remembering the promise of God at Bethel, and believing that God was the only one who could control the birth of the cattle, Jacob made his offer. By so doing he placed his future well-being in the hand of the Lord. It was a matter of faith.
No sooner had Laban heard these terms than very quickly he accepted them. He fully expected that under them he would prosper and Jacob would work for a minimum of wages. With liberal and benevolent tones he voiced his agreement.
Then, once the contract was sealed, Laban’s avaristic nature began to work. He would not allow, as had originally been suggested, that. Jacob should go out into the flocks to separate the spotted and speckled from the rest. He went himself. With himself deciding what constituted a mixed color animal and what did not, he could keep Jacob’s flock to a minimum. Neither after the separation was completed was he ready to trust his son-in-law. The flock which he had separated for Jacob, he did not give into Jacob’s hands but into the hands of his own sons. These he separated by a three days’ journey from his own flocks which were under Jacob’s care. By this means he thought to insure his own prosperity. In prior times he had noted that always it was the flock which was under Jacob’s immediate care which prospered the most. The blessing of God followed Jacob wherever he went. Laban misunderstood the power of Jacob’s God. For he thought that by separating Jacob’s flocks from the sphere of Jacob’s care the blessing of the Lord would fall exclusively on his own. Further, from a more practical point of view, by giving Jacob’s flocks into the care of his own sons and by removing them far away, he made it impossible for Jacob to mix spotted sheep and goats with his own flock during mating time. Thus the spotted and speckled characteristic of Jacob’s flocks could not be passed on among his own. Being himself an untrustworthy person, he had no confidence in the honesty of anyone else, not even his own son-in-law.
Nonetheless, in spite of the efforts of Laban, the blessing of God fell to Jacob. From the solid colored flocks of Laban, so carefully protected from the infiltration of speckled and spotted characteristics, God brought forth many sheep and goats of mixed color. Laban did not understand that the blessing of God was on Jacob personally and did not just go along in a magical sort of way with his presence. Learning that he could not manipulate the blessing of God to satisfy his own selfish desires, Laban became almost desperate. When the time came to divide out Jacob’s portion of the newborn sheep and goats, he began to hedge on the terms of their agreement. Jacob was not to receive all those which were of mixed color, he said; Jacob was to receive only those with distinct spots and specks; the striped and ringstraked were to remain his own. With stubborn determination he clung to this until the next group of sheep and goats were born. These were in a large part striped and ringstraked with but a comparatively few of spotted and solid colors. Then he hedged again, the other way, claiming that Jacob was only to have the spotted while the striped were to remain his own. So with all the ingenuity at his command, Laban maneuvered. Ten times over again he changed the terms of contract trying to outwit the blessing of God. But all his efforts were in vain. God had promised to bless Jacob, and bless him He did. For fourteen years Jacob had labored without any just wage at all. Yet, in a matter of but a few years, God controlled all things so as to give Jacob the full and just wage that he had earned. God took the cattle which He had given Laban in the first place and gave them to Jacob according to his promise.
All through the maneuvering of Laban, Jacob, of course, did not remain unaffected. Having begun in faith, Jacob was first resolved to wait patiently on God. But as more-and more he observed and felt the cheating dishonesty of Laban, he began to falter. It is a hard thing for us to return good unto our enemies. It was hard for Jacob tad. Jacob was of a competitive nature, and his flesh cried out to meet Laban move for move. He saw Laban’s ingenuity in attempting to thwart the promise of God and became worried. As so often before, Jacob began to plan how he could help God along in the keeping of His promise. At last he hit upon a plan. First, he took sticks and cut away pieces of bark to make them appear striped and spotted. These he put in the watering troughs where the flocks would be sure to see them. Secondly, he separated groups of the young sheep and goats which were spotted and striped, and made the older cattle to gaze on them. Finally, he did not do this all the time but only when the best and the strongest of the cattle were conceiving. This all he did on the supposition, for many ages considered valid, that things seen by a bearing mother can leave an impression upon her young. Thus, instead of living by faith, Jacob with his own strength and wisdom thought to assist God in fulfilling His promise.
We can not help but be disappointed with Jacob; yet, we should not be too harsh. In Jacob we see that same weakness which is so real with us. Jacob was a child of God, but he also had his old nature of sin. His new heart of principle knew what was the way of faith and wanted to follow in it. But so often his natural mind would answer back that there was-a wiser way and surer. For a time he would stand firm, but then when the temptation of his flesh became strong, he would falter and walk in the way of sin. Jacob would have appreciated so much the later confession of Paul, “The good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do.” With deep meaning Jacob said at the close of his life to Pharaoh, “Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been.”
But God is a merciful and longsuffering God; merciful and longsuffering was he also with Jacob. It had been so when Jacob deceived his blind father; it had been so when with self-willed determination he insisted on having also Rachel to wife; and it was so now when he returned to Laban evil for evil. At first it might appear to us that God passed by the sin of Jacob unnoticed leaving him to think that it was quite all right and even effective. More careful study reveals, however, that such was not so. One time when Jacob was manipulating his spotted sticks before the cattle, God sent to him a dream. Jacob described this dream thus, “And it came to pass at the time that the cattle conceived, that I lifted up mine eyes, and saw in a dream, and, behold, the rams which leaped upon the cattle were ringstraked, and speckled, and grisled.” Now Jacob knew that in actual fact all the rams of the flock were solid in color. Nonetheless God was telling him that as far as the hereditary characteristics of these rams which could be passed on to their young was concerned, they could be considered ringstraked and speckled. It is a fact of creation that parents can pass on to their young hereditary characteristics which are not apparent in the external appearance of the parents. Thus God with this vision was telling Jacob in effect that it was not his rods that brought him prosperity but the mating of the cattle as guided by His all-powerful hand.
It was in this way that Jacob was instructed and returned once more to faith. He was brought to see that it was not his own wisdom that gave him what he had but only the grace of God. At the conclusion of six years of such labor, he could say to his wives in faith, “I see your father’s countenance, that it is not toward me as before; but the God of my father hath been with me . . . And your father hath deceived me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me . . . Thus God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me.”