In Spite of All This …


Genesis 30

To Leah, four sons were born in succession (29:31–35); Reuben (who became a rescuer- 37:21), Simeon (who took vengeance on enemies 34:25)), Levi (the priestly progenitor who joined the vengeance of Simeon), and Judah (the progenitor of kings who offered himself as a substitute (44:33). Each of these is a type of Christ in a specific way. Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid, out of the despair and desperate measures of Rachel, bore to Jacob Dan and Naphtali (30:1–8). By Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid, Jacob begat Gad and Asher. Leah mimicked Rachel’s measures in seeking ascendancy above Rachel. Then Leah again, this time purchasing copulative rights, bore children, Issachar and Zebulun. Then “God remembered Rachel” (30:22) and she bore Joseph. He would be the savior of his people (45:7–11). Later, Rachel would die in childbirth delivering Benjamin (35:16–18).

Andrew Fuller summarized one of the lessons of this thirtieth chapter this way. “First the domestic discords, envies, and jealousies, between Jacob’s wives, serve to teach us the wisdom and goodness of the Christian law, that every man have his own wife, as well as every woman her own husband. No reflecting person can read this chapter without being disgusted with polygamy, and thankful for that dispensation which has restored the original law of nature, and with it true conjugal felicity.” [Works, 3:121]

I. Jacob sought to leave Padan-Aram and go back to Canaan.

A. At the birth of Joseph, Jacob’s second set of seven years was complete.

He did not immediately leave, but informed his father-in-law that he desired to return home—“my own place and to my own country” (30:25).

    1. He had a broken relationship with a brother, Esau, to mend as far as possible (Chapter 33). The land he was promised must be gained in an amicable arrangement with his brother.
    2. He should be in the land of God’s promise (28:13–15; 35:12). He must own property in that land and have his family expand in that place if he would engage the promises of God in faith and faithfulness. According to Isaac’s blessing upon Jacob’s departure he was to “possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham” (28:4).
    3. Although no record exists of this, perhaps Rebekah, Jacob’s mother still was alive at this time. Jacob would like to see both father and mother. If not already passed and buried, she died within the next six years, for, evidently, she was not alive when Jacob did return (See Genesis 35:27–29; 49:31). Deborah, Rebecca’s nurse, had become part of Jacob’s family and her death is mentioned in 35:8. Andrew Fuller remarked, “In weeping over her grave, he would seem to be weeping over that of is beloved parent, and paying that tribute of affection to her memory which providence had denied him at the times of her decease.” Part of his perception of God’s covenant was that he would return to his father’s house in safety (28:21).
    4. That God ruled concerning Jacob and his family and his well-being according to God’s purpose Isaiah saw clearly by prophetic revelation: “But you, Israel, are my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the descendants of Abraham my friend. You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest regions, and said to you, ‘You are my servant, I have chosen you and have not cast you away: Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand’” (Isaiah 41:8–10 NKJV).

B. Laban had not allowed him to gain any personal wealth. Jacob surmised if that were to happen, he must leave his present arrangement with Laban (30:30).

    1. Laban recognized that material blessing had come to him because of the conscientious work of Jacob; but particularly, he recognized that the blessing of God rested on Jacob’s labors. How he had “divined” this in light of his lingering attachment to idolatry (31:30, 35) must be a matter of God’s impressing him. He knew of the special call of Abraham and that knowledge of “the Lord” had grasped the conscience and heart of Abraham and Nahor (31:53), but this kind of pure monotheism had not settled upon the house of Bethuel (22:20–24). Laban “divined,” therefore, that Jacob’s success arose from the religious persuasion that had gone through Abraham, then Isaac, and now to Jacob. Though he did not feel compunction to worship the God of Abraham, he wanted the blessings that accrued through him. “Name me your wages,” Laban proposed (28).
    2. Jacob summarized how much prosperity had come to Laban through his conscientious work. It was perhaps more clear to Jacob than to Laban that his great increase in Laban’s wealth was directly due to the Lord’s special blessings on the work of Jacob. He prospered even for others (29, 30). The faith and obedience of God’s people operates for the good of the communities in which they live. Industry, honesty, justice, and compassion arising from the conscience of God’s people has a pragmatic affect on those who are in social relations with them.


II. Laban bargained with Jacob to entice him to stay.

A. When Laban reiterated that Jacob should designate wages (31), Jacob made a proposal.

Rather than having to commit to any just compensation, Laban “took advantage of the plainness, honesty, and good-nature” of Jacob (Matthew Henry). In order for the wages agreed upon (32) clearly and without dispute to be Jacob’s property, they agreed to separate all the discolored, speckled, striped, and black from the flock so that Jacob would start with nothing of the description that he gave. All that he had in the passing of time, therefore, would clearly have been born under his care and would constitute the hire due him for his continued management of the flocks.

B. The contrivance used by Jacob was not a superstition (37–42) but an aggressive selection based on a promise received from God (31:10–12).

Jacob took action during seasons of mating to indicate before the Lord which of the flock he desired for his own increase of property. After fourteen years of day by day contact with the habits and mating results of Laban’s flock, and the increase that had been granted, Jacob knew how strong and viable offspring were produced. We find in the actions of Jacob a positive display of desire according to divinely revealed promise. He did nothing fraudulent, unfair, or deceptive, but labored wisely and incessantly to bring about the best result of his experience in pursuit of the immediate revelation from God and the larger covenantal promises. His labors were fully consistent with the agreement with Laban. We should pray for those things that God has indicated are his will, and we should labor toward those things for which we pray.

C. For six years the project proceeded. For fourteen years, Jacob had given tedious concentration to the mating actions of the flock.

Now, in conformity with the divine intention, he gave these physical indicators designating which of the flock he desired, knowing their strength and productive capacity. God brought Jacob from possessing nothing of his own to a height of prosperity that was clearly a work of God. Obviously, Jacob marketed his livestock, gained monetary wealth and bought camels and donkeys for transport of his family and his substantial material wealth. To manage all that he had, Jacob also had brought in male and female servants (43).


IV. Implications of these events.

A. Jacob in exile worked for the good of his employer even though not compensated fairly.

Later in Babylonian captivity, the descendants of Jacob would be told to work for the good of the city: “Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and daughters—that you may be increased and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace” (Jeremiah 29:5–7). While we are in exile, as it were, in this fallen world, waiting for the promise and true hope of eternal life, we work and pray for the peace and well-being of those among whom we live. We yet have an eternal home “a new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13).

B. In light of God’s promises concerning the place prepared for believers in Jesus, we do not despair though often in oppressed and difficult circumstances.

There is a land, an inheritance, a chosen family, a God who has made himself our God to infuse the toil of this world with the hope of the inheritance (Ephesians 1:11; 2:19–22).

C. We find in these sordid conditions God’s work of righteousness hovering over and embedded within the manifestations of human selfishness, sinfulness, covetousness, and deceitfulness.

The ruling power of God’s eternal covenant of salvation and the wise present providential arrangements of divine purpose will not be altered or sullied in any degree by human ignorance and wickedness. At the absolute epitome of human sin and injustice, we find the infinite display of divine righteousness and justice. In the greatest display possible of human cruelty, merciless haughtiness, vengeful rejection, and arrogant blasphemy, we find the most sublime display of divine goodness, mercy, self–emptying, eternal kindness, and absolute purpose of gracious reception possible in a moral universe (Titus 3:3–7; 1 Peter 2:21–25).


Unloved, yet fertile, Leah bore sons.
Loved yet unfertile, Rachel had none.
Handmaids were handy to bare some more.
Bilhah and Zilpah provided four.

Rachel soon would find the Lord’s favor.
Joseph, her son preserved the Savior.
Twelve sons in all would grace Jacob’s home.
Priests and the people from them would come.

Jacob had caused Laban’s flocks to thrive.
Could he leave with his children and wives?
Laban knew Jacob made him stronger;
He convinced Jacob to stay longer.

Greed undiluted gripped Laban’s heart.
He wanted the gain the Lord imparts.
But God blessed Jacob while Laban decreased.
The time was right for Jacob’s release.

God governed Laban’s flock in their birth,
And Jacob’s flock increased in their worth.
O’er life and death and judgment God reigns.
Rebels will seek their escape in vain.

Onward God nurtures the promised plan,
Moving toward glory in spite of man,
In spite of failure, deceit, and schemes,
Moving toward truth through sheep, birth, and dreams.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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