Bible Reference: Genesis 30:25-43
Jacob was living in Paddan Aram with his father-in-law, Laban. Jacob married two of Laban’s daughters (Leah and Rachel). Laban was also Jacob’s uncle, the brother of Jacob’s mother Rebecca. Given these close relationships, in the Near East culture we could expect that Laban treated Jacob fairly; but, that was not the case. Continually, Laban changed his son-in-laws wages so that Jacob could acquire no personal wealth by increasing the size of this own herds.
After Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob told Laban, he wanted to go back to Canaan. Laban requested Jacob to stay with him and asked Jacob what he wanted in return. Jacob agreed to stay with the stipulation that he be given every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark colored lamb, and every spotted or speckled goat. Any non-speckled sheep, lamb, or goat would belong to Laban. Always devious, Laban agreed to Jacob’s plan; but, immediately Laban took all the speckled livestock from his herds and moved them three days journey from remaining flocks. Laban’s planned to prevent speckled animals from being born so Jacob would work for no or minimal wages.
Jacob had another plan. He took fresh cut branches from poplar, almond, and plane trees. He made white stripes on the branches by pealing the bark and exposing the white inner wood. The branches appeared speckled – the dark colored bark contrasted with the white inner wood of the branch. When stronger females were in heat and came to drink, Jacob placed the peeled branched in the water troughs. The peeled branches were in front of the animals when they mated. The result was that the strong female birthed offspring that were speckled. In this way, Jacob grew exceedingly prosperous with huge flocks of sheep and goats.
Native to the Middle East including Palestine, the white poplar tree (Populus alba) grows well in moist areas to include along water courses. The white popular grows as tall as 60 feet; the trunk darkens with age but new shoots are white. Spring flowers are green on female trees and a bright crimson on male trees. The white poplar tree is attractive and fast growing. It is a good tree to grow between properties for privacy. Problems include brittle branches and persistent suckers requiring removal.
Both Laban and Jacob were crafty, i.e., they were deceitful, tricky, scheming, and devious. Laban agreed to give Jacob all the speckled animals for his wages. Then, immediately moved all speckled animals away from herds Jacob tended to that no speckled animals were available to breed. Jacob placed speckled branches in front of water troughs, believing that seeing the rods when they mated would cause the females animals to birth speckled offspring. Jacob’s scheme was superstitious behavior. Most definitely, the color of branches female livestock saw when they mated didn’t influence the color of offspring. It is true that the female stock produced a high percent of speckled animals. However, the reason was God’s intervention and his will and not Jacob’s conniving.
Do you admire Jacob? I don’t! He was a liar, showed partiality to his wives and children, condoned the rape of his daughter, and I could go on and on. But it really doesn’t matter what I think of Jacob. God decided to bless Jacob. God chose Jacob to be an ancestor of the Messiah in spite of Jacob’s character defects. At the same time, God didn’t condone Jacob’s behavior. Here are some Bible verses about crafty behavior:
“He catches the wise in their craftiness and the schemes of the wily are swept away” (Job 5:13). This verse was repeated by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian church. Paul wrote, “For the wisdom of the world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: He catches the wise in their craftiness” (1 Corinthians 3:19). Paul encouraged Christians to grow and become mature in their faith so they are “no longer infants tossed back and forth by waves and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 2: 14). God averred that even in the church, crafty men would try to de-rail Christian belief.
Reflection: Are you crafty? Do you scheme to get your own way with your spouse or at work? If you do, please don’t forget Job’s words (which Paul repeated). God knows when we try to get our own way by being sly or crafty. His words are – the schemes of the wily are swept away.
Copyright August 25, 2015: Carolyn A. Roth