Sunday, November 01, 2009

Jacob Makes Laban Another Offer -- Genesis 30:31-36

So he said, "What shall I give you?" And Jacob said, "You shall not give me anything. If you will do this one thing for me, I will again pasture and keep your flock: let me pass through your entire flock today, removing from there every speckled and spotted sheep and every black one among the lambs and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and such shall be my wages. So my honesty will answer for me later, when you come concerning my wages. Every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats and black among the lambs, if found with me, will be considered stolen." Laban said, "Good, let it be according to your word." So he removed on that day the striped and spotted male goats and all the speckled and spotted female goats, every one with white in it, and all the black ones among the sheep, and gave them into the care of his sons. And he put a distance of three days' journey between himself and Jacob, and Jacob fed the rest of Laban's flocks.

Laban does not miss the opening that Jacob gives him when the latter posed the questions, “when will I be able to provide for my own household myself?” Laban quickly responds, “What can I give you?” He was basically saying, “Look it is important for me to have you stay and take care of my herds and I’m willing to give you something over and above your wages so that you can call it your own, thereby establishing a household that stands on its own independent of what may happen to me in the future.” Wow. This is a model that is followed by many a father for their offspring even today – helping their sons and daughters to establish themselves and become independent of their parents. In my case, my mom and dad provided the down payment for Chrysogon and I to buy our first home in 1973 when there was no way we could ever afford it ourselves. Likewise we have been able to supply all of our children with funds, both as gifts and as loans in order for them to buy homes, a business, pay off debts, a car, etc. With this kind of assistance from the older generation, the younger generation can get established and hopefully someday pass the kindness forward to their own children, our grandchildren. In my father’s case, he even took care of his grandchildren through what he left them. And to think we first saw this model as being suggested by Laban to his nehphew Jacob.

Laban of course, based on his observation of Jacob’s personality all these years being one of honesty and good-naturedness, expected Jacob to be most reasonable in his requests. In fact, Laban may have well figured better to have Jacob happy giving him what he wanted rather than he offering him more than was necessary. Thus, “What shall I give you?”

And Jacob does not miss the opportunity to take advantage of Laban’s offer. He immediately comes back with a proposition. Whether this was something that just came to him on the sport or it was pre-determined, we do not know. He tells Laban that if he did what he was about to propose, that would be sufficient, and he would remain to manage Laban’s flock.

Jacob would check every animal in Laban’s flock. Whichever one was a speckled and spotted sheep, a black lamb, and a spotted and speckled goat, Jacob would take them as his wages. Now it is not clear whether or not this was all the wages he would get, or whether this was the “signing bonus” for continuing to manage Laban’s flock. I would assume the former if we accept the text at face value.

The proposal also had a secondary benefit. As the animals that Jacob would take were marked by their spots and speckles, or were black in color, any animal among his future flock that wasn’t like that, would clearly be a sign of having been stolen from Laban. Thus Jacob’s integrity could also be checked on from time to time. Their individual flocks would be distinguished. Laban gains in that his flocks will remain pure since the marked ones are removed. Jacob will always have marked flocks but trusts God for his blessings.

Laban immediately accepts the offer, making me feel somehow that both these men were moving way too quickly given what was at stake here – location of Jacob’s family, working for his uncle indefinitely, etc. Laban held Jacob to his word and that day, Jacob started removing all the marked animals as agreed to. The text here also adds the word ‘striped’ when it comes to the goats, although that description was omitted in the earlier portion of the passage. Its inclusion becomes significant in the verses that follow.

Jacob, who had indirectly been accused of having taken advantage of his uncle’s goodness and now wanted to take off, shows fairness and restrain in the terms of this proposal. The proposal was also in keeping with the practice of Eastern shepherds who did receive their wages in a similar form, that is, some percentage of the growth of the flock.

Jacob then gives the marked animals to his own sons to take care of, as young as the boys may have been. I am reminded of my own father who as young as six years of age was a barefoot shepherd in the hills of his native land. But in this case, Jacob removed his marked animals from Laban’s own flock. That distance away is described as requiring three days travel. Yet he himself continued to feed Laban’s flocks. So here we have Jacob’s family’s flocks being three days away with his young sons minding them and Jacob being with Laban’s flocks. Where exactly in relationship to these two locations of the different flocks, Jacob’s wives established their homes, is not known. The complications of the arrangement for the family continued.

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