Jan 29, 2020
So I got an interesting letter this week from a friend of the podcast, and boy oh boy, is he in a mess! Let me read it to you, and see if you might have any ideas how to help my friend:
Dear random podcast host,
My name is Yacov Ben Yiṣḥāq, and I have a problem I'm hoping that you can help me with. It is fairly complicated, but it all started when I stole the blessing of the firstborn from my mean-tempered, smelly, hairy and unreasonable brother Hesau. He would have wasted it anyway, but when he found out, that lunk-head decided to kill me. Fortunately, I ran away from home and went far away to my uncle's compound, where I promptly fell in love with my cousin, Ra-hel. Yeah, I know you Americans kind of find that icky, but it was mostly ok where I come from and Ra-hel is so hot that I literally cried the first time I saw her. No, I'm not emo. Anyway, so, I asked my uncle if I could marry Ra-hel, and he said yes, and we had a marriage and everything, and it was great. Maybe I celebrated a little too hard, if you get my drift, but it was my wedding, and most people only get one of those. So anyway, after the big wedding, me and the wife went to the tent for the woo-hoo (let the reader understand) and in the morning I woke up not to Ra-hel but to her way less hot sister Leah!! SO, as any nephew would do in this situation, I went to my uncle and demanded an explanation. He said that I shouldn't worry, that he would give me Ra-hel AND Leah, and that all I had to do was work for him FOURTEEN years. FOURTEEN! That is a long time. But, you know - Ra-hel being so beautiful she made me cry and all, I agreed to it. Well, fast forward a few years. And, believe it or not, being married to a couple of sisters (and their servants...don't ask, long story!) is complicated. I've had a bunch of kids by Ra-hel, and Leah, and their servants, and now my wives all fight over me, and over getting pregnant, and everything, and one of them appears to be a thief, and honestly, I sometimes think maybe it would have been easier if I had just let Hesau knock my block off. What do I do?!
Signed, Harassed and Hopeless in Haran
Well, Harassed and Hopeless, never having married sisters before, and never having married a first cousin before, and never having married any concubines or servants of my wife before, I am honestly at a loss for how to help you. Let me think about that for a minute as we read Genesis 30, our first Bible passage of the day.
So - Jacob is in a mess, and SPOILER ALERT - things are going to get messier before they get better. Before we get back to answering the letter from our friend seeking advice, let's take a look at one interesting detail here: The whole spotted/speckled goat thing. What in the world is going on here?! Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. There are two main theories here, and both of them could be true with a high view of the Bible.
Jacob's Speckled Sheep
Theory #1 - Jacob's putting peeled branches in the watering troughs of the sheep was silly superstition and had absolutely NOTHING to do with the health of those sheep and how they multiplied. Jacob thought he was doing something clever, but what he was doing was the equivalent of ancient hocus-pocus (old wives' tales) and it was actually God who supernaturally increased Jacob's flocks. This theory is put forward quite well by Gotquestions.org:
The biblical answer to the mystery of how Jacob’s peeled poles resulted in speckled sheep is found in the next chapter: Jacob says to Rachel, “I’ve worked for your father with all my strength, yet your father has cheated me by changing my wages ten times. However, God has not allowed him to harm me. . . . So God has taken away your father’s livestock and has given them to me. 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. The angel of God said to me in the dream, . . . ‘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’” (Genesis 31:6–12). The Bible does not teach the validity of visual, prenatal influence over genetics. Whatever superstitious, nonsensical ideas were behind Jacob’s placement of the branches in the troughs, it was God who caused the increase in the speckled sheep and goats. All of Jacob’s work had been for naught. Peeling the branches and setting them out in front of the flocks was really a lack of faith on his part. Jacob’s schemes to increase his flock were unnecessary, because God had already determined to enrich him. God graciously worked, not because of Jacob’s streaked branches, but in spite of them.
Theory #2, Suggested by Answers in Genesis, is that Jacob's putting of these peeled branches in the water troughs was, among other things, actually giving these flocks some vitamins and minerals and helpful things that caused them to be healthier and reproduce with more vigor:
Several sources claim the poplar and almond trees have medicinal properties for both humans and livestock. There are several scientific journal papers that mention that the particular trees from which Jacob peeled sticks supposedly cure urogenital problems, reduce fevers, work as anti-inflammatories and aid in reducing reproductive disorders. All of these would make an animal healthier, and more likely to produce healthy offspring. Several studies have been done on poplar and almond tree bark, leaves, nuts, and twigs (small diameter branches, or what Scripture called “sticks”), and they mentioned that sheep would eat these and that ewes especially benefited from them. Also, many of the chemical compounds would still be beneficial even by simply steeping in water. Some of those benefits are highlighted below.
I gotta say, that Answers in Genesis article is pretty darn impressive. If you've got about 25 minutes, go read it. They make a very thorough and well documented scientific case that Jacob might just have been onto something with those sticks in the water. Why are they so concerned with vindicating Jacob's methods? Because some people have used this passage to undermine the credibility of the Bible, as AIG says:
Genesis 30:37–31:16 is a section of Scripture often held up to ridicule by skeptics, and even some of those committed to biblical inerrancy and authority struggle with understanding and explaining to others. So many questions have been raised: Does Jacob’s “peeled bark” practice have any bearing on how sheep and goats breed? Does it offer any health or reproductive value? Did God instruct Jacob in this practice? Was it his intention, and if so was it deceitful for Jacob to seek to appropriate the flocks of Laban, his father-in-law? Was this an entirely natural phenomenon, or was there a large dose of providential direction involved?
Honestly, I lean towards the Gotquestions.org explanation, but I won't be surprised either way. I do NOT believe that this is an issue that undermines the inerrancy of the Bible in any way, shape or form. Why is that? Because NOT EVERYTHING IN THE BIBLE IS TRUE! Whoa, whoa, whoa - sound the liberal alarm, ring the heretic bell...no, hang on. I am absolutely, positively, with all my heart and soul committed to biblical inerrancy as it has been held by the giants of the faith for centuries. But there are times when sinful humans in the Bible affirm wrong things. Let's take our chapter here, for instance. Consider this passage:
3 Then she said, “Here is my maid Bilhah. Go sleep with her, and she’ll bear children for me so that through her I too can build a family.” 4 So Rachel gave her slave Bilhah to Jacob as a wife, and he slept with her. 5 Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. 6 Rachel said, “God has vindicated me; yes, he has heard me and given me a son,” so she named him Dan.
Rachel was frustrated that she was not getting pregnant and having babies by Jacob. Her solution? To give her servant Bilhah to her husband so that he could make babies with her. When that plan worked, Rachel concluded that God had vindicated her and given her a son. IS THIS TRUE? Did God vindicate Rachel by this plan working? Honestly, I don't think so...I think Rachel is WRONG here and justifying herself. Was Sarah doing the right thing when she gave her servant Hagar to her husband? The context of the Bible shows quite conclusively that this was a wrong thing to do. Here are a couple of other examples:
Job's friend Bildad, trying to explain why Job's children were tragically killed, tells Job in no uncertain terms that it was their sin that killed them:
"If your children have sinned against him, he has delivered them into the hand of their transgression”
Later, God takes Job's friends to task and rebukes them for their lousy council and wrong statements to Job. Thus we can't look at any of the statements of Job's friends as being truthful, because God Himself tells us in the book of Job, "After the Lord had finished speaking to Job, He said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken the truth about Me, as My servant Job has" (Job 42:7)
Or, consider the powerful and encouraging words of the prophet Zedekiah and his friends, "March up and succeed!" (You could almost see that on a t-shirt, or an inspirational calendar, right?)
9 Now the king of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah, clothed in royal attire, were each sitting on his own throne. They were sitting on the threshing floor at the entrance to Samaria’s gate, and all the prophets were prophesying in front of them. 10 Then Zedekiah son of Chenaanah made iron horns and said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘You will gore the Arameans with these until they are finished off.’” 11 And all the prophets were prophesying the same, saying, “March up to Ramoth-gilead and succeed, for the Lord will hand it over to the king.”
2 Chronicles 18:9-11
The only problem? EVERY ONE OF THOSE PROPHETS WERE FALSE PROPHETS and their prophecies were worth as much as slightly used toilet paper.
What about the New Testament? Surely we can trust the disciples James and John to say things that are 100 percent trustworthy, right?
52 He sent messengers ahead of Him, and on the way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make preparations for Him. 53 But they did not welcome Him, because He determined to journey to Jerusalem.54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?”
SHOULD WE call down fire from Heaven on people who don't receive Jesus? The unsurprising answer is NO, which is revealed to us in the next two verses when Jesus rebukes James and John for their silliness.
So, considering the above, we can see that Sarah's example is not showing us that a good way to have kids is to give your husband another woman. Job's friends do not teach us how to encourage those who are going through tragedy, and we can learn nothing from Zedekiah son of Chenaanah about prophesying accurately. And that also means that Jacob's actions aren't infallible, and his interpretations aren't infallible, and his stick in the water trough trick may not actually have been all that effective. We don't know one way or the other because the Bible doesn't tell us one way or the other, and that is okay. We don't need to speculate in the absence of clear Scripture.
What's the point? The Bible is ABSOLUTELY AND UNQUESTIONABLY true in all that it affirms. But it is crucial that we make sure that we are latching onto something the Bible affirms. Imagine a scenario where somebody does exactly what Jacob did, and their flocks don't multiply at a ridiculous rate. Does that mean the Bible was wrong? Of course not! The Bible never affirms or denies that Jacob's stick trick was effective or not. It doesn't tell us whether or not Rachel's contention that God vindicated her was correct, and it never directly says that polygamy is a sin, but sure shows how complicated it is over and over again!
There are times that the behavior and words of key characters in the Bible are suspect and unbiblical (in that they go against God's commands) and thus, by context and interpreting Scripture with Scripture, we understand and follow God's Words. For more, you can read the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which I completely agree with and hold to. CLICK HERE)
Oh yeah - and Jacob, son of Isaac, old buddy - I wish I knew what to tell you about your situation. It is one of the trickiest I've ever heard of, and it sounds like you caused a lot of the problems. Next time maybe get a good look at your wife before you actually consummate that marriage. That seems like good advice to me. Trust God, and I'm sure He will be found faithful.
Oh, and don't let go until He blesses you.