Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. When the flocks were in heat and came to drink, they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. Jacob set apart the young of the flock by themselves, but made the rest face the streaked and dark-colored animals that belonged to Laban. Thus he made separate flocks for himself and did not put them with Laban’s animals. Whenever the stronger females were in heat, Jacob would place the branches in the troughs in front of the animals so they would mate near the branches, but if the animals were weak, he would not place them there. So the weak animals went to Laban and the strong ones to Jacob. In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and female and male servants, and camels and donkeys. – Genesis 30:37-43 (NIV)
This is my 26th post to the Walking on Water blog. God has faithfully met me every day to chew on passages and I have learned a lot about myself, God, and how God uses water in the bible. Today is my Birthday and God has given me a bit of a strange passage as a present :).
It seems to suggest that Jacob was engaged in chemically enhanced selective breeding and branding. He apparently was using the watering troughs to introduce natural chemicals into the water from herbs and tree bark. The passage describes Jacob placing the peeled branches in the watering troughs which suggests an herbal infusion from the tree and/or bark. The connection between the herbs and bark and the production of spotted animals is not clear to me, perhaps the local lore connected eating of these items with the random production of spotted animals.
I am very ignorant of biology so I had an extensive discussion about what causes spots in animals with my college-age daughter and her friends (who are all much more familiar with biology than I). We came to the tentative conclusion that spotting is a result of “codominance” in the genes transferred from parent to offspring. For example, as I understand it, if you have a black cow who mates with a white cow the genes of the black cow mix with the genes of the white cow to produce a spotted cow. The latter part of the passage clearly describes selective breeding using the spotting and streaking as a way to distinguish Jacob’s stock from Laban’s. Selective breeding is used to this day for breeding of milk cows and other livestock.
As I prayerfully consider this the passage it is a struggle to understand what God is communicating to me through it. The aspect that keeps coming back to me is the way Jacob seems to have taken it upon himself to improve his stock rather than trusting God. I can relate because there is a tension in my life between “fixing” things myself and trusting God to solve my problems. Where is the balance? When should I proactively try to “fix” and improve my “stock”, as Jacob was doing, and when should I wait on God to act?
The analogy that I find helpful is a sailboat. In order to get anywhere in a sailboat one needs to understand how they work; know the basics of knots, rigging, and trimming sails; and how to direct or navigate the boat to where you want to go. Sailboats are guided by a rudder, but they are also subject to the wind. No matter how good a sailor or navigator you are you cannot sail against the wind or sail if you have no wind. The “wind” in the lives of Christians is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit provides the energy and direction for moving us in the direction God needs us to go. Does that mean we should not be really good sailors with rigging, trimming, and navigating skills? I don’t think so. The only way to find the right balance then is to become really good at sensing and responding to the “wind” of the Holy Spirit so that our “fixing” does not work against where God wants us to go.
Prayer: God help me to respond to your Holy Spirit to guide my life and strike the right balance between being a sailor and following a savior.