NKJV - 41 And it came to pass, whenever the stronger livestock conceived, that Jacob placed the rods before the eyes of the livestock in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods.
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[Jacob took him rods of green poplar, and of the hazel and chesnut tree] Here Jacob tampered with nature but whether this caused him any prosperity is not certain, because Gen. 31:4-13 indicates that God was helping him. Laban had deceived him by changing his wages ten times, but God saw to it that Jacob received his just compensation (Gen. 31:5,7,9,11-12). [pilled] Literally, "peeled a peeling," meaning he made white stripes in the rods by laying the white wood bare (Gen. 30:37). Notes For Verse 39 a [conceived] Hebrew: yacham (HSN-), be in heat. When translated conceived it is only used of animals except in Ps. 51:5.
Though the bible does not say so, I believe that Jacob had been in prayer about how Laban had cheated him in the past and wanting to return to his family. God probably either spoke to him or inspired him to place the spotted and or striped poles before the livestock in heat as an act of faith that God would influence the outcome favorably in Jacob's behalf. Verse 33 of the same chapter shows that Jacob knew it was God, not he, who influenced the outcome when he used the word "tsedaqah," meaning "righteousness of God," when he said, "So shall my righteousness answer for me". This would be similar to God instructing his prophets, like Isaiah, to perform certain physical acts as an indicator of things to come. The rods themselves did not accomplish the feat; rather the faith demonstrated by placing the rods accomplished the feat.
Genesis 30:41 is an interesting insight into Jacob’s mistaken view that what a mother sees during conception influences the appearance of the offspring. The truth be told, that folktale is still prevalent today is some places. Nevertheless, these events have been a source of criticism by nonbelievers. They contend that the Bible is nothing more than a series of folktales and should not be taken seriously. On the surface this seems like a valid view point without further investigation. It is probably true that Jacob thought he was influencing the beneficial outcome that was giving him more and stronger sheep than Laban. So, does that mean that the Bible agrees with what today is scientific nonsense? No, because a few verses later in the text, God informs Jacob of what was really happening. “The angel of God said to me in the dream, 'Jacob.' I answered, 'Here I am.' (12) And he said, '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 21:11-12) So, the matter is cleared up despite what Jacob’s original thoughts might have been. Once again, the Bible shuts the mouths of its critics. As an aside, it is interesting to note that the “Angle of God” may have been Jesus in his pre-human form because he concludes his comments to Jacob by speaking in the first person as if he were God Himself.
In Genesis 30:31-42, Jacob had dealings with Laban about caring for his flocks and also receiving wages for himself. Normally, goats in that region were black or dark brown, seldom white or spotted with white. Sheep were nearly always white, not often brown, black or spotted. There was a lot of bargaining and changes to the wages. And there was the unusual action by Jacob of placing peeled sticks into the watering trough. Various proposals are given to explain what was happening. Some geneticists try to present the idea that Jacob was choosing sheep that had the genes he desired. But Jacob would not have had the expertise to deem what were dominant and what were recessive genes. Some suggested the animals gazing on the sticks produced the offspring looking like it. But many Jewish commentators knew it involved the peeled sticks in the water and the animals drinking the water. They, of course, would not know how and concluded it was some miraculous story or that God was working out a miracle for Jacob. It was actually Jacob who was responsible for the changes and in a scientific way. In an article in the ‘Jewish Bible Quarterly’ titled ‘Jacob and the Spotted Sheep: The Role of Prenatal Nutrition on Epigenetics of Fur Color,’ Dr. Joshua Backon, shed light on this. Backon, an American medical researcher and consultant who taught at the Hebrew University School of Medicine, cited the study of epigenetics (‘on top of genetics’) which is a study of how prenatal nutrition can affect later development. Studies have shown the connection of environmental factors to non-genetic changes. These non-DNA variations are then able to make changes in the cell, turning on or off gene expressions which can also in time be reversible. Environmental conditions and behavior such as smoking, alcohol, diet, exercise, trauma, pollution, exposure to mercury or lead or other things can make changes in the cell affecting a child for decades. One study showed that people whose mothers who were pregnant during a famine, were more apt to have heart disease, schizophrenia and diabetes. One example of epigenetic change is the agouti gene which can affect fur color in animals and also the color of wool in sheep which connects to the account of Jacob. The fungi in the bark of the three known trees of Genesis 30:37, can provide chemicals to produce the amino acids to alter the color of wool without having any direct effect on the DNA. When Jacob peeled and stripped the bark from these branches, it exposed filaments of fungi that contained these amino acids. The chemicals then leached into the water. So, the flocks drank this water and then mated allowing the agouti gene to change the color of wool. Jacob may have not known the science, but as the descendant of many generations of shepherds he may have known what he was doing. He could not control genetic changes, but he could use the environment to make changes.
I agree with Wiersbe. Jacob’s peeled sticks belonged in the same category as Rachel’s mandrakes: They were both superstitious practices that had nothing to do with what actually happened. [In those days, the fruit of the mandrake plant was called a “love apple” and was considered to be a powerful love potion. When Rachel saw Reuben’s mandrakes, she wanted them for her own use and was willing to give Leah a night with Jacob as “payment” for the plants. Perhaps Rachel thought that by eating the mandrake fruit she would become fertile. -- the same chapter of Genesis] It was God who controlled the genetic structure of the animals and multiplied the spotted and striped sheep and goats, thus increasing Jacob’s wealth very quickly. At Bethel, God promised to bless Jacob, and He kept His promise (Genesis 28:13-15 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it [the ladder] and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”), and since Laban had agreed to Jacob’s terms, he could do nothing about the results. All of those animals belonged to Jacob.
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