When God Lets Us Win

Don't start thinking God's done teaching you.

Genesis 30:37-43 (NKJV)

Now Jacob took for himself rods of green poplar and of almond and chestnut trees, peeled white strips in them, and exposed the white which was in the rods. And the rods which he had peeled, he set before the flocks in the gutters, in the watering troughs where the flocks came to drink, so that they should conceive when they came to drink. So the flocks conceived before the rods, and the flocks brought forth streaked, speckled, and spotted. Then Jacob separated the lambs, and made the flocks face toward the streaked and all the brown in the flock of Laban; but he put his own flocks by themselves and did not put them with Laban's flock.

And it came to pass, whenever the stronger of the livestock conceived, that Jacob placed the rods before the eyes of the livestock in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods. But when the flocks were feeble of the flock, he did not put them in; so the feebler were Laban's and the stronger Jacob's. Thus the man became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys.

Laban believes that the color of animals can be affected by what they see while they’re breeding. This is nonsense, yet at first glance Jacob’s plan seems to be working.

But it isn’t. The rods are just as useless as the mandrakes. Instead, God is teaching Jacob. He will explain what’s really going on soon enough, but in the meantime He’s working a curious wonder. Despite the fact that Jacob’s attempt to game the breeding process is totally wrong and unethical, God is “letting him win.” Why?

The answer is that Jacob isn’t winning anything. God will show Jacob that his livestock gains are a miracle. Thus, they could have been had at any time. But the way Jacob timed them, these gains cause all kinds of trouble.

This family is nothing if not dramatic, and Jacob’s livestock gains will trigger major family drama. Laban is Jacob’s uncle and Laban’s sons are his cousins. His relationship with all them will be threatened by his breeding success. Also, his beloved Rachel will have a near death experience.

The whole thing turns into a great lesson in how sinful schemes and tricks are prescriptions for disaster (and also how a loving God sometimes bails us out). This will unfold in stages over the next few chapters.

Jacob will get schooled – and so will we as we witness his trials.

This is going to be a long and complex lesson. Genesis seems to be full of them – lessons so deep that they can be learned over and over, with new levels of understanding each time.

Lay this before the Lord. Ask God to help you gain something special from the passages to come. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your heart and your mind to His amazing, multi-faceted wisdom.

The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here:

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.