I would like to preface today’s commentary about Genesis with a verse from the New Testament. 1 Corinthians 14:33a “For God is not the author of confusion…” That means one of two things: either 1 Cor 14:33 is wrong, or Genesis 30:31-43 wasn’t authored by God, because I’m friggin’ confused.
Chapter 30- Rachel is envious of Leah’s fertility, so she has Jacob sleep with her maid Bilhah to make babies. Then Leah does the same with her maid Zilpah. Then Leah herself makes babies. Then Rachel makes babies. So many babies. Jacob wants to move away from Laban, and they agree to divide the flocks by giving all the spotted/brown sheep and goats to Jacob. Jacob breeds the animals in such a way as to make the spotted ones stronger and the non-spotted ones feeble.
The first part of this chapter is an arms race of baby making. Clearly, the sisters didn’t learn from Abraham and Sarah’s mistake of breeding with the maid Hagar, because they both try it with their maids in an attempt to give Jacob children. It seems, though, that the sisters’ contempt for one another outweighs any issues that might arise from reproducing with the help… Imagine that- sisters married to the same husband get jealous of one another. Surprise!
And again, the maids have no say in the matter. They get used as sex slaves, and don’t even get to name their own babies. Rachel and Leah name the children born to their respective servants.
Verses 14-16 talk about mandrakes, which totally made me think of Harry Potter. (Hope they have good earmuffs, or they’ll pass out!) Today I learned that mandrakes are really a thing- hallucinogenic parsnip like roots that often got used in pagan rituals, according to Wikipedia. I’m also reminded of the movie Pan’s Labyrinth, where a mandrake is placed under the bed as a supposed aid to pregnancy.
Which is a use that would make sense in this context. One of Leah’s sons finds the mandrakes, and Rachel (desperate for kids, remember) asks for some. Leah doesn’t want to share, but gives in when Rachel says that Leah can sleep with Jacob that night in exchange for some. Verse 16: “When Jacob came out of the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “You must come in to me, for I have surely hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” And he lay with her that night.”
The relationship between Leah and Rachel stresses me out, and can’t have made for good family dynamics. Competing for reproduction, battling for Jacob’s affections, and bartering for sex. Yikes!
Then there’s this story about dividing the flocks amongst Jacob and Laban. It’s another example where dishonesty gets rewarded in the bible, but I can’t say I blame Jacob for wanting to screw Laban out of the good, strong, healthy animals since Laban totally screwed Jacob in the wife department.
But the method that Jacob used to skew the flock division in his favor is crazy. The author of Genesis clearly had a limited understanding of genetics. Verses 31-32, Jacob says he’ll take all the brown or spotted animals, then any white animal amongst his flocks will be obviously stolen from Laban (and vice versa, one would assume). Now, I don’t know what color patterns are dominant or recessive here, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that some of these creatures would have some recessive genes that might cause white parents to make speckled babies. This doesn’t seems like a good way to ensure against arguing over which lambs belong to whom.
But Jacob has a plan! He takes some rods made of wood, peels some white strips into the bark, places those in front of the strong animals, and that somehow causes them to conceive spotted offspring! Obviously! Then, the feeble animals don’t get shown the rods, and they make crappy little white lambs and kids for Laban. Today I learned that showing a spotted stick to goat makes it have spotted babies. Thank you God for that valuable and totally factual information about how the world works!
Chapter 31- Laban’s sons get upset that Jacob is taking all Laban’s animals, so God encourages Jacob to flee back to his father Isaac. Jacob takes his wives and the livestock, and they leave in secret without telling Laban. Rachel steals Laban’s household idols. Laban hunts them down and accuses Jacob of stealing, but searches all the tents and can’t find the idols. They bicker for awhile, then build a pile of stones to mark the boundary between their territories.
Yeah, I don’t have much to say about this. It’s all just petty bickering between people who have treated each other poorly again and again. Can’t say I blame them for putting metaphorical masking tape down the middle of the room.