Genesis 30 (link) continues Jacob’s story while he is in Paddan-Aram. He continues to work for and live with his father-in-law, Laban. The conditions are not the best—Jacob is still a sojourner with not much to his name.
His family, though, continues to grow. He has children through both wives and both wives’ servants. Jacob has 11 sons at this point. That’s a good number.
He talks to Laban about departing, returning to Canaan. That’s where his wealth is, where all of his property is. Laban, though, persuades him to stay and work a few more years. They agree to a set of wages, where Jacob can have the animals with spots and stripes and odd colors. Makes it easier to sort them out…
Which is what Laban does as soon as the deal is struck. I think the ESV rendering is to be favored, where they fill out the pronoun structure to show that Laban goes, has his sons separate out the animals and drive the ones that would be Jacob’s three days away from the flocks Jacob can see.
Laban expect to deprive Jacob of making too much profit. Jacob attempts to use a sort of trick to induce the animals to produce striped and speckled animals. The end result? God provides for Jacob’s enrichment. Does Jacob recognize it as God work? We see in the next chapter that he does.
Jacob and Laban are both trying to enhance their position in this chapter. Laban is showing a better understanding of genetics than Jacob, but both are ignoring the biggest relevant factor: what does God have to say and do about the situation?
In all honesty, Jacob would have been better to just go back to Canaan. Take enough to make the journey and return to his own inheritance—and let it go.
I think that’s an overlooked aspect of the message of this chapter, and neatly summarized by Kenny Rogers: know when to walk away, know when to run.
At this point, Jacob should recognize it’s time to walk away. Later, he finds it’s time to run. It’s worth noting when you just cannot see a point in continuing a job, a residence, a relationship any longer and go forward. That would have been the better move for Jacob here.
Sometimes it’s the better move for us, too.