Humans like to make up schemes to get ahead in the world. This is our way. Rachel had her mandrakes, and Jacob had his peeled poles of poplar and almond and plane trees. Rachel was reaching for a child, and Jacob was reaching for provision for his growing family.
As soon as God “remembered” Rachel and she became pregnant, Jacob knew it was time to go back to his homeland – back to Canaan, the Promised Land. I suppose Jacob thought his son by the way of Rachel was the one who would carry on the family of God.
But Jacob had to shake free from Laban first. Their households were woven together. Laban now had his own sons, and so his future was set. Jacob had come into the picture empty-handed and married both of Laban’s daughters. Fourteen years of labor served as his dowry.
But now Jacob had a household and a desire to return home to his country. But he had nothing to speak of to his name. And so he came up with his plan – his speckled and spotted sheep and goat plan.
The long history of Bible scholars aren’t sure what to make of Jacob’s breeding program, which consisted of placing striped sticks around the places where the sheep and goats watered and bred. When we read this text, we find it strange.
Some have said this simply was ancient imitation magic – the idea the sight of particular images, a striped stick for instance, can induce results that look similar to those images. And so sheep give birth to striped sheep if they breed while looking at striped sticks.
Other Bible scholars have argued Jacob was beginning to take hold of humanity’s charge to have dominion over the earth. Jacob finally was able to begin the process of ruling and subduing the earth as God commanded in the opening chapters of Genesis. God’s people were becoming the faithful stewards of the earth – or at least held the promise of becoming such.
Still other Bible scholars argue poplar and almond bark and branches aid in reproduction in sheep. This is especially true when the bark and branches are soaked in water – like in a watering trough.
But at the end of the day, God showed Jacob in a dream that it was God – and nothing else – that caused the great increase in the motley flock of Jacob. “Jacob … Lift up your eyes and see, all the goats that mate with the flock are striped, spotted, and mottled, for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred.”
Jacob was a schemer, but he didn’t leave room for the work of God in his life. His breeding program wasn’t marked out by prayer. It was marked out by his human wisdom.
But the end result was not the fruit of the scheme. It was the fruit of God’s own sovereign action. God was making a way for his people.
We must learn how to wait on God to act in our lives, rather than scheming our way forward.