Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Matthew 5:43-48; Acts 7:1-16; Psalm 13; Genesis 29-30
The story of Jacob’s breeding practices has intrigued and perplexed people for centuries (Genesis 30:25-43). Jacob’s success has been attributed to everything from his years as a shepherd and uncanny insights into genetics to folk-medicine, magic and trickery. Although much remains unclear, we can be sure about a few details.
Jacob’s use of the striped sticks reflects the age-old belief that features of an animal or child can be affected by external factors occurring at conception. More recent versions are that a girl is more likely to be conceived if there’s a wooden spoon under the bed during intercourse, or a boy if intercourse occurs on odd days of the month. In Jacob’s time, the belief was that breeding sheep while they looked at striped and spotted sticks would lead to striped and spotted lambs. However, Jacob only used the sticks when strong females came to water, thus ensuring the offspring would be strong. Whatever was going on with the sticks, Jacob later tells his that he was doing what God had told him in a dream (Genesis 31:10-12). Ultimately, God was the one responsible—not the sticks or Jacob’s herdsmanship.
This fits with the broader context in Genesis where God is seen as the ultimate source of offspring. Earlier in Genesis 30 Rachel demands that Jacob give her a child, but he replies that God is the one in control. Rachael continues to control things by having Jacob sleep with her servant. Then she asks Leah for her son’s mandrakes. This plant was (and sometimes still is) believed to cure infertility, though no scientific evidence supports this. Rachel gives Leah permission to sleep with Jacob in exchange for the mandrakes. Ironically, Rachel gets the fertility herb but remains infertile; Leah gives the herb away and becomes pregnant, twice! Again and again this passage reminds us that we do not control conception. Even today, with modern infertility treatments, the success rate is far from perfect. The only one who can guarantee a child is God. Rachel finally acknowledges this after giving birth to Joseph (30:22-24), as does Jacob when he tells his wives about his dream.
We too should remember that ultimately God is in control of things, especially when it comes to conceiving. Modern medicine can assist in many ways, but much remains a mystery—and out of our control. There is much we don’t understand, such as why God allows the blessings of nature to fall on both the good and the bad (Matthew 5:45). Whether blessed with children or not, we must trust that God is a good God who can bring good from any situation—for those who love him (Romans 8:28).