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Thread: Jacob and the spotted sheep in Genesis 30:25-43

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2006

    Jacob and the spotted sheep in Genesis 30:25-43

    I've heard a lot of atheists claim that the episode in Genesis where Jacob puts the striped rods in front of his sheep in order that they may give birth to spotted offspring is proof that "the authors" of the Book of Genesis believed that such a superstitious practice actually had a genetic effect upon the animals. Now, I have read the passage multiple times and always interpreted that episode simply as something that Jacob did out of his own motivation but that actually had little effect on the miraculous outcome that occurred, since in the next chapter Jacob claims to Rachel and Leah that God appeared to him in a dream telling him that He would make certain that the sheep would give birth to spotted offspring.

    My question is: how do most theologians interpret this passage and am I right in assuming that Jacob acted on his own volition when attempting to influence the genetic markings on his flock's offspring? Also, what is the best answer in response to an atheistic attack against this passage?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Quote Originally Posted by Joshua View Post
    I would simply not grant such an assertion. Ask them if simply recounting a situation means said recounter agrees with all that happened in the situation. What a silly "argument."
    That's pretty much my take on it. Of course, when arguing with such people, they have usually already made up their mind on what they're going to believe about the Scriptures anyhow, so no matter what one says it will hardly change their minds. It is rather sad.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    I've heard it said that the rods had an aphrodisiac which caused the sheep to come into heat. Jacob placed them in the water for the strongest sheep, making it more likely that the strong sheep would be the ones to reproduce and create spotted offspring.

    Since I'm neither a botanist nor an agricultural biologist, I can't attest to the validity of this explanation. It's just hearsay.
    Reformed Baptist

    My blog: Middle of the Narrow Way

  4. #4
    You might also ask them if naturalism ought to be rejected because there was a time that "science" believed in spontaneous generation and, before genetic experiments were performed, Evolutionists drew pictures of this kind of phenomena.

    I don't doubt that Jacob probably thought that his method "worked" just like Rachel thought a mandrake would make her fruitful. There were many superstitious and unfaithful things that Jacob did and he took credit for but God blessed him not for his immaturity but because He is a Promise keeper.
    Ruling Elder, PCA, Northern VA

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  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2006
    it seems to me that Jacob was engaged in a type of folk magic.

    The use of "sympathetic magic" (the term for rituals that suggest to the gods/powers of nature an outcome that the prctitioner desires) is refered to a few times in the scripture, especially in refernce to ba'alism. The cutting engaged in by the priests of ba'al was intended to remind the god to send rain. The ritual fornacation that the worshipers of ba'al practiced in the spring after plowing & planting the fields was intended to "arouse" the passions of ba'al & ashtoreth to cause them to fertilise the crops. etc.

    So the stripped rods would have been a culturally relevant practice & fairly common in his day. It did not mean that he was not "trusting God". After all how many "good, reformed" christians engage in the same practices today? Has anyone ever heard a christian ask for prayer for a sickness, then take a homeopathic "medicine"? Since homeopathy depends for its alledged theraputic benifit on the exact same magical theory as the ancient cannanites ascribed to Ba'al, is it really any different?
    TE Kevin Rogers
    MNA Church Planter
    Redeemer Community Church
    Moncton NB

  6. #6
    Yes, sympathetic magic, Kevin. And like Rich's example Mandrake, which also can look like a pregnant woman.

    Jonathan, a sheep can get preggers every two weeks, so I'd doubt that as a motive, but an interesting idea none the less.

    And check this out

    Gen 30:27 But Laban said to him, "If I have found favor in your sight, I have learned by divination that the LORD has blessed me because of you.
    JuJu was goin' down in them parts, and God's people weren't any more immune from it that we are today ;-)
    Tim Vaughan
    Member, Redeemer Presbyterian, OPC,
    Santa Maria

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Thanks a lot, everyone, for the comments. The idea of Jacob using sympathetic magic is an interesting take and sounds pretty plausible to me, especially considering that Laban appeared to be doing so as well.

    Of course, atheists don't pay attention to facts -- they only want to pursue their own agenda regardless of whether there is any evidence to support their ideas or not. I recall a Norton Critical Edition of some text once stating that apparently the use of the striped rods was a common practice in Biblical times, but it didn't offer a citation for this so they could simply be wrong (I tend to be suspicious of modern scholars).

  8. #8
    My pet theory is that Jacob was an ace cattle breeder and he herded the best animals together. . . . but he used the sticks to make it look like magic to the poor observers dispatched by Laban.

    But, I acknowledge it is speculation. I grew up among cattle and sheep folk and it is amazing the mix of old-time superstition and cutting edge genetics you can find among them, even now.
    R. Victor Bottomly
    Port Cities Reformed Baptist Church, Lewiston ID

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  9. #9
    I'm glad you see through their cavils c. It is a facile reading of Scripture that makes God "agree" with every conclusion of man simply because it is recorded. We don't always have God providing a "voice over" in every event saying: "I endorse this behavior" or "I condemn this behavior".

    The unstable twist the Scriptures to their own destruction and I firmly believe God holds wisdom out as a pursuit to let the fools hang themselves with their unwillingness to look beyond the surface of such things.

    You could simply respond to them like Calvin would and call their exegesis insane.
    Ruling Elder, PCA, Northern VA

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  10. #10
    A previous response from me is found in this thread:
    Rev. Bruce G. Buchanan
    ChainOLakes Presbyterian Church, CentralLake, MI

    Made both Lord and Christ--Jesus, the Destroyer
    Acts 2:36 - 1 Cor. 10:9-10 & 15:22-26 - Hebrews 2:9-15 - 1 John 3:8 - James 4:12

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  11. #11
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Quote Originally Posted by Semper Fidelis View Post
    You could simply respond to them like Calvin would and call their exegesis insane.
    That's usually my preferred mode of operation with these kinds of arguments. Guilty until proven innocent (which, of course, never happens)!

  12. #12
    God had revealed to Jacob how to get the most from Laban's herds by asking for the dominant genes (marked animals) which would emerge in the offspring of the recessive gened animals (unmarked). This story shows that God knew about genetics before Mendel and revealed some of it to Jacob. See Genesis 30:32 and 31:10-12.

    Jacob didn't have full confidence in God's plan and decided to try to help it along with some primitive ideas of his own.
    Richard Tallach
    communicant member,
    Knox Free Church,
    Perth, Scotland GB

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    last like the sun it shall:
    Men shall be blessed in Him,
    and blessed all nations shall Him call (Ps. 72:17)


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