Magic Versus Blessing
Jacob’s breeding techniques (Genesis 30:38-42) seem strange to modern readers.
Is it really true that if you mate animals in front of striped rods, they will bear striped offspring? People in antiquity sometimes thought that females conceive according to what they see when they mate. But whereas Jacob’s expectations for stronger animals producing stronger offspring fits genetics, breeding in front of striped rods does not really produce striped offspring.
Whether or not Jacob wrongly thinks that the technique could have worked otherwise, however, he recognizes that God is the one who made it work in this case (Genesis 31:9-12). Jacob claims that God has given Laban’s flocks to him (Genesis 31:9), and his wives agree (Genesis 31:16).
In his book Bruchko, Bruce Olson recounts Motilone Indians praying and using antibiotics to cure snakebites. Antibiotics don’t cure snakebites, but the Indians got better. If it wasn’t the antibiotics, we might consider (as Olson undoubtedly implies) that it was the prayer! Sometimes people look to secondary sources that might not be curative, e.g., a fake faith healer’s handkerchief (which might even make you sick, depending on what the healer has done with it), and yet God acts on their behalf because they also look to him. In Jacob’s case, God was blessing the line of Abraham and Isaac. Jacob had promised to serve God if God would just feed him, clothe him, and return him safely to his father’s house (Genesis 28:20-21). God generously blessed him with far more than Jacob himself had envisioned.