Peeled Rods in the Watering Trough
Introduction: Last week we saw the separation of the specially marked flocks from the other solid colored animals of Laban. We saw then, that it was a picture of the Jewish people, who bore the outward mark of circumcision, but who had not been sealed by the Holy Spirit.
They are still a specially marked group of people, but they are not a part of what God will do for a portion of time in human history. This then is the dispensation of grace, the church age, which will be pictured. Remember, the church started with Jewish people.
They are those who had both the external and the internal mark; circumcision of the body and the heart. The others with the external mark only were separated by a three day journey. This was explained as the time from the dispersion of Israel to it’s reestablishment; a period of 2000 years.
A three day journey implies that you start on one day, travel the next, and arrive on the third. During this 2000 year period, God is building a special flock of people, known as the church. He has taken His flock from the people of the world, represented by Laban’s flocks.
However, they are specially raised up by Him and have been tended and cared for by Him as He has strengthened His church. In the New Testament, Jesus is referred to as the Chief Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, and the Good Shepherd – all implying One who tends to His flocks.
This is the imagery we’re given in Jacob’s tending to his own flocks. At times, Jesus removes those who fail to meet His standards, returning them to the other flock so that they don’t spoil the sheep of His fold.
Remember, during this time, the original specially marked flock is separated and kept by Laban’s sons. They remain a flock and God will someday return them to His fold, but for now, His eyes and His attention are on this called out and tenderly cared for group.
This is the Lord’s beloved church for whom He gave His life and which even now He is building up. Someday they will be taken with Him to His eternal promised land. This marvelous working of His is pictured in the seven verses from Genesis we’ll look at today.
Text Verse: As God has said:
“I will dwell in them
And walk among them.
I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.”
17 Therefore “Come out from among them
And be separate, says the Lord.
Do not touch what is unclean,
And I will receive you.”
18 “I will be a Father to you,
And you shall be My sons and daughters,
Says the Lord Almighty. 2 Corinthians 6:16-18
Jacob walked among His flock and tended to them. He kept them separated, the strong from the weak. He was a shepherd and a caretaker of them. The book of Revelation says Jesus does the same thing for us right now during the church age.
It says there that He walks among the lampstands, representing His churches, and removes any which fail to meet His standards. There is nothing unfair or arbitrary about how God deals with His people. He keeps the good ones and rejects the bad.
It is His church and He is building it to be the best it can be, just as Jacob built the best flock possible for himself. Let’s work to be the best of the best of His flock. And… May God speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.
Before we get into today’s verses, we should to go back and read the agreement made between Jacob and Laban in the previous verses. This will show us why Jacob is going to do the things he is about to do in today’s verses –
So he said, “What shall I give you?” And Jacob said, “You shall not give me anything. If you will do this thing for me, I will again feed and keep your flocks: 32 Let me pass through all your flock today, removing from there all the speckled and spotted sheep, and all the brown ones among the lambs, and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and these shall be my wages. 33 So my righteousness will answer for me in time to come, when the subject of my wages comes before you: every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and brown among the lambs, will be considered stolen, if it is with me.” 34 And Laban said, “Oh, that it were according to your word!” 35 So he removed that day the male goats that were speckled and spotted, all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had some white in it, and all the brown ones among the lambs, and gave them into the hand of his sons. 36 Then he put three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, and Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks.
I. A Special Flock
37 Now Jacob took for himself rods of green poplar and of the almond and chestnut trees, peeled white strips in them, and exposed the white which was in the rods.
The set of verses today is curious. There is a lot of speculation as to the ability of Jacob’s efforts to actually produce the results the story claims. There is also the claim that if what he does actually works, then he is being deceitful in what he is doing.
Whether he was being deceitful or not, what he did was ultimately sanctioned by God as we’ll see in the next chapter. God purposed to bless him and indeed he will be blessed. This account is occurring 14 years after his arrival in Mesopotamia, just after he had his vision of the ladder which reached to heaven.
The term for “green poplar” is livneh lach. Livneh is the white poplar and lach implies that it is fresh. “Green” then means the state of the poplar, not it’s type or color. He’s using fresh poplar because if it wasn’t fresh, the bark wouldn’t peel off.
The next tree is translated as almond. It comes from the word luz. Some believe it’s a filbert tree. Nobody is completely sure which it is and people argue over it. The third tree is called the chestnut, but it is probably as other translations state – the plane tree.
The word is armon which means stripped bare, as in a naked person. The plane tree gets its name because the outer bark peels off by itself and leaves the tree bare and smooth in places. This happens year by year. Jacob takes these fresh branches and cuts strips in them to show contrasting colors.
Some people think he may have even made a spiral line on the branches so that they would be partly colored and partly white, thus resembling the mottled colors of the animals he wanted to breed. One commentator says the Hebrew indicates that he didn’t cut stripes or spirals, but instead patches.
This would have the same visual effect as the spirals and show mottled colors. What is being pictured here is most interesting. What we need to do is look at the actual roots of the words used to describe the trees. The first is the poplar tree.
The Hebrew word is livneh, but it is derived directly from the word Laban. This word means white or brick – a brick turning white when it’s fired is the idea one gets. Laban is a picture of the people of the world.
The next tree, which is translated here as “almond” is the word “luz.” This word actually means crooked or twisted. It comes from the verb which means to “turn aside” in a negative way, such as turning aside from wisdom. A couple examples from Proverbs shows us this –
For the perverse person is an abomination to the Lord,
But His secret counsel is with the upright. Proverbs 3:32
My son, give attention to my words;
Incline your ear to my sayings.
21 Do not let them depart from your eyes;
Keep them in the midst of your heart; Proverbs 4:21
The third tree is the chestnut, which I said comes from armon; to be naked, but it’s root is the word aram, which is to be crafty or prudent. The word is used this way in Proverbs 15:5 –
A fool despises his father’s instruction,
But he who receives correction is prudent.
Finally, as an interesting tidbit, the word “white” in this verse when he exposed the white in the rods is also lavan. It is the same as the name Laban, his father in law, but it’s being used as an adjective. The idea is that the branches are being stripped bare, as if naked to effect their purposes.
So why are these types of branches mentioned and what is their significance. I have to tell you, I didn’t plan this and I was completely surprised when the same pattern kept coming up time and again. And as a confirmation of it, the same book in the New Testament kept coming up too. It is far more than coincidence.
The flock that is being built is a picture of the church being built by Jesus – we saw that last week. The branches are all picturing, believe it or not, the writings of Paul who is the apostle to the gentiles. This is, after researching these words and then looking to the New Testament for a fulfillment, completely sure.
The first verse which marks out a parallel is what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12 about himself –
It is doubtlessnot profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
This picture of Jacob’s work here occurred 14 years after his vision of heaven and Paul’s letter to the Corinthians follows this same pattern – 14 years. The Bible is very specific about this.
The first of the branches, the poplar, is translated from a word which indicates fired clay. Paul uses the terminology of fired clay or earthen vessels to indicate believers, including himself, when they are filled with the Holy Spirit in 2 Corinthians 4 –
For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels (jars of clay), that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.
The second of the branches is the almond, translated from a word whose verb indicates being crooked. Paul, before his conversion was included in Peter’s word of Acts chapter 2 –
And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” Acts 2:40
However, after his conversion, Paul uses the same terminology to describe the people he had left and whom he now warned against –
“Do all things without complaining and disputing, 15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain. ” Philippians 2:14-16
The third of the branches is the chestnut, translated from a word whose root indicates being crafty or prudent. Paul explains how he wooed the Corinthians to himself and the gospel message –
But be that as it may, I did not burden you myself; nevertheless, crafty fellow that I am, I took you in by deceit. 2 Corinthians 12:16
Not only does he say he was “crafty” but he says he took them by deceit, making a pun on the name of Jacob which means deceiver! Paul’s message – his epistles, are what is being pictured in these rods which are building up Jacob’s flock. It is his letters which establish church doctrine because he is the apostle to the gentiles.
God is tying this account of Jacob’s rods directly to Paul, the author of the doctrine for the church. These branches, despite their surface appearance, had to be stripped, they had to be made bare, as if naked in order to have their intended effect. Again to confirm this is speaking of Paul and the book of 2 Corinthians, Paul says this concerning his work –
24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— 28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? 2 Corinthians 11:22-29
Paul was beaten with rods, the same word used, rhabdos, to describe the branches used by Jacob in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, and in the Greek New Testament. He was also left in cold and nakedness. It was as if he were stripped bare for the sake of the flock.
So here we have a picture of Paul’s testimony being used by Jesus, pictured by Jacob using rods, to bring out a special flock from the world, pictured by Laban’s flocks. This is exactly what we see.
Even Jacob’s words coming up in the next chapter parallel Paul’s trials that we just read. Listen to how Jacob describes his time of working for the flock and see how it resembles what Paul said –
38 These twenty years I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried their young, and I have not eaten the rams of your flock. 39 That which was torn by beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it. You required it from my hand, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. 40 There I was! In the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night, and my sleep departed from my eyes. (Jacob’s concern for the flock; Paul’s concern for the flock)
38 And the rods which he had peeled, he set before the flocks in the gutters, in the watering troughs where the flocks came to drink, so that they should conceive when they came to drink.
After peeling the rods, he placed them in the gutters or watering troughs. There water would be channeled out of a spring into gutter-shaped troughs or carried from a well and dumped into long hollowed out stone blocks so that several could drink at once.
The colors of the branches would vary from white to red depending on the type. The general idea is that when the flocks were in heat, whatever impression was on their mind would be transferred to the body of the fetus when she bred.
A couple of options come to mind. Either that’s nuts and what he was doing had no bearing on the color of the offspring, but rather, God intervened and blessed him with the various colored offspring apart from what he did.
Or second, this method somehow began to affect the genetic make-up of the babies. Or third and more probably, the mottling of the animals is found in a recessive gene. This recessive gene makes it possible for goats to have spots which can be transmitted even though they don’t appear to our eyes, but the genes are still there.
So what is happening is that even though we don’t know which goats have this gene, the goats do and when prompted to mate in front of the cut branches, their inclination is to mate with the goats that have this gene. This seems like a plausible answer and it also fits with the mating habits found elsewhere in nature.
Animals make their selections because God has endowed them with their own wisdom, just as butterflies will travel thousands of miles to a place they have never been simply because they have been endowed with that particular wisdom to do so.
To understand the spiritual side of this verse, we see that the flocks are coming to the water where the rods are. This pictures the people of the world coming to spirituality – maybe picking up their Bible to read. These are the flocks who see the rods in the water.
The water is the word and the rods are Paul’s letters to the church which tell the gentile world about Jesus. Those who receive the message will be converted and become a part of Jesus’ flock.
They will receive the mark which distinguishes them from the rest of the flock; the Holy Spirit, given by God. Just so you know, this isn’t meant that the rest of the Bible isn’t just as important, but it is made clear in the Bible that Paul’s writings are intended for the church during this dispensation.
This is all being pictured by Jacob, while outside of the Promised Land, building up his flocks from the gentile world. Paul is the apostle to the gentiles, and he was specifically chosen by Jesus for this dispensation. We find that recorded in Acts 9 –
15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
The fact is that all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for doctrine and reproof, but not all Scripture is applicable in the same way at the same time. James and Peter wrote not to the gentiles in the church, but to the Jewish people of the church.
This doesn’t mean those letters aren’t meant for us too, but that they hold a different application than Paul’s. This is what we’re learning from this short and seemingly obscure passage about rods in water.
If the church misses the significance of Paul’s writings, their doctrine becomes convoluted. As long as we keep our theological boxes straight, the plan that God is accomplishing makes much more sense and our relationship with Him is properly aligned.
39 So the flocks conceived before the rods, and the flocks brought forth streaked, speckled, and spotted.
Whatever was actually going on in the minds of the goats, they in fact did have streaked, speckled, and spotted offspring instead of the predominately solid colored ones which would then belong to Laban.
One thing is for sure, this actually happened because God’s word records it and it is ultimately because God directed it, even if human means were employed in the process.
This then is a picture of the continuation and growth of the church. The rods are in the water. They are Paul’s words to the church and the water is the word. The flocks are bringing forth young who are marked with the special designation of the church. They are a separate people with a separate purpose in God’s unfolding plan.
II. Come Out and Be Separate
When I chose the text verse for the sermon today, I didn’t realize until later that it was actually from 2 Corinthians, just as were many of the verses used to describe Paul’s effect on the church mentioned above. A portion of the text verse,
“Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.” 18 “I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the Lord Almighty.”
This is the idea that also came to my mind concerning this particular set of verses, even though I didn’t remember that the quote came from 2 Corinthians until after I had put it here. We are called to be separate from the world and to not be mingled with it. This is the picture we’ll see now.
40 Then Jacob separated the lambs, and made the flocks face toward the streaked and all the brown in the flock of Laban; but he put his own flocks by themselves and did not put them with Laban’s flock.
There is real wisdom in what Jacob is doing. After the first season, he has begun to get his own streaked animals. He puts them in front of the solid colored ones so that when those feed, the streaked ones would always be in their sight.
Now he could rely less on the branches and more on the actual animals, but he used both techniques in order to continuously have the animals preferring to mate with his. When they are eating and when they are drinking it’s on their mind.
In the same way, we should be meditating on God’s word at all times, even when we’re eating and drinking or laying lazily in the fields. Eventually, he had enough to make his own flock which he separated from Laban’s.
By doing this, they wouldn’t be inclined to mate with solid colored animals and possibly increase Laban’s flocks accidentally. He is keeping his flock uniform and separate while still influencing the other flocks.
The spiritual picture here is that the rest of the world is to look to us – the flock of Jesus, just as Laban’s flocks were set off to look at the specially marked flocks of Jacob, not the other way around.
We are to be the standard by which the world sets its aspirations. The church is to be the ideal and the goal. Jesus has set us apart for a reason. Because of this, for us to get intermingled with the world can only cause us to become like them, not the opposite.
This is why I’m personally so opposed these new seeker-friendly churches. In the end, it only diminishes the distinction of who we are to be. When we lower our standards of separation, the flock suffers. This is exactly what we’re seeing in today’s verses.
41 And it came to pass, whenever the stronger livestock conceived, that Jacob placed the rods before the eyes of the livestock in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods.
Now Jacob adds in a third tactic to increase his wealth. The sheep give birth twice a year – in the spring and in the fall. But there is also a divide in those born in the first part of the birth cycle, closer to the winter, and those later as the spring has progressed.
Those born earlier would be the stronger and heartier of the flock. Those born later in the season would be the weaker ones. The stronger, healthier ones, got his attention and the others were left in Laban’s flock. This again takes us directly to… yes, the book of 2 Corinthians. Paul writes this to us concerning our relationships –
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? (6:14, 15)
The stronger of the flocks are set apart by Jacob. Likewise, Jesus wants us set apart as well. Jacob didn’t allow his flocks to intermingle with the flocks of Laban and Jesus sets the same prohibition before us through Paul’s hand.
I can’t stress enough the amazing symmetry between this short passage today about Jacob’s flocks and Paul’s letter of 2 Corinthians. As I was researching this, I was completely amazed at what lay before me. This truly is an amazing passage which I never understood until I prayed about and prepared for this sermon.
Because of this separation, Laban’s flock continued to spiral downward, while Jacob’s got stronger and continued to breed multi-colored offspring. This is seen in the next verse.
42 But when the flocks were feeble, he did not put them in; so the feebler were Laban’s and the stronger Jacob’s.
The flocks have all come from the same place, one original flock of Laban’s sheep. However, they have become separate and distinct flocks over time and the weaker ones are kept separate from the stronger. The weaker ones are kept in Laban’s flocks and the stronger ones belong to Jacob.
Looking at this from a spiritual perspective, Paul writes in both 2 Corinthians 12 and 13 about the contrast between what is weak and what is strong. I want to read you both so that you can clearly see the symbolism of what Jacob did as it is fulfilled in the church –
“And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12
“3…since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you. 4 For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you. 5 Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. 6 But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified. 7 Now Ipray to God that you do no evil, not that we should appear approved, but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified. 8 For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. 9 For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. And this also we pray, that you may be made complete.” (13)
Our strength and the expansion of the church is wholly dependent on the strength of Christ. Jacob separated what was weak from what was strong and the strong grew and flourished. Likewise, it is only through an understanding of our weakness that the strength of God through Christ is revealed.
Paul asks us to examine ourselves to see if we truly are in the faith. If so, then we are of Jesus’ flock and we’ll be separated and flourish because of the strength He provides. If not, then we will be, as Paul states, disqualified. Think of the picture these flocks are making.
43 Thus the man became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks, female and male servants, and camels and donkeys.
Through attentive care by the shepherd, his flock has grown so big that he has been able to sell or trade parts of it for all kinds of other wealth – female and male servants and camels and donkeys.
These are the signs of wealth of the time, just as a large company with lots of employees and expensive cars would be today. In the same way, Jesus has become exceedingly prosperous, having begotten many sheep for His flock.
As this is the last verse of today’s passage, I thought to tie it in with a New Testament verse. One came to mind immediately and I went to find it, knowing the verse, but not where it was. When I got it, I was just as astonished at it as I was throughout the entire sermon.
This is the verse and yes, it comes from the same book of 2 Corinthians. Tell me it doesn’t perfectly mirror the verse I just read about Jacob –
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9
Jacob left Canaan and became poor, not accepting anything as wages except His brides and the fruit of his flock. Jesus gave up His glorious heavenly home to come and dwell among us. He procured His bride. Through the fulfillment of the law He established a church without spot or wrinkle.
By His work, administered through Paul to us, He obtains the fruit of His flock – a called out group of gentiles. Though He was rich with heaven’s glories, He became poor. Now with Him we might also become rich and a part of His eternal plan.
So why is this story important. Why Paul’s letters? Explain.
In case you’ve never made a commitment to the Lord, please give me just a couple minutes to explain to you how you can be a part of what God is doing through Jesus.
Closing Verse: Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! 2 Corinthians 9:15
Next Week: Genesis 31:1-13 (Return to the Land of Your Fathers) (74th Genesis Sermon)
The Lord has you exactly where He wants you and He has a good plan and purpose for you. Call on Him and let Him do marvelous things for you and through you.
Jacob’s Flock/Jesus’ Church
Now Jacob took for himself rods of green poplar
And of the almond and the chestnut trees
Peeled white strips in them from bottom to toplar
And exposed the white which was in the rods of these
And the rods which he had peeled link by link
He set before the flocks in gutters to deceive
In the watering troughs where the flocks came to drink
So that when they came they should conceive
So the flocks conceived before the rods, and yes they begotted
And the flocks brought forth streaked, speckled, and spotted
Then Jacob separated the lambs by their stock
And made the flocks face toward the streaked
And also all the brown of Laban’s flock
But he put his own flocks alone as their genes he tweaked
He did not put them with Laban’s flock
He kept them apart, maintaining the purity of his stock
And it came to pass in this plan so wise
Whenever the stronger livestock conceived
That Jacob placed the rods before the eyes
Of the livestock in the gutters. Who would have believed?
That they might conceive among the rods
And that his flock would increase against all odds
But when the flocks were feeble then no longer
Would he put them in the gutters
So the feebler were Laban’s and Jacob had the stronger
The story is before us and wisdom it utters
Thus the man became exceedingly prosperous
And had large flocks and female and male servants too
And camels and donkeys, it’s not preposterous
It really happened because God blessed his work, it’s true
And as we see, this story pictures the church
Those who are the flock of the Lord Jesus
Throughout the world His Spirit does search
And by His grace He does transform us
Through the writings of Paul, His apostle to the gentile
A flock is being readied, day by day and mile by mile
The message is bringing about that wondrous change in us
And molding us into a people special to our Lord Jesus
And so while He transforms us let us remember to give Him praise
And to live our lives in holiness and honor Him all our days
Great, glorious, and splendid God above
Thank You for Your indescribable Gift of love
He is our precious Lord whom You gave to us
And so let us ever proclaim the glorious name of Jesus
Hallelujah and Amen…