What does Genesis 30:38 mean?
ESV: He set the sticks that he had peeled in front of the flocks in the troughs, that is, the watering places, where the flocks came to drink. And since they bred when they came to drink,
NIV: Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. When the flocks were in heat and came to drink,
NASB: He set the rods which he had peeled in front of the flocks in the drinking troughs, that is, in the watering channels where the flocks came to drink; and they mated when they came to drink.
CSB: He set the peeled branches in the troughs in front of the sheep--in the water channels where the sheep came to drink. And the sheep bred when they came to drink.
NLT: Then he placed these peeled branches in the watering troughs where the flocks came to drink, for that was where they mated.
KJV: And he set the rods which he had pilled before the flocks in the gutters in the watering troughs when the flocks came to drink, that they should conceive when they came to drink.
NKJV: 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.
Verse Commentary:
Jacob has created a device he will use to influence whether sheep and goats born in the flock are fully white and black, in turn, or mixed in color. It's important to realize Jacob has made this bargain for the off-color animals at the Lord's direction (Genesis 31:7–12). He has not dreamed this up on his own. The text does not appear to be suggesting that peeled sticks in or near a water source actually cause spotted or striped animals to be born. God is acting supernaturally to bless Jacob by causing a much higher than normal number of mixed-color offspring in response to Jacob's device of placing these sticks in front of the animals he wishes to influence.

He has gathered fresh sticks from three specific trees and peeled back the bark to expose the white underneath. This, in fact, may have been part of Jacob's symbolism in using these sticks. The Hebrew term for "white" is laban, making this a fairly direct reference to his cheating father-in-law.

Now Jacob places these sticks in or near the watering places for the flocks, since this is where the flocks also mated.
Verse Context:
Genesis 30:25-43 describes Jacob's struggle to convince Laban to allow him to return to his own people with his wives and children, even though the 14 years of Jacob's contracted service have ended. Laban asks Jacob to name new wages to continue to work for him. Laban knows he has grown wealthy due to the Lord's blessing on Jacob. Jacob asks to own all the new off-color sheep and goats that will be born to Laban's flock. Laban agrees and quickly tries to cheat Jacob. Nevertheless, the Lord blesses Jacob's unusual breeding practices, causing so many off-color animals to be born in the flock that Jacob becomes a wealthy man in his own right. Soon he will leave Laban behind for good.
Chapter Summary:
God alone gives children. He causes babies to be born. He even determines what color baby sheep and goats will be. Genesis 30 describes the urgent desire of Rachel and Leah to have sons for Jacob and how God hears and grants their prayers in His own time. In addition, God blesses Jacob's unusual breeding practices with Laban's flocks to finally allow Jacob to overcome his father-in-law's schemes to keep Jacob under his service.
Chapter Context:
In the previous chapter, Laban tricked Jacob both into marrying Leah along with Rachel and into working for him as a servant for a total of fourteen years. God blessed unloved Leah by allowing her to bear four sons to Jacob. As this chapter opens, Rachel remains barren while Leah and both of their servant women continue to bear sons. Finally God answers Rachel's prayer, allowing her to bear Joseph. His contract completed, Jacob demands Laban send him away to his own people. Laban refuses, asking Jacob to set new terms for his service. Jacob's deal, along with the Lord's blessing and his unusual breeding practices with the flocks, results in Jacob becoming a wealthy man in his own right. This wealth and power will enable him to finally break free and return home.
Book Summary:
The book of Genesis establishes fundamental truths about God. Among these are His role as the Creator, His holiness, His hatred of sin, His love for mankind, and His willingness to provide for our redemption. We learn not only where mankind has come from, but why the world is in its present form. The book also presents the establishment of Israel, God's chosen people. Many of the principles given in other parts of Scripture depend on the basic ideas presented here in the book of Genesis. Within the framework of the Bible, Genesis explains the bare-bones history of the universe leading up to the captivity of Israel in Egypt, setting the stage for the book of Exodus.
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