Problem: Genesis says Jacob bred striped goats in odd ways
Verses: Genesis 30:37-39; Status: Minor

Genesis tells us that Jacob was able to breed striped goats by breeding them in a striped environment. He did this because Laban had promised him that any such goats would be Jacob's. This is Genesis 30:37-39:

Then Jacob took fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the sticks. 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, the flocks bred in front of the sticks and so the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted. (ESV)

This is odd. The pattern on a goat's coat is certainly not influenced by what its parents saw while copulating.

I suppose an inerrantist will tell us that God saw what Jacob was trying to do and did it for him. The actual verse says nothing of the sort though, and strongly implies that this is just a natural thing that happens when you breed goats in a striped environment.

However, a later passage muddies the waters somewhat. Here is Jacob speaking, in Genesis 31:6-12:

You know that I have served your father with all my strength, yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times. But God did not permit him to harm me. If he said, 'The spotted shall be your wages,' then all the flock bore spotted; and if he said, 'The striped shall be your wages,' then all the flock bore striped. Thus God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me. In the breeding season of the flock I lifted up my eyes and saw in a dream that the goats that mated with the flock were striped, spotted, and mottled. Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, 'Jacob,' and I said, 'Here I am!' And he said, 'Lift up your eyes and see, all the goats that mate with the flock are striped, spotted, and mottled, for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. (ESV)

These verses imply that God himself took an active part in the process. If so, the author of Genesis 30-31 was intentionally deceiving us earlier, which should be troubling to an inerrantist, though perhaps not overwhelmingly troubling.

Updated: Summer 2008

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