Friday, May 29, 2009

Jacob, Laban's cattle and genetics

He [Laban] said, “What shall I give you?” Jacob said, “You shall not give me anything. If you will do this for me, I will again pasture your flock and keep it: let me pass through all your flock today, removing from it every speckled and spotted sheep and every black lamb, and the spotted and speckled among the goats, and they shall be my wages. So my honesty will answer for me later, when you come to look into my wages with you. Every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats and black among the lambs, if found with me, shall be counted stolen.” Laban said, “Good! Let it be as you have said.” But that day Laban removed the male goats that were striped and spotted, and all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had white on it, and every lamb that was black, and put them in the charge of his sons. And he set a distance of three days' journey between himself and Jacob, and Jacob pastured the rest of Laban's flock.

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. And Jacob separated the lambs and set the faces of the flocks toward the striped and all the black in the flock of Laban. He put his own droves apart and did not put them with Laban's flock. Whenever the stronger of the flock were breeding, Jacob would lay the sticks in the troughs before the eyes of the flock, that they might breed among the sticks, but for the feebler of the flock he would not lay them there. So the feebler would be Laban's, and the stronger Jacob's. (Gen. 30: 31-42)

One passage used by the occultic Word-faith teacher David Yonggi Cho to proof-text his creative visualization theory (the belief that you think thoughts which create your reality and thus you can change your circumstances by visualizing your desires into reality) is Gen. 30: 31-42 [1]. However, does this passage actually teaches what he claims it to teach?

When one looks at the passage, one most certainly does not see what Cho teaches. Most certainly, Jacob is acting strangely, yet nobody can get Cho's interpretation from merely reading the text of this passage. Whether Cho is right or not therefore cannot be decided by this passage of Scripture at all. Cho's view of creative visualization is shown to be false as it depends on his view of creative faith which is totally false, as I have documented in this article.

Nevertheless, what other explanations of this phenomenon can we give? Certainly, this whole thing can be a miracle, of which Jacob's sticks were the instruments which God uses. Even naturalistically, a possible explanation could be given as follows:

... the pure bred cattle could probably have separate genotypes (ie AAgg and aaGG), which can be crossed to form the F1 genotypes AaGg, which can then interbreed to form the F2 genotypes AAGG, AAGg, AAgg, AaGG, AaGg, Aagg, aaGG, aaGg and aagg in the Mendelian ratio of 1:2:1:2:4:2:1:2:1 , and the ratio of those which are homozygous on both alleles compare to those who are heterozygous on one or both alleles is 4:12 . Assuming incomplete dominance of the A and G allele, all the different genotypes in the following F2 genotypes would have different coat color or pattern; different phenotypes, and the ratio of offspring with pure color coat (denoted by homozygosity in both alleles in the genotype ie AAGG or AAgg) to that of mixed color coat would be 4:12 or 1:3. So therefore, it is no wonder that Jacob's flock would increase in numbers. A larger variety of genes would also increase the genetic vitality of Jacob's flock, thus making his flock stronger.

Another factor which plays to his advantage is probably the presence of Barr bodies which would contribute to the spotted or speckled coat color in heterozygous females. Assuming that one coat color gene is located on the X chromosome, heterozygous females would have the genotype XBXW for example. To avoid overexpression of the X chromosome, females cells typically silence one of their two X chromosomes in an entirely random manner, therefore approximately one half would silence the XB chromosome, while the other half would silence the XW chromosome. The coat cells which silence the XB chromosome would express the coat color coded by the XW chromosome and vice versa, thus explaining the spotted or speckled coats of the female cattle. That Jacob choses these heterozygous animals [would] means that he would chose those with higher genetic variety and hence vitality. [2]

As it can be seen, Cho's case is untenable in any sense whether supernaturally or naturally.


[1] David Yonggi Cho, The Fourth Dimension Vol. 1: Discovering A New World of Answered Prayer (Bridge-Logos, Alachua, FL, USA), pp. 44-47

[2] Daniel H. Chew, An Examination of the Word-faith teachings of Korean 'pastor' David Yonggi Cho. Accessed here.


Beng said...

There must be a link (genetic?) between biological life scientists and their interest in apologetics. James White is one, too.

There is also a tendency for bio life scientists to speak unintelligibly ;). I remember Prof Sit, who probably taught you as well. Only one person in my cohort could understand his lectures. I remember the first gross anatomy lesson he taught us. It was on the anatomy of the pelvis. My notes for that lecture were blank except for the title: "The Pelvis - Sit on it".

Anyway, to simplify your first point: assuming the purebred white sheep were homozygous recessive, they would likely produce heterozygous offspring (something that the wily Jacob would have known) in the ratio 3:1 as compared to heterozygous mixed-coat offspring. Right?

I lost you subsequently on the Barr bodies and random silencing.

Anyway, it still doesn't explain the use of the sticks. I would surmise that the use of the peeled sticks somehow stimulated breeding behaviour, perhaps through the release of sap odours, or simply through visual stimulation (which is different from creative visualization, of course). All of us know the power of visual stimulation in stimulating breeding behaviour ;). I just googled it, and it seems there are in fact many studies done on visual stimulation and breeding behaviour in animals.

So Jacob, wily from birth and probably very observant, made sure that his strong heterozygous flocks bred more and the purebred homozygous flocks bred less, by influencing their breeding behaviour (and choosing the heterozygous portion of the flock in the first place). Poor Laban tried to simply remove the heterozygous animals before the fact, without understanding genetics as well.

In any case, as you said, none of this has anything to do with the creative visualization espoused by Cho Yonggi.

PuritanReformed said...


I didn't know James White was into life science ever?

Actually, it was not stated that the sheep were "purebred white", they were just not spotted or speckled with any hint of white on them, They could thus be brown sheep, as long as they have one uniform coat color.

The genes I have used in this example are incomplete dominance or co-dominance so as to maximize the impact of this simplified model. Basically, as long as the animal is heterozygous in any of the alleles (A or G), the coat may have mixed colors.

With regards to Barr bodies, =) oh well. Wikipedia may help here, or any proper Genetics text.

Sure, this does not explain the use of the sticks. Your explanation may be correct, but we just cannot know for sure.

As for Jacob and Laban, the entire episode is basically a case of two dishonest people trying to get the better of each other. Poor Laban was ultimately outwitted though. =P

Speaking unintelligibly? Hehee....

Beng said...

He was a biology major in undergraduate work and did a lot of work in genetics.


(2:20 onwards)

PuritanReformed said...


Oh, I see.

Joel Tay said...

This is an excellent answer. Why didn't I think of Barr bodies playing a role in this as well. It is certainly a plausible explanation, perhaps with supernatural intervention as well. Genesis seem to hint that God caused the sheeps to mate that way, inspite of Jacob's actions. It might not have been Jacob's knowledge of Genetics, but God intervening and causing the sheeps to mate the way they did, and for the genes to be expressed the way they did.

Genesis 31:12 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.'

PuritanReformed said...


Yes, I don't think Jacob knew genetics, but certainly God was behind the event, utilizing the genes present within the sheep/cattle.

Frank Octigan said...

I would like to offer a different approach to discerning the spiritual import of what is offered here. Let me offer the following analysis.

German theologians offer an interpretive approach involving what is referred to as a comparison of the historical fact versus its theological import.

Jacob (the Groom), the sticks (the Cross), the sheep (the Bride), Laban's vascillations (God's trumping of man's will) are all allusions to how a sovereign LORD controls the bride price....

Consider this.....
God bless....

PuritanReformed said...


the problem with your (and the German theologians') approach is that it allegorizes what is plainly historical narrative. In other words, it is not a plain reading of the text of Scripture.

PuritanReformed said...

The spiritual import lies rather in the narrative of the scheming of these two people rather than the circumstances of the narrative, which rather serves as the material basis to illustrate the characters of the people involved.