Somehow, one of the things we have come to believe about God is that His blessings are directly related to our behavior. If we behave like obedient children, then He blesses us. If we misbehave like disobedient children, then He will withhold His blessings. Isn’t that what we believe?
So how is one supposed to read this chapter? First of all, I don’t believe there was any "innocent" party in the tangled mess that was Jacob’s family. Both Leah and Rachel end up scheming against one another to see who can bear more children for Jacob.
Leah is jealous of Rachel.
Rachel is jealous of Leah.
They’re both offering up their maids to sleep with Jacob in order to increase their personal child count. Sheesh. Who needs Jerry Springer when you can read the Bible?
Yet, even in the midst of all their scheming, they’re having children. God doesn’t say, "I refuse to bless you with children if you’re going to go about things this way" (which is pretty much exactly what I'd say to my children!). His blessings are at work in the midst of their scheming.
This is even more evident later in the chapter when Jacob works to build up his flocks. Laban says he knows that the Lord has blessed him because Jacob has been tending his flocks (vs 30), so it is at least obvious to Laban that Jacob is receiving God’s blessings. So why doesn’t Jacob rest in that knowledge when it comes to building up his own personal flock?
Instead of resting in God’s provision, Jacob devises a scheme to end up with greater numbers of the kinds of sheep he’ll be taking with him when he leaves Laban’s house. The Bible describes how he put striped sticks in front of the watering troughs while the animals were mating and how he made the animals look at the "right coloring" while they were mating... as if any of that could influence the type of coloring an animal had when it was born! Yet, the Bible says that in this way, Jacob grew prosperous and rich.
So, was it Jacob’s scheming that led to these huge flocks? Of course not. We know that the methods Jacob used had absolutely no scientific bearing on the type of animals that were born. (For example, a woman can’t have a purple-skinned baby simply by surrounding herself with purple objects during whilst she's trying to conceive.) If that’s the case, how did Jacob end up with so many sheep that had this rare type of coloring? Because God was blessing him! And obviously, He was blessing him even though Jacob was, at the same time, scheming about how to make God’s blessings come to pass.
It’s obvious, then, that God works even while we scheme. He doesn’t simply bless the faithful and not bless the schemers. We might like to believe that God never blesses a person who schemes, but what about Jacob? We'd better be glad that God blesses those who try to "help themselves," because that means He is willing to bless even us!