Friday 2 March

2 Let me go through all your flocks today and remove from them every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-coloured lamb and every spotted or speckled goat. They will be my wages. …

37 Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. 38 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, 39 they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. 40 Jacob set apart the young of the flock by themselves, but made the rest face the streaked and dark-coloured animals that belonged to Laban. Thus he made separate flocks for himself and did not put them with Laban’s animals. 41 Whenever the stronger females were in heat, Jacob would place the branches in the troughs in front of the animals so they would mate near the branches, 42 but if the animals were weak, he would not place them there. So the weak animals went to Laban and the strong ones to Jacob.

Genesis 30:32; 37-42

This story about genetic engineering reveals how primitive early attempts at selective breeding were. It was not until the nineteenth century that people began to understanding that chromosomes play an important role in family resemblance. Now we take it for granted that ginger hair (like Esau’s) is caused by a recessive gene, but Jacob had no idea of this.

Nowadays genetic engineering is a much more serious and successful enterprise. Animals are modified in order to grow faster or to be disease-resistant. For better or worse, there are reasons for and outcomes of this science, the rights and wrongs of which are still very much under debate. It may be very easy to criticise these ventures on the ground that God did not create animals to be tampered with by humankind, and that for us to do so is to turn dominion into domination or even abuse. However, even a cursory reading of the story of Jacob’s sheep reveals that that is precisely what he tried to do. Would Jacob have used better technology had it been available to him?

Jacob kept sheep for two reasons—to produce clothes and food just as we do today. Like Jacob, modern farmers seek to get the best yield from flocks. One may feel that Jacob was a devious and manipulative person and we should not pay too much attention to his work with sheep! Sometimes our reading of the Bible raises more questions than it answers! What do you feel and think about Jacob’s sheep and their genetically modified descendants?

Heavenly Father, your care for your world is infinite and beyond our comprehension. Amid the complexities of life today, help us be holy towards of the mysteries of your creation. Amen