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  • Writer's pictureGODVERSITY

The Negotiation

Genesis 30:25-43 describes Jacob's struggle to convince Laban to allow him to return to his own people with his wive 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.


We know that “negotiation” is about two parties reaching a compromise that benefits both sides. In these difficult times of conflict, negotiation plays an even more important part. When negotiations seize, wars begin. It is true of personal relationships as much as the relationships between people groups and states. When it comes to thinking about the Hebrew concept of negotiation we immediately understand the very nature of such an important concept. It is actually very simple. As always Hebrew Grammar made simple allows us to see this fact quite clearly.

In Modern Hebrew, we continue to use ancient Biblical Hebrew words to describe the process of negotiation. The phrase we use today for negotiation is מַשָּא ומַתָּן  (masa umatan). The Hebrew word משא in its root נ-ש-א carries the idea of “taking” something for yourself, while the word מתן with its root נ-ת-ן communicates the idea of “giving” something to someone else.

Coming back to Genesis 30, Jacob finally names his price in order to stay and continue working for Laban as the manager of his livestock (Genesis 30:25–28). Some commentators suggest that it would not be uncommon for a shepherd in this era to receive 20 percent of a flock as payment for his services. However, Jacob does not ask for a straight proportion of the flocks of sheep and goats as his own. Instead, Jacob asks that any future black lambs or speckled and spotted sheep and goats be his payment. Apparently, most of the sheep in a flock was white all over, and most of the goats were entirely black. In essence, Jacob is asking for a seemingly small subset of the animals. As the following verses will reveal, Jacob believed he could produce a lot of these spotted and speckled animals with selective breeding (Genesis 30:37–39). Much later, Jacob will reveal his knowledge that God, not strange farming practices, is the real source of the animals' growth (Genesis 31:10–13). Laban, ever greedy and unfair, will hatch his own plan to try to keep Jacob's take of the flock small.

GENESIS CHAPTER 30: God alone gives children. He causes babies to be born. He even determines what color baby sheep and goats will be. This chapter 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.

So in Hebrew, the meaning of the word “negotiation” is actually – “give and take.” Therefore, we all must understand that in order for the two opposing parties to move forward in relative harmony both have to give away something costly, but in order for both parties to feel that they were not duped into an unfair deal, they must also take something of value in to be truly satisfied. This is the meaning of the “give and take” in relationships of any kind. This is the meaning of true negotiation. The importance of taking the time in thinking through any kind of agreement must also be in sync with the right timing.



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