Genesis 30:27 But Laban said to him [Jacob], "If I have found favor in your eyes, please stay. I have learned by divination that the LORD [יְהוָ֖ה] has blessed me because of you."

Why was the tetragrammaton being used here?

Lev 19:26 Do not practice divination or seek omens.

  • The irony of Leviticus 19:26 is that the Kohenim would use divination with Urim & Thummim to make difficult decisions. – חִידָה Sep 4 '20 at 14:24
  • Young's Literal has I have observed diligently that Jehovah doth bless me for thy sake.', – Nigel J Sep 4 '20 at 18:59
  • “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” ‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭16:33‬ God honor’s His plans and promises to His faithful but if they coincide with idol worshippers it’s still to honor and protect His own – Nihil Sine Deo Sep 4 '20 at 20:20

The verb נָחַשׁ (nachash) is used in the OT only 11 times: Gen 30:27, 44:5, 15,, Lev 19:26, Deut 18:10, 1 Kings 20:33, 2 Kings 17:17, 21:6, 2 Chron 33:6.

BDB offers two meanings of this verb:

1 practise divination Genesis 44:5 (J; by means of cup, i.e. by hydromancy), with implied power to learn secret things Genesis 44:15; condemned by prophetic writer 2 Kings 21:6 2 Chronicles 33:6 (+ עוֺנֵן וְעָשָׂח אוֺב וְיִדְּעֹנִים), 2 Kings 17:17 ("" וַיִּקְסְמוּ קְסָמִים); forbidden in D and H: Deuteronomy 18:10 ( + קֹסֵם קְסָמִים מְעוֺנֵן וּמְכַשֵּׁף), Leviticus 19:26 (H; "" תְּעוֺנֵנ֑וּ).

2 observe the signs or omens Genesis 30:27 (j); so probably יְנַחֲשׁוּ 1 Kings 20:33 now the men were observing the signs.

Note that the first meaning is condemned in the OT, Lev 19:26, Deut 19:10, 2 Kings 17:17.

However, as shown in 1 Kings 20:33, נָחַשׁ (nachash) does not always involve necromancy or similar, merely observation. It is in this sense that Laban used the word - since Jacob worked for him he had simply observed that his farm had become very prosperous, Gen 30:27. This verse is translated more helpfully as:

  • NKJV: And Laban said to him, “Please stay, if I have found favor in your eyes, for I have learned by experience that the LORD has blessed me for your sake.”
  • GWT: Laban replied, "Listen to me. I've learned from the signs I've seen that the LORD has blessed me because of you."
  • JPS: And Laban said unto him: 'If now I have found favour in thine eyes--I have observed the signs, and the LORD hath blessed me for thy sake.'
  • AKJV: And Laban said to him, I pray you, if I have found favor in your eyes, tarry: for I have learned by experience that the LORD has blessed me for your sake.
  • DRB: Laban said to him: Let me find favour in thy sight: I have learned by experience, that God hath blessed me for thy sake.
  • Darby: And Laban said to him, I pray thee, if I have found favour in thine eyes -- I have discovered that Jehovah has blessed me for thy sake.
  • Webster: And Laban said to him, I pray thee, if I have found favor in thine eyes, tarry: for I have learned by experience, that the LORD hath blessed me for thy sake.

It’s fine you are reading the Bible trying to grasp every minute detail of it. It would be a good habit that all the Bible’s God believers could follow…

Really, doing so all of us are able to understand what is the will of God, along with the comprehension of His plans, and the showing of His qualities. Very well.

As our custom, first of all, let’s give a glance to the (Genesis 30:27) Hebrew text:

ויאמר אליו לבן אם־נא מצאתי חן בעיניך נחשׁתי ויברכני יהוה בגללך

The pivotal term is נחש (> נחשתי) that - as a noun – is the commonest word for ‘snake’ (as well as for ‘copper’). What it is more important for the sake of your question is to understand the meaning of the verbal forms derived from נחש.

We may safely say that all the 9 occurrences of the verbal forms derived from נחש have the same meaning. Technically speaking, there’s no polisemy in it. (Someone could think there are 11 occurrences in the TaNaKh of this term, but this is quite incorrect, despite the graphically double occurrences of it – in Gen 44:5, 15. In fact, these ones are, really, single occurrences of an infinitive absolute form, that expresses themselves often with a duplication of the verb.)

Let’s us list – in brief – these few occurrences (leaving the first occurrence listed for the following discussion):

Gen 30:27 Gen 44:5, 15 Lev 19:26 Deu 18:10 1 Kin 20:33 2 Kin 17:17; 21:6 2 Chr 33:6.

Again – leaving aside the ‘snake-related’ occurrences of this term - we find other two passages with the same word utilized as noun: Num 23:23; 24:1. In both these passages the meaning of the term is ‘augury, omen’.

All the passages listed above show clearly that the meaning of נחש is linked always to a kind of magic/superstition activity.

Nevertheless, somebody could point to Gen 30:27 and 1 Kin 20:33 to try to back the idea that it has also another unrelated meaning (‘to scrutinize’, ‘to learn for experience’, and so on). Regrettably, we will see that this conclusion won’t stand close scrutiny (pun intended).

First of all, there are a number of conceptual roots – in MT – that yet fully cover all the nuances of the supposed meaning of ‘to scrutinize’, et cetera. Here are some of them: שור (Psa 92:12), חקר (Psa 44:21), חזה (Job 8:17), שגח (Psa 33:14).

But, what about 1 Kin 20:33? Granted, KJV translates it with a meaning very different from a ‘divining’ concept. In fact, it translates (bold is mine): “Now the men did diligently observe whether any thing would come from him […]”.

But, is this reading correct? If the term can include also the meaning of ‘to scrutinize’, ‘to learn for experience’, and so on, why a number of lexicons do not include this manner to translate among the meanings, at all?

For some examples, the following Hebrew Language’s scholars – all of them being Lexicon/Concordances/Commentary/Dictionary compilers – assign to the term נחש the sole related to magic/superstition meaning (bold is mine):

Wilhelm Gesenius (Lexicon): “practise divination, divine, observe signs” (An Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament).

Luis Alonso Schökel (Dictionary – Italian Edition. The following is a mine Italian-English translation of the lemma): “To take something as an augury, to pick out a good omen, to hope that something goes smoothly (1 Kings 20:33). As a noun: ‘An omen, a vaticination’.”

Solomon Mandelkern (Concordance): “Auguria captare, divinare, augurium faustum capere” [“To take something as an augury, to divinate, to pick out a good augury”].

NAS Exhaustive (Concordance): “To practice divination, observe signs.”

Johann Peter Lange (Commentary, on 1 Kin 20:33): “[…] they took the expression of Ahab’s to be a good omen.”

Brown-Driver-Briggs (Lexicon): “To practise divination, divine, observe signs or omens.”

Ethelbert William Bullinger (Commentary, on 1 Kin 20:33): “Hebrew, ‘divined and hasted. [A] figure of hendiadys = ‘quickly divined’.”

Charles John Ellicott (Commentary, on 1 Kin 20:33): “[…] the general sense seems accurately rendered by our version ‘The men watched’ (‘as for augury’ […]).”

The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (in 8 volumes): “practise divination, practise augury, learn by divination, observe omens.”

Where is – in the above mentioned texts – the meaning of ‘to scrutinize, diligently observe’, or, ‘learn by experience’? Inexistent.

Furthermore, here is a partial list of some translations (on 1 Kin 20:33, bold is mine) that assign a magic/superstition sense to the term (bold is mine):

“good sign”, New Living Translation, NIV.

sign”/”good sign”/”signs”, Bible in Basic English, Common English Bible, Douay-Rheims, ESV, Expanded Bible, God’s Word Translation, Holman Christian Standard Bible, ISV, JPS, Names of God Bible, New Century Version, New Living Translation, The Message Bible.

omen”/”good omen”, Amplified Bible, Darby, Jubilee Bible 2000, Lexham English Bible, NASB, NET, New Heart English Bible, NJB, NRSV, NWT, RSV.

“bon augure [to augur well]”, Louis Segond.

“buen augurio [to augur well]”, Reina-Valera-Gomez

“good lucke”, Bishops.

“buon augurio [to augur well]”, Giovanni Diodati (1649), Riveduta (Italian).

“buon auspicio [to augur well]”, Bonaventura Mariani (Italian).

“the men divined […] and said […]”, Robert Alter, The Scriptures 2009.

“the men prognosticate […]”, Julia Smith Translation.

Moreover, we may foresee the magic/superstition-related meaning of נחש also if we consider the ever-present symbol of the snake in sorcery activities (it seems useless to me to amplify this argument, since this link is fully known by the majority)

Very interestingly, a NT passage can enlighten the snake-magic connection, as well as to answer the direct Tony Chan’s question. Let’see.

Acts 16:16-17 (KJV): “And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying. The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, ‘These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation’.”

Two remarks:

  1. ‘spirit of divination’ is πνευμα πυθωνα, in Greek. And, πυθωνα was the source of the term 'python', indisputably;

  2. the mentioned ‘damsel’ undeniably told the truth (about the Christ’s disciples) , though through the use of divination.

To sum up:

The only meaning of נחש (along with its derivative terms) is related to a magic/superstition concept.

So, the direct answer to your question (‘Did God honor Laban's divination in Genesis 30:27?’) is:

No, it was Laban to involve יהוה in the ‘search-for-an-omen’ of him. Granted, Laban did reach the right conclusion, but only through a magic/superstition activity (as the ‘damsel’ mentioned in Acts 16:16-17), not through a God’s message to him.

I hope (not through omens, for sure) this helps.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.